One Friday while I was sitting at the front desk at the office at church, I had some time on my hands. Being an “Office Angel” at First United Methodist Church in Jonesboro, I didn’t feel I should just piddle the time away, so I began to look for something worthwhile to occupy my time. A large book sitting on the counter caught my eye. Two Centuries of Methodism in Arkansas: 1800-2000, written by Nancy Britton, became that spark that sent me into a four year writing spree that evolved into the first two part of the Shiloh Saga.
This thorough, fascinating book is a comprehensive history of the work and continuing growth of the United Methodist Church in the state. At the end of the lengthy work is an appendix containing mini histories of the congregations of Methodist churches across Arkansas. Two of those churches became significant to the story of Shiloh. These two early churches mark their histories from the earliest days of the state and still have active congregations today. Let me tell you a bit about them.
In THE DREAM OF SHILOH, Laurel lives in the Hawthorn community in Washington County. She and her family belong to the Methodist community of a church that had been established in 1831 as Ebenezer Methodist, a home church led by Josiah Trent. Later they built a log church, which also became a subscription school — a rarity in this time period. In 1848, a new church was built and the named was changed to Hawthorn. I chose to use the name Hawthorn because it was most appropriate to the time period of the story. In the 1850’s the congregation finally built a clapboard building, only to have it demolished by federal troops during the Civil War. That did not end the life of this church. If you travel to Farmington, not far from Fayetteville, you will find a beautiful modern brown and white church near the site of the original building. If you know the area you will see I borrowed some of the family names to give to Laurel’s friends, family, and members of her church family.
The Shiloh Church was obvious choice for my major setting for several reasons. The most important, of course, is the name. I’ll talk about that later. Shiloh church also has a very early history in Arkansas. The records indicate a congregation as early as 1830. The original church was a log structure built to house worship services and the community school. In the beginning to the story, Shiloh Methodist Church was in the southern part of Greene County, but in 1959, the state legislature drew new county lines to create Craighead County. I am a native and still reside in Craighead County . Today Shiloh United Methodist Church is a brick building sitting atop a hill very near the location of the original log building. This rural community is only a few miles from the once thriving town of Greensboro, which unlike Shiloh church did not survive to see our time. The story of Greensboro is a tale to tell on another occasion.
From filling idle time to filling empty pages, over the next four years I wrote the long, long story of Shiloh and Laurel and Patrick MacLayne. The writing has been a labor of love.