The Papist and the Preacher: short story
The noon sun beat down from a cloudless sky. I wiped sweat from my face with my shirtsleeve, and more than anything wanted to take off my sweat soaked shirt, which clung to my skin. Frenchy, the river boatman, advised me against it. He said the sun would burn my light skin and bugs attracted to the wet skin would drive me crazy.
My name is John Cassidy. I am a Catholic seminarian. Not yet a priest.The Bishop granted me leave to go to the frontier to visit my newly married sister Megan. Who with her husband run the trading post where the boat was about to stop over.
I agreed to send reports to the bishop on my observations of religious practices on the frontier. It was not too long after the President sent Lewis and Clark to explore the new Louisiana Purchase. Since, for now, Bishop Carroll was responsible for the Catholic Church in America presumably the new territory might become part of his responsibilities.
“We stop here,” Frenchy said. “ Take couple days to load supplies. “
It felt good to set foot on solid ground, although I found the river beautiful and the keelboat a truly different experience from my city bound life. Frenchy just about knocked me over with a slap on the back, a gesture of friendship that I was not accustomed to. “Come. We get good food, good drink.’ I was glad to be able to walk around. I hadn’t had much chance for exercise lately and I was starting to feel cramped.
The trading post appeared to be two different buildings connected by a roof between. On one side was a tavern and the other was the trading post. The roof appeared to be made of sod with grass growing on it. The buildings apparently were built into the river bluff so that about half of it was essentially underground. It was refreshingly cool inside.
“John, you really did come. I ‘m so glad you.” It was Meagan my sister who raised the whole family after our parents died.
“Megan, you look beautiful. Your husband taking good care of you?”
“And me, him,” she replied “I want to introduce you to my friends and customers” She told me her husband was out hunting. Her friends were also her customers. The trading post was the only business within a hundred miles.
“So you told the Bishop you would write to him about religion out here. Will you go to the camp meeting?” she asked.
“What’s a camp meeting?” I asked. My attention was more on the food of meat potatoes and gravy on the table. Apparently the trading post also served as the only restaurant.
“Sit down, John,” I’ll get you something to eat. Folks have been drifting in all day. Most pack their own vittles but we have to be ready to feed the rest. That’s why my husband is out hunting, we’ll need the meat.”
Frenchy threw back his head at my question and slapped his palm on the rough wood table and let out a laugh that startled me. “You ain’t ever seen a camp meeting? You in for something. Maybe you get saved?”
“I’ve seen much new out here, so I don’t expect much to surprise me now. Please…what is a camp meeting?”
“Don’t worry,”Frenchy, said when he stopped laughing enough to talk. “You find out.”
When I finished eating Meagan stopped me from following Frenchy out the door. “I don’t know how far your Bishop wants you to go in your research but a Camp meeting is a religious gathering put on by the Methodist preacher.
I had not bothered mentioning that I was in training to be a priest to Frenchy and the others and I was not wearing religious garb. I asked Megan what she thought.
“If you want to know about religion out here the Camp Meeting is about the only religion here. Catholics only attend Catholic services and sacraments when an occasional missionary or other priest passes through. In fact soon people will be asking if you will say mass and perform weddings. You’ll be busy while you are here. I did tell most people here that you are a priest. Frenchy is probably raised Catholic but may not be waiting for a priest.”
I don’t think Bishop Carroll would object if I went to the Camp Meeting service as an observer. I told Megan that I hadn't taken my final vows. I could do weddings as witness for the church but I couldn't say mass.
“Come,” said Frenchy. “We go find camp meeting.” He stretched his huge frame and heaved himself up. I was amazed that he such a stout man could move so fast. I pulled my own stiff body up and followed him along the river.
A short way from the river a huge tent was being set up. “It better than circus,” Frenchy enthused.
Indeed it looked much like a circus, although there were no elephants. A group of men were busy with the tent. Another group were building a platform or stage as the case may be.
A tall, Lanky, young man dressed in black coat ascended the stage. He was as taught as a bowstring. He radiated energy; I guessed this must be the preacher they all talked about.
“His name is Isaiah Jones,” Frenchy informed me. “But they call him the preacher.”
There was something about the man that mystified me. Physically he was not that impressive, but he had something about him that people clung to.” The clearing was filling with people all of whom seemed to be excited to be there to see this man. He stood with his lean, lanky frame outlined against the sunset. For several minutes he said nothing. The crowd became silent.
Jones looked upward and then out at the crowd. Frenchy and I squeezed forward to hear and see what was going on. His voice started low and slowly rose so it seemed to wash over the crowd like an ocean wave. His long skinny arms waved, pointed and prayed with every shift in tone of his voice.
It was an impressive performance but he didn’t seem to say anything to explain the meanings of the scriptures, or really about grace and devotion. He exhorted to reform, to come back to Jesus but I didn’t see it very clear as to how he meant for one to do that. The crowd was obviously impressed. They got more and more excited. They clapped and beat their feet on the ground. They twisted and turned. A few seemed to be so overcome that they fainted. The more enraptured the crowd became they higher the tone of the preaching and vice versa.
- Religious Leaders of America's Past--Bishop John Car...
Carroll (January 8, 1735-December 3,1815) has been one of my favorite figures in American Catholic History. He instituted many reforms in the Church and envisioned some of the reforms that did not take...
The crowd was weaving and swaying. Shouting and praying but they seem to lose track of their bearings. Near to us a group of people bumped against the supports for the platform. Frenchy with what seemed like superhuman strength grabbed a hold of the nearest corner pole and held it against collapsing.
The preacher stumbled in the middle of a sentence and lost balance as the platform was listing by about 30 degrees. I made a dash in that direction and broke his fall by catching him. The impact knocked me over but it broke his fall.
It knocked the wind out of me. The preacher had more poise than I did and asked, “ Who do I owe for the fortunate rescue from a dreadful fall. And injury.”
I told him my name was John Cassidy and I had come out of curiosity.
“Then you are the brother that Megan at the trading post has talked about so much. The Catholic Priest?”
“That’s me,” I said. "although not a priest yet."
The preacher took my hand. and said, “ I never thought I would be saved by a papist.”
I shook his hand and said “maybe we will understand each other better in the future. The one you should really thank is Frenchy who helped keep the entire platform form collapsing. The accident would have caused much more injury otherwise.”
I told Frenchy to tell Megan that I would hold a service at the trading post in the morning. I wondered what I should tell the bishop. “ And Frenchy. If you and your woman want to get married, I can perform the ceremony.”
Frenchy stuttered. “You see more than I think.”
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Peter Cartwright (September 1, 1785- September 25, 1872) was a circuit riding pioneer preacher; a revivalist who helped start the Second Great Awakening, and baptized 12,000 converts. He also ran for U.S....
© 2010 Don A. Hoglund