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Thursday September 29, 2016
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Circuit Rider Elijah Pilcher

 

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Each year the Methodists gave a one-year break to "superannuated, or worn-out preachers." Pilcher requested this sabbatical in 1836, after the first of his three marriages. Forty-three years later he requested another, using the time to write his relentlessly detailed Protestantism in Michigan: Being a Special History of the Methodist Episcopal Church and Incidentally of Other Denominations. The book presents a biographical inventory of Michigan ministers, in dignified, floral prose--with one exception. Of the Grand Rapids church, he says, "This whole valley only returned twenty-seven members in 1836. The next year there was no report, owing to circumstances over which we prefer to draw a veil."

This referred to Frederick Seaborn, a minister who'd been run out of town for lewd behavior, heaved onto a gaunt horse with a bundle of straw dressed in women's clothes tied behind him. But Seaborn was the exception to Michigan's minister corps, who helped raise Methodism to such a force that in 1868 Ulysses S. Grant remarked that there were three great parties in the United States: the Republican, the Democratic, and the Methodist Church.

Before his death in 1887, Pilcher suffered a stroke that crippled his right arm--so he learned to write with his left. When he sent his recollections to the Pioneer Society of Michigan, he didn't mention the churches he'd founded or his roles as presiding elder. Nor did he mention his degrees or honors.

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