Good morning, Friends! Welcome back to Springfield!
It’s great to see you all here this morning. I want to thank you all for coming today. This is the first time we have gathered for worship, in person, since the beginning of March. Because of the COVID-19 epidemic, our last time to worship together was Sunday, March 8th.
That is the longest break, I think, in our meeting’s entire history. We have stayed in touch with each other. We’ve talked with each other on the phone, we’ve texted and e-mailed. We even had a drive-through baby shower!
We have done our absolute best to share a good message, every week, over the Internet. And we’ve reached hundreds of people that way, who seldom come here to worship on Sunday.
But today is the first time in more than three months that we’ve been able to get together as a group.
Our Scripture this morning is from the Old Testament, from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah is always our “go to” guy for hard and troubled times. Let’s hear what he has to say:
Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.
Look to Abraham your father,
and to Sarah who bore you.
For Abraham was only one person when I called him,
but I blessed him and made him many.
For the Lord will comfort his holy mountain;Isaiah 51:1-3
the Lord will comfort all the waste places,
the Lord will make the wilderness like the garden of Eden,
and the desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found,
thanksgiving, and the voice of song.
Springfield has had four buildings on the place we’re meeting today. Two of them were log cabins. One was made of home-made bricks, two years before the Civil War. It’s just over there.
The fourth building, the one right behind me, was built 70 years later. We added on a chapel, an education wing, and a fellowship hall.
So we’ve had four buildings. But for the last three months, we’ve had a totally different place of worship. In some ways, the way we’ve been worshiping the last three months counts as our fifth building. It’s been a church without walls or a roof, a virtual home.
We’ve had to learn to worship in our homes and in our hearts. It’s been disorienting, because we’ve always been used to coming here and walking in through these doors all our lives. We’ve been forced to reach out to maintain our fellowship. It hasn’t been easy for us to get used to.
I know we’re all looking forward to being able to meet again, indoors. We know that day will come.
But in the mean time, we’ve been worshiping in our different building, and trying to make the best of it.
During this long period of lock-down, I’ve spent part of my time learning more about our meeting’s past. I always think that we can better understand our present and our future, if we know more about our roots.
Many of you know that I’m deeply interested in the life and work of Allen Jay. I’ve even edited a book about him. Allen Jay changed hundreds of lives. He brought a fresh depth to the spiritual lives of people. He built schools. He lifted this whole area out of poverty.He had an enormous influence on Springfield Friends Meeting.
During the lock-down, I decided to learn some more about another person who also had a huge influence on the life of our meeting. I decided to learn as much as I could about Nathan Hunt.
Almost everyone in this area has heard of Nathan Hunt. People know he’s famous, but not many people really know what he’s famous for.
We’ve got his portrait hanging in the Museum over there. There’s a road in town named after him. That’s about as far as most people know.
The people who started Springfield were all immigrants. Most of them came here from Pennsylvania. They came down along trails through the mountains, looking for a place to live.
This place all around us was a wilderness two hundred and fifty years ago. Look around you – everywhere you look was forest, which had never been cleared.
Nathan Hunt was one of the first members of our meeting. His father William Hunt made the long trip on foot, down through the mountains from Pennsylvania, when he was only 20 years old.
His father was one of the first members of New Garden Friends. His father became a traveling minister, who visited almost every Quaker meeting in the American colonies. He also traveled to Quaker meetings in England, Ireland, Scotland, and the Netherlands.
Nathan Hunt’s father died of smallpox, on a preaching trip to England, when Nathan Hunt was only 14 years old.
After his father died, Nathan Hunt and his family were left in total poverty. The neighbors helped the family out, and young Nathan was apprenticed as a blacksmith.
He never went to school for more than 6 months in his entire life. After work, at night, he would stop at the home of a nearby doctor. The doctor let him borrow books, which Nathan Hunt would read at home by the light of the fire, or by the light of flaming pine knots, because candles were too expensive. Those borrowed books, and the Bible, were all the high school education he ever had.
He got married early, at age 20. Settled down, had some children. When Nathan Hunt was still a young man, the Revolutionary War came along. The Quakers were pacifists. Didn’t believe in fighting anyone with physical weapons, but with spiritual ones, like truth and fairness.
One of the most important battles of the Revolutionary War was fought right here in our area – the battle of Guilford Courthouse. The British army marched right across Nathan Hunt’s family farm. The army took most of their food. They took his cow, and his horses. The battle took place a day or two later.
When it was over, the British had won, but they lost so many men that they decided to retreat, instead of heading north to Virginia. A few months later, their main force surrendered, at Yorktown. They won the battle of Guilford Courthouse, but lost the war.
