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Seth Reed

s reed

2 June 1823 - 24 March 1924
Conference Cane: 1905
Age at death: 100 years, 9 months

Seth Reed

A priceless possession of Michigan Methodism has passed onward; to paradise a great gain has come. Few records in our modern ministry can equal that of Dr. Seth Reed.

Descended from pre-Norman Early English stock, he was of Puritan New England ancestry. He was born four months after the death of his father, on a small thin-soiled farm in the town of Hartwick, Otsego County, N.Y., the youngest of five children. His boyhood was spent in the wilderness region of Cattaraugus County of the same state. His ill health, caused by inherited asthma, seriously limited his chances for education. But his moral energy won a substantial victory both for body and mind. He did not wholly conquer asthma but kept it in subjection for a century. By persistent practice and self discipline he made the most of his meager privileges of intellectual training. A diligent student, deprived of college culture, he kept alive both in body, mind and spirit, and at the end of his hundred years of history still retained eternal youth both of head and heart.

His mother being a Universalist he was brought up in that faith until adolescent age. Then a sister having been converted, his mother came to his side in earnest prayer. He went out into a hollow in a field and praying with his face to the ground, he became a new creation and henceforth lived in a transfigured world.

In 1840, seventeen years of age, he began as a school teacher. Two years later with his family, he removed to Grand Rapids, Mich. He kept up his pedagogical task for two years in Michigan, teaching everything from the alphabet to astronomy, and continuing his steadfast study of all knowledge, especially the field of what was then called natural philosophy. Expecting to enter the legal profession, he also studied law and became familiar with Blackstone's Commentary.

But the higher call to the prophetic office of the ministry came to him both by the inner voice of the Spirit and the outer call of the Church. He was licensed as local preacher and entered the Michigan Conference on trial in the fall of 1844, having just passed his twenty-first birthday. Seventy-nine times he answered the Conference roll call, a record probably unequalled in the history of Methodism and perhaps of Protestantism.

Beginning as a junior preacher on the Fiat River circuit, he went on to other circuits, such as Mapleton, Bennington, and Genesee. His first salary was $118, which was eighteen dollars above his legal allowance. These circuits covered counties and were backwoods jobs, where the preacher followed trails, corduroy roads, and met deer and bear in the forests. Many such experiences came to Seth Reed.

At Bennington in 1847, he was married to Miss Harriet Newell Russel, who was his companion for fifty-one years, passing away Feb. 13, 1898. To them were born four children, all still living: E. Roscoe Reed, Detroit, Mich., Wilbur F. Reed, Cheboygan, Mich., Mrs. Louise M. Stowell, Lowell, Mass., and Mrs. H. Ella Baldwin, Flint, Mich. It is a noble family, men and women of high character, whose tribute to their father's gift to their lives is among his noblest monuments.

Among his appointments were Mount Clemens, Pontiac, Flint, Ypsilanti, where a wonderful revival took place, and Monroe. In 1855, he went to Ann Arbor, then as now the seat of the State University of Michigan. Such distinguished scholars as its president, Dr. E.O. Haven, afterwards bishop, and Professor Alexander Winchall, the celebrated geologist, testified to his ability as both teacher and preacher in the pulpit. He proceeded to Woodward Avenue, Detroit, (which is now the great Central Church) where his salary was $1,000, the highest yet paid by that or any Church in the Conference. His succeeding appointments were Lafayette Avenue, Detroit, and a second service at Ypsilanti, Mich.

When the Detroit Conference was organized in 1856, he was elected its secretaryship, a position he held for four years.

During the Civil War, Seth Reed rendered valuable service to the Christian Commission, bringing strength and salvation to both Union and Confederate soldiers, and to negroes as well. After attendance at Philadelphia on the General Conference of 1864 to which he was a delegate, on account of the serious failure of the health of his wife, he went, by medical advice, east to Martha's Vineyard, where he served a charge at Edgartown, and afterward in 1866 was appointed to Matthewson Street, Providence, R.I. After a pleasant and prosperous pastorate in New England he was transferred back to the Detroit Conference where for one year he acted as financial agent for Albion College, contributing greatly both to the building and endowment of that institution.

In 1869, he entered upon a new ministerial experience. He was made presiding elder of the Romeo and then of the Ann Arbor District serving each for four years. He then passed two successful years as pastor in Saginaw City, Corunna and Owosso remaining two years at each place. From 1883 to 1893, he spent four years as presiding elder in the Flint District and six years in the Saginaw District. No superintendent ever formed stronger friendships both with preachers and people.

In 1893, Seth Reed entered the retired relation, being seventy years of age. He was not old in either soul or body. Both ears and eyes worked well. He used no glasses for reading or anything else. Nor did retirement imply superannuation; he never accepted discharge from the army of God. No one more gloriously attained the beauty of age — an Indian summer as lovely as spring, a sunset as glowing as the dawn.

Dr. Reed after retirement served as supply at Gaylord and other charges and maintained constant interest in all the connectional relations of the Church. As guardian of the Old People's home at Chelsea for a year and a half, as worker for the Preacher's Aid Society, as one of the original organizers of the Anti-Saloon League at Washington, D.C., in 1893, he maintained a potent Influence, in the Church, in his city, state and nation, commanding universal reverence.

On September 13, 1899, he was joined in marriage to Miss Henrietta Andrews, that noble widow who survives him. Hers was the cheering presence of the last years of his earthly pilgrimage. Her fine spiritual and mental endowments, and her loving care added to the joy of this Beulah land of his life and without question was a real help to his centenary achievement of life and labor. They selected Flint as their place of residence, where Seth Reed became a notable citizen, honored by all public organizations and a leader in every high activity of the life of this marvellous municipality.

Here is a life that has illumined the three greatest generations of human history, one that kept pace with the unparalelled progress of that century and to the end was full of the glory that fills the western windows of life. When both the Michigan and Detroit Conferences celebrated his hundredth birthday at Flint, June 2, 1923, hundreds of preachers and laymen joined the City of Flint and its Board of Commerce in celebrating a life which brought to their heads and hearts the story of science, commerce, reform, religion and their centennial achievements, of which Dr. Reed seemed to be the living symbol.

On March 19, 1924, a fall broke a bone, and five days later he passed from time into eternity in perfect peace. The obsequies held in Court Street Church, Flint, conducted by Bishop Theodore S. Henderson, attended by hundreds of ministers and thousands of citizens was not a funeral service, it was only the earthly echo of the coronation of a saint which had already taken place in the world of deathless glory.

At an Indian Camp Meeting in his early ministry the Red Men gave him the name "Straight up Through the Sky." That was a true picture of his long life and was realized in his death. For the century record is not the true splendor of his life. The real measure of manhood is not in quantity but in quality. He must be numbered among the most prominent and efficient leaders in Methodism from the days of the rifle, axe and saddle bags until the present. A prophet in vision, a saint in life, an intense seeker for souls as evangelist, and a statesman in religious and business efficiency, there are few spiritual successors of John Wesley who have more fully than he reproduced those characteristics of the founder of Methodism.


- Detroit Annual Conference minutes of 1924, pp. 110-113