Rev. John Hargrove Delivers New Church Sermon before Jefferson and Congress (1802)
John Hargrove (1750-1839) was one of the first New Church ministers ordained in America, and his ministerial career included several remarkable events. On December 26th, 1802, he delivered a sermon On the Leading Doctrines of the New Jerusalem to President Thomas Jefferson and members of Congress. Two years later in 1804 he delivered another sermon in Washington on Christmas day—On the Second Coming of Christ, and On the Last Judgment— this time before both Houses of Congress. His 1804 sermon is currently part of the Library of Congress exhibit, ”Religion and the Founding of the American Republic.“
John Hargrove was born in Ireland in 1750 and came to Baltimore in 1769. On November 28th, 1776, he married his first wife Hannah England, and soon afterwards became a Methodist. He was ordained as a preacher and later became a deacon in the Methodist Church. Hargrove was first introduced to Swedenborg through a sermon delivered by Rev. James J. Wilmer of the Protestant Episcopal Church on the subject of the Trinity. He began reading Swedenborg’s works with the intention of refuting them (see John Fonerden, “Rev. John Hargrove,” The New Jerusalem Magazine 14, August 1841: 485-487). However, in time Hargrove himself came to accept the teachings of the New Church.
On June 5th, 1798, John Hargrove formally withdrew from the Methodist Church. This act caused great financial hardship for his family; he had been teaching in a Methodist academy and accordingly lost his position. Mrs. Hargrove is credited with having stood beside him in this difficult decision. The following conversation is said to have taken place: “Mrs. Hargrove asked him, ‘Do you conscientiously believe that the new doctrines are true?’ He answered emphatically in the affirmative; ‘Then give up every thing for the truth,’ said she. ‘My dear wife,’ he replied, ‘if I do that, you and our children may starve.’ ‘No;’ she rejoined, ‘the Lord will provide; I and the children will trust in Him’” (John Fonerden, “Rev. John Hargrove,” The New Jerusalem Magazine 14, August 1841: 489). Hargrove’s church record book, now in the collection of the Academy of the New Church Archives, Bryn Athyn, PA, records his separation from the Methodist Church with these words: “End of my Administration in the Old Church.” (see photos above).
On June 27th, 1798, a New Church society was formed in Baltimore and John Hargrove was elected president (see photo of church record book, left). On July 8th, John Hargrove and Ralph Mather became the first ordained ministers of the New Church in America. The ordination consisted of prayer and the laying on of hands by the male members of the congregation (see The New Jerusalem Magazine 44, December 1871: 284). Ralph Mather was chosen as pastor and John Hargrove as assistant pastor. By 1800 Ralph Mather had returned to England and John Hargrove became the sole pastor.
The Baltimore Temple (see photo, left), the first New Church place of worship constructed in America, was dedicated by John Hargrove on January 5th, 1800. He also presided at the dedication of the New Jerusalem Temple in Philadelphia in 1817 (New Church Life 1916, 226).
John Hargrove was a New Church pastor for thirty-two years, until he was eighty years old. In all those years he never received a salary because the Baltimore Society could not afford to give him one (John Fonerden, “Rev. John Hargrove,” The New Jerusalem Magazine 14, August 1841: 491). The following is carved on the marble slab covering his grave: “He was a kind parent, a faithful friend, and remarkable for his uniform cheerfulness, frankness, hospitality, and benevolence; and he was universally respected, esteemed, and beloved” (Edward Hinkley, “John Hargrove,” The New Jerusalem Magazine 17, January 1893: 12).
Photos: Ed Gyllenhaal. The pictures of John Hargrove and the Baltimore Temple are from Sanfrid E. Odhner. Toward a New Church University: ANC Centennial Album 1976. Bryn Athyn: Academy of the New Church, 1976.
Further Reading: History of the Baltimore New Church
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