Recollecting Marmaduke Gardner, 1812-1879

I do like church news, even if it dates to 1872. This post started as a one-note joke about a minister in a town with a funny name, but uncovered a Universalist pioneer in Texas. According to the University of Texas archives abstract (see below), he “he moved to Texas in 1854 and subsequently organized the first Universalist Society in Texas at Smith Springs, now Lawhon Springs.” (Lawhon Springs is extinct, save a cemetery; perhaps the one below.)

The following comes from the Board of Trustees report of the Universalist General Convention. The General Convention had the power to extend fellowship to ministers and churches in places not covered by a state convention, thus,

Under the powers conferred by Article III, Sec. 6 of the Constitution, your Board has granted a letter of Fellowship to the Rev. Maramduke Gardner, of Sand-Fly, Bastrop Co., Texas.

Some notes. Bastrop County is immediately to the southwest of Lee County. The UGC had just been reorganized with new powers, so it seems more like the “rehabilitation” of an experienced, senior minister with no other fellowship, pending research to the contrary. He came from South Carolina, making me wonder if he’s a descendant of the German Brethren-Universalists whose descendants survive in Universalist churches in Newberry, S.C.; Canon, Georgia and elsewhere.

His obituary, from the papers of the 1880 Universalist Register, speak of servant whose labors were little known among the bulk of the Universalist ministerial college

Rev. Marmaduke Gardner was born in 1812, in South Carolina, and died in McDade, Texas, May 4, 1879, in the sixty-eighth year of his age. He spent the earlier part of his life in his native State, though he lived for some years in Mississippi previous to his removal to Texas, which occurred more than twenty-five years ago. Ho began to preach May 12, 1848, was ordained Sept. 2,1849, and received the fellowship of the General Convention Jan. 10, 1872. He was pastor of the Universalist Church in Williamson Co., Texas, twenty-five years, where his memory will long be fragrant in the hearts of those who best knew him. He travelled very extensively in Texas, and did a great amount of missionary work, and was a very faithful and useful minister, highly esteemed in the community where he lived for his integrity and sincere Christian spirit. His faith in the full grace of God sustained him in life, and was more fully manifested as the shadows of the tomb gathered around him, and he died peacefully and happily. Mr. Gardner was twice married — first March 12, 1833, to Miss Rhoda Ussery, by whom he had nineteen children. She died in 1878, and he was married a few weeks before his death, to Mrs. Jones, of McDade, Texas.

And an interesting polity note. Gardner and his church locally ordained another minister, J. C. Lawhon, who then — about 18 months after Gardner’s death — ordained a third minister, J. S. Dunbar. The Universalist General Convention recognized these ordinations, given that “ordination in the regular form was at that time impractical” and admitted them into direct fellowship.

His and family papers at the University of Texas

Family cemetery, in Lee County, where he and family members are buried

"The Everlasting Gospel" to download

As I promised, today I’m pleased to release a PDF (and the source XeTeX file) for Seigvolck’s The Everlasting Gospel. It looks pretty good if I do say so, and it makes a thrilling — and occasionally bizarre — read.

I’ll gladly take “bug reports” — it would help if they were keyed to line numbers in the XeTeX file — plus I’ll make improvements from time to time, including a notice that it’s in the public domain. Enjoy.

PDF version (311 kb)

(Xe)TeX version (239 kb)  (About XeTex)

"Everlasting Gospel" in PDF, October 2

Well, I figured the best way to carefully read Siegvolck’s The Everlasting Gospel is to clean up a scan for re-publication. (It’s worked before.) And the best way to get to out is to promise a PDF (and text file of the LaTeX markup) to my readers.

So, on October 2, I will publish both. I will not promise they will be beautiful. That’s for a later iteration. Both will, however, be in the public domain.

Paul Siegvolck's The Everlasting Gospel

Just a quick note. It’s hard to find The Everlasting Gospel by Paul Siegvolck — pseudonym of George Klein-Nicolai — even though it’s continued mentioned in Universalist history, particularly for its value in converting then-Baptist Elhanan Winchester to faith in the universal restoration.

Copies of a 1840s reprint hide at Google Books, anthologized in the Select Theological Library, published for a later generation of Universalists. Unfortunately, it was printed cheaply as a serial with very thin margins. Between this version (start at page 77) and this one (start at page 135, though the numbering restarts, so about half way through or page 438 if you download the PDF; better quality) you should be able to make it out.

Relly work at

It’s hard to find the works of James Relly, John Murray’s mentor and Judith Sargent Murray‘s inspiration. His influence was on a terminal decline within the Murrays’ lifetime, and later reprints were largely of historical interest. But I’m rather keen on him, or at least the fragments I’ve found. I’ve republished as a PDF his Union: or, a Treatise of the Consanguinity and Affinity between Christ and his Church. (1759)

Today I found Thoughts on the cherubimical mystery, or, An attempt to prove that the cherubims were emblems of salvation by the blood of Jesus (1780, 1808 ed.) not through Google Books, but through, from the original at Boston Library. I’ve not read it yet, so leave it to the wide eyes of a wondering public.

Potter's Chapel, replaced

As I mentioned last time, Jonathan and I visited Murray Grove during our honeymoon on the Jersey Shore.

Michael Masters, Murray Grove’s Assistant Director, kindly gave us the tour, including the chapel. This is the Methodist-built chapel that replaced Potter’s original building. (It is not part of the Murray Grove property, but there’s some kind of cooperative understanding that includes access.)

The chapel has been recently renovated — and is quite a little gem of countryside religious architecture.

