04. Ministerial Education and Marriage 1902-1908

With this chapter we celebrate the birthday of two family members: First, honoring Tilghman’s wife, Clara Murray Smith, who we meet in this post, born on this day, July 31, 1879; and second, her great grand-daughter, Karen Murray Smith Wilson, who was born the same day, only a few years before Clara passed away.

After a year teaching at Ellis School, near Woodland , Delaware, Tilghman writes: “In 1902, after years of inner conflict, I decided to become a minister”. What conflicts? The lack of formal education? His age (he was now 23)? The uncertainty of the future? Perhaps most vexing, his lack of money, a problem that would haunt him much of his professional life? At this stage of Tilghman’s life, his diary, “Facts and Legends Concerning My Family” becomes very sparse. His major objective was to focus on family rather than himself. We wish he could have said more.

This chapter’s video describes how Tilghman’s determination allowed him to balance his ministerial education with a rocky start in his first few church appointments, one of which led to meeting his wife, Clara.



Tilghman’s church appointments covered in this chapter include:

l. Golts, Kent County, Maryland 1905

II. Canterbury, Kent County, Delaware 1906-08

III. Christiana, New Castle County, Delaware 1908


Tilghman's wife, Clara Murray Smith
Tilghman’s wife, Clara Murray Smith


Clara's parents, George Henry Murray and Olive Purinton Murray
Clara’s parents, George Henry Murray and Olive Purinton Murray


More on Tilghman’s ministerial education

In 1903 Tilghman entered the Wilmington Conference Academy in Dover, Delaware. A “prep school” owned and operated by the Wilmington Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Later it was to become Wesley College, a fully accredited four-year institution related to the United Methodist Church. At that time the Academy provided a pre-college education with a strong emphasis on religion and the classics (Greek and Latin languages and literature). Tilghman did well and graduated in three years: 1906.

We do not know whether the Academy provided room and board or how his expenses were met. He may have received at least some scholarship help. But we do know that the physical and emotional stress during that period affected his health. Tuberculosis was very prevalent. He weighed only 130 pounds. A doctor advised him to stay out of school. The doors were now closed to higher education, both college and/or theological school.

There was then, and is now, an educational option for aspiring Methodist ministers. Instead of earning a college degree followed by three years of theological education, now required for all fully ordained clergy, one could pursue the Course of Study administered by the Board of Ministerial Education and Ministry of the Methodist Church. This may be done either by attending classes for successive summers in one of Methodism’s theological seminaries or through correspondence.

Tilghman applied, was accepted as a student in the Course of Study School and completed the requirements by correspondence. This was no “fly by night” operation. The books used were written by approved theological professors and student papers were graded by them.

Dr. Edgar Sheffield Brightman

One of Tilghman’s mandatory courses was the Philosophy of Religion, designed and graded by Dr. Brightman, who later became a formidable figure on the faculty of Boston University. A student of the late Borden Parker Bowne, father of philosophical Personalism in which God is the ultimate Person, Dr. Brightman became Bowne’s successor as Chair of Boston University’s Philosophy Department and also taught in the School of Theology.

Tilghman and Clara with their nephew, William Smith.
Tilghman and Clara with their nephew, William Smith.
William graduated in 1948 from Boston University School of Theology with a
Master of Sacred Theology degree.

Tilghman’s nephew, The Reverend William E. Smith, Th.D., D.D., took the same Philosophy of Religion class about 40 years later. He recalls —

“Dr. Brightman was a commanding presence as he stood behind the lectern. He laid down clear requirements for the course. There would be one paper and, of course, a final exam. You’d better read the assigned text for each class. He was a great user of 3×5’s, one for each student, on which he noted our progress or lack thereof. He looked the part of a distinguished scholar and yet was very gracious in individual relations with students. He dominated the world of philosophic theology for many years. His books were widely read and he was invited to lecture all over the country. One of his convictions was that God is limited. God can’t cure cancer; God can’t prevent a tsunami. God can’t destroy God’s self and create himself anew. Some contend that because his wife died of cancer despite the most advanced technologies in those days and prayers for her survival were unanswered, Brightman’s concept of God was severely altered.

When I came home to Reliance from Boston University for Spring Break I’d find Tilghman eager to engage in a discussion about Dr. Brightman’s course in Philosophy of Religion, one of the hardest courses in the Theological School curriculum which Tilghman had taken in the Conference Course of Study. Tilghman wanted to know more about this famous teacher and to discuss his somewhat controversial concepts. We had a stirring discussion on the nature of God and he held my feet to the fire. Tilghman’s was a hard way to earn a theological education, and he missed the stimulation of actually being in the theological environment.”



2 thoughts on “04. Ministerial Education and Marriage 1902-1908

  1. Thanks for sharing this story–I look forward to every chapter as it evolves! The Smith family reunions were the impetus to my original interest in our family genealogy, so I look forward to every new recording and blog!

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