Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Falling plaster and failing pastor

A recollection of Jeremiah Bell Jeter (1802-1880):

"A singular event occurred in my ministry while I lived in the Neck. I had an appointment to preach at White Chapel, in the upper end of Lancaster county. It was an old colonial edifice, large, much out of repair, and little used. The day was showery, but the congregation, considering the weather, was good. My text was Luke xiii. 24 : "Strive to enter in at the strait gate; for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able." I had proceeded some distance in my discourse, with usual freedom, when a large mass of plaster, more than two feet square and several inches thick, fell from the lofty ceiling, just grazing me in its descent. Had it fallen on my head it would probably have killed me, or would certainly have stunned and seriously wounded me. I was alarmed, but, finding the danger over, I quickly proceeded to make extempore remarks, suggested by the event, on the perils to which we are constantly exposed, the uncertainty of life, and the importance of being always prepared for our end.

"At that period of my ministry I preached not without careful preparation for the work, but without taking notes into the pulpit. On this occasion I had read my text, shut up the Bible, and had no memento of my discourse. When I had finished my unpremeditated remarks I essayed to recommence my sermon, but all recollection of the text and subject was entirely effaced from my mind. I stood and endeavored to recall the theme of my discourse. My efforts were vain, and my situation was becoming more and more embarrassing. I turned to the left, where sat my friend, Deacon Dunaway, and asked him if he could tell me what I was preaching about. He seemed to be paralyzed, or rather petrified, by the question. He sat with his eyes and mouth stretched wide open, without moving a muscle. He would have been a model of a perplexed mind for an artist. Finding no help from that source I gradually turned to the right. Deacon Norris, a careful hearer, and noted for remembering the texts of sermons, seeing that I was directing my eyes toward him, cast his head down on the back of the pew before him, as much as to say, "Don't ask me for your text." So thoroughly were the congregation in sympathy with me in the alarm caused by the falling of the plaster, and the remarks which the event had suggested, that probably not one of them remembered my text.

"Just as I was about to take my seat the text and my discourse flashed on my mind, and I commenced my remarks precisely at the point at which they had been interrupted, and finished my sermon with freedom and a solemnity perhaps intensified by the danger which I had escaped.

"I have heard of two ministers who, having forgotten their texts, were able to continue their discourses because they were endowed with remarkable volubility. For my part, I could not preach without a text, and could not always proceed even with one."

From The Recollections of a Long Life, Jeremiah Bell Jeter, Richmond, VA: Religious Herald Co., 1891, pp. 200-201

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