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The First Great Reunion in the History of The Moody Church

The First Great Reunion in the History of The Moody Church poster

The first great reunion in the history of The Moody Church was held from Sunday, October 25th to Sunday, November 1st, 1908. The thought was originally suggested by Elder J.M. Hitchcock. The committee selected to carry out the plan consisted of J.S. McGlashan, chairman; J.M. Hitchcock, G.F. Fisher, A.F. Gaylord, C.S. Kerfoot and E.Y. Woolley.

Eighteen sub-committees were appointed and preparations were immediately gotten under way to insure a successful gathering. Several hundred special invitations were sent out to former members and friends, to which there was a hearty response.

A beautifully illustrated program was prepared by the sub-committee of which Mr. Woolley was chairman. The remarkably unique design on the cover was the work of Mr. Ivan LaSalle, a member of The Moody Church. The church monogram on the back was designed by Carl Witman, another of our members.

The reunion was a success, far exceeding all anticipations. Almost every service was thronged with eager and expectant attendants. Each day began with an inspiring sunrise meeting, led by Major James H. Cole. The noon prayer meetings were led by Elders R.F. Aitchison, J.M. Hitchcock, David MacNaugthon, Geo. F. Fisher, D.B. Towner and John Morrison. The important features of the reunion were the two able Sunday morning sermons by Dr. Dixon, on the “Past and Future of The Moody Church;” the stirring music, led by Dr. Towner; the chalk-talks, by the Rev. W. E. Needham; the stereopticon address, on Monday evening, on “Moody in Chicago,” by A.P. Fitt; the informal social reunion the afternoon of Reminiscence Day, with the banquet that followed at six o’clock; the open air meetings, when the weather permitted; the overflow meetings in the lecture-room on several occasions; the unique and beautiful decorations in the church, the class reunion of Fleming H. Revell’s former Bible class, and the mass-meetings addressed by Dr. W.J. Erdman, Rev. Charles Herald, Rev. Charles W. Turner, Rev. Jas. H. Harwood, Rev. Charles M. Morton, President C.A. Blanchard, Rev. W.E. Needham, W.R. Moody, Fleming H. Revell, T.S. Fauntleroy, Mr. R.S. Thain, Mrs. Geo. E. Needham, Rev. W.S. Nickel and many others.

A general review of the week is given in the article which follows, and brief extracts from some of the sermons and addresses appear further on. We regret that we have not space to report all the good things of the week, but they would fill a book. Some of this material may appear in subsequent issues of The Moody Church Herald.

One of the best features of the reunion was the strongly evangelistic spirit which pervaded all the services throughout the week and the goodly number who responded to the appeals that were made. The church as a whole was greatly revived and benefited, and in this, as in every respect, the reunion was worth all it cost and far more, God’s presence and blessing were graciously given, and to Him is due all praise and glory.

A General Review of the Week.

It was a veritable home-coming—the first in the history of The Moody Church—a foretaste to many who were present of the heavenly home-coming a little farther on, at which Moody and Sankey and Whittle and Bliss, and a thousand others, who have swept triumphantly through the gates, “washed in the Blood of the Lamb,” will be present; when faith will have become sight, and the all-conquering Church of Christ on earth will have become the all-glorious bride of Christ in Heaven.

It was a home-coming in many senses. First and most important of all, there must have been rejoicing among the angels that week over the sinners that repented and turned their faces once more toward their Father’s house—greater rejoicing indeed than over the ninety and nine just persons that had gathered to greet one another again and to celebrate the thirtieth or fortieth or fiftieth anniversary of their own return to the household of God. If Moody knew of it, how this feature of the reunion more than all else must have rejoiced his heart! And Sankey—the newly translated Sankey—is it too much to think of him as asking permission to interrupt the “new song” of redemption long enough to sing once more and to lead the great choir of Heaven in the old “Ninety and Nine” song of earth—that song inspired by the Spirit and used by the Spirit through Sankey to sweep thousands of repentant sinners into the Kingdom?

