Charles S. Vedder, Presbyterian Huguenot Minister

Charles S. Vedder, Presbyterian Huguenot Minister

After more than forty years of ministry at Huguenot that included many challenges including times when the congregation could not pay him, he spent his last few years of life as pastor emeritus. One factor contributing to his retirement was total blindness. His final sermon was delivered February 22, 1914. During his life he served outside the church as well as within. Among his other works were serving as a commissioner for the Charleston Public Schools, president of the Charleston Bible Society, president of the City Board of Missions, president of the Training School for Nurses, and the eighth president of the New England Society for 34 years. 

Charles Stuart was born to Albert A. and Susan (Fulton) Vedder in Schenectady, New York, October 7, 1826. His education was provided by Schenectady Lyceum Academy which prepared him to graduate valedictorian of Union College’s class of 1851. Ready for his life’s work, Vedder was employed in the publishing industry by Harpers’ Magazine and other New York periodicals while he anticipated bigger and better things. However, having set his course, his direction would change. Vedder grew up in a Christian home reading the Bible and had been profoundly affected by The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis (1379-1471). His ancestry was Dutch-German and à Kempis was influenced by the Dutch priest, Geert Groote (1340-1384), whose devotio moderna was a response to what he saw as speculative theology among the Dutch. Groote’s teaching emphasized personal spirituality and taught practical communal religion as applied in the Brethren of the Common Life. But Vedder did not seek the priesthood, rather he became a candidate for the Presbyterian ministry. One thing is certain, he could not have become a priest given his marriage to Helen Amelia (Scovel) of Albany, June 7, 1854.

Where would the former publisher go for seminary? Since he was about twenty years old he had suffered reoccurring bouts of ill health because of compulsive work habits combined with the difficult climate of long, wet, and cold winters in New York. A more agreeable climate might prove prudent for theological education with the bonus of improved health. Other men that were Presbyterian ministers such as George HoweAaron W. Leland, and Zelotes Holmes moved South for warmer winters, so Vedder joined the number by attending Columbia Theological Seminary in South Carolina. He graduated Columbia with twenty others in 1861 just as the Civil War was beginning.

Vedder was soon licensed and ordained by the Presbytery of Charleston for work in First Church, Summerville, beginning 1861. The Summerville congregation could trace its ancestry to a small group of settlers from the Congregational Church in Dorchester, Massachusetts, which sailed in 1695 to Carolina (North and South, divided 1712) to establish a settlement about twenty-two miles northwest of Charleston. The next year they built the Old White Meeting House. At the Synod of South Carolina meeting in 1859 the Presbytery of Charleston reported, “They have organized [June 9, 1859] a Church at Summerville, and constituted the pastoral relation between it and the Rev. A. P. Smith” with one ruling elder, “Arthur Fogartie” (10, 96). After but a year, pastor Andrew Pickens Smith left Summerville to serve the Glebe Street Church in Charleston, 1862, and after a series of brief calls ended his days in First Church, Dallas, Texas, 1873-1895. There are several events and transitions on the timeline between the Old White Meeting House era and organization of the Summerville Presbyterian Church, but the Summerville Presbyterians exemplify the close relationship between Congregationalists and Presbyterians in the Low Country. Both presbyterian and congregational polities held to the Calvinism of the Westminster Confession in opposition to the established religion of the Church of England in the colonial era.

When the Civil War ended in 1865, Vedder continued at Summerville another year before changing call to the Huguenot Church in Charleston where he would be pastor the remainder of his lengthy life. Huguenots fled France and emigrated to other nations in anticipation of Louis XIV’s October 18, 1685 revocation of the Edict of Nantes that had given them some freedoms to practice their Calvinism and worship as Protestants. Just as Congregational churches in South Carolina enjoyed good relationships with the Presbyterians because of their common commitment to the Westminster Confession, so also the Huguenots were friends in ministry with Presbyterians due to their common commitment to Calvinism, rule by elders, and the mercy work of deacons.

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