Happy birthday, Springfield!

Good morning, Friends!

This is Birthday Sunday. Each year we celebrate the anniversary of the founding of Springfield Friends Meeting back in 1773 – three years before the Declaration of Independence!

We are one of the oldest Quaker meetings in the area, and we’re also one of the oldest in the surrounding four-counties. We have seen a lot of history, and we’ve been leaders in much of it.

We have been the parent of many other Quaker meetings, and hundreds of people from Springfield have left here and traveled to places all over the country. Springfield could be called the “mother of meetings” because of all the people who came from here.

You may not know that this Sunday is also the anniversary of the dedication of this building where we’re worshiping today. It was dedicated on Sunday, May 1 in 1927.

That was a very big day indeed. I actually found a copy of the program from the dedication in our archives this year. They had three worship meetings that day – in the morning, in the afternoon, and in the evening, with guest speakers and special music at all three.

One of the things I found in the dedication program, was a set of responsive readings from the Old and New Testament, which are printed in your bulletin today.

I know that we don’t often do responsive readings very often, but I’d like us to read them together this morning. It’s a way for us to participate in our past, and to re-connect with the people who came before us. These readings from the Bible were chosen by Clara Cox and read on May 1, 1927 at the dedication of this meetinghouse.

So, if you’ll pick up your bulletin now, let’s read these back-and-forth together.

Minister: David said, “My son Solomon is young and inexperienced, and the house to be built for the Lord should be of great magnificence and fame and splendor in the sight of all the nations.

Congregation: Then David called for his son Solomon and charged him to build a house for the Lord, the God of Israel.

Minister: David said to Solomon: “My son, I had it in my heart to build a house for the Name of the Lord my God.

Congregation: Now, may the Lord be with you, and may you have success and build the house of the Lord your God.

Minister: May the Lord give you wisdom and understanding when he puts you in charge over Israel, so that you may keep the teaching of the Lord your God.

Congregation: Then you will have success if you are careful to observe the teaching and laws that the Lord gave Moses for Israel. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged.

Minister: Acknowledge the God of your parents, and serve God with a whole heart and a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. If you seek God, he will be found by you; but if you forsake God he will cast you off forever.

Congregation: Take heed now; for the LORD has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary: be strong and do it.

Minister: Then David blessed the LORD before all the congregation: and David said, Blessed be thou, LORD God of Israel our ancestor, for ever and ever.

Congregation: Now therefore, our God, we thank you, and praise your glorious name.

Minister: Unless the LORD builds the house those who build it work in vain; unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchers stay awake in vain.

Congregation: For we are co-workers in God’s service; the world is God’s field, everything is God’s building.

Minister: You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but you are fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.

Congregation: We are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

Minister: In Christ the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.

Congregation: In Christ, we too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

I Chronicles 22:5-7, 11-13, I Chronicles 28:9,
1 Corinthians 3:10-11, Psalm 127:1-2, Ephesians 2:19-22

One of the things about Springfield is that we are literally surrounded by our family history here. When you walk in the front door, the door was given in memory of Clinton and Victoria Petty.

Clinton Petty was one of the people who built the “old” meetinghouse next door back in 1858, which is now the Museum. He was also a pioneer in manufacturing here in the area.

He built the first factory to make windows and doors in North Carolina. People came here from 100 miles around with loads of lumber, and to trade for coffee, sugar, hardware, shoes and saddles. So, when you come in the front door, that’s a part of our history.

This two doors at the front of the worship room, on the left and right, were given in memory of Nereus Barker and his wife, Mary. Nereus was the first pastor of Springfield in the late 1800’s. He served on a voluntary basis and was deeply loved.

Everywhere you look in this room, you see small brass plaques. Each one represents part of an earlier generation which worshiped here and led our meeting.

The pillars which hold up the roof over our heads were given in gratitude for the lives of people who were pillars of the church during their lifetime. Each family who sponsored one gave the equivalent of $5,000 in today’s money.

This pulpit and all the furniture up here was given by the Tomlinson brothers, who owned a famous furniture factory and were the first organizers of the High Point Furniture Market.

The pews were given by David Hunt Blair and his wife, in memory of his parents, Abigail and Solomon Blair. David was a big local attorney, and he wound up serving as the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service up in Washington, D.C.

Before the Civil War, Solomon Blair secretly taught slaves how to read. That was extremely illegal back then – the fine was $1,000 per slave, which would be over $30,000 today.

It took great courage for Quakers like Solomon Blair to risk everything they had because they believed that people of all races were created equal in the image of God.

After the war, Solomon Blair built the first school for former slaves in the area. It stood at the corner of what is now Martin Luther King Boulevard and Centennial Street. He ran it for over 20 years, until the work was taken over by other Quakers.

I’ve said this before, and I’m saying it again, because I want everyone here to know and remember that when you sit down here for worship, you’re sitting in a pew which was given in loving memory of someone who taught slaves to read.

This is what I’m talking about, when I say that here at Springfield we’re literally surrounded by history.