Then, too, it was a home-coming to scores of souls who in those blessed morning meetings led by Major Cole caught new glimpses of the King in His beauty and went forth reinspired—more fully surrendered to the will of the Master and more thoroughly equipped for faithful and valiant and unselfish service in His cause. Never will dear old Major Cole be forgotten! His “Get right with God” and “Praise the Lord” have rung and are still ringing a multitude of souls to Christ. And by and by there will be another home-coming, in which thousands upon thousands will “Meet the Major” again and will bless God forever that they met him on earth.

And then what a home-coming it was for those old pioneers of an early day: Rev. J.H. Harwood, the first pastor of The Moody Church, formulator of its constitution, organizer of fifty churches since that day, and of Sunday Schools almost without number; founder also of three flourishing Christian colleges, and who even yet, although past seventy, seems almost in the prime and vigor of manhood; Fleming H. Revell, Moody’s brother-in-law and one of his earliest associates in his first Sunday School venture among the “street Arabs” of Chicago, in 1859, and for many years afterwards one of his most valued helpers; Judge Simeon W. King, another of Moody’s early helpers, also forty-four years on the Federal bench, having been appointed by Abraham Lincoln at the age of twenty-one; Thomas McMillen, for many years clerk of the United States District Court, was a pupil in Moody’s first Sunday School in 1859; T.S. Fauntleroy, Moody’s “rough and ready” man, who could be depended upon at a moment’s notice for anything, from the teaching of an infant class or the handling of a lot of unruly boys to the superintending of the entire school; Watts DeGolyer, Moody’s right hand confidential man, upon whom he leaned heavily for counsel and support; D.R. Niver, who was the last man to preside at the organ in the old Illinois Street Church on the night of the great fire, in 1871; Miss Emma Dryer, one of the most valuable among the early workers and Bible teachers; Rev. John S. Okerstein, for years the leading representative of the Scandinavian element in The Moody Church, now a missionary in Minnesota; John Langston and his mother, who was a charter member of the church; E.H. Hunt, secretary and treasurer in the North Market Street and Illinois Street Sunday Schools; John H. Syme, for years one of the church’s home missionaries and Bible class teachers; C.R. Bockius, one of Moody’s most faithful and valued helpers; Rev. Charles Herald and Rev. William S. Nickel, two former choristers, and Rev. C.M. Morton, President C.A. Blanchard, former pastors.

A few of the many others who were present were the following: Mrs. Geo. C. Needham, Ed C. Cook, George Robinson, John Hubbard, Mr. and Mrs. R.S. Thain, “Auntie” Cook, John Wilmount, Mrs. Inger Johnson, A.H. Lowden, Joseph Bray, Mrs. Diana Ward, Rev. Wm. Cook, George Flood, Charles Weston, Robert Griffith, Frank Gesselbracht, Miss Kittie Gesselbracht, Mr. and Mrs. James Stitt, Mr. and Mrs. John Duff, Mr. and Mrs. R. McRae, Mr. and Mrs. E. Vogel, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Eickenberg, Mr. and Mrs. S.A. Kean, Rev. Charles W. Turner and Mrs. Jones.

Surely when this home-coming thought was given to Elder J.M Hitchcock, it must have been an inspiration from the Lord, and when Dr. Dixon suggested that reunion cover a week instead of a day, he, too, must have been inspired. From first to last, God’s presence and blessing were continually manifest. The committee that was chosen to carry out the plan, consisting of J.S. McGlashan, J.M. Hitchcock, G.F. Fisher, A.F. Gaylord, C.S. Kerfoot and E.Y. Woolley, together with the various sub-committees, did their work well. Such pulpit discourses, such sermons in song, such appeals to the unsaved, such children’s meetings, such stories in crayon, such a reminiscence day, such a finely arranged program, such decorations of the church, such reception and care of the guests, such thorough and systematic publicity, such a spirit of Christian love and fraternity. The writer never saw anything quite like it before. It was worth to both old and present members all that it cost.

