June 29, 1852 - September 1, 1900
|September 1, 1900, at nine o’clock p.m., Reverend A. E. Clay finished his course and entered into his reward. He was abundant in labors, and left a clear testimony in his last hours, his greatest anxiety was for the care of the waifs who had been on his heart so long and
Reverend Alfred Elihu Clay was born in Chester, England on June 29, 1852. He was educated in one of the church schools for the ministry the Church of England, but for some doctrinal reason refused to be ordained, and entered immediately upon the work of rescuing and teaching poor children. His first labors in this work were among the little ones and the outcasts of Manchester, and for three years he devoted to them all of his time and means.
He then joined the Wesleyan Church and entered the ministry. Hearing of the need for ministers in the Southern Methodist Church, he came as a volunteer to fill some vacant appointment.
In 1873 he embarked with several others, who landed in New Orleans. Some went to the North Mississippi Conference, others to the Mississippi Conference. He alone remained in the Louisiana Conference.
He was appointed in 1874 as assistant pastor with Reverend W. P. Owens to Evergreen and Big Cane circuit, where he did first class work in the opening of his itinerant service. In 1875 he was sent to Morgan City and Patterson. Here he stayed four years. During this term he built the Morgan City Church. In 1880 and 1881 he was stationed at New Iberia; 1882 at Waterproof; in 1883 at St. Joseph and Vidalia. In 1884 he was appointed to Abbeville, where under the most adverse conditions, he was enabled, by his enthusiastic energy, to build a church. The next year he was returned to Morgan City and Pattersonville; then in 1886, he having built a parsonage at Morgan City, it was made a station. He was retained there until 1887. In 1887, 1888 and 1889 he was at Franklin; in 1890 he was appointed to Dryades Street, New Orleans. In each and all of these appointments he did a good work for the church, looking after the spiritual and material interests.
After three years of successful work at Dryades Street, in 1893, he was located at his own request to enter into the old work of his young manhood on a much more extended scale—that of the rescue of children from abandoned mothers or inhuman parents. Parents who cared not for invalid children or those who were literally cast upon the sea of human society to float anywhere--the literal strays and floating spars from broken up families.
As pastor, he was an excellent Sunday School man, attaching the children to him, delighting in talking to the children and superintend-ing the schools under his charge. As a preacher, he was far above the average, with good analytical powers, a pleasant and forceful delivery, clear, strong voice, a fine singer, with good working knowledge of instrumental music, often leading his own music, presiding at the organ when his musician failed him; delighting in music and song at all his services. His parishioners were deeply attached to him, and his sermons highly praised wherever he had been pastor Al! those who heard him, whether they were especial admirers or not, praised his preaching. Always fresh, and sometimes quite brilliant in his sermons, they were entertaining, and held the attention of the audience throughout their delivery.
His crowning life work was the establishment of the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. It was in the face of many doubters among his ministerial brethren, the members of his church, and the general public, that in 1891 he began to organize for this work. He first got some very pronounced cases of inhuman treatment to children—waifs. From that he organized a society, a mere name at first, but he breathed power and life into it, and with enthusiasm and hope he worked on till it became a great force for good. Like the Salvage Corps on the Atlantic Coast, it began, under his able management, to gather in shipwrecked and stranded humanity; to hover and provide for them by putting the orphans into asy-lums; and those ineligible to enter these havens of protection to be cared for by the society. For two years, with the most arduous labors, he carried on this work in connection with his pastorate without remuneration.
In 1893 the society had so aroused the generous hearted of our city that it became self-supporting, and Brother Clay was forced to locate, as there was no provision in our law for him to undertake this work and remain an itinerant minister.
