Sidney Rigdon’s church finally runs out of steam

Sidney Rigdon’s church finally runs out of steam September 28, 2016


President Rigdon
Sidney Rigdon (1793-1876)
Wikimedia Commons public domain


Sidney Rigdon began his ministerial career as a Baptist preacher.  He was preaching in northeastern Ohio as early as 1821 and rapidly gained a reputation as a learned and spellbinding orator.  Then he came under the influence of Alexander Campbell, who founded the Disciples of Christ.  In 1826, he brought Campbellite theology to the Baptist congregation here in Mentor, and he soon brought them over to his doctrinal views.


Mentor Christian Church was organized in 1828 as a specifically Campbellite body of worshipers under Sidney Rigdon’s direction, meeting in a building on the corner of Center Street and Mentor Avenue, within two hundred yards of where I’m sitting right now.


In 1830, though, he accepted the claims of Joseph Smith and the Restoration, becoming — as most Latter-day Saints know — one of the most important leaders of the young Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


That ended his connection with the Disciples of Christ in Mentor.


But the congregation went on.


Parley Pratt tells of attempting to preach on the steps of a Campbellite meetinghouse in Mentor — presumably the very one that Sidney Rigdon founded — from which, despite his own recent association with the movement and the then-common practice of permitting various speakers to speak in churches, he had been barred.  A band gathered under the direction of a “Mr. Newell” in order to drown Parley out with drums and other instruments.  When that didn’t drive him off, however, they began to pelt him with eggs, hitting him all over his body, including his face.  It was, of course, a foretaste of things yet to come.


In 1856, the Campbellites built a new frame church further down Mentor Avenue at Jackson Street.  And then, in 1915, they replaced it with a more substantial building that remains today.


I visited that chapel almost exactly twelve months ago.  I was struck by the line of portraits of former pastors on one of its walls, including Sidney Rigdon.  Also among them was Zeb Rudolf, the father-in-law of James A. Garfield, a local attorney who would eventually become (for a brief period, ended by assassination) the twentieth president of the United States.  He himself appeared on the wall, as he was not only active in the church and a substantial donor to it but also an active lay preacher at its pulpit.


This past April, the congregation finally came to an end.  It had dwindled for a long time, and, at the last, the owner of the nearby McDonald’s franchise (and fourteen or so other such franchises) bought its chapel.  He uses the church basement for employee training, and he’s committed to maintaining the building intact, as a piece of Mentor’s history.


Sad.  Thus passes an era.  But life goes on.


Posted from Mentor, Ohio


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