Memories of Elmfield 7

The Students for the Ministry

Transcription of article published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by An Old Boy

DURING my time at Elmfield the first batch of candidates for the ministry sent there for training under Mr. Petty, occupied a distinctive place in the life of the College. In the dining hall and the playground we met them regularly, and also in the class meetings. They attended chapel with us too on Sundays, unless they happened to be preaching anywhere. Once a week they preached in turn before the governor, the masters, and the boys. We thus had an opportunity of hearing them, and passing judgment as to their qualifications for the ministry. The ordeal must have been all the more trying by reason of the character of the audience. Probably there was little attempt to adapt the sermon to the occasion. Of many of these discourses I have no remembrance, but there was one awful occasion that has stamped itself on my memory. The preacher was Hosea Hewitt, a young man of considerable ability, who after a brief but growingly successful ministry amongst us left the Connexion and went to America. If he did not go at once, his ministry was ultimately transferred to the United States. Well, the thing that made his Tuesday night service memorable was this: he stuck fast. Having announced his text, “Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put Him to death. Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews, but went thence into a country near to the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim, and there continued with His disciples,” he began his sermon and spoke perhaps for ten or fifteen minutes. Suddenly he halted, stammered, tried to recover himself, and then intimating to the governor that he could not proceed, sat down. Imagine the sensation. The governor quietly arose, took up the thread of the discourse and completed it as if it had been his own.

Another student’s sermon I also recall on account of its ease, fluency, and eloquence. David S. Prosser was then only seventeen, but his delivery had all the ease and forcefulness of a master of pulpit oratory. It was a wonderful effort for a mere boy. Two of the students I readily recall were Thomas Mitchell and W. J. White. The easy, confident bearing and general impression of mastery which Mr. Mitchell gave in those days made us think he would take a prominent position in our ministry. Mr. White was a young man of singularly gracious spirit and brotherliness. His brief ministry was full of brilliant promise, and all too soon terminated by death. Another young man I remember, tall, slender, and with a peculiar timbre in his voice. There was a plaintive note in it too. Well on for forty years afterwards I was attending a round of Missionary meetings in a certain northern town with Rev. James Shaw as co-deputation. When he commenced his speech at the first meeting on the Monday evening something in his voice immediately struck me as familiar. Where had I heard that voice before? Then it dawned upon me that it was the voice of the tall, and somewhat lanky student at Elmfield. After the meeting I said, “Were you a student at Elmfield under Mr. Petty?” “Certainly,” he replied. He was no longer lanky, but, well, how shall I put it? – comfortable looking, and having grown a beard and undergone sundry other changes at the hand of time was, apart from his voice, to me quite unrecognisable.

At the end of the quarter, which was the end of the year for the young men, a camp meeting was held in the garden at the end of the College, and all the students of the first batch spoke. John Sadler, John Swales, Edwin Dalton, A.T. Wardle, John Fletcher Porter (whom I heard preach, or was it pray, one Easter Sunday at Little Stonegate), and Antonio B. Carter were other students I remember. Of the first students I only recall Charlton, Kitson, Johnson, and Osborne clearly. Several of the early students have fallen on sleep, but a fair proportion are in the active ministry to-day. From the students I learned one day, as also from the head master, that during the previous night there had been a most astounding display of meteors. It was then, and has been ever since, a matter of keen regret that with the rest of the boys I was asleep and all unconscious of the marvellous spectacle presented by the flaming heavens. In the turret some of the students had a magnificent view of the display, which we learned would not occur again for thirty-three years. Alas, at the expiration of that time the display was not repeated, as is well known. It was thought a great thing for candidates for the ministry to have a year’s training under John Petty. And no doubt it was. But it was a humble affair contrasted with the equipment possible to our students to-day in the magnificent Hartley College. If with such limited opportunities many of the students of forty years ago have done so well, what may not be expected of the privileged students of the twentieth century?


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1908/874

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