The Fighting Parson and his Paxtang Boys
|Grave of Rev. John Elder - Image from FindaGrave.com|
When calling a Presbyterian pastor, his qualifications are important. Does he preach the Word of God? Check! Does he evangelize the unconverted and make disciples? Check! Does he administer the sacraments? Check! Does he visit the people in their homes, especially the sick? Check! Does he lead military operations against marauding natives? Whoa! Wait a minute. What? That isn’t listed in the Book of Church Order! And yet, that was often the calling of the pastor in frontier churches. In this case, the Rev. John Elder was one of the Fighting Parsons of the Paxtang Boys in Pennsylvania.
John Elder was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on January 26, 1706. He attended the University of Edinburgh. In 1735, he traveled to America and into the Presbyterian church. Ordained on November 22, 1738, he was called to the Paxton Presbyterian Church, two miles north of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Other than a brief separation from that congregation, he was to stay there as an under shepherd for 56 years.
Being a Presbyterian was no easy life in colonial America. Surrounded by hostile natives, each day was a challenge. Weapons were carried as they worked in the fields, or even as they gathered for worship. Pastor Elder himself would prop his rifle next to his pulpit! On the way home, members would scan the skies for any smoke, which would indicate a home burned by the natives. More than one member might be killed or captured during the week.