A few years ago, I wrote a book for my family, about the place in Vermont where I grew up, about the home place which has been part of my family for more than 100 years now.

One of the things I wrote was a Native American proverb, from the Seneca people. It simply says, “Other council fires were here before ours. . .

That’s partly what I’m trying to say here this morning. “Other council fires were here before ours. . .”

Long before we showed up, other people were here at Springfield. They worshiped God. They lived their lives. They raised families. They read their Bibles. They faced the challenges of their generation. They did the best they could, using whatever they had.

They endured through wars, and boom times, and hard times. They survived terrible epidemics.

Some became rich and famous, and gave generously to build the place where we’re worshiping today. Others had very little, but they gave of their time and effort, and that was worth more than any amount of money. They gave their best – of faith, hope, and love – and they’re why we’re able to celebrate the birthday of Springfield today.

A couple of notes about epidemics. One of the worst diseases, for hundreds of years, was smallpox. It was a dreaded, deadly disease, especially for small children, and even people who recovered could be left disfigured and blind.

Anybody remember the name of Nathan Hunt? Maybe you’ve seen his picture, over next door in the Museum.

Nathan Hunt was one of the founders of Springfield Friends Meeting. He was born over in Greensboro, and the Battle of Guilford Courthouse was fought next door to his family farm.

After the battle, the British and the American armies moved on, and they left their dead and badly wounded behind. The wounded were brought to the New Garden meetinghouse.

Smallpox broke out among the wounded men. Nathan Hunt had lost his own father to smallpox when he was a boy, but even though he was newly married with small children, he decided it was his duty to help, and he nursed the wounded soldiers who were dying of the disease.

That’s the kind of person who started Springfield.

Nathan Hunt went on to help start Guilford College – even though he only had a few months of formal education himself. He read and studied his Bible, and he became a greatly respected minister. He traveled and visited Quaker meetings all up and down the United States, Great Britain and Ireland.

After the Civil War, his home place, just a few hundred yards over there, became the Model Farm, which taught modern agricultural techniques to thousands of families from all over North Carolina, and re-built the war-devastated economy and helped people keep their farms and homes. That’s Nathan Hunt.

Another epidemic story – I told this one in the newsletter last month. Just after the end of the Civil War, an epidemic of small pox broke out in the Springfield neighborhood. People were terrified. A vaccine had been invented, but it wasn’t available here. People knew that if you could get a mild case, you would probably survive.

And then — a Quaker woman from Virginia was visiting here, and she had just recovered from smallpox. She offered to people in our meeting, if anyone wanted to break off bits of the scabs from her smallpox scars, they could make a little cut in their skin, and rub the scab into the cut. It sounds really primitive and gross, but it worked.

One member of Springfield had six young children, and she was desperate and decided to try it in order to save them. It worked, and she and her children all survived the epidemic.

I’m not recommending this. In fact, I’d say, “Kids, don’t try this at home!”

But one of those children grew up to be one of the best-loved leaders of Springfield. Her name was Dora E. Richardson, and she ran the Sunday School here for 40 years.

Dora E. Richardson was also the one who started the custom of making Brunswick stew at Springfield, and the thousands of other church suppers we’ve had over the years.

The Great Depression started just two years after this building was built, and the meeting had a mortgage, in today’s money, of almost a quarter of a million dollars. Nobody had any money then. Many people had lost their jobs, and all their savings.

Dora started holding church suppers. She and the others did it for ten long years, till the mortgage was all paid off. When there was no way, when there were no resources, she didn’t give up. She did what she could, and it was more than enough. Dora E. Richardson.

I could tell you so many more stories, about the people who gave birth to Springfield, and grew it, and sustained it, and gave to it, and had visions for the place where we are today.

I’ve been reading some of this stuff, from the old papers we brought from over at the Museum, all through this past year during the lockdown. I could tell you dozens of these stories.

The writer of the book of Hebrews in the Bible, says that we are surrounded, at all times, by a great cloud of witnesses – people who have gone before us, who were radiant in faith.

I know that many of you come here and think about how empty many of the pews are, and you remember people who you loved, who are gone.

But I want you to understand that in every empty space, there are angels here, who are crowding to fit in. You may not know most of them by name. But they’re here. You have angels beside you at Springfield, every time you’re here.

And I want you to feel – to know – that in everything we try here, we’ve got a whole army of angels on our side. Encouraging us. Giving us their example. Praying for us.

If we’ve got an army of angels here, who’s going to stop us? Who’s going to discourage us?

I’m not saying today, on Birthday Sunday, that we should try to be our ancestors. Nobody can do that. Their challenges were different.

But we can ask for and claim the same faith, hope and love that they had. They put their faith in Jesus Christ. They put their hope in the future. They invested their love, and everything they had, into their families and into the family of their Friends meeting.

If they didn’t have money, they still knew how to work. If they didn’t have what they needed, they still knew how to pray. Work and prayer, together, built this place.

If you pray without working, it won’t get very many bricks laid. If you work without praying, you won’t have any vision. If you work and pray, and ask God to help and guide you, then there’s no limit to what can happen.

Happy birthday, Springfield!

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