Hill, D.D., Felix R.

4/28/1917

FELIX R. HILL, D.D.
1844 - April 28, 1917
 
To write some suitable memorial paragraph upon the life of the greatest pastor of his day in Southern Methodism is my task.
Felix R. Hill was born in Nashville, Tenn., in 1844. He was a great-grandson of James Robertson, Brigadier General under George Washington, and founder of the City of Nashville. He was educated at private academies and the University of Nashville. The heroic strain of his pioneer ancestry became manifest in a passion for the calling of a solder, which carried him past his West Point examinations, but was repressed by illness which for the first, but not the last time, compelled a change in his life direction.
I do not know much of his early religious life. He was companionable and communicative, but neither in conversation nor in preaching, so far as I know, did he speak of the initial and earlier steps in the shining path of virtue, piety and spiritual service that he trod unto the perfect day. The strong evangelical tone of his ministry and his unbroken success as a soul winner suggest an experience in spiritual life of a very definite type.
Mr. Hill entered the Christian ministry in the Tennessee Conference in 1860 and for two years served the Harpeth Circuit. In 1861-62 he served the West Huntsville (Ale.) Station in 1862-63, Spring Hill. During 1863 and part of 1864 he was without appointment, but served as Chaplain in Forrest's Command. The latter part of 1865 he supplied Courtland, Ala., and in 1865-67, Trinity and Ewing's Chapel; in 1867-69 Pulaski Station: in 1869-73 Murfreesboro; in 1873-76 Elm Street, Nashville, then the leading church of the city.
It was while at Elm Street that, for the second time, his way was providentially changed by an attack of illness. He was supposed to be in decline and had advice to remove to a milder climate. His reputation was by this time well established; he was in demand, and was appointed to St. Francis Street Church, Mobile, where he spent four years. In 1880 he was transferred from Alabama to the Louisiana Conference and stationed at Carondelet Street, New Orleans, then one of the leading churches of the Southwest. Here he was in succession to the celebrated John Matthews, the greatest preacher, take him all in all, in Southern Methodism. After four years at Carondelet Street, he was transferred to the St. Louis Conference in 1884 and stationed at First Church, St. Louis, which he served three years. His appointment for 1886-90 was Cook Avenue, and in 1890-91 again First Church. In 1891 he was transferred to the Baltimore Conference where he served Trinity four years. In 1894 he was transferred to Southern Missouri Conference and served successively Troost Avenue (1894-97) and Central (1897-99), Kansas City, here again in a pulpit once filled by Dr. Matthews, his predecessor in New Orleans. From 1899 to 1903 he served Broadway, Louisville, and 1903 returned to his home conference and again became pastor of Elm Street, Nashville, where friends of former days who still loved him and clave to him, welcomed aim back. In 1907 he was transferred to Louisiana and served First Church, Shreveport, two years; in 1909-10 First Church, New Orleans, successor to his old parish, Carondelet Street. Again in the autumn of 1910, because of ill health, his way was changed. Apparently worn out in the itinerant ministry, but refusing to become a pensioner upon the Conference funds, he took the supernumerary relation.
Centenary College was in a desperate strait at this time, and strangely enough looked for rescue to a worn out man, now in his sixty-seventh year. There is no doubt that in this time of crisis as President of Centenary College he saved that honorable and useful institution to a prolonged service to the Church.
Another failure of health in 1913 caused his retiring from the active work of the College; but the following year he, became pastor of Felicity Street Church, New Orleans, where his genius as pastor and administrator was applied at its best, despite his age and ill health. Following the hurricane of 1915, by which the church had been demolished, he. accomplished the all but impossible task of rebuilding and achieved one of the greatest successes of his ministry in the enlargement, reorganization and spiritual development of the congregation.
In 1864, a young man in the ministry, during the period of his service in the Confederate army in Courtland, Ala., Mr. Hill wedded Miss Martha Ordalia Mayes. To them were given four sons who lived - to manhood and are achieving honorable success in several professions. Felix R. Hill, Jr., is a distinguished minister in the Church of his father, formerly a member of this Conference.
One who knew their beautiful home life as only an intimate can, says: "During fifty years, this elect pair lived together in the prolonged happiness of genuine romance and of a sympathetic interest in a common undertaking--the work of the Church."
After completing his tasks at the Conference of 1916, he again took the supernumerary relation. Dr. Hill removed to Alexandria, and later to Louisville, Ky., where the end came at the home of his son, Edwin. There on April 28, 1917, he died. His passing away was sudden, but he had had anticipations that may have hastened his ripening for the inheritance of the saints in light. Within the last few days of his life he frequently remarked that his Father was very near him. He leaves the bereft companion of his long life of splendid service, the strong men who called him "Father," thousands of friends and multitudes who traced their spiritual renewal to his faithful ministry. Other thousands greet him in the spirit world while these mourn his departure.
