Millard Fillmore was president for a few difficult years a decade before the Civil War split the nation into.
He is almost forgotten by most Americans today. When remembered, Fillmore is often the punchline of a joke — he is often erroneously remembered as the first president to have a bathtub in the White House.
Fillmore and his wife, Caroline, however, were points of beginning for a recent sermon at Allen-Lee Memorial United Methodist Church in Lone Oak. Winston Skinner, a member of the church and a staff member at The Newnan Times-Herald who has a great love for history, brought the message.
Skinner was a pastor for more than 24 years and often used events from history as touchstones for sermons and special services. Chad Hill, Allen-Lee’s pastor, asked Skinner to preach on Jan. 12.
“This sermon idea had been rolling around in my head,” Skinner said.
Skinner, who lives in Newnan, has been interested in presidents and first ladies since he was in elementary school. “I had been reading about Caroline Fillmore, who married the former president in 1858. Upon reflection, I saw several points that ‘will preach’ in her life story,” he said.
“The Fillmores were a religious couple. Their home was known as one of clean language and living. She was Baptist. He Unitarian. When the former president had died in 1874, ministers from three different faiths preached at his funeral,” Skinner noted in his sermon.
Caroline McIntosh “was the wife of a former president, but she had never lived in the White House, never experienced the power and burden of the presidency,” Skinner preached.
“In Caroline Fillmore’s story, we find glimpses of our own. We were not there to see Jesus speak to a multitude on the hillside. We did not taste the fish and bread multiplied from a little boy’s lunch. We did not hear the noises as Lazarus, dead three days, rose from his tomb in Bethany and walked into the sunlight,” Skinner said.
“We did not experience any of that, but we who believe know the one who worked those great miracles. We know Jesus intimately. He lives in our hearts. He accompanies us each moment of our lives,” he added.
The hymns used for the service were from Ira Sankey’s Gospel Hymns, published in the 1870s. A copy of the popular hymnal was among Caroline Fillmore’s belongings offered at auction last year.
Shelia Simpson sang “Sweet Hour of Prayer” during the service.
Church members invited visitors on Jan. 12, days after Millard Fillmore’s 214th birthday. A special effort was made to contact members descendants of Coweta County’s pioneer Carmichael family who may be distantly related to Caroline Fillmore.
After the service, a display of some of Skinner’s presidential memorabilia was displayed in the church fellowship hall. There were miniature figures of presidents, coins, stamps and items autographed by four presidents’ wives — Frances Cleveland, Mary Harrison, Rosalynn Carter and Barbara Bush.
I hope there’s an electronic copy of that sermon, and I hope I can get one.