July 2012

The Mystery of the Unplowed Joints: The Making of an Oakwood Monument

We came to Oakwood in 1947—the year that the “Cleveland Indians” used pitcher, Satchel Page in the World Series, the first time an African American pitched in a championship game.  A new car cost about $1,200.00 in 1947.  A Rolls Royce Silver Phantom cost about $11,500.00.  General Douglas MacArthur was relieved of his command by Harry S. Truman.  And, we arrived as freshmen at beloved Oakwood.

In 1951, we graduated together.  It ought to be said that the Class of ’51 was an “extraordinary” class!  You’d expect that from me, but consider:  we were mostly theology students.

Our class president was John H. Wagner, Jr. who became an extraordinary pastor and church builder.  James Middleton was vice-president, successful pastor and leader.  Curtis Burton was our treasurer.  Lovey Davis-Verdun was secretary.  She still works for the college, and Ruth Williams-Gunn was her assistant.  John Wright was our chaplain, a deeply spiritual pastor for years.

From this relatively small class came five conference presidents:  H.L. Cleveland (President of Student Government), L .G. Newton, Alvin Goldbourne, A. N. Brogden and Ralph Hairston.  There were three union officers:  Daniel Davis, A.N. Brogden and C.D. Brooks.  Two of us served in the General Conference:  R. W. Bates and C. D. Brooks.  Others were educators, medical professionals, great soul winners, etc.

In 1951, it occurred to us that one of our great and favorite teachers was leaving Oakwood after 17 years of distinguished service: Elder C. E. Moseley, beloved instructor of Homiletics, Major and Minor Prophets and Pastor of the College Church.  We saw that he with his departmental staff (E. E. Rogers, C. T. Richards, O. B. Edwards and others) could take very ordinary men and send them out to do extraordinary exploits for God.

The senior ministerial students got together to ponder “What can we do to honor Elder Moseley after all he has done for us here?”  I was in Turner Battle’s art class.  I had drawn three designs of a Bell Tower to rescue the antique bell that had not only called us to class, meals and worship, but had called tired and oppressed slaves to the fields in another time.  So it came to us:  “Let’s use one of C. D.’s designs and erect the Bell Tower in Elder Moseley’s honor.

We went into the mountains, lifted the large and heavy stones and brought them down to campus.  We drove a farm wagon with real horsepower; two gray geldings worked for us, along with a “wounded Jeep” of WWII vintage.

Elder Moseley, from his classroom window contemplated this growing pile of rocks and he must have wondered with the Old Testament travelers, “What meaneth these stones…”  We said not a word to him or others about our work.  Once, he gently scolded us for “consuming too much time on whatever we were doing.”

We found the stone masons who had built Moran Hall.  Russell Bates and I laid out the structure using the flagpole as the center of our circumference and we dug up the grass for the foundation. The Bell would be toward the Henderson Hall (East) and the entrance toward Irvin Hall (West).  (While we were doing this, the Allegheny Conference President came and called me to his field.)

We built it!  A large circular “bench” where students and visitors could rest and take in the beauty of our campus and our young people.  Who can imagine how may “sweet nothings” were whispered between couple while resting there?  They made promises of unyielding affections.  Engagements were proposed and planned and ratified.  I wonder how many marriages resulted.  It gives one a real warm feeling just thinking over the 50 years!  Perhaps grades improved and rose to another level.  Because on this bench with the beauty of nature all around, it was conducive to clear thinking.

Briefly here, let me tell you of the “Mystery of the Unplowed Joint.”

The contractors were excited about our project and wanted it right.  Our intention was to have it match the “Ad Building” (Moran Hall) with its molded joints.  Our builder said, “Fellows, you won’t have time.  Cement must have a certain consistency in order to be molded.  This is a Friday job.  Your Sabbath is coming.  You won’t have time to wait on the cement.  Just plow the joints and it will look fine considering the distance between the two structures.”  We agreed.

The work was done in a hurry.  The masons worked like beavers.  We helped with the labor.  We discovered that the cement remained very soft.  The joints couldn’t be plowed until it set up to a certain degree.  We started on the Cunningham Hall side.  By the time the masons blocked in the tower, we could begin plowing the joints. We also began to watch the westerning sun.  Sabbath was coming fast!  We wondered if we could get the whole thing done.

Finally, the contractors were done.  We paid them and they left, wishing us success.  We were advancing too fast on green concrete” but we couldn’t wait: Sabbath was coming!

It began to be frustrating.  What would we do? Some started to rationalize: “Is this analogous to the ox in the mire?” “The Lord will understand.”  But wait a minute.  We were young theologs who soon would be preaching in small churches around the country expecting our people to be faithful in all things.  We would talk about Joseph and Daniel and the Hebrew boys.

The sky was turning red.  Long shadows were bending toward the east.  Soon it would be time to prepare for Vespers.  The Sabbath peace was in the air.  What should we do?  The section in front of the Ad Building could not be finished without violating the 4th Commandment.  It was decision time.

To a man, we decided to just leave it.  If our work was criticized, it would be a testimony to our feeble faith.  And leave it, we did.  Now 50 years later, I defy anyone to go and inspect the structure and show where we stopped!  Did angel finish our work? This is the mystery of the unplowed joints.

On the day of dedication, the plaque was in place.  President Peterson led the staff to the campus center.  Leonard Newton had his medical cadets all crisp and starched and at attention.  The students and visitors gathered, all wondering what this was about.

Slowly the bell begins to toll…17 times in uninterrupted cadence.  Elder Moseley hadn’t a clue.  Did he count the gongs?

I still remember the metallic language of the bell.  I remember the scene and the tears when “the Rabbi” (our affectionate name for Elder Moseley) understood that it was for him.

We buried Elder Moseley a few weeks ago in the bosom of Oakwood’s soil…that precious man!  The bell is still here in his honor.  Today, when loyalty and faithfulness are compromised so easily…when principles become flexible and are rationalized away…when things go on here on these hallowed grounds that were never even dreamed of years ago – I remember the “unplowed joints” – a testimony and tribute to a group of young men now 50 years older who stood for something!  They were showered and dressed and in their place as the red afterglow of a dying sun glorified our chapel and vesper hour.  We stood firm.

-This talk was given by C.D. Brooks at Oakwood University on April 13, 2001