Saturday, April 4, 2015

Appleyard: Church grows from unique beginning

From Central Gulf Coast-

The Pensacola area is a community of churches, and one — Old Christ Church — is easily recognized by many. Faithfully restored in its location opposite Seville Square, the facility is an icon. However, few recognize its unique beginning. The story merits telling.

When Pensacola became part of the United States, it had but one practicing Christian denomination — the Catholic Church. However, with the coming of a new government, several Protestant denominations felt the isolated Florida population was fertile ground for recruiting. Gov. Andrew Jackson had hardly departed when the first missionary arrived. Alexander Talley represented the Methodists. He arrived with a year's assignment to enroll members in Pensacola and Mobile. However, his 12 months brought no results. Other Methodists followed: Ashley Hewitt, Henry Cook and Charles Hardy. The Rev. Hardy did raise a small chapel, but gained few members.

Presbyterian David Robinson Preston's survey brought hopeful reports; however, he concluded that the time was not yet right for a church.

Then came the Rev. Ralph Williston, an Episcopalian. Rather than make individual solicitations, he placed an ad in the Gazette inviting all practicing protestant Christians to meet and to discuss combining forces to establish a common church. The meeting drew 12 Episcopalians, 10 Methodists, two Presbyterians and two Baptists and, with amazing fortune, all agreed to proceed to obtain a charter, raise funds and erect a church.

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