No more instructive and inspiring book for the benefit of young ministers could be written than one on the pastoral ministry of, Dr. Hill. Such, a study would bring out several elements of strength that blended in the production of this model minister of Christ. Within the limits of this memoir, they can be only briefly noticed.
In his young manhood, Dr. Hill was strikingly handsome; there was a dignity in his carriage and a neatness in his dress that disarmed criticisms. He was a friendly man: he always made many acquaintances in his community and grappled to himself as with hooks of steel certain strong friends; friends who, had he permitted it, would have placed their fortunes at his disposal. His friends were among the rich and the poor, the distinguished and the obscure, the privileged and the lowly, men of the world and saints of the Kingdom of God. But he was not in the usual meaning of the term a "good mixer." He was a friend, but the dignity of the calling of a minister of Christ was never absent, nor was the familiarity of the politician ever present. His access to people of all classes and conditions was a truly notable feature of his career.
In the pulpit and its offices, Dr. Hill was as far from offending the most fastidious taste as in social relations. The ignorant and the learned heard him with equal pleasure.
Judged by the standards of formal rhetoric he was not a great preacher. He was too wise and too holy to be such. He preached to the marginal man, knowing as he did so that he was serving the Kingdom when he might have been making reputation. But he persuaded the people to whom he had been commissioned as an ambassador of Christ. His preaching revealed to those who could recognize such qualities, fine literary taste and true culture. Sometimes he was ornate, often poetical, but always had in mind a practical end. He was evangelical and in revival work invariably successful.
Dr. Hill's character was distinguished by courage as, much as by any other trait. The soldier spirit made the chaplain at times a militant member of Forrest's command. He was a member of a company that ran Farragut's blockade in Mobile Bay, slipping through the fleet by night in a frail schooner, which safely accomplished her voyage to Cuba and back. His courage was manifest in the outspoken directness of his intercourse with men. He was tactful, but frank. His directness in personal dealing won confidence and opened the way for his purposes in the interview. In personal evangelism he won more souls than by his preaching. He was Branch of the Vine that bore much fruit.
Another of his traits which counted enormously for the pastor was his diligence in business. He reorganized churches on sound business principles and showed them how to cure the ills of financial failures. He gave of his own means with such liberality as to become a model to others. He never wasted time. If he was impatient, of anything, it was of tardiness and delay. Perhaps he had a genius for administration, but without the industry that persisted under all conditions, no amount of genius could have achieved the results that constantly attended his work. I have sometimes heard ministers say they could not do pastoral visiting: that they had no talent for it. Possibly they have not, but they can toil at it if they have the moral quality of industry and the human interest in men that were as great factors in Dr. Hill's success as his genius. He studied the pastor's art. He made it his business to know his large congregations not only by face and name, but in the circumstances and relations of life. If a girl went away for a visit, he, her pastor, was among the first to greet her on her return, and he would seldom fail to win a life to service. If a youth came home from college, Dr. Hill soon found time to have a private interview with him, and used the circumstance as a basis of his appeal for a life of consecration. He visited much in offices and stores and was always welcome: for he studied conditions of business life and used them in his holy art. That he never forgot a face or a name may have been largely due to a remarkable memory: but the talent had been increased by the sincere interest he took in every one; he followed the Master in the value set upon the individual soul: how could he fail to recognize the face of the boy or girl, the man or woman, who came before him in his constant intercessions?
There was in Dr. Hill that subtle quality we call magnetism. It may be analyzed by the psychologist: I no not know about that: in Dr. Hill it was palpably a combination of goodness, genuineness and solvency. He attracted people not only because of his natural qualities, but because of his sufficiency for whatever was required by the occasion and the sincerity and distinterestedness of his life. Withal there was a just pride in his make-up. He was as far from fawning as from arrogance; he uttered his opinions without care whether they were popular or not, he was ever faithful to his convictions. He demanded for himself the recognition that he accorded to others; his religious respect for personality made groveling in his eyes a crime and policy despicable. Yet he was deeply humble; he could not think so highly of his fellow-men and think of himself more highly than he ought.
Dr. Hall was faithful in his calling and to every man. He, like his Master, went about doing good. Hearts were cheered and lives renewed by his coming. I will, in conclusion, read two stanzas of his composing that well epitomizes his life:
"The kindness shown by man to man Brings
sweetness out of sorrow; To-day we'll do the best
we can And hope for good to-morrow.
"We'll shine above the stars of God,
If true to love and duty
Forsake our homes beneath the sod And rise to
immortal beauty."
Source: Journal Louisiana Conference Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1917, pages 61-63, by Fitzgerald S. Parker.