A BRIEF SKETCH OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCHES OF RALLS COUNTY, MISSOURI, AND THE MINISTERS THEREFROM
This article is the beginning of a lengthy study of the Christian Church which will be published in sections. All information and the subsequent photos are courtesy of Ron Leake, president of the Ralls County Historical Society.
This study, or sketch, is long over-due. It was mentioned often among ministerial students at Christian University, over sixty years ago. (Christian University was re-named, Culver-Stockton College, in 1917, and in these pages will hereafter be referred to as C.-S.) At least thirty years ago, Rolla G. Sears started something of the kind, but did not complete it.
My own four years in C.-S. were spent with no intention on my part of becoming a minister. In the 1902 Senior Class, of the nine men, only Jesse W. Barrett and I were not ministerial students. Because of the College’s low financial state, I was retained as a Faculty member; Barrett proceeded to study Law, and attained the rank of Missouri Attorney-General. He was a high-type man, a Methodist, but very affectionate toward his alma mater, and served many years as Trustee.
During the 6 years I taught in C.-S., I chose the ministry, becoming soon pastor for the two fourth-time Churches, Bethel and Huntington, in Ralls, my native County. In the Autumn of 1909, my wife, nee Mabel Lewis of Canton, C.-S. 1904, our two small girls and I began our first settled pastorate, at Lewistown, Ill. Since that time, my lot has been a “parish parson”, most of the time in Central and Northern Illinois. In 1946, we ended settled pastoral service, locating at Cape Girardeau, Southeast Mo., where I have been almost continuously occupied in supply work for Churches temporarily pastorless or too weak financially to support a regular minister.
My service for my native Missouri County has been limited to the four years with Bethel, and the five years with Huntington. During most of this time, I was Secretary of the County Convention, an annual gathering of the Ralls Churches, with considerable cooperative work for and among the Churches within the County. With such solid laymen as Judges Ben E. Hulse and Benton B. Megown as Presidents, and Fred S. Alexander as Treasurer, all of New London Church, I really enjoyed the happy, instructive, and inspiring experience of this fellowship and service. They began, I think, in the ‘80s, at suggestion of one who will be mentioned often here. A copy of a Program for Aug. 23 and 24, 1926, at Prairie View Church, is titled, “The 40th”. Since that period, they have been less regularly held. At the last that I attended, at Liberty Church, 1909, Stephen J. Corey of the Foreign Missionary Society was Guest-Speaker; and after an address by R.D. Chinn, then in retirement at Vandalia, a “Student Aid Fund” of several hundred dollars was begun by the subscription of those present, by both individuals and Churches. I do not know the subsequent history of this Fund, dedicated for assistance of minister-recruits in this education.
This Sketch is far from complete. From all who may read it, I shall welcome corrections and additions. Dr. Claude E. Spencer of our Brotherhood Historical Library at Nashville, Tenn., has been a major help. Of the many others whose information has been of high value, I shall mention six: Mrs. Averil Beshears, Vandalia RFD; Mrs. Oliver Howard (Goldena Roland), State Historical Society, Columbia; Mrs. Arlie Lake (Mary Corwine), Hannibal RFD (at Spalding); J. Nathan Snyder, New London; Donald Slaughter, Canton; Baxter Watts, Monroe City RFD. The Sketch is not copyrighted or for sale; but will be mailed gratis to these and other helpers, to living Ralls “Timothies” or widows whose addresses are known, to present pastors of Ralls Churches, and to some other interest friends; with a few extra copies reserved for any persons overlooked, who may wish a copy.
Ben. H. Cleaver, 1208 Normal Ave., Cape Girardeau, Mo., 63701
August 5, 1965
The acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 removed restrictions against Protestant ministers and Churches in that large region; and with the admission of Missouri into Statehood, 1820, representatives of Christian Churches from Kentucky particularly were among the immigrants. Ralls was not the first County where Churches were organized; but in 1830 a Congregation began, near the center of the County, north of Center, which finally located in a town. (See the following section, on the Churches.)
Alexander Campbell, “Raccoon” John Smith, and other leaders visited Ralls. My father, as a curious youth, stood in the packed Courtroom in New London, and heard Campbell through a long address. Jacob Creak, Jr., had his home in Palmyra, Marion Co.; John A. Brooks, flaming Temperance Lecturer, and once U.S. Presidential candidate on the Prohibition ticket, lived on his Country Estate, a little over a mile in Monroe Co., L.B. Wilkes held revivals in Ralls; and there is a tradition of a fiery French evangelist named LaVan (or Lievan), whose outdoor arbor meetings drew throngs.
In the early ‘80s, a Kentucky minister named John Brooks Corwine located in New London, the County Seat, and rapidly became and remained, as it were, the Voice of the Ralls Churches. He was of no large college and seminary background. Short terms at Midway Institute, Ky., where his early school-teaching soon gave way to his talents for pulpit appearances, constituted his formal training. But his natural endowments, his dignity of thought, and loftiness of soul assured him a rank of independent of titles. As a boy of sixteen, on a visit to his uncle, Dr. John S. Brooks, then pastor in Mexico, Mo., he was baptized by this noted relative, and returned home to become an honor and pride to the minister claiming him as a namesake.
“Brother Corwine” was a man of quiet power, consecrated to Christ’s service, of sincere love for people, non-controversial, a Bible preacher, committed to the Gospel’s simplicity and its power to save all. Said a prominent Presbyterian layman at Perry, “I’m always glad when Perry Christian Church has Brother Corwine. When I meet him on the street, he makes me think of God.” Thos. A. Abbott, for any years State Secretary for Missouri Christian Churches, said that of the hundreds of Christian ministers in the State, there was none superior to J.B. Corwine, in the quality of year-around sermons.
When he came to Ralls, there were nine of the nineteen Christian Churches existing. He personally contributed to the founding of many of the others. Frequently sought by larger and urban Congregations, he declained [sic] such appeals; and chose to end his days among the people he had served and loved so much. He passed away at New London, at the age of 69; and of the family of eight sons and one daughter, only the daughter, Mrs. Arlie Lake (Mary), the youngest, is now living.
Following the great National Financial Depression, 1929-32, there appeared a church-leader of unconventional and remarkable style, whose connection with Ralls Churches and others really set a record. John W. Golden of 1713 Grace St., Hannibal, after several years as an oil-salesman, at the age of 31 resolved on fulltime religious work. Along with brief studies at C.-S., he began a ministry to weak, discouraged, and declining rural and village Churches. They promised little or no definite remuneration, and John preached “for the collections”; every week-night, sometimes including Saturday, often four services on Sunday, winter and summer he “rode the ridges”, as he described it, and kept the Churches open. At one time he was pastor for over 20 Congregations; in 1924-27 the only minister serving the 16 Ralls units that were then active.
Of course, with such a schedule, the pastoral service had to be thin and inadequate for thorough progress. But during his 24 years of ministry, only 2 of the many fields he served closed; and after his death in 1958 not a few were unable to find successors for their pulpits, and “folded up”. He merits a tribute and tender memory….
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