Monday, July 6, 2009

July 7: “Nothing between my soul and my Savior…”

Do you know who this is?
-He was a founding father of American Gospel music
-He was known as the ‘people’s pastor’.
-He was largely self-educated.

Raised with slaves in Worchester County in the pre-Civil War border state of Maryland, considered free because his parents were a slave father and free mother, he would become the self-educated minister of a 10,000 member multi-racial Methodist Church – in an era where most churches were segregated based on race.

Charles Albert Tindley was born on the Joseph Brindell farm near Berlin, Maryland, on July 7, 1851 to Charles and Hester Miller Tindley. When he was less than five years old his mother died, and he would be raised by his sister. Because economic conditions were poor for the African Americans in the mid-19th Century, Tindley was ‘hired out’ as a young boy by his father, receiving pay for working in the fields alongside slaves – providing young Tindley with the experiences of working on a slave plantation, and his family with a much needed income.

As a youth Tindley would be denied the opportunity for an education. First: he was in the field helping his family during the day. Secondly, although he was considered ‘free born’, schools in his area were for white students – so he taught himself how to read and write.

When he was about seventeen, Tindley married Daisy Henry. He would move to Philadelphia with his family in order to better support them. Working during the day as a janitor and attending school at night, he strove to achieve the American ideal. He once commented “I made a rule to learn at least one new thing—a thing I did not know the day before—each day.”

Tindley had varied educational experiences. He put himself through night school. He earned a Divinity Degree through a correspondence course. He never graduated from a college or seminary. In his seeking the source of truth from the Bible, he studied Greek at the Boston School of Theology. In order to better understand the Old Testament, Tindley studied Hebrew through a synagogue in Philadelphia. He would ultimately be awarded two honorary doctorate degrees: one from North Carolina, the other from Maryland.

He was employed as a janitor from 1880 to 1885 at the Bainbridge Street Methodist Church in Philadelphia. The same church granted him a license to preach – and he would be assigned there as its pastor in 1902 after pasturing in Delaware and New Jersey. The church had 130 African American members when Tindley was appointed as its pastor, and the congregation would reach 10,000 members under his guidance – and would be a multiracial congregation that included African Americans, Europeans, Jews and Hispanics. He led his church in ministering to Philadelphia’s poor – by establishing soup kitchens and a clothing ministry - as well as advocating civil rights in the early 20th century. As a tribute to the accomplishments of the man who led the church for over thirty years, Bainbridge was renamed Tindley Methodist Episcopal Church in the 1920s - over the objections of Tindley.

Tindley was preached powerful messages, and – although technically musically illiterate - began writing hymns that reflected his background – music that later became known as gospel music, which was based on feelings engendered by a history of oppression. He would dictate the words and tunes to a transcriber who would write down the formal musical notes and words. Eventually he would write over forty-five hymns, and while he apparently did not intend for his music to be sung congregationally, some of his hymns wound up in the Methodist hymnal and are sung around the world today. Perhaps one of the most famous of his hymns is “Stand By Me”.

When the storms of life are raging, stand by me;
When the world is tossing me, like a ship upon the sea,
Thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me.
Other well-known hymns by Tindley include “We’ll Understand Better, By and By”, “Lord, I’ve Tried”, and “I Shall Overcome”. Many believe that the words and intent of “I Shall Overcome” was the basis of the anthem for the Civil Rights movement, “We Shall Overcome”.

While many of his sermons are lost, the messages found in his songs remain. These messages are based on his past, and the events occurring in his life, ringing true to us today – over seventy years after the death of their author.

From “We’ll Understand Better, By and By”:
We are often destitute of the things that life demands,
Want of food and want of shelter, thirsty hills and barren lands;
We are trusting in the Lord, and according to God's Word,
We will understand it better by and by.
Or “Nothing Between”, written in 1906 when the church was negotiating to buy a new site for its growing congregation.

Nothing between my soul and my Savior,
naught of this world’s delusive dream;
I have renounced all sinful pleasure;
Jesus is mine, there’s nothing between.
Nothing between my soul and my Savior,
so that his blessed face may be seen;
nothing preventing the least of his favor;
keep the way clear! Let nothing between.
Tindley would pass away on July 26, 1933, from a gangrene infection in his foot. He was 82 years old. It was at the deepest point of the Great Depression when Tindley was buried in Eden Memorial Cemetery in Collingdale, Pennsylvania, and the congregation could not afford a marker for his grave. The situation was rectified in 2002 when 3000 members of his church met in a memorial to Tindley that met, provided a headstone, and remembered Dr. Tindley.

There are no biographies of Charles Tindley in our local library.


Christian History Timeline
Cyber Hymnal
Lower Shore
Preparing for Eternity
Taylor House Museum
United Methodist Portal
World Wide Faith News


T 01. Charles Tindley portrait, Find a Grave, by Curtis Jackson
T 02. Charles A. Tindley, Cyberhymnal
T 03. I Shall Overcome songsheet, Thinkquest
T 04. Tindley Memorial, Find a Grave, by Curtis Jackson


  1. He was an amazing man!

  2. I enjoy finding people whom God has truly had a visible effect on their lives - and Tindley was one of those.
    Thanks for reading the article and you comments!