“Orphaned No More: The Boyhood Story of Rev. Henry Clay Morrison” by Gary Bewley and Nancy Richey. Morley, Mo.: Acclaim Press, 2019. 112 pages, $14.95 (soft cover).
One Sunday morning in 1857, not long after giving birth to her son, Henry Clay (H.C.), young Emily Morrison prayed to God to accept her child into His service. She died two years later, never knowing what H.C. (also affectionately known as Buddy) would achieve in his incredible life: establishing a religious newspaper, The Pentecostal Herald (1888) and editing it for 54 years; serving as president of Asbury College in Wilmore (1910-1925 and 1933-1940); and founding Asbury Theological Seminary in 1923 and presiding there until his death in 1942. During his amazing 63 years of ministry, he led some 1,200 revivals, preached no less than 15,000 times, traveled more than 500,000 miles, saw more than 30,000 people converted and participated in more than 250 camp-meeting campaigns, the latter amounting to 12 years of his life. His prowess as an evangelist was so impressive that three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan called him the “greatest pulpit orator on the American continent.” As if this were not enough, Morrison was also a prolific author. He wrote at least 25 books, several of them selling as many as 75,000 copies.
Morrison wrote extensively about his life, and authors Gary Bewley and Nancy Richey draw freely from many of these sources, enhancing it with their own assiduous research, to tell the story of the pastor’s boyhood years in Barren County, where his father brought him and his sister after their mother’s death. The decision to focus on H.C.’s early years was motivated by a desire to share some of his most touching and enduring moments, most notably his poignant, life-altering conversion, at the age of 13, at an altar of prayer:
“Almost immediately something happened in his heart. His great burden just went away and the joy of forgiveness went through him. He leaped to his feet praising the Lord. He felt as though he would burst with great happiness and joy. ... Everyone looked so beautiful to Buddy, and his heart was aglow with love. Buddy had been saved. He was born again and filled with the wonderful Holy Spirit of God. Now he knew the Lord, and he knew he had a heavenly Father.”
It was hoped that Buddy’s story would provide all readers, particularly younger ones, a source of inspiration to do the Lord’s work and draw them closer to Him through faith, commitment and service. Furthermore, the writers hoped Buddy’s feelings and experiences would resonate with young people who could identify with his disparate array of struggles – anger, guilt, shame, bitterness – as well as his love, joy hope, and steadfast devotion to his Creator.
Bewley’s 20 illustrations in this section (17 drawings and three paintings) merit attention and special recognition. They show a rare sensitivity to their subjects and demonstrate a keen sense of composition and attention to detail. Not only do they beautifully depict key moments in Morrison’s life, but they also adroitly capture the spirit and atmosphere of the setting and time period, rendering the narrative all the more powerful and authentic.
The second part of the book contains an impressive compilation of facts, comments and accolades about Morrison’s incredible life, including a listing of his books and publications. Local history aficionados will enjoy reading the detailed descriptions of places connected to Morrison’s time in southern Kentucky (specifically present-day Glasgow): his boyhood home; Boyd’s Creek Methodist Church, the third church to occupy the approximate location where Morrison attended and was converted in December 1871; the John O. Morrison Home (later known as the Hammer House), originally built by Henry Clay Morrison’s great-grandfather, it was the first brick home in the area and belonged to Henry’s great aunt and her relatives during his lifetime; the Morrison-Hammer Cemetery; Morrison’s retirement home, a two-story log home, where the incessantly working preacher spent less than two weeks of his life; and finally the Morrison Park Community, where Morrison conducted his two-week camp meetings every year. During its peak period of operation, the park comprised, among other structures, a large open-air wooden tabernacle, cottages, kitchen and dining areas, a one-room school, a library that doubled as a small auditorium, and a grocery store. This part of the book concludes with newspaper accounts, one documenting 80-year-old Morrison’s return in 1937 to his birthplace in Bedford; the other describing his first camp meeting at Morrison Park in 1900. Information throughout this section is complemented by numerous photos.
Part III of the book opens by describing how the nearly 100-year-old tradition of annual camp meetings at Morrison Park came to an end in the late 1990s due to dwindling support and attendance. At that point in time, services were being held in tents because the tabernacle had been razed due to the deterioration and storm damage it had sustained over the years. In 2010, a group of concerned citizens decided to restore the park, and their tireless preservation efforts are documented by two dozen photographs. Their hard work culminated in the restoration of several cabins, including the Morrison Memorial Library Cabin, whose second floor now houses a Morrison museum; the dedication of a new Kentucky Historical Marker, as well as the construction of a new tabernacle. By 2016, a few final touches – a new restroom building and improved landscaping – were completed, making the park fully restored for public use.
With its meticulously-researched details, inspiring storyline, compelling illustrations and informative supplementary material, this book has much to recommend it, most importantly the shining example of a young man who finds peace and salvation through his commitment and faith to God. The Rev. Henry Clay Morrison’s childhood story should prove especially appealing and satisfying to those readers hungry for spiritual enlightenment and fulfillment. It offers them a precious gift not readily found in most books: food and nourishment for their very souls.
– Reviewed by Sean Kinder, a professor in the Department of Library Public Services at Western Kentucky University, where he serves as the humanities/social sciences librarian.