Saturday, June 2, 2012

Cane Ridge Meeting House

Cane Ridge Signs by paynehollow
Cane Ridge Signs, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.
I recently had the good fortune to finally stop by the Cane Ridge Meeting House, albeit for a short visit. This is a significant bit of US history that began right here in central Kentucky.

Folks familiar with church history will recognize the term, The Great Awakening. There have been at least four "great awakenings" in our recent history. The first began in Europe and swept over to colonial America in the 1740s-1750s.

The second Great Awakening is the one that began at the Cane Ridge Meeting House north of Paris, Kentucky at the beginning of the 1800s.

The Great Awakenings were times of spiritual revivals in certain Christian circles. They were generally followed by times of significant cultural change and a push for social change - much of the push for rights for minorities and women, along with the abolition of slavery, along with movements to aid the poor and immigrants and other social changes, can be traced to the Great Awakenings.

The Cane Ridge revival has been recorded to have started like this...

On the 1st of May, at a society on the waters of Fleming creek, on the east side of Licking, a boy, under the age of twelve years, became affected in an extraordinary manner, publicly confessing and acknowledging his sins, praying for pardon, through Christ, and recommending Jesus Christ to sinners, as being ready to save the vilest of the vile--Adult persons became affected in the like manner. The flame began to spread...

On Friday night preceding the Sacrament at Concord, I was present at a society, held at Kainridge, a united congregation of Mr. Stone, and saw the extraordinary work. Of fifty persons present, nine were struck down. I proceeded next morning to Concord, ten miles distant, where a sermon was preached, at which several became affected and struck down. The exercises continued all night. This was the first occasion, that shewed the necessity of performing out doors. The number being so great, the Lord's Supper was administered at a tent. A great solemnity appeared all day. A number were struck down; on the whole occasion about 150. The exercises continued from Saturday till Wednesday, day and night, without intermission. The appearance itself was awful and solemn. It was performed in a thick grove of beachen timber; candles were furnished by the congregation. The night still and calm.

Add to that, exhortations, praying, singing, the cries of the distressed, on account of sin; the rejoicing of those, that were delivered from their sin's bondage, and brought to enjoy the liberty that is in Christ Jesus; all going on at the same time.

About 4000 persons attended, 250 communicated; twelve waggons had brought some of the people with their provisions, &c. from distant places. This was the first occasion that shewed the necessity of encamping on the ground; the neighbourhood not being able to furnish strangers with accommodation; nor had they a wish to separate.

[from Colonel Robert Patterson's letter to Dr. John King]

One reason that these worship/revival meetings were unusual and significant was that blacks and whites were meeting together in a time and place where that just didn't happen. One of the signs at the meeting house today calls the place, "A Temple of Christian Unity."

In Patterson's letter, he describes the unusual physical manifestations of the revival (which appears to be something akin to the "being slain in the Spirit" phenomenon still found in some charismatic churches, or the trembling of Shakerism)...

Of all ages, from 8 years and upwards; male and female; rich and poor; the blacks; and of every denomination; those in favour of it, as well as those, at the instant in opposition to it, and railing against it, have instantaneously laid motionless on the ground. Some feel the approaching symptoms by being under deep convictions; their heart swells, their nerves relax, and in an instant they become motionless and speechless, but generally retain their senses.

It comes upon others like an electric shock, as if felt in the great arteries of the arms or thighs; closes quick into the heart, which swells, like to burst. The body relaxes and falls motionless; the hands and feet become cold, and yet the pulse is as formerly, though sometimes rather slow. Some grow weak, so as not to be able to stand, but do not lose their speech altogether.

Patterson's description of the meetings is an interesting read, if you are interested, you can find it here.

The Cane Ridge Meeting House was built as a frontier church in 1791 and the congregation (the Cane Ridge Christian Church) ceased to be in 1921. The log building meeting house had a stone building built around it in the 1950s, to preserve that part of our heritage and history and today, serves as a museum/memorial run by donations. I plan to visit again soon when I have more time.

1 comment:

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

I went to college in a region of western New York known as "the burnt-over district" because of the many revivals that spawned new Christian denominations and sects, including the still-existent but tiny Seventh Day Baptists and the Mormons; Joseph Smith's vision in Palmyra, along the northern Finger Lakes, is celebrated each year.

I had no idea it all started on the frontier, though. Thanks, Dan.