Chapel, exterior shot
Pump organ in chapel
Preaching desk and "elder's" chairs

Thomas Potter's grave

Thomas Potter's grave

Hubby and I honeymooned on the Jersey shore, and took in a visit to Murray Grove, the site of John Murray and Thomas Potter’s providential meeting and for more than a century a (Unitarian) Universalist camp and retreat site.

Alas, Potter’s chapel, though deeded to Murray, was never claimed by him — he never knew he was the heir — and fell into Methodist hands and was replaced in the nineteenth century. Potter’s grave, next to it in a cemetery used by the general local community, was re-marked by later generations of Universalists.

Unincorporated churches: the why of UUA polity

Digging into the Rules of the Unitarian Universalist Association, a church-planter would find Rule 3.3.5.f, which begins:

A congregation should be incorporated when possible under the laws of the state in which it exists. A congregation shall include in its articles of incorporation or other organizing documents a clause providing that the assets of the congregation will be transferred upon dissolution to the Association.

So one the one hand, a congregation should be incorporated, but it might have other organizing documents. Why?

A thought experiment. If you and a group (4? 400? 4,000?) of like-minded religionists agreed to meet and function as a church, and organized it according to religious principles as you understand them, you would have at an unincorporated association. Many religious institutions, in fact, wok this way — though that doesn’t keep them out of trouble. Under the common law, unincorporated associations aren’t legal entities. In broad strokes, they can’t receive gifts (because there’s nobody to receive them), can’t own or transfer real property and legal liability falls upon all the members and officers. (Unincorporated associations have other distinguishing features, so this isn’t an exhaustive list. Do I need you to talk to a lawyer?) Little wonder the UUA advises incorporation, as it creates a legal structure that can hold property and shield its members and officers.  So why not require it?

Some “behold! the mark of the beast!” churches, after all, make a virtue of “not registering with the government” — as if incorporation makes that church subject to Caesar and not God. Good luck with that; let’s see if the municipal water authority buys it. If a church didn’t or doesn’t incorporate, one way of handling the question of property is to put it in trust. Now we have a situation where trustees can float beside the covenanted church, having the cash and the property, perhaps with limited responsibility to the congregation itself. Anecdotally, I’ve heard where this option has fostered long-term dysfunction. (If you comment, no names, please.)  And until recently, churches in Virginia and West Virginia weren’t able to incorporate at all.

I’ve written at length about the parish-church (or society-church) model of church organizing upon which both Unitarians and Universalists have historically organized, but to recap, a parish or society functions as a legal and fiscal entity which incubates and later holds a church. The parish or society holds the building and the money, is governed by elected officers, is usually incorporated, and could easily look to the outside world as a secular charity, save that it “shared” a minister with “its” church. (Unitarians were fond calling the minister, with respect to the parish, “a public teacher.”)  The church is then a spiritual body, governed by the minister (as pastor) and deacons, provides spiritual support and the ordinances (sacraments) and in the Universalists’ case, often bound its members to some recognition to a theological statement. See this example.

But this doesn’t sound much like Unitarian Universalist churches today. Even historically, the practice was lumpy. One way of looking at the eastern Massachusetts “Unitarian Departure” is to see a divorce between the more liberal parishes that went Unitarian and their more conservative internal churches, which then nested in new “second” parishes, making up many of the older UCC churches there now. Universalists, whose great spiritual discipline was debate, so often stopped their organizing at the parish phase that convention leaders would scold them into forming churches, and later, recommended fused parish-churches to simplify the administration. (I’ve noted that the avowedly Christian churches in the UUA tend to have more of the “church” features in their organization, a subject for a lacuna-seeking historian perhaps.)

So incorporation law has a heavy, unspoken presence in our institutional consciousness — one that rewards business and secular charitable models above our own stated views, and forces us to adopt to models we do not choose. It makes you wonder if the “mark of the beast” crowd has a point, if an unintended one.

But there’s a partial remedy, for later.

Clever: Murray Grove minister blogging

Funny: after all these years as a Universalist and living in the mid-Atlantic, I’ve never been to Murray Grove, the campground on spot of the New Jersey shore where Universalist pioneer and minister John Murray landed and met the “forerunner” Thomas Potter, thus restoring his faith.

But I would like to go, if only for a little while to walk the grounds and visit Thomas Potter’s grave.  (The little-known and less-occupied Universalist National Cemetery is also there to visit. Not one of the more successful national initiatives.)

And shazam! There’s a blog for it: a good idea for promoting Murray Grove to would-be visitors. A rather targeted, niche blog with only two entries, but the kind of thing that makes me want to go all the more.

Murray Grove for Ministers

Universalists in Brooklyn

A Universalist history note. In places where there was more than one Universalist parish (also called a society), the churches — by which was often also understood as the building — had a distinct name. Confused? It gets worse when you consider some parishes didn’t have churches; that is, that they didn’t have a covenanted and visible body of believers (oops! didn’t get around to that), a building or both. Or, that following General Convention advice about a hundred years back, the parish-church was merged into a single unit. But that’s for another time. Here’s a key to the naming convention.

See the following list from the Universalist Register of 1912, listing the Universalist parishes and churches in that “city of churches” — Brooklyn, New York.

  1. Our Father
  2. All Souls
  3. Church of Reconciliation
  4. Church of Good Tidings

So the First Universalist Society — as I bet it was called — of Brooklyn was more likely known in practice as the Church of Our Father. (As indeed, the First (Murray) Universalist Society of Washington, D.C. was known; this is the legal predecessor to the Universalist National Memorial Church, itself an example of the merged parish-church model.) And this explains why Fourth Universalist Society in New York — Manhattan, really — was known historically as the Church of the Divine Paternity.

Back to Brooklyn. Of the four parishes above, only the Second survives, in a federated churches now known as All Souls Bethlehem Church. Whew!