Published on 2 July 2024 at 17:16

"(My father) wanted his children’s children and the children of his neighbors converted and brought into the church to the remotest generation."—JOHN A. TAYLOR 

     I am fascinated and inspired whenever I hear about covenant relationships among families that extend uninterrupted for many generations. That was not a recent phenomenon but standard practice in years gone by. For me, it has been an experience I’ve lived with since was a kid. This is my attempt to explain myself to former disciples and beloved friends—where my vision for a multigenerational family originated consistently and why it has so impacted my life.

     I come from a family with a very uncommon tradition—at least, uncommon in the 21st century. It was not so unique at the beginning. Many great family stories begin in similar ways, and it’s not that we have any famous relatives or ancestors. Most were farmers in rural West Tennessee. It is, nonetheless, quite uncommon in one sense. Like the Energizer-Bunny commercial, this family story just keeps going and going.

     Since I am aware of how painfully boring genealogical research is to all those outside the immediate family (and often to them as well), I’ll be as brief as possible. The family story, at least how my immediate family relates to it, began when the Reverend Howell Taylor and his five sons and two daughters moved from Mecklenburg County, Virginia to West Tennessee. Rev. Howell was converted and became a Methodist on a visit from Francis Asbury in the final years of the American Revolution (circa 1775). To put my story in an American historical context, that year was the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and on July 4, 1826, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died. The Rev. Howell Taylor family arrived in Haywood County in the Spring 1826. In 1828, the 74-year old patriarch wrote to his son, Richard, "I stand for old Methodism, so do I my son, God being my helper." 

     Upon their arrival, the first order of business was the construction of temporary housing, a log structure later used as a corn crib. Soon after a couple of Methodist circuit riders showed up wanting to organize a “society” and build a “meeting house” (church) on the property to be donated by Rev. Howell’s son, Richard Taylor. They named the little country church “Tabernacle.” Those were the early days of the Second Great Awakening and the beginning of camp meeting revivals. The first camp meeting at Tabernacle Church was in the year 1826 and has continued each year since then. Eventually, the Taylor descendants gave up the “tenting” and began building rustic cabins. Fast forward to the 21st century, and the several hundred descendants of Rev. Howell Taylor have been gathering in their cabins each year for almost 200 years, at what has come to be known as the “Taylors of Tabernacle Camp Meeting Revival.” I am among the seventh generation of descendants of Rev. Howell and our grandchildren are among the ninth. The Walker Camp, one of 35 on the 11-acre campground, is adjacent to the cemetery where all seven of those grandparents are awaiting their bodily resurrection.

     Of course, there’s a lot of eating, fellowshipping, and story-telling that goes on each year. I remember telling a story about John A. Taylor, how smitten and love-sick he was with Miss Ann Bignal Peete. I must have told that story rather well because a visitor said that he’d like to meet the passionate Mr. Taylor and his wife. I replied, “Oh…Well, he died about 150 years ago.” It was just one of the countless stories that have been told over and over through the years.

     With families spreading out all over the country and the world, it takes a real commitment to maintain that sense of family. As my mother, who married into the Taylor clan, used to say “Family togetherness requires a little bit of blood, some loving “associations,” and a lot of “showin’ up.”

     Over the years the extended Taylor family has made significant investments of time and money required to pass along that inherited tradition, now to the tenth next generation.

     Often, individuals searching for their roots proudly proclaim that they are the distant relatives of some famous historical personage—of king so and so. Of course, about 10,000-20,000 others could make that same claim. That’s all well and good, and I’m happy to hear that people are finding how they are connected to those who have gone before them. However, one of the things I’ve learned about family connectedness is that it’s not about discovering distant relatives and ancestors through hours of genealogical research. Rather, it’s all about feeling a part of and participating together in the same family story.

     It doesn’t matter if your family story extends over ten or two generations. Keeping that story alive and the relationships periodically refreshed tends to put your life in context. My sister, Kate, was away at college during the late 1960s when so many students were searching for a sense of self and belonging. Years later Kate commented, “That was never an issue for me. I knew exactly who I was and where I belonged—the daughter of Louis and Coleen, the granddaughter of John and Octavia, the great-granddaughter of Robert and Emma, the great, great, granddaughter of John A. and Ann, and so on back to the Reverend Howell Taylor.

     The sacrifices required to maintain a family’s sense of togetherness and legacy are of incalculable value—something that is almost impossible to regain once it’s lost. Growing up attending the week-long camp meeting revival each year, going to church two or three times a day, and being exposed to some of the greatest preachers of my generation created an indelible imprint on my life. It’s also a source of my passion for a tradition of faith and covenant relationships successfully passed from one generation to the next. More about nourishing and preserving those multi-generational relationships in a subsequent post.

     MY GREAT, GREAT, GRANDFATHER, the one who eventually married his beloved Ann Bignal Peete, wrote about his own father, Richard Taylor: “He wanted his children’s children and the children of his neighbors converted and brought into the church to the remotest generation.” I can still feel the momentum of that family legacy, renewed each year as the Taylors of Tabernacle return for their annual camp meeting.



Our Family’s Table Talk… 

  • Ten generations of Taylor descendants who first settled in Haywood County Tennessee have spread out across the United States. But they keep coming back each year for camp meeting. The church is packed—standing room only. With so many Taylor families attending, it’s impossible to know all the kids and to whom they belong. So many times, I’ve asked a child or teenager running around the campground or playing in the cemetery, “Who are you?” Often the name doesn’t ring a bell.

     “Who are you’re parents?” I continue. Still no recognition.

A third question usually does the trick. “Well, who are your grandparents?”

     “Oh, yeah,” I reply. “I know who you are,” followed by some story of our family connections.

  • The cultural stew in which we are all swimming has changed radically in the last 75 years. The population is far more transient—that is to say, very few grow up and spend their lives in the same community. More significantly, the traditional family unit has become a rarity, particularly those that remain close to one another for more than one or two generations. I once asked a small group of young people if they knew much about their great-grandparents. About half knew anything at all. A lot can be said about this, but my point is that the 10-generation Taylor Family Camp Meeting Revival is unlikely to ever happen again.
  • But everything starts somewhere. With almost 500 Taylor descendants attending at least a portion of the week, relationships with many family members can become a bit distant. A multi-generational legacy is, nonetheless, as possible today as it was in 1826, but it will require a generation who are radically intentional about their faith and commitment to family. Consequently, the question comes to mind, “Who has the greater impact, the greater legacy? The tenth-generation family member who participates by showing up every year or the grandparents who begin that family tradition?” 


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