Bishop Turner’s Second Trip East
Christian Recorder: September 4, 1890
In my last letter, which sketched to a limited extent, my travels in the eastern section of the First Episcopal District, I neglected for the want of space to mention my visit to Port Jefferson, where I went to lay the cornerstone of a new church now in process of erection by Rev. C. B. G. Coster, his liberal members and the most generous white people I have found anywhere in New York. Up to about a year or so ago we had no sign of a church at this place. But through the indefatigable efforts of Bro. Coster, the dare of P.T. Barnum, the world’s famous showman, and the liberality of the whites, a church will be erected there within the next six months. A bishop appeared to be a novel sight in Port Jefferson. Dr. George Dardis was also with us and outpreached Gabriel.
Our next point of destination was at Huntington, RI. Rev W. N. Berry, true to the custom of this section was holding a protracted meeting in the woods near the city, with preaching every night in the week and three times on the Sabbath. Yet he, like others, was denominating it a camp meeting. Any kind of bush gathering in this section is called a camp meeting, when even not a cow, or a hog, or a dog is camping on the ground. Instead of calling it a bush meeting, or a woods meeting, or a rural meeting, or a tree-shade meeting, they call it a camp meeting; which is absolutely false, for there is nobody camping there. In all the Methodist churches I know anything about under heaven, no one can hold a camp meeting but a presiding elder; bishops themselves are not legitimately authorized to hold camp meetings, unless it should be associated with an annual conference. And for a mere pastor holding one, humbuggery. All a pastor can do if the people would consent to a camp, would be to invite ministers to come and assist him, and preach for him while the presiding elder can order ministers from any part of the district to supply the camp meeting with the necessary preaching. For a pastor to talk about holding a camp meeting is the height of folly…….I do not mean to doubt many pastors’ ability to do it, for there are a large number of ministers who could conduct prayer meeting at 6 o’clock in the morning, and preach at 8 o’clock, 11 o’clock, 3 o’clock and 7:30 o’clock in the evening for a week or two, if they would do it. But we are living in an age of ministerial laziness, and you could not get one in a thousand of our ministers to preach four times in one day, much less preach four times a day for a week, and a Methodist camp-meeting calls for four services a day for every day that the meeting lasts. For three successive General Conferences efforts have been made to abolish camp-meetings and the most ridiculing speeches have been made upon the General Conference floor against camp-meetings by ministers, who I positively believe did not know what a camp-meeting was. They had evidently gotten these “bush-meetings” and “selling stand meetings” and “pay at the gate meetings” and “make up my salary meetings” and “buy a new suit meetings” and “pay off some debt meetings” mixed up with camp-meetings. I do not mean to intimate that Brother Berry is not acquainted with the rules and regulations which legitimately constitute a camp meeting, but I do say he was calling a mere bush-meeting a camp-meeting, because he had preaching in the grove at night and two or three times on the Sabbath. A large number of persons especially white were out on the evening I attempted to speak and gave the most earnest attention to such remarks as I was able to make. Brother Berry, however is well liked and the church is progressing finely under his administration.
Rev. Israel Derricks, P.E., was conducting a camp meeting in close proximity to the eastern coast of Long Island, to which I intended to go, but pressing duties demanded my presence elsewhere, and I failed to return in time. Whether he really had a camp-meeting or merely a bush-meeting I cannot say. If our general Conference would regulate camp-meetings by enacting laws, instead of trying to abolish them, it would do the right thing. For camp-meetings are God’s own institution and earth has no right to abolish what heaven establishes. The old Hebrew Feast of Tabernacles was literally a camp-meeting and its observance was enjoined as a statute forever.
From Huntingdon duty called us to Springfield and then to Greenfield, Mass. At Greenfield we were thrown in relation with Rev. D.L. Moody, the great evangelist, who spoke in the morning and we at night. Rev. Moody delivered a spell-binding discourse, yet it was very simple and practical. He is evidently a man of intense earnestness and stamps his spirit upon the people. How much more good could we all do if we felt the force of our mission to an extent that we could burn it into our auditors. We have a hundred ministers in the A.M.E. Church, who could preach Mr. Moody into a frazzle; but Mr. Moody feels what he preaches and makes everyone else feel it, thus his fame and great success. His pathos is not of the Bishop Simpson order nor of the Dr. Punchion order, but if representations are true, we would judge it is not very dissimilar to that possessed by Rev. John M. Henderson.
