This letter was written by Rev. Wheelock Hendee Parmly, (1816-1894), the son of Randolph Parmly and Elizabeth B. Murray. His mother was a niece of Eleazer Wheelock — the founder and first President of Dartmouth College.
Parmly graduated from Columbia College in New York City in 1842. About the time he entered college he united with the old Amity Street Baptist Church in New York City of which Rev. Dr. William R. Williams was pastor and to whom he wrote this letter in 1846. Parmly was given a “license to preach the gospel” by the Amity Street Church on the 16th of July, 1844, and in the following month was graduated from Madison Theological Seminary. Years later (1867), Madison University conferred upon him the honorary title of Doctor of Divinity.
Soon after graduation, he sailed to New Orleans, where he began to preach, and while there he accepted the assistant pastorate of the Baptist Church at Clinton, La., which he filled “most acceptably for two years, declining during that period three calls to become pastor of churches in the North. He developed a strong friendship for the negro, frequently visited them in their cabins, took a fearless stand on the slavery question as an advocate of human rights, and afterward sheltered many a fugitive slave. During his residence in the South he also acquired that habit of great hospitality which always characterized his home.”
At the end of two years, Parmly returned to New York City, and on November 15, 1847, “he accepted a call to the Baptist Church at Shelburne Falls, Mass., where he remained two years, and resigned, the winter climate of the Berkshire hills being too hard for his constitution. Shortly after he accepted this pastorate he married Katharine Dunbar, daughter of Rev. Duncan Dunbar, of the Macdougal Street Baptist Church, New York City.” Parmly next assumed the duties of pastor of the Baptist Church at Burlington, N. J., in May, 1850, and remained there nearly five years, during which time the ” church grew mightily.”
“On the 1st of September. 1854, at the age of thirty-eight, he entered upon his labors as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Jersey City, and ably, honorably, and satisfactorily filled that pastorate until his death, August 1, 1894,– a period of forty years, lacking one month.”
Addressed to Rev. William R. Williams, D.D., No 168 Fourth Street, New York
July 15, 1846
Rev. William R. Williams
My Dear Brother,
I wrote you a letter dated May 23d but having met with considerable opposition from an old man upon a certain topic, I now write to you confidentially asking your advice; not because doubts concerning the subject rest upon my own mind, but because I wish to be in the right, and because I wish to know whether a large portion of our brethren take the view which this old minister (the father of the lady with whom I board) does. The subject referred to is ordination. The circumstances which lead me to write to you are the following:
1 — You may remember that I once said to you that the ministers in this country did not love each other. So far as I have seen, they are at variance (most of them) and it is no strange thing to see one association trying to destroy what the churches of another have done. This is a bitter curse and prevents the success of the Gospel. The minister I refer to is of a different association and will not fellowship what this one (the Mississippi River) does. He has disturbed the peace of the churches for a long time, and although he now has little influence, yet he loves to annoy everyone who does not think with him.
2 — At my ordination, he was not invited. Brother Hinton presided, Brethren Smith & Poole assisted (all was done before the whole church and a crowded house on Sabbath). Two Methodist ministers of the parish were present and were asked to take part in the service, they accepted; and when Brethren Hinton, Smith and Poole laid on hands, these (Methodist ministers) too laid on hands. This one circumstance has led that old minster to attempt to invalidate my ordination. He has attacked me three times (I believe he has done it because he seems actually to hate the three Baptist brethren above-named, although they are in good standing in their own association). This leads me to ask you two simple questions viz: 1) How many ordained ministers does it require to set apart another minister by ordination? 2) Would the participation of ministers of another denomination in that act invalidate it?
I ask it for information. I ask it confidentially. Your answer would be of service to me in future life. You may ask my own views? They are simply these:
1 — Ordination is simply the “appointment” or “setting apart” of a person for a particular work. This appointment belongs to the church. The laying on of hands by the Presbytery simply gives publicity and sanction to the act of the church.
2 — The laying on of hands by one Presbyter or Bishop is all that is necessary to render that ordination valid. Titus 1:5. More than one would be desirable but not necessary. Indeed, I am not certain that one is absolutely necessary.
3 — The participation of bishops of another denomination (by the invitation of the church or council called by the church) would not render the ordination invalid.
What think you of my own views? Give me yours and tell me if you don’t like mine. There seems a want of reformation in many of the churches in this country upon important matters. I like to be substantiated or rather sustained in my own views by men of standing and scriptural knowledge. I need not tell you that your own views would be greatly valued by me. I have told you that I had not a single doubt of the validity of my own ordination or that of any other brother under similar circumstances, but I have regretted that I did not come back to Amity St. and receive it from the hands of those who love each other and whom I have learned to love. The advice of ministers here kept me from doing so. But brother, these ministers (being mostly men of property) are striving “who shall be greatest?” Lord forgive them! Scores and hundreds are perishing around them while they “bite” and “tear” each other. My own course, when I hear their complaints, is generally to take sides with neither. But enough — let what I say rest with yourself. I hope soon it will be better here.
Have enough of preaching to do. Have baptized three since my ordination. Fifteen or twenty more (blacks) are waiting to receive that ordinance next month. The constant exhibitions of Slavery greatly annoy me, but I feel to trust God and pray. Thanks for your excellent sermon. I have read it twice. Love to all the church. Do not forget to write to, nor pray for your obliged friend and brother,
— Wheelock H. Parmly