A Man with Connections Upstairs
by Morgan Gates
The Reverend Doctor William Wilberforce Lord was a man with a close walk with God. As the shells rained down on Vicksburg from the Union mortar boats on the Mississippi, he kept the doors to Christ Episcopal Church open daily to the beleaguered citizens of Vicksburg. Just days before his home, next door to the church, had been destroyed, when a heavy exploding shell had dropped through his roof, through the second floor, and landed on his dining room table, which had just been set with his family’s supper by his cook. It was only by God’s grace that he, his wife, and children had not been sitting at that very table when the shell detonated.
Reverend Lord was a man who had a strong faith. He moved his family into the basement of the church until he could have a proper “cave” constructed. Once his family was snugly ensconced in their subterranean shelter, no man would have blamed him for closing the church doors and joining them there. W.W. Lord, however, did not answer to any man, he answered to God, and if God stands with you, who can stand against you? So, while most of Vicksburg’s Churches remained shuttered during this deadly siege, Christ Episcopal was open! All but one of its beautiful stain glass windows had been shattered and pieces of glass and brick littered the sanctuary, yet the doors were open and Reverend Lord was present each day to minister to those who wished to come and pray.
On July 4th, the guns fell silent, and the Union Army marched down Jackson Street, within sight of the church-- the siege was over! Reverend Lord met with General Grant sometime later and Grant offered him safe passage through the Union lines to Mobile, but Lord refused, opting to leave the city with the paroled Confederates. He later served as a Confederate chaplain for the duration of the conflict.
After the War was over, Vicksburg quickly returned to prosperity, as the river reopened and the cotton trade resumed. A group of former Christ Episcopal congregants decided that post war Vicksburg was now big enough for a second Episcopalian Church, and in 1870 construction began on the “The Church of the Holy Trinity”, about seven blocks to the south, and Reverend Lord was called to serve as its first Rector.
This beautiful Romanesque Church was to feature a steeple that towered nearly two hundred feet above the streets of Vicksburg, and be topped with a cross nearly as big as a full grown man. When time came to set the steeple in place the question was asked, “Who was to do it?” Of course, none other than Reverend W.W. Lord stepped forward. Lord had worked on high masted sailing ships as a young man, so he knew a thing or two about maneuvering at lofty altitudes, but he was now a man of fifty-five years, a time when most of us prefer to keep our feet firmly on the ground. Perhaps Reverend Lord simply considered this task as putting him a little bit closer to heaven, for he shimmed up the towering edifice and successfully anchored this symbol of his saviors’ love to the highest point in the city.
That very cross cast it’s shadow across this city for many years thereafter, through wind, hail, lighting, and tornados. Finally, after nearly a century, it was decided this “old rugged cross” was due for retirement. A modern high crane was brought in which, quickly and efficiently, and with almost no risk, plucked Reverend Lord’s cross from the summit and replaced it with a replica. The replacement lasted just a little over a decade, before it was stuck by lighting and had to be replaced again. I guess the crane operator didn’t have the same connections upstairs.
That original cross today sits at the head of an enclosed prayer garden on the church grounds as a reminder of the love of our Lord Jesus, but also of unquestioning uncompromising faith of a latter day disciple of his, the Reverend Doctor William Wilberforce Lord!