From Greenville, we went by invitation to Lake Pleasant, Mass, only seven miles distant, where three thousand spiritualists are camped in cottages and tents in the most beautiful forests my eyes ever beheld. There is a veritable lake there about a mile long, three quarters of a mile wide, and in places, two hundred feet deep; water as clear as crystal and as fresh as limpidity. It has neither outlet nor inlet, surrounding by inclined bluffs, and is inexhaustible in resource. How the blind forces of nature, as we sometimes denominate them, could construct such a reservoir right in the heart of adverse conditions is a mystery. Millions of gallons of this water are pumped out daily to supply the city of Turnerville, some six miles distant without the least perceptible diminution. The camp ground excels anything of the kind for beauty, grandeur, order, and arrangement that my eyes ever beheld. Cottages by the hundreds two and three stories high, painted and furnished by the most costly style, with spacious hotels and every convenience that the mind can conceive. The speaking grounds are timely arranged, with a large stand for the speakers seats amphitheatrically arranged, many purely elliptical in figure, with a music stand in close proximity, bored wells with pumps in every direction, and just hill enough to destroy any seeming local monotony. They hold public meetings at half-past eight in the morning, where anybody can advocate any doctrine or theory they may choose to discuss. At half past ten they hold another great meeting, listen to prepared lectures upon some special topic, and at two they meet for a like purpose. At three some speaking medium delivers public lectures from the spirit world, as they say, and I must have to say to their credit, they denounce the Supreme Court for its abominable decision, and take Congress to task, and the nation generally, for withholding justice from the black man. That part filled my bill to perfection, and I had to exclaim “God save the Spiritualists.” At 4 p.m. the meetings for the day at the great stand adjourn, and the thousands upon the grounds promenade, go out upon the lake boat riding and give themselves up to pleasure in general.
A gentleman from Boston said to be worth five or six million dollars, asked me about 4 o’clock if I would not go out in the woods with him to the Indian pow wow; I consented and after going about three quarters of a mile in the most beautiful level grove, we reached a large circle of seats about one hundred yards in diameter, and about seven or eight hundred people sitting in a ring; but upon the inside of this ring of men and women about twenty mediums were also sitting in circular form. Finally Mrs. Rhind, the chief of the forest, arose and waved her hand and commanded everybody to be silent; so dead silence prevailed for about ten or fifteen minutes, when a scene took place which beggars description. Several mediums said to be under the control of Indian spirits, arose with closed eyes and gave the Indian war whoop, and walked around with eyes tightly closed, talking the Indian language; and all of the Indian babble, and the cutting up of Indian shines that ever were seen they certainly excelled. Though these mediums had their eyes closed, they walked, jumped and ran around among those trees and bushes, and never struck against any tree or anybody. They could pick up and thread needles twice as fast as I, with my eye glasses could do. It is useless to say more about it as it is impossible to describe the scenes and sights.
I had the honor of speaking at their great stand twice, once to about three thousand and once to about five thousand. I told them that I believed in the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in heaven and hell, in a resurrection from the dead, in a judgment day, and all that Methodistic articles of faith set forth; and proceeded to talk about sixty-five minutes. Somehow my remarks met either the approval or sympathy of nearly everyone present, and I was literally lionized.
As I came off the stand, hundreds pressed forward for an introduction; ladies worth their hundreds of thousands locked arms with me and begged me to go to their cottages, and such reverence I never had in any place exhibited for me in my life. For once I was gorged and surfeited with kindness. I asked them in my second address if they did not know that I was a Negro, and was not used to such adulations from white people. They hallooed out from all sections of the massive audience, “there are no Negroes in the Spirit world;” others said “We neither know Negro, Indians, white men nor any other race here.” Even some spiritualists, white ladies from Richmond, Va., took me by the arm and were walking me around the grounds, and I was mean enough to ask them if they would do it in Richmond? And they said, “yes;” but I don’t believe it.
Mr. Editor; this letter is entirely too long, but I could not make it any shorter, and say what I designed to set forth, that some white people in this country, though they be cranks, and visionary will not bow before color prejudice.