The Episcopal Mould
Christian Recorder: January 23, 1864
Turner joins the ongoing debate of a name change to the AME Church and the proposed hymn book.
Having very carefully read and noticed several suggestions and hints which have been thrown out, for the grave considerations of the members of the ensuring General Conference, some of which, in all possibility, have been quite premature….especially those by the very learned M. M. Clarke, giving shape and limits to an Episcopal Mould, which, with all due difference to my ministerial brethren, I most solemnly fear the A.M.E. Church has not a man to fit, …..though, I give utterance to such an expiration, for it might be construed as an outrage upon the learning and piety of the ministers of the A.M.E. church. But I am inclined to think, that no personage has trod upon…this green earth in eighteen hundred years, who could fill, symmetrically, and where qualities, generically could be summarize to this unearthly mould. However, if the distinguished members of the General Conference can find a man answerable to its exactions, I shall, if living, hail him with the most engaged welcome. And should anyone pressure any encroaching upon the fitness of our ministry in all the mould…..let him now speak, else forever hereafter hold his peace.
As it regards changing the appellatives of our church, particularly the term AFRICAN, which has been so ably advocated by our eloquent brother Lynch, who, by the process of his inductive philosophy, never fails to give a polish to whatever his lays his pen or tongue to, I am not prepared to shadow a conclusion. I have had the same subject under months of consideration, and would have written upon it, but for the thought, that would only be a useless expenditure of time, merely to purchase the contempt and indignity of many, who, from a failure to give it an examination, would never see the good consequent upon a change. But I am, by force of experience and common sense, compelled to take sides with brother Lynch, in saying, that the term African, should be stricken from the name of our church; not because I am ashamed of my ancestors, for unlike the most of my race, I feel proud of the term negro. When I am walking the streets of a city, and hear someone say, there goes a negro preacher, or a negro chaplain, I feel a peculiar exaltedness. I say, thank God, that a negro can be a preacher or chaplain. But my objection to it, is upon the ground, that it circumscribes the extension of the doors of our church; limiting it to a particular race, giving to the world in color, if not in fact, the idea that none but Africans are admissible. I do not advocate a change in initials; let it still be the A.M.E. Church; but follow the prudent example of the example of the Lutherans, Calvinists, or Wesleyans, viz., by embracing the name of our church founder, and instead of African Methodist Episcopal Church, have Allen Methodist Episcopal Church. I would even prefer, Bethel Methodist Episcopal Church. It was recently asked by one, how would it do to change the name to Methodist Episcopal Church of Color? Well it would not do at all; it would be, rather adding worse to bad: have Acceptable M.E. Church, i.e., to accept all who come, irrespective of color or cast; and then we would still have A.M.E. Church.
Some, possibly may ask what arguments have you to furnish favorable to a change of the word African. Give us your reasons; we are not prepared to see as you do, likely. To such, I would say: read the article written by Rev. James Lynch, in the Repository for Dec. 1863. A young divine, who, in age is much my junior, yet in ability much my senior. Again I say, read it; his arguments are not only pointed in the Repository, but are chiseled in the tablets of reason.
The main point, however, which I had in view when I commenced this letter, was to call attention to our hymn book. Prior to the meeting of our last General Conference, the Baltimore Annual Conference passed a revolution, requesting the General Conference to revise and improve the hymn book. The General Conference… considered the matter, and appointed… whom they judged adequate to the task. Two years after its adjournment, on inquisition I learned, if my memory is correct, from Bishop Payne, that I was chairman of that committee. I commenced upon said information and some thought appropriate to call a convention of the members of this committee, to meet in the city of Philadelphia. At which time and place I thought, we could select from the members of the committee, a few of the most competent to revise, improve, enlarge, and systematize its arrangements, and at our next meeting compare notes and accept the most suitable for the church, which might have been done in three days, one day for our first meeting, and two days for our second. I farther thought, if none of the committee would assume the responsibility, for I knew it would be an arduous job, I would, by their permission, work on it myself, two years, and present the moiled to the General Conference of 1864, for adoption or rejection. Because, I knew then, as I know now, that we had the poorest hymn book of any Christian body in this country. Our hymn book no more answers the wants of our members, than one Bishop could answer the wants of our entire connection; when we have three (Bishops) now and want three more; for I hope the next General Conference will never adjourn until it gives us three more Bishops.
But as soon as it was known to some, that I contemplated calling this committee together for the purpose of adjusting the hymn book question, they begin to tell me of other chairmen, and some to inform me, that they would not attend if called up. And of course, knowing as I well did any inferiority in rank and qualification to all whom I learned were members of this committee, I suggested it the better part of valor, to stagger back into silence….It may be unpardonable presumption in me to question the acts of the General Conference, but with the highest consideration for that grave body of divines, I must say, a little more consideration on their part, would have stopped the fallacy of appointing a large committee to execute such a job. In some instances, many hands make light work; but in such a case as that, many hands make no work; one competent man was sufficient; two at the most. The fact is, some man should be detailed or set apart for that express duty, and receive his pay from some fund, and let him travel so as to consult the best choristers in the nation, white or colored, and select and compile from every hymn book in the nation; besides, employ such poets as Bishop Payne, A.W. Wayman, J.R.V. Thomas etc., to write a few sacred odes to be inserted in said hymn book, after a strong criticism by some of the most able choristers in the nation, for we must remember that we are young and poor, in point of literary matters. The goal of our ambition hitherto has been, to preach eloquently, set the people to shouting, singing sober songs, etc. But that day is fast receding; it will soon be gone. We must begin to show ourselves poets, by writing poetry for our church, theology for the growing ministry, books for our Sabbath schools, comments upon the Bible, sermons, books, etc. For instance, we want such divines as M.M. Clarke, to give us a work on Biblical Criticism, drawing largely on the original, viz: Hebrew and Greek, J.P. Campbell to give us a standard work on Theology, J.M. Brown to give us a work on sermonizing, A.L. Sanford an Introduction to the Study of the Holy Scriptures and Edward Davis of Ohio, an unassuming, but able divine, to give us a Theological Compendium, and others whom we have not named, to come up accordingly for they can do it, and should do it. It must, and will be done by some—if not them; contrabands will come and do it, if we don’t.
But let us recur to the hymn book; our hymn book is behind the age. Many of the hymns are really obsolete, while others are never sung. Indeed, three hundred could be thrown out, because they are there in the way of others that ought to be there. And the arrangement is very poor. It could be three times as good, but the objections are too numerous to attempt to estimate. We need a new hymn book, and the General Conference can do all the legislation necessary to effect the object in ten minutes. It only requires a motion to authorize some competent person to take it, and adopt it to the wants of the church, and the whole matter is settled. For one competent person is better than fifty not competent; fifty men will fizzle over it for years, and do nothing. But one feeling the weighty responsibility and knowing that his reputation is suspended upon his own personal labors, will go to work and accomplish the object.
I hope I have said nothing too acrimonious to be charitably received; but what I have said, was said from the impulses of a heart which beats warmly for the prosperity of my church.
H. M. Turner
Chaplain 1st U. S. C. T.
Portsmouth, Va., Jan. 13th, 1864