January 5: How to Call a Pastor

Back then, congregations really knew how to call a pastor.

The Rev. Charles Cummings was an Irishman by birth, and came to America in early manhood. He was licensed to preach by the Presbytery  of Hanover on April 18, 1767. He had received a good education, was capable in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and for a minister of his day, possessed a rather sizable and valuable library. In 1772 he accepted a call from the Sinking Spring and Ebbing Spring congregations, and served these congregations until his death in 1812. It is that call that draws our attention today, as a well-crafted plea for the ministerial services of a sought-after pastor. I dare say they don’t write them like this now.

 

Signed by 138 heads of families, January 5, 1772.

Worthy and Dear Sir—

We being in very destitute circumstances for want of the ordinances of Christ’s house statedly administered amongst us; many of us under very distressing spiritual languishments; and multitudes perishing in our sins for want of the bread of life broken among us; our Sabbaths too much profaned, or at least wasted in melancholy silence at home, our hearts and hands discouraged, and our spirits broken with our mournful condition, so that human language cannot sufficiently paint.

Having had the happiness, by the good Providence of God, of enjoying part of your labors to our abundant satisfaction, and being universally well satisfied by our experience of your ministerial abilities, piety, literature, prudence and peculiar agreeableness of your qualifications to us in particular as a gospel minister—we do, worthy and dear sir, from our very hearts, and with the most cordial affection and unanimity agree to call, invite and entreat you to undertake the office of a pastor among us, and the care and charge of our precious souls—and upon your accepting of this our call, we do promise that we will receive the word of God from your mouth, attend on your ministry, instruction and reproofs, in public and private, and submit to the discipline which Christ has appointed in his church, adminstered by you while regulated by the word of God and agreeable to our confession of faith and directory.

And that you may give yourself wholly up to the important work of the ministry, we hereby promise to pay unto you annually the sum of ninety pounds from the time of your accepting this our call; and that we shall behave ourselves towards you with all that dutiful respect and affection that becomes a people towards their minister, using all means within our power to render your life comfortable and happy. We entreat you, worthy and dear sir, to have compassion on us in this remote part of the world, and accept this our call and invitation to the pastoral charge of our precious and immortal souls, and we shall hold ourselves bound to pray.

[The above text can be found in William Foote’s, Sketches of Virginia, on page 115-116.]

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  1. Peter Gilmore’s avatar

    Having served in recent years on a pastor nominating committee, I would agree that calls don’t seem to be written like that any more. More importantly, perhaps, as someone who has spent a fair amount of time with Presbyterian records from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, I would say this call reflects the real hunger for spiritual meat among newcomers in the American backcountry. Even if one accepts that this call reflects a kind of expected, formulistic presentation, there is arguably a substratum of genuine longing for a real community of faith, for being in right relationship with God and neighbor, which having the appropriate minister would facilitate and further.

  2. archivist’s avatar

    Thank you, Peter. Great comment.

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