Russell’s Ramblings

Those who do not hear the music might think the dancer mad

Bethesda Presbyterian Church History (York, SC) 1864 – 1944

Bethesda Presbyterian Church

Bethesda Presbyterian Church

The following article appeared in a series of articles written by A.M. Grist publisher and editor of the Yorkville Enquirer at York, S.C. This paper was established in 1855 by Mr. Grist’s father.  After the death of his father, his brother took the helm and was a purported great writer.  When the paper was ultimatley passed down to him, A. M. felt inadequate to fill his brother’s shoes. He worked energetically and worried so much that he suffered a nervous breakdown. The doctor told him to stay away from the newspaper office, get out in the country. Mr. Grist began taking long walks along the winding roads of York county, talking with the country folks–and writing a column of “Rolling Along” for his twice-a-week paper. This column became very popular, and was continued for years, building up a great circulation, as well as rebuilding the writer’s health and endearing him to everybody, old and young, in the whole county.  The following is one of those articles written in 1935.

During the last and prolonged illness of Rev. John Harris, Bethesda Presbyterian Church was supplied by Rev. Joseph H. Martin.  For twelve years he had been a pastor in Knoxville, Tennessee but because of his ardent support and sympathy for the Confederate Cause, he and his family were forced by the Federal authorities to leave Knoxville.  Leaving Knoxville, he and his family were permitted to take with them only such things as could be packed in a simple trunk.  For three years of his stay at Bethesda, he and his family occupied one of the wooden tents used by attendants on the camp meetings. He was comfortably supplied with the necessities of life by the spontaneous offerings of the congregation.  In 1867, he removed to Virginia.

A few months later the services as stated supplied of Rev. Robert B. Anderson, then living in York (SC), president of the Yorkville Female College, were secured.  He would have been called to the pastorate of the church, except for the fact that he let it be known very clearly that he would not accept such a call.

Perhaps no pastor who ever served Bethesda Church ever left a deeper impress on the congregation and the community than did Dr. John Lowry Wilson.  He served the congregation as pastor for 16 years, and many of the Bethesda people living today carry their first knowledge of pastor of this church back to Mr., Wilson.

Mr. Wilson was born in northern India of missionary parents.  At the age of 5 years, he with four brothers were brought by their mother to America to be educated.  The journey on a sailing vessel required seven months.  At the outbreak of the Civil war, young Wilson, then a student in Tennessee, enlisted and served the Confederate Cause with distinction, only quitting after he had received four wounds in battle and the loss of a limb that incapacitated him from further service.

In 1866 he entered Columbia Seminary and in 1869 was installed as pastor of Bethesda, just 100 years after the church was organized.  He was the sixth pastor of the church and the first in its second century.

As difficult as was the period of Bethesda Church following the Revolutionary war, the pastorate of Rev. John Lowry Wilson probably covered the darkest and most trying period of Bethesda’s long and honorable history.  The War Between the States had hardly closed.  Many of Bethesda’s sons had given up their lives in that struggle; many fell on the battlefields while others died of diseases contracted in camps or federal prisons; not a few came back mimed and crippled by disease and wounds.  They came back to desolated homes and people impoverished by the fortunes of war.

A dark period was just ahead – a period almost as dark as war.  The state government was in the hands of scalawags and carpetbaggers, with uneducated Negroes, with a new freedom, running rampant; martial law had been proclaimed, dangerously armed militant bands were prowling about and terrorizing the community – all was chaos.  Many substantial people, thoroughly discouraged, moved to more favored sections of the country.

But despite these discouraging features under the pastoral leadership of Rev. Wilson, Bethesda Church continued to grow in numbers and spiritual power, and maintained her relative position and influence among the churches of York County.

Dr. Wilson continued as pastor of Bethesda until 1886, when he resigned and moved to Abbeville, and continued there until his passing in 1909. He left an indelible impress on Bethesda church and township. Among the eulogies written upon his passing this one probably describes the man as fully and completely as it is possible to describe him: “He lived for others. Eternity alone will reveal the service that this man rendered in the
name of his Master. He was one of the crown jewels of the King.”

Space forbids giving sketches of pastors following down the line from Dr. Wilson. They can only be briefly mentioned here as follows:
Rev. Benjamin Palmer Reid — 1887 to 1893. Deceased.
Rev. James K. Hall — 1894 to 1909, Resides at Belmont, N.C.
Rev. James K. Harrell — 19l0 to19l2. Deceased.
Rev. John A. McMurray – 1912 to 1916. Now pastor at Ocala, Fla.
Rev. Frank H. Wardlaw – 1917 to 1924. Now pastor at Harrisonburg, Va.
Rev. P. W. Wilson, stated supply — 1924-1925. Now pastor in Virginia.
Rev. John Knox Johnston, stated supply.

The present pastor of Bethesda church is Rev. Walter G. Somerville, native of Culpepper, Va. Attended Virginia Polytechnic school and Davidson college. In business for five years. Enlisted in infantry service for the World War. Rose to the rank of major. Most of his active service was in training draftsmen at Camp Hancock, Ga. Was preparing for overseas
Service when the armistice was signed and he was honorably discharged.

Mr. Somerville entered Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia and received his degree as Bachelor of Divinity in 1920.  He was installed pastor of Bethesda September 19, 1927. He has been serving the church most acceptably as pastor and is beloved by all who know him

A.M. Grist

August 2, 2009 Posted by | Bethesda Presbyterian Church History | , , , , | Leave a comment