Saturday, March 31, 2007

Preacher Lewis

By Liz Adair

Today is Palm Sunday. Last year, on this very day, as I drove by the local Catholic Church I saw some parishoners walking out holding palm fronds that they had used in celebration, and my heart swelled in joy as I felt the connection we shared in Christ. Though Latter-day Saints make little of this particular day, yet we know of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem that signaled the beginning of passion week, and we celebrate all that it fulfilled and all that it foreshadowed each time we study that passage in each of the four gospels.

I grew up knowing about Palm Sunday as well as Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. My mother was an Episcopalian. High Church. In fact, I was baptized as an infant into the Episcopalian church, and have my baptismal cap and certificate to prove it.

My uncle, an old rancher, told me once that the Smiths weren't Episcopalians, they were Lewisites, followers of Reverend Hunter Lewis, the Episcopal priest who ministered to all the towns, villages and hamlets in Dona Ana and Sierra Counties in New Mexico from about the turn of the century to almost halfway through the 1900's. Hunter didn't want to be called Father Lewis, so everyone called him Preacher.

I read his biography this year. I had found my brother's and my baptismal caps in a trunk, and as I framed my brother's in a shadow box to give to him, I wanted him to understand the full meaning of that cap, and so I found a book on the man who crocheted it.

Hunter Lewis was born in Virginia just after the Civil War to a family whose fortunes were ruined by the depredations of the battles fought on their land. As a youth he was stricken with an illness that kept him bedridden for a year, and in that time he became a student of the Bible and an excellent knitter and crocheter. He decided on a vocation in the church and prepared himself for that, but because of penury, he was thirty before he had the necessary education to be ordained. Shortly thereafter, he was sent to be a missionary in the area of Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Through the years as he ministered to the people of the mission, each time Preacher Lewis set off on his circuit, visiting the villages along the Rio Grande, he would walk along the road or by the railroad track and depend on the goodness of fellow travelers to pick him up and carry him as far as they could. As he walked or rode, he would crochet caps to be given to those he baptized, and it is one of those caps that I framed for my brother.

I am awed by what I read of the goodness of this man. His Christianity was practical and effective: he would go into saloons with his collection box and ask for the price of one drink from each of the patrons. If someone tried to give more he would demur, saying that if they gave only the price of one drink, they wouldn't begrudge it, and when he came the next time, they would give again. He dispensed those funds to anyone in need, whether part of his flock or not, and for that he was loved and honored by the people of the area, no matter what denomination they belonged to. He truly ministered to all.

I am so grateful that this was the man who taught my mother, who prepared the foundation of her faith in Christianity. His visits were irregular, but his life was a living example of following the pattern set by our Savior. I know that he inspired my mother to live her life so that, when the missionaries taught her, she listened to the spirit and had the courage to be baptized.

After I read his biography, as I pondered on this, I wondered about his temple work. This weighed on my mind for some time, and I made inquiries about possibilities and procedures for someone unrelated to me. In the process of that investigation, I went on line and discovered that it had already been taken care of by someone who was related to him. This filled me with such joy that I smiled for a week.

Funny, that palms on Palm Sundy now remind me of Preacher Lewis; but they do, and when I see them I remember the connection, and remember that his work is done, and I smile again.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you, Liz, for a touching story, told with clarity and tenderness. I feel inspired to try to do better, both in my living, and in my writing. Thank you for your coninuous inspiration.

    I still hope, and believe the world keeps turning because the sum of people whose lives emulate goodness far outnumbers the total of those who who do not. There are wonderful people all around, whose goodness is recognized by comparatively few. How marvelous to hear about spreaders of good and keepers of virtue. (By the way, virtue, in Middle English, meant strength. Interesting.)

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  2. Liz,
    I loved reading your historical account of Father Lewis. What an interesting man...and you told it so well. Thank you for introducing us to him.

    I was baptized as an infant in the Methodist church...even though my mother was LDS. She was not active and we lived with my father's parents who were very devoted Methodist's. Life is fascinating, is it not!?

    Thank you for the reminder about today being Palm Sunday. I was so focused on Conference, I hadn't discussed it with my family yet.

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  3. This man was my great grandfather. I resent that he was baptized by a family member into the Mormon church and I do not believe it is what he or any of the rest of our family would have wanted.

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  4. Preacher Lewis was my grandfather, and I know of no "family members" who are LDS.

    If Preacher had wanted to be a Mormon, I'm certain he would have become on during his life. I am sad that the LDS have decided to make that decision for him after his death.

    Since I'm a family member, I think I'll sit right down and revoke his baptism into LDS.

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