Sallie Norris Hobart was worried. She and her husband, Calvin, had just moved into a raw frontier neighborhood on the Illinois prairie, and she did not see how her family was going to hold on to their religious life. There were rough and worldly families among their neighbors, and she feared her children, if deprived of religious privileges, might fall in with their drinking, dancing, gambling, and brawling.

Then came Levin Green, a Methodist preacher. He could barely read, and he murdered the King’s English, but, as Sallie’s son Chauncey remembered, “To him, God, eternity, death, the resurrection, the judgment, heaven and hell, were vivid and solemn realities. … He spoke as if these were actually present, being seen and felt by him.”

Green was the first of a series of Methodist preachers who, along with several additional religious families, helped create a flourishing religious community in the Hobarts’ neighborhood. Young Chauncey Hobart felt a close relation to all these people, and he came to expect that he too would, sooner or later, experience religion and thus “find all that these so joyfully narrated.” Sallie Hobart at age 89 was still testifying in love feasts how God answered her prayers in sending Levin Green to minister to her family’s needs.

On the frontier, the Methodists excelled in building families-in-communities. These communities were woven together by family prayer, neighborhood prayer meetings, class meetings, quarterly meetings, love feasts, and camp meetings. These rituals reinforced the faith of frontier families and, in turn, changed the nature of those families.

Families that Pray Together

Leading the family in prayer was a duty enforced upon all Methodist heads of families. It was also a ritual faithful ...

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