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Thomas THOMPSON, Pioneer California Preacher Part 3
Source:  Jerry Rushford.  1980.  "A Pioneer Preacher in California (3)."  Firm Foundation  September 16: 4.  (Reproduced here with permission.)
A Pioneer Preacher in California (3)
JERRY RUSHFORD
When Thomas Thompson corresponded with Alexander Campbell on Christmas Day, 1853, there were only three congregations of the Church of Christ in California.  Stockton and Santa Clara with 60 members each, and Napa County with 20 or 30 members had all been established as a result of Thompson's pioneering efforts.  Considering the difficulty of the field, this was a fine beginning.  Nevertheless, Thompson was disappointed in the slow progress.

However, in 1854 the Restoration Movement in California enjoyed a year of significant expansion with the establishment of six new congregations.  As expected, Thomas Thompson played a key role in this pivotal year.  In his letter to Campbell on June 8, 1854, he shared the good news of three new churches:

On the first day of this year I organized a church at San Jose, with 12 members, immersing one of that number.  On the first Lord's day in March, Bro. McCorkle and I held a meeting at Santa Rosa, planted a church of 4 members, including a preacher, proselyted from the Methodists, a man of much praise.  He is preaching with success, and has added several to the church.  On the 2nd Lord's day in March we held a meeting at Napa, had 6 additions, and Bro. McCorkle has had several additions since.  We had the labors of Bros. Correll and McCorkle at Santa Clara and vicinity on the 3rd and 4th Lord's days of May, when we had 14 addditions -- 10 by immersion, 2 from the Baptists, and 2 united who had been members before.  Bro. Stevenson organized a small church at San Francisco -- 10 or 12 members; and there might be one organized at Sacramento, with from 25 to 100 members, if they had a preacher of the right sort.
Congregations were also started that year at Gilroy, Woodland, and Vaca Valley, with Thompson assisting in the first two.  Thompson's desire to see a church planted in Sacramento was realized the following year when he organized a congregation with 14 members.

It was in 1855 that Thompson urged his California brethren to support a yearly state meeting.  The Restoration Movement back in the Midwest had benefited from the practice of coming together in an annual meeting.  Thompson remembered how much the cause in Missouri had been strengthened when the churches started the state meetings in 1837.

The state meetings were born out of a need for more information about the progress of the cause in which all were interested.  In additon to providing good preaching and enjoyable fellowship, the gatherings enabled the churches to explore ways in which they might cooperate together for the advancement of the gospel in their state.  The meetings usually lasted several days.

The first Califrnia state meeting met in Stockton from October 17 to 19 in 1855.  Members from each of the congregations were present, and everyone enthusiastically supported Thompson's suggestion that they meet together every autumn.  The church in Vaca Valley asked for the privilege of hosting the second annual meeting in the fall of 1856.

The state meetings were never meant to develop into an organization that deprived the local churches of their autonomy.  In explaining his motives in calling that first state meeting, Thompson later wrote:

In 1855 I proposed to the church at Santa Clara a plan of cooperation through a state meeting.  This was to be presented to the several churches.  The plan being made out and adopted by the Santa Clara church, they made it my duty to visit the other churches and submit the matter to them.  This I did, and all of the other churches agreed to meet and cooperate.  This plan strictly guarded church rights, and distinctly stated that the coopertion or state meeting should not interfere with church discipline, or in any way control the action of any congregation, the only object being for consultation and conference for the more successful spread of the gospel.
The California state meetings eventually became large family encampments which lasted for ten days.  They usualy began on a Friday and closed on the afternoon of the second Lord's day.  One record says:  "By 1860 it was common to have 5,000 people present on the Lord's day to break bread and hear the preaching of the gospel.  One year at Vacaville, the crowd reached 7,000 in number, by actual count."  This description bears a striking resemblance to our modern-day Yosemite Family Encampment in California which lasts for a full week and often draws over 5,000 in attendance.

At the annual state meeting in 1850, the churches gathered statistics for the first time.  It was revealed that there were 27 congregations of the Church of Christ in the state with a combined membership of 1,223.  Allowing for some scattered Christians who lived in areas where there was no church, the numerical strength of the movement was probably close to 1,500 in 1860.  All of these members and churches were located in Northern California.  It would be another ten years before the first preacher arrived in Southern California.

Thomas Thomspon was 63 years old when he attended the great family encampment in 1860.  It must have been an event filled with a sense of personal accomplishment for him.  Ten years earlier he and his family had been alone in the State.  Now the cause was flourishing in several communities, and additional preachers were arriving each year.  More than one hundred persons were baptized into Christ at the 1860 encampment, including Linsey Carson, an old pioneer and brother to the famous "Kit" Carson.

The Restoration Movement in California even had its own monthly periodical by 1860.  The Western Evangelist, ably edited by W.W. Stevenson, proclaimed the "plea" of the movement and chronicled the growth and expansion of the church in California.  Far more encouraging for the future, the first Christian college in the state was soon to be established in the city of Woodland.  On March 4, 1861, the same day Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated, Hesperian College enrolled its first students.

In our next article we will conclude this series by showing the lasting contribution of Thomas Thompson to the Restoration Movement in California.

Pepperdine University, Malibu, California 90265

On to Part 4

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