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Reverend Todd’s Apology

posted Oct 20, 2017, 2:12 PM by James Nennemann
By: Harry Wilkins

On Sunday, May 22, 1864, Reverend John Todd stood in front of his Tabor congregation and delivered a sermon he titled “Confession.” As one of the town’s founders in 1852 and first pastor of the Congregational Church, Todd held a special place among the residents—he had been center stage in virtually every aspect of the Tabor settlement, a true civic and spiritual leader. And on this spring day he was ready to deliver a public apology based on James 5:16: “Confess your faults one to another.” But what grievous sin had been committed?
The story, as relayed in Todd’s sermon notes, concerned events that had unfolded the previous Thursday. William Brooks, the principal of the Tabor Literary Institute and good friend of Todd, stopped by after school and asked the pastor if he could take a break from plowing his garden, around 6:00 p.m., to transact some business with a “number of persons.” Todd agreed, and around the appointed time was eating his supper when he looked out and saw to his horror a wagon pulling up with several ladies dressed in finery appropriate for a public appearance. Todd had not expected a formal visit, particularly from members of the fair sex, and was “surprised and indignant” because he was filthy from working in the field and was dressed in what he described as “rags.” In his panic Todd thought he’d been set up, in his words, the victim of a “surprise that was contemplated.” The minister had only two choices: face the visitors or run.  He chose the latter, slipped out the back of his house, collected the horse he’d borrowed from neighbor John Cater for plowing, and took the “shortest and most direct route” out of harm’s way. Unfortunately, Todd’s visitors saw his hasty retreat. To make matters worse, ill-chosen words spoken by Todd after arriving at Brother Cater’s home were repeated and amplified throughout the village.
Todd learned later that there was indeed an element of calculation in the visit: the ladies who alighted at his home were bringing him a monetary donation, to what we don’t know but most likely something for the church or school. But by Sunday, there was a lot of talk about Todd’s behavior circulating around town and it was time to clear the air. The minister told his flock that because of his actions there was “impairment” to the “free flow of devotional feelings.” He acknowledged his “faults of character,” saying: “I would not have it occur again for twice the sum donated.” The grace and humility displayed by Todd during what seems to be an inconsequential or even humorous event to a modern audience put him in good stead with his congregation—the waters were calmed and Father Todd, as he was affectionately known before his death in 1894, continued serving as pastor, a post he held for over 30 years.