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Old-fashioned revival recalls years of past glory

Newport resident Howard Buttery easily slides into the role of John Wesley, early leader of the Methodist church. After all , the two men are both British and were born within 23 miles of each other -- though hundreds of years apart.

But it's Buttery's English accent and acting expertise that makes his portrayal of Wesley intriguing.

John Wesley -- as played by Buttery -- will visit an old-fashioned Red Rock Revival, planned on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 9 and 10 at Newport United Methodist Church. He will be part of the service that begins at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

Buttery moved from England more than 20 years ago for "a brief assignment" at the 3M-Cottage Grove facility and stayed because he liked the predictability of the weather.

"I know I can ski all winter," he said.

Now retired, he belongs to a variety of theater groups around the metro area. Although his specialty is musicals, he also portrays other early Methodist and religious leaders and Biblical characters for Twin Cities congregations.

The theme of the Red Rock Revival is "What brings people to God." Buttery will explore why John Wesley moved away from the Anglican Church, the official church of England, to Methodism.

"Wesley was an Anglican minister, and although he faithfully followed the Anglican precepts, he didn't feel fulfilled," Buttery explained. "He tried to find an alternate way of living that was still based on the Bible."

Buttery will present Wesley as an old man looking back on a life filled with searching for faith that takes him into prisons and humble homes in England and in America, who finally finds that a "simple message brings people to God."

"In the Methodist church, people find their own ministry and this is mine; that's what I give back," Buttery said of his historical portrayal of church leaders.

"I presented John Wesley to a confirmation class once and they were spellbound, not a word, so it must have had an impact," he said.

Up to 20,000 attended 19th-century revivals

Benjamin Kavanaugh, Methodist Episcopal minister, came to Kaposia, where South St. Paul is located, in 1837 to convert and minister to the Dakota people who lived there under the leadership of Little Crow.

After three years "with little success," he moved his family and wife Margaret to Newport in 1839, according to Thelma Boeder, Methodist historian.

Kavanaugh build a two-story log cabin near a large granite rock that the Dakota people believed was brought to then Red Rock, before it became Newport, by a spirit being.

Indians believed the presence of the lone piece of granite in an area that was all limestone made the place unique. At least once a year, they painted it with red ochre, according to tribal elders.

Kavanaugh, who believed the Indian agent at Fort Snelling favored Catholics over Methodists, left the area but Methodism continued in Newport, according to Boeder.

John Holton and John Ford, among the earliest Red Rock settlers, brought the idea of starting a revival movement to their Methodist minister, Rev. C.G. Bowdish, according to "The Unique Legacy of Red Rock & Newport Minnesota compiled by Virginia Yelland.

Holton donated 10 acres of land, south of Seventh Avenue and east of 21st Street that included the rock and the cabin.

"Holiness Movement Annual Camp Meetings" were held there for 20 years. A tabernacle, hotel and cottages were built.

In the 1880s land was bought from Holton and the campsite expanded to 50 acres with as many as 20,000 people attending a revival meeting on one day, according to newspaper accounts.

The camp, which lasted from five to 10 days around the Fourth of July, was then hosted by Pentecostals of the Methodist Episcopal Church, according to Boeder.

People came to the camp by train from Red Wing, Lake City and Hastings and by boat from St. Paul, according to Yelland.

Dr. George Vallentyne, pastor of Park Avenue Methodist Church in Minneapolis was part of the camp leadership for more than 40 years. He called it "one of the great religious events of the northwest," according a newspaper account.

Interest in the revival movement began to decline in the 1880s and continued though the camp was renovated from time to time.

With the arrival of meat packing in the Newport and South St. Paul area, land in Newport was becoming more valuable.

The cabin and rock were moved to Medicine Lake.

In 1969, the cabin and the rock were moved to Newport United Methodist Church in Newport, according to Donna Reynolds, local historian who, dressed in pioneer attire, occasionally narrates the story of the cabin, the rock and the Kavanaugh family.

-- Judy Spooner