Friday, December 18, 2009

Knapsack 12-31

Notes From My Knapsack 12-31-09

Jeff Gill


A Summing Up At Year's End




Jacob Little was the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Granville from 1827 to 1865. For these thirty eight years, he not only preached for his flock, but he tried to lead the entire community through both example and exhortation.


The Granville Historical Society has just published an attractive and wonderful volume titled "Jacob Little's History of Granville." It includes not only Rev. Little's early attempt at a summary of the first decades of this community, but an assortment of other writings, not only by the parson but from a number of local historians (your columnist among them).


Laura Evans is well known to readers of these pages in the Sentinel, and was the presiding eminence over the effort to not only republish these early essays on Granville, but to help bring some historic context to these documents that are very much of their time.


At some future date, slighting asides about Sarah Palin, angry commentary about the DeRolph ruling, or rude jokes about Bill Kraner may be utterly incomprehendible, and it will take a meticulous historian or twelve (or 14!) to make sense of current observations, as it has with Jacob Little's work. Not to take anything away from Parson Little, but the lasting value of this book may well be the assembly of framing essays and inserted articles which helps the reader along in understanding what Little was making much of.


Most infamously, Rev. Little would issue a "New-Year's sermon" which would be presented both from the pulpit on that day, and usually found its way into print. These sermons were intended to be an assessment of the town as a whole, not just of "Congregationalist Presbyterians" in his own congregation.


As Dick Shiels says in an introductory essay for the volume, "Jacob Little aspired to be the pastor for the entire town." His was probably the last era of American life where that aspiration was even imaginable; there have since been a variety of movements and organizations that claim to speak theologically for a majority, silent, moral, or otherwise, but no one imagines that any pastor could really serve as chaplain to an entire community.


Little knew there were those in opposition to his stands on subjects such as temperance (for it) and dancing (agin' it), and not everyone was as passionate as he about education for all and even more for those pursuing clerical status, but he truly believed that through a mix of inspiration and shame he might well draw the entire village into his beliefs, if not into his church building.


What does unity in community mean today, when diversity and multi-everythingism is the single standard all are expected to salute? Is there any "unum" to which all us "e pluribi" should aspire to? And what would happen to any person, let alone a pastor, who tried to name in public the people whom they saw as breaking down the moral fiber of the community? Even before the defamation lawsuits were filed, can you imagine it at all, or even what categories would be described?


In the 1840s, listing who owned a household Bible, or specifying the drinking habits of elected officials down to the quart, or naming those who (gasp) danced last month – it wasn't necessarily popular for Little to do (ultimately, he was forced out of his position, albeit after 38 years), but it was imaginable. Today we fall back on broad, generic survey numbers that safely wag their percentages at how many spouses cheat in their marriages, or poll how many parents purchase alcohol for their children's parties.


It was different over 150 years ago: that may seem incredibly obvious, but sometimes I think we forget how different a place, how foreign a country the past really is, even when that place is right here.


If you'd like to take a quick trip to that distant nearby land, you can drop by Reader's Garden in the heart of the village, and plunk down $27 (tax included), or go to the website of the Granville Historical Society at and follow the instructions there for ordering by mail.



Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he is very proud to be in the distinguished company that was assembled by Lance Clarke and Laura Evans to produce this book. Write him at or follow Knapsack

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