Nashville is a place where people come to seek their dreams of fame and fortune in country music. However, have you ever heard of the Nashville man who dreamed a dream that wasn’t fulfilled until 121 years after his death? It is an amazing story.
John Berry McFerrin (1807-1887) was an internationally known Methodist revivalist and magazine editor who lived in East Nashville. The last 11 years of his life, he lived at the corner of Berry (a street said to be named after him) and Meridian Streets.
McFerrin had a Nashville dream. He wanted others to experience what he had experienced when he was 16 years old. He joined a Methodist class meeting, which was a weekly, participatory meeting for prayer and mutual encouragement based upon the sharing of personal experiences (something like a Christian support group). Here is what McFerrin said about it:
“The meetings were greatly blessed. We read the Scriptures, we sang, we prayed, we spoke often one to another, and the Lord listened and heard. Here I heard much of Christian experience, and learned to understand the wants of others. Here I learned to give words of exhortation and comfort, and here I learned to appreciate the trials and temptations connected with the life of a Christian. Fifty years have passed and the precious seasons that I enjoyed then are still fresh in my memory. I regard class meetings as among the greatest providential means of grace ever instituted in the church. They did much to keep me in the path, and gave me many encouragements through hearing the experience of older and wiser Christians than myself. Class meeting is about the best theological school ever organized. It was a sad day when it declined in the church; and I hope and pray the time may come when it will be revived in the church.”
McFerrin died in 1887 without seeing his dream fulfilled: “I hope and pray that the time may come when it (class meetings) will be revived in the church.”
However, in March of 2008 (121 years after his death), The Salvation Army opened up a non-traditional, participatory church based on open sharing and testimonies, in a building at the corner of Berry & McFerrin streets, right across the street from where McFerrin’s Nashville home once stood. These meetings are Spirit-led without human programming or control. They are incredibly powerful.
After quoting McFerrin’s dream (see above quote), his biographer, O.P. Fitzgerald, said: “Moral forces do not die; they transmigrate. The soul of a seemingly spent movement enters a new body . . . Tides of energy reach their limit in one direction, and then gathering again in mighty volume sweep with resistless power in a new path.”
I woke up early this morning with a prompting on my heart to search for more about McFerrin. (I first learned about him about a month ago and wrote about him in a previous blog.) This morning is when I discovered that McFerrin lived right across the street from our non-traditional church, The Salvation Army Berry Street Worship Center. Later this morning I opened an email that was sent to me last night. It was from someone I don’t even know and read: “I stumbled on this article today and thought you might find it interesting.” It gave me the link to the very internet page about McFerrin that I had found this morning.
God is working to fulfill John Berry McFerrin’s vision; reviving class meeting type gatherings of his church around the world. Today these open, participatory meetings are sometimes called simple church or organic church and they are happening all over the globe. Click this line for other names for organic church.
Nashville dreams do come true! Come and see for yourself; Sundays @ 10:45 am. and Thuesdays @ 6:00 pm.,. 225 Berry St., Nashville, 37207.