Church Minutes
Old Time Tales of Warren County


Church Minutes

The strict severity with which the Presbyterian Church was administered in Warren County in its early days is best illustrated by a few extracts from the minutes of the church session in the years of 1850-51. That Old John Barleycorn was at work among the members of the little flock that dwelt in the peaceful pastures of the Brokenstraw is evident. The old church record, yellow with age, from which these extracts are taken, is full of "citations" for "over indulgence", and again, the plainer word "drunkenness".

"December 25th, 1850:

"Session met and was opened with prayer. All the members present. The following action was taken in reference to Mr. Jacob Young. Whereas Mr. Young, a member of this church, is charged, by general rumor, with certain offenses. And whereas Christian prudence requires that session should, in such cases, proceed with caution, therefore on motion Mr. Moses Andrews was appointed a committee to inquire if the presumptive proof of the guilt of Mr. Young is strong enough to require the cognizance of session.

"After a short session occupied in prayer and conversation in view of the low state of piety in our church, session adjourned to meet as soon as the above mentioned committee shall be ready to report."

There is no doubt that Moses Andrews at once investigated rumors concerning Mr. Young. One month later the session of the Garland Presbyterian Church met, and the minutes were as follows:

"January 24th, 1851,

"Session met and was opened with prayer. Mr. Andrews, the committee appointed in the case of Mr. Jacob Young, reported that it could be proven by a number of witnesses that Mr. Young was in the habit of snaking too free use of intoxicating liquors and also that he had been guilty of public breach of the Holy Sabbath.

"Resolved that Mr. Young be cited to appear and answer these charges on Monday the 10th day of February at 1 o'clock P. M. Mr. James White was appointed the delegate to the next meeting of Presbytery.

"Adjourned. Closed with prayer.

JOHN McMASTER, Moderator."

Being cited by the session in the year 1851 was no light matter. To be suspended from the church was a calamity that hurt a man in every way. If he was in trade, his business suffered. It hurt him socially, and severely. A man might better lose half his property than be put out of the church, it would be much easier to recoup his property than his character. The next minutes of the session read.

"Monday, February 10th, 1851.

"1 o'clock P. M.

"Session met pursuant to adjournment. Mr. Jacob Young, who had been cited to meet with session did not make his appearance. Resolved that Session will meet again on Monday, 24inst, at 1 o'clock P. M. and that Mr. Young be requested to meet with the session at that time, to answer to the charge alleged against him. Adjourned.

"Concluded with prayer.

JOHN McMASTER, Moderator."

Just why Mr. Young absented himself, one can only conjecture. He can hardly be blamed for being a bit hesitant about facing the session. Possibly he might have been building an alibi. But we discover, in the minutes of the next session, that Mr. Jacob Young was, after all, not a bad sort at heart.

It should be taken into consideration that the position of Jacob Young may have been extremely difficult, since the Presbyterian Church did not, at that time, frown on the drinking of "intoxicating liquors" in moderation. It had been only a few years previous to this that a barrel of whiskey had been provided for the guests at a christening held at a home near Erie, in Erie Presbytery. The minutes of this christening are not available, but there is little doubt that all the church members who drank did so decorously. This very moderation may have been too much for Mr. Young. The minutes of the next session report,

"Saturday, Feb. 15, 1851.

"Session met & was opened with prayer. Mr. Jacob Young appeared & acknowledged that frequently, for the last eighteen months, he had used intoxicating drinks, that for years he had been a wanderer from God & had greatly injured the church; but now seemed to be penitent & resolved that, by the help of God, he would, in future, live a life of piety. Adjourned.

"Concluded with prayer.

JOHN McMASTER, Moderator."

Liquor was not the only thing that sometimes caused good Presbyterians to stray from the straight and narrow path long years ago in Warren County. The "social dance" with its rhythmic allurements entrapped one here and there. Dancing seems to have been officially banned by the session. The following minutes are illustrative of the church's attitude toward the dance.

"January 23, 1856.

"Session met and was opened with prayer.

"Elder More reported, that according to public report, Miss Eliza Jane Upton had been charged with the impropriety of attending one or more social dances.

"Thereupon the Pastor of the church was requested to converse with the above named member in regard to this charge, and to speak publickly of the impropriety of such conduct.

"Closed with prayer.

JOHN McMASTER, Moderator."

P.S.-Miss Upton acknowledged that the charge concerning her was true, yet did not seem to manifest that deep penitence which would indicate a full determination to "come out from the world."

One can easily picture the staid Rev. McMaster interviewing Miss Eliza Jane Upton. She was one of the prettiest girls in all the countryside, with very rosy cheeks and bright, roguish eyes. Her small, nimble feet were made for dancing, she was as full of fun and frolic as a kitten. It is little wonder Eliza Jane failed to manifest all the penitence she might, or to come completely "out from the world."

The strictness with which members were held to the path of rectitude is evident through all the early church records. Citations appear with the greatest frequency. Intemperance, dancing, attending "parties of sinful amusement", profane language, were misdeeds sufficient to suspend a member from the church. At a meeting of the session on Feb. 29th, 1849 Nathaniel Payne presented a written charge against Jacob Young accusing him of having made use of profane language.

On October 6 of the same year Jacob Young "came voluntarily before the session & pleaded guilty to the charge preferred against him by Nathaniel Payne; asked forgiveness & promised amendment."

Wholesale citations are reported in the minutes of the church session in several instances.

"February 25, 1862.

"Pursuant to the call of the Moderator the Session met in the church and was opened by prayer. All the members of Session were present.

"Sessions having been informed, and themselves knowing, that rumors are in circulation seriously affecting the Christian reputation of the following members of this church, namely Mr. L. Bidwell, Mrs. Sarah Wilson, Mrs. Eliza Jane Maguire and Mrs. Eveline Jordan, appointed the following committees to confer with the above mentioned members and to cite them, if they did not manifest proper contrition, to appear before the session to answer to the charges preferred against them, on Thursday, the 27th day of March at 2 o'clock P. M.

Mr. Benjamin Bidwell is charged by common fame with the sin of intemperance and elder Moses Andrews was appointed to cite him as follows:

"Mr. B. Bidwell, Sir. You are charged, by common fame, with the sin of intemperance, to the manifest injury of your own Christian standing and reputation, and to the flagrant reproach of the church of Christ. On or about the fifteenth of January last you were seen, while going upon the public highway between Garland and your own dwelling, to stagger and fall, and in other respects to make it evident that you were under the influence and control of intoxicating liquors. Other specifications might be named.

"You are cited to meet with the session of this church on Thursday the 27th day of March at 2 o'clock to answer the above charge of unchristian conduct." The citation was properly signed.

Mrs. S. Wilson, Mrs. E. J. Maguire and Mrs. E. Jordan, are charged with unchristian conduct in attending parties of sinful amusement, and Mr. D. More was appointed a committee to cite them to meet with the session at the same time as above.

After which, the session was adjourned. "Concluded with prayer.

JOHN McMASTER, Moderator."

Later minutes of the session record that after two citations the erring ones failed to appear before the session and were all therefore "excluded from the communion of the church for their contumacy, until they give satisfactory evidence of repentance."

SOURCE:  Page(s) 77-82: Old Time Tales of Warren County; Meadville, Pa.: Press of Tribune Pub. Co., 1932


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