The Revival of 1910 at Third Baptist Church
By Dwight A. Moody
The church history brochure of Third Baptist Church, Owensboro, on the occasion of their 125th anniversary, tells us this: “On December 12th, 1909, this sanctuary was dedicated with B. H. Carroll preaching the sermon.”
What it does not tell you is that B. H. Carroll was president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, and that he was the father of the pastor of this church, C. C. Carroll.
It does not tell you that the dedication was not held until after the building was paid for, the pattern in those days. It does not tell you that 2,500 people were in this sanctuary for the occasion, sitting in all the familiar places.
It also does not tell you that less than one year later, in 1910, Third Church held a revival. The pastor C. C. Carroll called upon the pastor of First Baptist Church of Ft. Worth to come and preach that revival. His name was J. Frank Norris.
Norris was smart as a whip, talented as they come, and close to a nervous breakdown. He was a young minister at the time but had grown tired of preaching, was weary of church work, and was on the verge of quitting. He wrote later, “I promised my friend C. C. Carroll I’d preach this revival.” He came to Owensboro intending the revival to be the very last event of his ministerial life.
By all accounts that revival had little impact on this church; the church then was a going, blowing concern, famous in all corners of the state, and at the center of everything local. The daily newspaper in those days covered such things.
But the revival at Third Baptist Church in 1910 was a life-changing event for J. Frank Norris. He (may have–see below) famously wired his wife in the middle of the night, “We’ve had a great meeting. I’ve been converted. I’m coming back to Texas to build the biggest Baptist church in the world.”
Frank Norris found in Owensboro the church to inspire him, change him, and propel him to national prominence—sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way. For the next 42 years he was the most consequential and controversial fundamentalist preacher in the country. His death in 1952 earned a column in Time magazine.
Norris did indeed build that Texas church into the biggest white church in the country. Then in 1935, he accepted a call to pastor, at the same time, the Temple Baptist Church of Detroit, Michigan. Long before the modern multi-campus strategy became common, Norris was traveling between Detroit and Ft. Worth, preaching, pastoring, caring for souls, and stirring up trouble.
So it came to pass that the man who was saved for gospel work at Third Baptist Church of Owensboro welcomed to Detroit an 18-year-old boy from Owensboro, Kentucky. His name was Tom Moody. Tom was my father.
Tom Moody had just graduated from Daviess County High School, class of 1940. No work there, a war on the horizon, and already the factories were gearing up for production of tanks, ships, and planes.
Tom Moody took a room with his aunt and uncle, found work in a airplane factory, and attended the preaching of J. Frank Norris. My dad liked pastor Norris, and Norris took a liking to Tom Moody. He invited the handsome young man to move to Texas and join him on the staff of First Baptist Church. That young man opened himself to whatever good qualities there were in this unusual minister.
I don’t endorse all the wild and whacky things that famous minister did during his fascinating and frustrating career. But I testify to this today: the man transformed by his encounter with Third Baptist Church in 1910 changed my dad’s life. Norris planted a seed in the soul of Tom Moody; he stirred up a calling; he launched a career.
Tom Moody never went to Texas; he moved to Kentucky, attended the University, fell in love with Reita Redden, raised a family of four children, settled in for a 40-year career as a minister of the gospel. He knelt and prayed with us on Saturday nights. He drove us to Ridgecrest as kids and teenagers. He sent me to Georgetown College. He preached at my ordination at First Baptist Church of Murray.
My dad was mightily shaped by what happened at Third Baptist Church, Owensboro, in a revival in 1910. And that, in turn, had a decisive impact on my own life and vocation.
Thanks be to God.
[From The Meetinghouse. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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