Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

by John Howard Farmer

Visit the Irvington Baptist Church website

And Can It Be?

I’ve tried to come clean in these columns in the past. Many of my ancestral roots are deep in the Methodist Church. My paternal grandfather grew up, as a Methodist farmer Farmer, in Chesterfield County where the Beulah Methodist Church was their spiritual home.

Grandmother Lida Doughtie came from Holland, VA, to live with her elder sister at Centralia. There she met a handsome redhead postman, driving a wagon, pulled by an old sorrel mare. Frequently pausing to deliver the post, downing a few glasses of lemonade, chomping fistfuls of fresh-baked of cookies and Miss Lida had bagged her man.

Lida & Robert moved to the town of Manchester, lying south along the James River, Richmond: aka dog-town. They named their first-born Beulah. Having moved to the city and working as a butcher, he moved their church home to the old Stockton Memorial Methodist Church, behind the Hustings courthouse.

After World War Il Stockton Memorial sold the property, changed their name to the McGuire United Methodist Church and moved west to within a stone’s throw from McGuire Veteran’s Hospital. That shortsightedness left them in a pickle when Richmond marched out US 360 west towards Amelia.

All of this predated the 1968 merger, in Dallas, Texas, of the American Methodist (formerly Methodist Episcopal) with the Evangelical United Brethren movement, which today is widely known as the United Methodist Church.

Beulah Lee Farmer married Nicholas Allen Vaughan, proprietor of Richmond’s Southern Optical Company, Franklin Street. That brought our family back to our Baptist roots. My uncle was a devout Baptist and a Manchester Lodge Mason. Grandmother’s home church had been the Holland Baptist Church.

Beulah was a popular soprano and an excellent pianist. She gave me my first music lessons. She did the same for my son, pastor of the Coan Baptist Church, Heathsville.

With aunt Beulah’s leadership and my widowed grandmother’s desire to return to her roots, our family became part of the fellowship at Webber Memorial Baptist Church, Oak Grove. As a Junior Primary lad, that’s where I met barrister R. Wayne Nunnally of Irvington and Norfolk. Even then, Wayne was a handful—no doubt now why friends and family lovingly refer to his bride as Saint Frances.

After a tour in the USMC I took employment with Piedmont Airlines, married and began a family. We lived in the old Timberlake Lodge across the lake from my mom Josephine and little sister Norma Jo, who is presently on a tour of the Northern Neck. Though all but my immediate family had enlisted elsewhere or fallen away, we renewed our family pilgrimage with McGuire Methodist Church after moving to Richmond from Lynchburg. For some good while I was an assistant choir director and organist there.

Later Philip Morris USA was kind to employ me. In 1975, I answered God’s call to ministry and moved to Louisville, Ky., to attend seminary. First pastoring churches in Kentucky and Tennessee, I was later called to be the senior minister at the United Parish, Brookline, Mass., which, was a consortium of the Baptist Church, Brookline, The Harvard Congregational Church and the Saint Mark’s United Methodist Church. So, I had come full circle back into the Methodist Church as an appointee to the New England United Methodist Conference (1981) by Bishop Carroll.

Subsequent moves were back into traditional Baptist congregations, until in October 1986, that is, I was called to serve as interim for the Irvington Church. Believe you me: there is nothing traditional about the Irvington Church. Yet we are a patchwork of conservative Christ followers.

In 1991, the Baptist Press included in our hymnal “And Can It Be.” It is a hymn penned by Charles Wesley (1707-1788) at Little Britain, London, England, after his spiritual renewal in 1738.

Shhh… without a doubt that hymn is one of my very personal favorites. The tune was metered by Thomas Campbell (1777-1844) and called “Sagina.” The tune was part of Campbell’s collection labeled as “The Bouquet” (sagina is a genus of small herbs with nutritive value, native to temperate climates). Ruth Graham reports that this hymn was a favorite of her Presbyterian missionary family while serving in China. Do you know the song? I’ll hum a bit for you:

“And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood? Died he for me, who caused his pain? For me, who him to death pursued?

Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, should die for me?”

No condemnation now I dread; Jesus and all in him is mine! Alive in him, my living head and clothed in righteousness divine, bold I approach the eternal throne and claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, should die for me!”

How I love to sing and play these old songs. My Methodist & Baptist roots really are anchored in songs of old. Come sit in a pew near you this Sunday and let your voice waft the tunes.

To God be the Glory!