After the battle here, there were dozens of seriously wounded from both sides. The two armies had no way to care for them. The armies moved on, leaving the wounded behind in the Quaker meetinghouse at New Garden.
An epidemic of smallpox broke out among the wounded. Even though his family was against it, Nathan Hunt volunteered to look after the wounded. He caught the disease himself, but he only had a mild case.
The Quakers buried the dead from both armies, British and Patriot, side by side in their own grave yard.
After the war, Nathan and Mary Hunt lived on the family home place at New Garden. They had six kids. His wife died, a week after the last one was born. He struggled on alone by himself for a few years, then married again.
They moved down here, and he and his second wife were among the first members of Springfield Meeting. Their home was just over there, on Model Farm Road. I’ve read some letters written by visitors, and who said that their home was a place of warmth and welcome, of simplicity and peace. Just to sit down in their living room was a gift.
Nathan Hunt became a Quaker preacher, just like his father. He traveled all over, visiting, encouraging, building up Quaker congregations everywhere he went.
Like his father before him, and like most Quakers of his generation, Nathan Hunt hated slavery. He felt it was against God’s law, for one human being to hold another as property, or to beat them or sell them like farm animals.
The Underground Railroad was just starting at this time. We don’t have any evidence that Nathan Hunt was active in it, but many Quakers in this area were.
The Underground Railroad was extremely illegal and very dangerous. Anyone who was caught helping a runaway slave could suffer enormous fines. In today’s dollars, the fine for helping just one slave escape was the equivalent of three years of income.
We know that Nathan Hunt was involved with different efforts. He was a member of the Manumission Society, which was an organization which encouraged slave owners to manumit, or set their slaves free. They also helped to buy the freedom for people who were enslaved.
This is all real. These are people who belonged to our meeting. They raised their own money to buy the freedom of people who had been slaves all their lives.
“Look to the rock from which you were hewn, the quarry from which you were dug. . .” That’s Nathan Hunt.
As he got older, Nathan Hunt was deeply interested in education. There were no public schools back then. The Quakers here at Springfield built a log cabin school. Families got together to hire a teacher. The school usually met for 3 or 4 months a year.
Many poor families couldn’t afford that, and had no education at all. Sunday school was a free school that only met on Sundays. Springfield Friends Meeting had the first Sunday School in the state of North Carolina. Right over there.
The kids came on Sunday morning at 8:00. The classes went on till 10:30, and then everybody went to meeting for worship. Sunday School taught children to read and write.
They gave out little paper tickets for good attendance, and for memorizing Bible verses. You got 10 red tickets, you could exchange them for a blue ticket. You got 10 blue tickets, you could trade them for a yellow one. When you had a certain number of yellow tickets, they gave you a Bible.
That’s where a lot of the old family Bibles came from – they came from going to our Sunday School.
My point isn’t that we will do exactly the same things as our spiritual ancestors did in the past. My point is they’ve left us some mighty big footprints to follow. They show us a direction. They show us a leading and a faith.
These were not people who had millions of dollars to hand out. They were ordinary people, who listened to the voice of God in their hearts. They took one step at a time, and they pointed each step in the direction that God showed them.
The problems they faced were very similar to our own: hatred, violence, unwillingness to change. The solutions we come up with in our own day may be different. But they did great things, and we remember them for them. The time to follow their example is always now.
“Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.”
Nathan Hunt continued to be concerned for education. There was no high school or college in the area. There was no place to train the teachers and leaders the community needed so much. Nathan Hunt decided to do something about it.
Along with his fellow Quaker minister, Jeremiah Hubbard, he raised the concern at North Carolina Yearly Meeting. They told them to go ahead. They collected funds for the next six years, and the school opened in 1837. Today, that school is Guilford College.
Nathan Hunt and the Quakers then were no greater in numbers than we are today. They had no special abilities that we don’t have.
They listened and prayed. They let their hearts and their imagination help them to see a better world. They did the very best that they could do.
They were loving, joyful, peaceful and patient. They were generous, faithful, gentle and self-controlled. There is no reason that with Jesus’ help, we can’t do great things, in our own day.
Lord, we are in the midst of difficult times. It feels like we are beset on all sides. Help us to get through these times, Lord, and help us to share your light and love along the way.
We count on you, Lord, to be our rock. Please help us to listen and pray, every day.
Give us imagination and grace. Give us good health and strength each day.
With your help, we want to make the world better, to bring peace and hope. In Jesus’ name, Amen.