The keynote of aspiration for the entire week was struck by Dr. Dixon on the first morning of the reunion at the Men’s Bible Class, and later in his sermon, when he said: “As Moody once declared, in response to the statement that the man had never yet lived who was wholly devoted to the will of God, ‘Then I’ll be that man,’ so I covet for this church, both pastor and people, the consecration that will make it lose site of everything but whole-hearted devotion to the perfect will of God—in Christian experience, in daily conduct, in the salvation of the unsaved. Let us make the will and glory of God our supreme object as a church and as individuals.”

One of the inspiring features of the week was the music. Dr. D.B. Towner, with his well-trained choir, made the whole church ring with Gospel melody. There was chorus singing and there were solos and duets, music vocal and instrumental; by the band, by the orchestra, by trained singers, by the great congregation. Dr. James M. Gray had written a special hymn for the occasion—“We Are Gathering to Our Home Again”—and this with Dr. Towner’s hymns, composed also for the occasion—“I’m Going Home in the Good Old Way,” together with “He Will Hold Me Fast” and “There’ll Be No Dark Valley” were the songs that filled and thrilled the people with praise unto Jehovah.

From the first day to the last Rev. W.E. Needham’s chalk talks at four o’clock each afternoon attracted attention and grew on the people. His was surely the “gospel in crayon.” In less than five minutes’ time the most beautiful scenes in nature and life were transferred from the brain of the artist-evangelist to the blackboard, and were accompanied by little sermons in story that will never be forgotten by many of those who saw and heard. This was the Sunday School’s contribution to reunion week, and Superintendent Reiner was careful to make the most of it. The children were present every day in large numbers and many were led to confess Christ.

The “great day of the feast” was Thursday, “Reminiscence Day,” with an informal social reunion in the afternoon and a banquet at six o’clock in the lecture-room of the Bible Institute, attended only or principally by the old-time associates of Mr. Moody. Admission was by ticket, and, with few exceptions, no one was eligible except those who were able to “convince” the committee of their connection with the work during the early days. About four hundred succeeded in establishing their claim to “sit at the feast.” Dr. Dixon, who presided at the banquet, said that these were the “real four hundred.” Some of the speakers on this occasion, and afterwards at the mass meeting in the church, were Dr. Dixon, W.R. Moody of Northfield, A.P. Fitt, secretary of the Bible Institute; Judge Simeon W. King, Fleming H. Revell, Rev. J.H. Harwood, Mrs. Geo. C. Needham, T.S. Fauntleroy, Rev. Wm. S. Nickel and Rev. W.J. Erdman. Many interesting reminiscences were related.

Mass meetings were held in the church every evening throughout the week, addressed by Dr. Dixon, Rev. Charles Herald, Dr. Erdman, Mrs. Geo. C. Needham and others, and at each service the evangelistic note was dominant. Sinners were earnestly exhorted to come to Christ and many responded. A street meeting preceded the service in the church each evening whenever the weather permitted. The auditorium of the church failed on several evenings to accommodate the throngs of people that flocked to the services, and largely attended overflow meetings in charge of E.Y. Woolley and others were held in other parts of the building.

The only regret of the week was that Dr. Torrey, Mr. Jacoby, Rev. Charles F. Goss, Sterling F. Heyward, and some others of our former members and friends were unable to attend. Their presence was greatly missed.

The event was one of the most important in the entire history of The Moody Church, and already the suggestion is made that it be repeated in the not-too-distant future. In fact, there are those who feel that it should be regarded as merely preliminary to the proposted Jubilee Celebration of the coming year—a suggestion well worth serious consideration.

In closing we cannot refrain from repeating, for the sake of emphasizing, the fourfold declaration set forth on the first page of the printed program:

Our church: Unsectarian and in fellowship with all who love the Lord Jesus Christ.

Our theme: Jesus Christ, and Him crucified; Who is over all. God blessed forever.

Our object: The salvation of the lost; the perfecting of the saints.

Our hope: The coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Let us also keep ever before us our church motto: “Welcome to this house of God are strangers and the poor.”