Every year on the second Sunday in October, members of the Big Flatrock Christian Church pays honor to one of their own: the Rev. Knowles Shaw (1834-1878) who grew up in their neighborhood, was one of their charter members (1852) and preached his first sermon there (1858).
This year is no exception as the church celebrates not only the life of Rev. Shaw, but also the 160th anniversary of the church. While not too many churches can lay claim to the fact that their church is in the same location and the same building, Big Flatrock can. Although the church building went through extensive remodeling in 1921, the sanctuary houses the original 1852 church building.
Dr. Robert J. Burgbacher, pastor of the church, will be speaking on the life of Rev. Shaw and introducing Shaw relatives who will be returning for the morning services. Special music will be provided by Eddie Thompson of Kokomo, a former member and elder of the church, as well as by Elder Linda Miller accompanied by Norene Miller.
Guest speaker will be Michael Whitacre, pastor in 1979 and 1980. Mike now resides in Crawfordsville and is pastor of Whitesville Christian Church. While he was at Big Flatrock, eighteen persons gave their lives to Christ.
Sunday School services begin at 9:30 a.m., followed by celebration services at 10:30 a.m. with a pitch-in dinner at noon in the Fellowship Hall. There will be no afternoon services. Memorabilia will be on display of the church’s history and that of Rev. Shaw. Friends and former members are invited to join in the celebration services. The church is handicap accessible.
The following article was written by the Hickman Mills Church of Christ in Kansas City, Mo.:
Knowles Shaw, the singing evangelist
His life as an evangelist was relatively short, but in the nineteen years that he preached, Knowles Shaw was nationally known and one of the most popular preachers in his day.
Shaw was born in 1834 in Ohio. His family moved to Rush County. W. D. Frazee, another preacher from this time period, wrote the following about Shaw, “Raised in the dense forest of Rush County, Indiana, with a very limited education, noted only as a fiddler, he would go for miles to play for a dance. While playing one night for a party, he suddenly ceased playing .. he then said, ‘Boys, never ask me to play again; I intend to lead a different life.’ On the following Lord’s Day he went to the Flat Rock Church and at the close of a sermon by George Campbell, he made the good confession,” (Reminiscences – Sermons, pg. 80-81.)
Knowles Shaw was baptized in 1852. He preached his first sermon in 1858.
Shaw turned his musical abilities to hymn writing and singing. He wrote 114 gospel hymns, including, “We saw Thee not,” “I am the vine,” “Tarry with me O’my Savior” and “Bringing in the sheaves.” Shaw was a fine musician and sang melodiously according to Frazee. Shaw stood six feet three inches tall and had a flashing eye and an eloquent voice. Contemporaries claimed his eccentricities and magnetism made him one of the most popular preachers of the nineteenth century. He drew larger audiences than any other preacher. At one time he claimed to have received over 100 letters requesting him to hold meetings. G.I. Hoover said of Shaw, “In the decade from 1860 to 1870 he probably held more successful meetings than any man in the rant of the disciples.” (Christian Standard, Jan 13, 1940)
After the Civil War when many brethren began introducing instrumental music into worship, Knowles Shaw went along with them. He brought an organ and played it during a meeting at Dallas, Texas in 1875.
Shaw was a religious show man who knew how to win over an audience. In Eckstein’s History of Churches of Christ in Texas, Shaw is reported to have baptized 11,000 people. In the book Hoosier Disciples, Shaw is said to have baptized 20,000 people. During one meeting in Tipton, Indiana, Shaw baptized 132 people. The following year at Jonesville Church, he baptized 138.
C.M. Wilmeth wrote this impression of Shaw after hearing him preach, “He reasons like Paul, is as bold as Peter and as tender as John; he is natural like Shakespeare; witty like Swift; pathetic like Burns. He is as independent as Beecher; as idiosyncratic as Talmage; and as indefatigable as Moody … During his discourse, you may see him pacing the platform singing some thrilling song of Zion, or seated by the organ, playing some touching sentimental ballad. You may behold him on bent knee, before some cruel king, in tender tones imploring mercy; or perched upon the end of a bench, off in the amen corner, stiff as a poker and cold as a midnight spook … You may behold the audience baptized in tears … or you may see them convulsed with laughter.” (Eckstein, pg. 183-184)
From 1865-1867 Shaw edited a small Sunday school paper called “The Children’s Friend.” In 1878, having finished a gospel meeting in Dallas, Texas, Shaw headed to McKinney, Texas for another meeting. The train he was riding in derailed and Shaw was killed. His body was returned to Rushville for burial. The Rushville Republican reported that 2,000 citizens attended his memorial service.