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That magnificent voice: Rev. G.W. Perryman, Russell Co. KY - VI

In this installment Part VI, "That magnificent voice:" The life and times of Rev. G.W. Perryman, late of Russell County, Kentucky," the great Baptist minister from Russell County completes his tenure at the Deaderick Avenue Baptist in Knoxville, Tennessee, during which time 550 were added to the membership. This segment, the next to the last in JIM's compilation, tells of his time as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Norfolk, VA, where he guided the congregation through the construction of one of the most splendid churches in the South. This installment includes Dr. Perryman's leadership in the Prohibition movement.
Next earlier installment: That magnificent voice: Rev. G.W. Perryman, Russell Co. KY - V


In early 1909, Rev. Perryman announced his resignation from Deaderick Avenue Baptist in Knoxville to take leadership of the First Baptist Church of Norfolk, Virginia. In noting his pending departure from Knoxville, The Baptist World remarked that during his years at Deaderick Avenue, the church had received 550 new members.

From the time Norfolk welcomed Rev. Perryman with a fete in the Lynnhaven Hotel shortly after his arrival there in the forepart of March 1909 until a similar gathering at the Hotel Monticello marked his departure in the autumn of 1914, he held the attention of the citizens, and Norfolk equally held his attention. Writing in the summer of 1909, he noted that

"Norfolk is certainly a charming place in which to live. The seashore being hard by makes it so pleasant for outings on the deep, surf bathing, fishing and rowing, etc. [In t]he awful hot weather people are going down to the shore for a fling into the deep and no one enjoys it more than I."

A lengthy piece penned by Rev. R.J. Bateman titled "Kentuckians in and around Norfolk, Va." appeared in the April 14, 1910 edition of The Baptist World. Much of the article dealt with Rev. Perryman and said of him, in part,

"When the old First church of Norfolk was in search for a pastor; many were thought of in a more or less serious way; but when a Kentuckian by the name of George Washington Perryman went down to see them, there was no use of any one else coming, as their affections seemed to be set. From the beginning they were impressed that this was God's man, and left no stone unturned to locate him...

"When one touches Dr. Perryman personally, you readily understand why things move where he is. He carries the stamp of his native mountains in the strength of his character and the glow of their sunny summits in his genial face. Nature has thus made him to be truly a brother of man."

Prior to his arrival, the church had sold the property where their current building was located and had laid in plans to construct a new house of worship, having already purchased a lot in the Ghent section of town, "the finest residence part of the city," and probably had already contracted with noted New York architect Arthur Bates Jennings to design a new building. A parsonage was to be erected "at the end of the church" on the remainder of the lot, located at the corner of Westover and Moran Avenues. When the 1910 census was taken in May, the Perryman family resided in the parsonage at 33- (third digit illegible) E. Westover, near Colonial. (These streets weren't designated as St., Ave., Blvd., etc., on the census record.)

On June 12, 1910, First Baptist dedicated the splendid new Gothic style church building, described in part by Rev. Perryman as 95' x 120' with a concrete foundation; walls, smokestacks, and chimneys of solid marble; "the largest auditorium in the city and one of the largest in the South;" and "modern in all its construction."

Toward the end of 1911, a missive from Rev. W.E. Hatcher, D.D., appeared in The Baptist World under the title "Virginia Letter," in which he called by name several ministers, all natives of Kentucky, who were then pastoring in Virginia, but noted that

"[T]he Kentuckian most talked about of late in Virginia is Dr. G.W. Perryman...[T]he growth in his membership and congregation is most marvelous. He is almost constantly having new accessions and among them may be found not a few strong and influential businessmen. He is great esteemed by his church and has an almost boundless field for growth."

(At the time, Norfolk was growing quickly. Between 1910 and 1920, the population went from about 67,500 to just under 116,000, an increase of some seventy percent.)

As noted previously, Rev. Perryman's efforts in the cause of Prohibition continued unabated during his years in Virginia. At the fall 1912 annual session of the Baptist General Association of Virginia, held that year in Petersburg, he delivered to the crowd assembled a report titled simply "Temperance." The opening paragraph gives interesting insight on his perspective of how closely related were religion and temperance:

"Referring to the wonderful and unprecedented strides of temperance reform in this country in recent years, National Anti-Saloon League Superintendent Baker said, 'God is pleased because His people are waking up.' And so it truly appears -- the hosts of the heavenly King are awakening as never before to their responsibility for the obliteration of the beverage liquor traffic. Our God is marching on and His people are falling steadily in line. Such leadership and such loyalty are striking terror to the very heart of King Alcohol and breaking the shackles from the prisoners of his woe." (Minutes of the Eighty-Ninth Annual Session of the General Association of Virginia, p 101.)

Late March 1913 found Rev. Perryman in Elizabeth City, North Carolina (some forty miles from Norfolk), at the opening of the Northeastern North Carolina Bible Conference. He delivered the introductory sermon, "The Life of Joseph," and the State Dispatch, published at Burlington, No. Caro., said of it, "Never has there been a sermon of such great power delivered in Elizabeth City on any occasion."

Come the spring of 1914, Rev. Perryman spoke at a "grand rally" -- the annual joint meeting of the Anti-Saloon League of Accomac County, Virginia and the Onley, Virginia Baptist Church. The Peninsula Enterprise, Accomac Court-House, Va., reported in the April 18 edition that "[In the afternoon session of April 14th] came a witty and stirring address by Rev. J. Sydney Peters...who in turn was followed by Rev. Geo. W. Perryman, D.D., of Norfolk. Dr. Perryman is both humorous and sensible and no one went to sleep while he talked." That fall, Virginia voted itself dry, the vote to take effect near the end of 1916, two years after his departure from the Old Dominion and a year after he "slipped the surly bonds of earth...and touched the face of God."

To be concluded next installment.

(The foregoing is adapted from "That Magnificent Voice: A Word Sketch of Rev. George W. Perryman, a Man of His Convictions," (c) 2017. Material adapted and used with permission.)

This story was posted on 2017-04-30 19:33:29
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