Hampden Heritage

Archaeology, History, and Heritage in Central Baltimore

Monday, November 28, 2005

Religion in Hampden

Just today I've written a little bit about religion in Hampden, using as my source a book entitled The History of Hampden Methodist Protestant Church, published in 1917 (the 50th anniversary of the founding of that church) and written by then-pastor Edward D. Stone. Not unsurprisingly, this church history is devoid of any mention of class struggle or the hardships of life in an industrial community. Perhaps more surprisingly, there is practically no mention of Hampden's industries. This book begins, naturally enough, with the story of the founding of the church, and it is in this section that the cotton mills and the foundry are mentioned for the first, and only, time. According to the author, the Hampden of the mid-19th century "was just a plain old-fashioned country village going along in its easy way," one in which there just happened to be cotton mills and a foundry. Despite the monotony of long hours in the mills, "The people in the village were . . . just country folks moved to town. . . . the hard evil things of the great city had not yet found root in the village" (pg. 8-9). Indeed, due to the "good business sense of the leading men of affairs" of the time, even in 1917 the sale of intoxicating beverages within a mile of the mills was prohibited.
Built in 1868, the history of the church is told as a triumphal history, one in which the good citizens of Hampden faced many serious challenges and overcame them all. Originating from a schism within the Methodist Episcopal church, the Hampden Methodist Protestant Church allied itself with the Baltimore circuit of the Methodist Protestant Church and began holding meetings in the home of one of its members. Soon the home was not big enough, and a small building was erected; again, the church quickly attracted so many members that it needed an even larger building. And of course, in later years renovations were needed and parsonages were constructed. Each time, the church nearly ran out of money to complete the task, miraculously finding it only at the last minute and through the devotion of its members (chapters 1-4).
Great emphasis is placed on the evangelism of the church. Hampden was a community that loved camp meetings, and its churches did not hesitate to supply this service. According to Rev. Stone, Hampden M.P. church became famous throughout its circuit for its revivals. Indeed, declared Stone, "Soul-saving can never be a side issue with the church that follows Jesus. It can never be an appendix, it must be the supreme business always" (pg. 22; emphasis in original). Descriptions of these revivals printed in the Methodist Protestant Church newspaper proclaimed the conversions of hundreds of souls in Hampden on a regular basis from 1867 to 1882, and Stone himself took responsibility for over one thousand conversions between 1913 and 1917 (pg. 22-25).
The middle part of the book is concerned with great individuals in the church's history, and especially its various pastors. This section is succeeded by chapters on the Emmanuel and Queen Esther Bible classes, for adult men and women respectively, as well as other church organizations. The description of the phenomenal growth of the Bible classes during the 1910s, and the zeal of their members for converting others, is enough to make one wonder how many of Hampden's residents weren't members of this church. Indeed, Stone claimed that his church had gained international notoriety, and a picture of the congregation's "native pastor," Rev. Yotaro Koizumi (who was spreading the message in Nagoya, Japan), is even included. The penultimate chapter of the book (chapter 15) consists of a number of songs and verses that were written by various members of the church, and the last chapter ends with the following verse (pg. 104):

One more day's work for Jesus,--
How sweet the work has been,
To tell the story,
To show the glory,
Where Christ's flock enter in!
How it did shine
In this poor heart of mine!

One more day's work for Jesus!
Oh, yes, a weary day;
But Heaven shines clearer,
And rest comes nearer,
At each step of the way;
And Christ in all
Before His face I fall.

Oh blessed work for Jesus!
Oh rest at Jesus' feet!
There toil seems pleasure,
My wants are treasure,
And pain for Him is sweet.

Indeed, the theme of this verse runs throughout the book: the salvation of souls as a kind of work that makes one weary while also providing the deepest sense of satisfaction. However, I don't feel that all of this can be taken as evidence that religion in Hampden served to distract people from their position as exploited workers in the mills, as some scholars have done in other contexts. In fact, in many cases labor activists of the late 19th century used Biblical rhetoric to support their cause, as prominent labor historian Herbert Gutman has argued, and Methodism in particular was crucial to the formation of class-consciousness in England earlier in that century, according to even more prominent labor historian E.P. Thompson. So, the role of religion in Hampden during the late 19th and early 20th centuries is still a little bit fuzzy.

I haven't had a chance to look at other church histories from Hampden, but I do know that several exist, including histories of the Presbyterian and Baptist churches. (I am still trying to obtain a copy of the Presbyterian church history, and the Baptist church history is available through interlibrary loan.) If anyone knows of any other Hampden church histories, I'd love to know about them. There is also a recent doctoral dissertation about cross-racial appointments in the Methodist church using Hampden as an example, written by Paul Choonam Kim, then a pastor at the Hampden and Mt. Vernon United Methodist Churches. Unfortunately, the dissertation is written in Korean, a language which I cannot read. So, if anyone out there can translate Korean, or knows how to contact Rev. Kim, I'd much appreciate it.


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