In 1894 he bought the Waif’s Home on Clio Street, and then the year following the Industrial Home at Beauvoir, in Mississippi. He had to possess the most fearless qualities, in conjunction with great tact, to enter a household and take from vicious surroundings the child who was about to be led into the way of the abandoned woman, or to take from a brutal father a boy being treated inhumanely. What courage, and yet what discretion, were needed! But not only did this find in him a readiness of resourceful character; there was also need for one who could push his work before the lawmakers at Baton Rouge.
He went there in 1893 and had some very salutary laws passed for the safeguarding of young girls against the libertine, and a law which gave him the right to take from improper homes and surroundings children and put them in the custody of his society; laws which are to live to the memory of his work in the interests and for the welfare of the young of our state. His own enthusiasm and hope were at last instilled into the public heart of our two states as he went into every village and city declaring his cause, and preaching far and near his philanthropic cause, taking collections, and calling for every child who was oppressed or cast off by false parents; or, like spars cast on the shore, with open arms he invited to his haven. He just wanted to know their whereabouts to take them into his arms, and bring them to his Lord and Savior.
Into this work entered his brilliant work as a writer, his reports being filled with his own indignation against the human debauchery and the lust of men that produced so many wrecks in the young life of our city. His deep sympathy and yearning for their rescue was there. His tenderness for their isolated position, and that they might be brought back to society, and above all, his hope and assurance that they might be developed into useful, virtuous and productive members of society, carried the public mind with him. They rallied to his aid, and by their generosity expressed their confidence in him. His power as a writer thus carried the public mind with him, and his very forceful speeches far and near brought the cities of Mississippi and a few of Alabama, with those of our own state, into sympathy with him. They gave liberally to his cause.
At one of his anniversary meetings the facts and strong presentation of his cause so moved the large heart of a benevolent citizen of a distant state who was passing through the city, that he became a very liberal contributor to the great work, and many a time have his gifts come in when the wolf was at the door.
Brother Clay’s huge labors and intense anxiety began to tell on his health in the year 1897 at New Iberia, where he went to deliver a sermon on this work. When he started to go to the church he found he was partially paralyzed; he had to deliver his message sit-ting. He recovered from this attack, but in the latter part of 1899 he again was warned of his physical breaking up.
In the first of this year his symptoms became very alarming. Another, partial stroke of paralysis came on, and his heart became involved. Ever since July his friends knew his work was finished. He had done the work his Lord has given him to do. His work bore so heavily on his heart there was no stopping. Then, where was the man to take up his work? One of the highest encomiums to be passed on a man is that question coming involuntarily: “Who can take his place?” So, from mouth to mouth it went, “Where is the one to take up his work?” There will be none, but the Lord will assuredly raise up some one to carry forward the work he has begun. There will be brought out to carry forward this work, there will be progress with improvement, but the founder’s place of the rescue of waifs in New Orleans shall not be taken. He will wear his own crown, for his life work is before the Father of the fatherless.
The crowning work of our itinerant has given Southern Methodism a place and credit in this city it would never have had without this one who has poured out his life for the lost children of our state. The monument of Napoleon is made out of cannon taken in his wars. Everyone, no doubt, represents a regiment on both sides. What a monument of carnage! This man’s monument is built of the rescued from that more awful death of soul; a monument of life; lives snatched from the ruinous sin in human society. Sixty now at the Industrial Home will live as his, enduring monument of a life fighting against sin and rescuing the outcasts. On the other shore some have hailed him home; those little infants who were tenderly cared for in their disease, and only lingered here long enough to give him an opportunity to lovingly nurse them for a few short weeks, and with a prayer see them depart to be immediately around the Savior’s throne. May the comfort of the Holy Spirit be with his widow and family, and the Lord raise up some one to carry forward the great work he has established! “They that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars forever and ever.” In that day many shall rise up and shall call him blessed.
Servant of God, well done!
Thy glorious warfare’s past;
The battle’s fought, the race is won,
And thou art crowned at last.
|Source: Journal of the Louisiana Annual Conference, Methodist Episcopal Church, South 1900, Pages 49-53, by S. E. Kenner|