some water and a grove

“The American of the 1870’s faced, as we do, a bewildering number of complex problems… the arrogance of…the trusts, a prolonged and severe economic depression, political corruption in city, state and federal government…and a wave of bitter strikes which shocked the nation and created wide fear for the safety and permanence of American democratic institutions.”  To many Michigan Methodists, 1875 seemed like a good time to seek “some water and a grove” where they might get away from the stress and distress of the day… “some place where recreation and devotion can be combined.”[1]

In the years that followed the devastation wrought by the American Civil War, a wounded nation labored to piece itself back together despite enormous challenges.  The healing came, in part, through two strictly American phenomena: the camp meeting and the Chautauqua assembly.  These national movements swept across a grief-stricken country reviving the spirit of a broken people and nurturing the bonds of community life.  The Bay View Association has its roots in both of these movements.

“Camp meetings” or “revivals” were a popular form of religious service during a period in this country known as the Second Great Awakening.  People would often travel from a great distance to camp out at a particular site, sing religious hymns, listen to itinerant preachers, and pray.  The goal was conversion and renewal of faith.  As a result of these gatherings, church attendance increased during the first half of the nineteenth century and a desire to reform America arose among the people.

Pleasantville Church was founded as the result of just such a revival.  In September of 1840, a small group of farmers gathered for ten days of evangelistic services.  These “camp meetings” gathered in a grove of trees on Jacob Cassell’s farm.  The revival was a mission of Boehm’s Reformed Church in Blue Bell (now Boehm’s United Church of Christ).  It went on for 10 days, and by the end of it the people who had gathered there felt called to establish Pleasantville Reformed Church (now Pleasantville United Church of Christ).

The Bay View Association was founded in 1875 as a Methodist camp meeting.  But by 1885, the era of the camp meeting was coming to a close.  Another movement was afoot in the nation: the American Chautauqua movement – and soon the identity of Bay View would begin to shift as this new American institution began to take its place.

[1] Keith J. Fennimore, The Heritage of Bay View: A Centennial History (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975) 15-16.

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