Calvary Troublemakers…Amos Kendall

by Rev. Leah Grundset
Today, we being our new sermon series called Holy troublemakers where we examine the Hebrewprophets who were always calling the people to look through the eyes of their God at the world around them. God was calling the people to return to the way they knew brought hope and life. The role of the prophet is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable and so we will hear how each of these Hebrew prophets lived that out.

But as we got to thinking about this series, we started to think about Calvary troublemakers. Now, before any of you get nervous, you should know that we are taking a look at historical troublemakers—those people in Calvary’s legacy who were modern day prophets.

So, how appropriate that today, when Pastor Amy preaches about the Hebrew prophet Amos, we examine Calvary’s own troublemaking Amos…Amos Kendall.

When anyone attends a Calvary new member class, we always talk about Amos Kendall. And of course, we talk about him almost everyday, as we recognize any of the many events that take place in Kendall Hall.

Amos Kendall was born August 16, 1789 in Dunstable, Massachusetts to a farming family. He attended Dartmouth college, studying law and after he graduated moved to Kentucky where he tutored the children of Henry Clay. After settling in Lexington and beginning his practice in law and journalism, he eventually moved to Washington, D.C. to work in the political scene. As I read this week, most people count Amos Kendall as the brains behind the Andrew Jackson administration. Whatever Jackson did, it was usually because Amos Kendall had devotedly studied the law and made a decision surrounding the issue. He served on Jackson’s Kitchen Cabinent as Postmaster General and then once again under President Martin Van Buren. Apparently, he was most interested in causing trouble where people needed to be shaken. He wasn’t friends with everyone and he had one very interesting foe. Apparently, Amos Kendall and Davy Crockett were serious enemies. Kendall had argued against Crockett’s collection of land.

However, as his involvement in high political offices faded, he turned his attention, energy and efforts to other causes. He partnered with Samuel Morse to create a transcontinental telegraphing company to share information. As he became more involved with Morse, he was drawn to certain philanthropic ventures, which included founding Galludet University here in DC. He convinced those who had money to contribute to this school so that deaf people could receive a top notch education on the little Kendall Farm 1/2 mile north of the Capitol building.

And of course in  1862 he helped to found this very place, Calvary Baptist Church. He bought the land where we now sit and offered a no interest loan and kept the deed in his name. However, he refused to join. After the death of his wife, he started to reconsider his membership here at Calvary. “He had never trusted the complex doctrines on which membership was based. He was too confident in his own intellect to let others explain the mysteries of God and the universe,” said one biographer. See! He was a true Baptist!

But in the midst of a church revival in 1865, Amos Kendall told his pastor that his heart felt a strong desire and he would be a “good example” for others and join the church. For the first time since he was a child, he believed that he could do more good in the church than out of it. He was baptized a week later at the age of 75. After he was baptized, he teamed with Adolf Cluss to design Calvary Baptist Church. On June 3, 1866 Calvary was dedicated and a joyous day was celebrated. Kendall went to Europe for a trip and when he returned in December, the church burned to the ground December 15th of the same year. Kendall once again raised the money and the rebuilding process began. Apparently, this Calvary troublemaker loved being on the building committee!

His last words to Calvary were given in a speech soon before his death. He said:
“I would say to the Calvary Baptist Church, it is my strong desire that they should all live in unity and brotherly love; that they perform their duties to themselves and their God, so as to prove the sincerity of their faith; that they should be true examples of the Christian faith…that they would look upon what I have done, not as a gift from me–but as a gift from God–a sacred charge;…that they may show their gratitude, not by empty words, but by contributing of their means to keep up the worship of God in that sanctuary perpetually.”

On November 12, 1869, Amos Kendall died. At sunrise, he had gathered a choir which on the floor below him sang the hymn, Jesus, Lover of my soul and his last words were “I thank God that he has given me my mind in these last moments. I die in peace.”

Amos Kendall is remembered around these halls as one who was committed to this place and invested his life in it. As you walk downstairs today, take a look at the plaque in Kendall Hall, right below us that says AMOS KENDALL in big letters with the inscription: “Charity is love in action” and remember Amos Kendall.

This Calvary troublemaker will long be remembered as one who kept pushing, continued to seek God and wondered where Calvary would go next and holding to the promise that maybe…we can all do more good in the church than out of it.

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