From the stage to the pulpit
The story of George C. Lorimer
By Ben Stratton
George C. Lorimer was one of the most eloquent preachers in America during the Gilded Age. However, few knew that this powerful preacher of the gospel was saved when he was a teenage actor. What's more, his conversion occurred in Kentucky. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1838, Lorimer was drawn to the theater at an early age. His stepfather was a stage manager at the Theatre Royal, opening the door for Lorimer to serve first as a call boy, then as an actor in London, New Castle and Dublin. Seeking greater glory, he immigrated to America in 1855 and soon secured a two-month engagement in Louisville. During this time, Walnut Street Baptist Church began holding revival services. Pastor W.W. Everts encouraged his members to distribute gospel tracts throughout the community and invite people to attend the church services. Mrs. Everts came by the boarding house where Lorimer and fellow actor Edward F. Strickland were staying. Admiring her compassion, the two friends began attending the Baptist church. For a time, Lorimer was stuck between the pull of the Holy Spirit and the lure of the world. When Bro. Everts came by to visit the young men, Strickland sarcastically offered the pastor wine to drink. With a holy boldness, Everts told him, "You have offended against the Lord your God, and your sins will find you out." Under such witnessing and Bible preaching, it wasn't long before the gospel bore fruit. The Walnut Street Baptist Church minutes for Dec. 9, 1855, read: "Edward Strickland and George C. Lorimer (these two having just abandoned their professor as actors under the jests and persecutions of their theatrical brethren of the Louisville Theatre, to take upon themselves the Christian badge and profession, they came like little children, meek and lowly, and the sympathies of the church were deeply exercised in their behalf) … came before the church and made a profession of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and were unanimously received for membership after baptism. They were baptized Monday night, Dec. 10, 1855."
Amazingly, the story doesn't end there. Both Strickland and Lorimer soon surrendered to preach. (Strickland would go on to pastor Baptist churches in Iowa and Massachusetts.) Lorimer was ordained by Harrodsburg Baptist Church in 1859. After serving First Baptist Church of Paducah for two years, he was called back to Walnut Street in 1861 to succeed W.W. Everts as pastor. George C. Lorimer had a tremendous seven-year ministry at Walnut Street. A great revival in 1867 saw more than 200 additions to the congregation in just a few months and plans were made for the planting of new Baptist churches in Louisville. One of his most lasting endeavors was the organizing of the Louisville Baptist Orphan's Home in 1866. Lorimer realized there was a need to reach the orphans in Louisville displaced by the Civil War. This home still exists today as Sunrise's Spring Meadows Center in Mt. Washington. While Lorimer went on to pastor such large congregations as Tremont Temple Baptist Church in Boston and First Baptist Church of Chicago, he never forgot his Kentucky spiritual roots. He even came back in 1887 to give one of the addresses at the Jubilee celebration of the 50th anniversary of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky. His story reminds us that the gospel of Jesus Christ truly is "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (Romans 1:16).
[Published in the Western Recorder, June 1, 2020; Ben Stratton is pastor of Farmington Baptist Church in Graves County and a Baptist historian with the J.H. Spencer Historical Society.
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