Rev. Reuben Burrow Flaniken

Cumberland Presbyterian Minister

1848 - 1896

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On June 15, 1896, after six months' heavy fighting with nervous prostration and other afflictions, Rev. R. B. Flaniken's useful life ended. He was the sixth son of Rev. Madison and Sallie Flaniken. He was born and reared in Shelby County, Tenn.; was born Sept. 4, 1848. He joined the Memphis Presbytery, April 18, 1871, at Shady Grove, Rev. W. A. Cothran was moderator. He was licensed to preach Aug. 25, 1873, at Pleasant Grove; ordained at Holly Grove Church, Feb. 25, 1876. Rev. M. Zelner preached the ordination sermon, Israel Pickens presided, and gave the charge. Our father died when R. B. was a small boy, and hence the education and religious instruction were all left to a good mother, who had the care of ten children, and only three of them fully grown. Reuben, the subject of this sketch, was led by this mother's good training, as all the others were, in early life, to Jesus. He at once joined old Pleasant Union Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Shelby County, Tenn. His boyhood, and early manhood life were spent in the old family home near this church. There he formed his early habits, his associations, his attachments for the church, for neighbors, for the water streams, the great woods, and for old country school and its playgrounds. He never was broken aloose from them. He spent all his life here, or near hear, except a few years spent in school, and one year preaching in Alabama. He was 49 years old when he died.

When the war between the States broke out, he was left at home with the two younger brothers, while the four older ones went out to serve their country. It was a severe trial on the boy of 14 years to take charge of the farm, and manage every detail of work. But, through the good help of our very practical, hard-working mother, and good neighbors that always helped out, the farmer boy of 14 fed and clothed six persons, paid off some debts, and provided some schooling. From early boyhood he was impressed to preach the gospel in answer to a mother's prayers, but poverty of knowledge, want of means to get an education and other things made it too great a task for his child faith. He threw himself into a business life. He worked hard, and managed well, and gathered some of the world's good about him, but the Lord was not with him in this. His horses died, his business would go down, and his pleasures were few. In the spring of 1869, the writer of this paper, being four years younger, entered the ministry, and in the fall went to Cumberland University for educational preparation. He well remembers when he went into the room of Reuben, the subject of this article, how he broke down and sobbed as if his heart would break. His duty was carefully brought before him, but he did not reveal anything. In the spring of 1870 the Lord got the victory, Reuben joined the Memphis Presbytery as a candidate for the ministry at the age of 22 years, and attended a high school in Gibson County, where he won all his teachers, and made a multitude of friends. In the fall of '70 he entered Cumberland University, and took the theological course under Dr. Beard. His health was very bad the first five months, and he made up his mind to quit school and the ministry until his health was restored. His trunk was packed to take the train the next morning for home. The writer felt himself to be in a narrow place. A good mother, who was so uneasy for his health, wrote him to come home. He felt he should go also. I was afraid to advise too strongly, and, yet, I felt I could not see him go away under such a burden, for he was in great trouble. I got many of the boys who were much older and wiser to advise him, and still he was not willing to stay, with his health failing him every day. We took a walk that evening and talked the matter over, and in the deep woods we separated for our evening prayers. After our prayers, and on our return home, I said: "Reuben, I have been slow to speak to you about leaving school, for fear I would advise you wrong. I have gotten others to talk with you, but they have not given you the light. I don't know how to counsel you, but I have one request to make, your trunk is packed to go home in the morning, and you think it best, still you are not sure, neither am I sure, I feel that God has called you to preach. He understood himself, and he knows all about your troubles. This may be the work of the wicked one, taking advantage of your ill-health, and wants to run you out of the ministry. Here is my request, let your trunk remain packed, but stay one more week; and each evening after supper go to the woods alone, and talk to God in prayer about this, and at the end of the week, if you will have to leave, I will not say a word." He quickly agreed. Before the week closed there was a new joy in his soul. He said to me: "The Lord has given me the light, my duty is plain, I will stay." From that day on he never faltered. His goodness of heart, his fine social qualities, his earnest prayers and spiritual life won the boys. Just a few days ago, one of the preachers, who was in school at the same time, speaking of his death, said, "Reuben was the best boy in the school."

After his graduation he took charge of three churches in Alabama, and remained there one year. He then returned to Memphis Presbytery, and took charge of the Ebenezer and Pleasant Grove churches. He was pastor of Pleasant Union and Bethel for several years. He also served other churches in Memphis Presbytery. He was recalled to Ebenezer Church and Pleasant Union, but took his bed before he preached a single sermon at Ebenezer. He lived sixteen years in the same community. He was a member of the Memphis Presbytery these sixteen years, and never missed a single session, except the last one, which was held while he was on his death-bed. He was the stated clerk of his presbytery for several years. Hundreds of souls were converted under his ministry. He was one of the best pastors in his presbytery. He loved his people and led them as gently as a shepherd does his sheep. He was often in their homes, and by his happy social talks, godly advice, warm prayers, and Bible talks, he won them all. He was a friend of sinners. He was among them as one who loved them. He was always ready to do them a favor, or go to their homes in their troubles and comfort them. He was a true neighbor. Everything he had was at the disposal of every neighbor. He made a good preacher. He never had a classical education, but was a hard student, and hence prepared his sermons well, and delivered them with great power and telling effect. He knew the doctrines of his church, and was familiar with his Bible, and from these fountains he filled his soul and poured it out, and blest his church and the world. He was never without a charge. He was always busy in his Master's work. Nov. 11, 1880, he married Miss Katie McClenahan, of Tipton County, Tenn. Six children, all of whom are living, were born to them. No preacher in my judgment, ever married better. The family is one of the best in Tipton County, Father McClenahhan was the Abraham of his church. Mother McClenahan is the good mother of all the church. This beautiful wife possessed every grace and charm of a perfect woman. She was quite an intelligent lady, a consecrated Christian. Her sacrifices for her husband, children and church knew no bounds. Her hospitality in her home was as full and flowing as the rivers. To know her was to love her, to be in her home was a joy forever. This beautiful wife died eight months before the husband, and left six motherless children, one a little infant. Now the father is gone, and six little fatherless and motherless ones are left. Tears come and blind my eyes as I write these lines. There can be but one mother and father. But these are well provided for now, and will be. At the death of this brother and burial, multitudes of friends came together. One said to the writer, "I never saw any one in my life who had so many friends."

May this blessed, good and useful life of his flow down upon the five remaining brothers and sisters, and the church. The dear Lord bless, and make good and useful Christians of all the children, and gather them all home to father and sweet mother.

                                                                                            F. P. FLANIKEN.

    Itasca. Tex.

[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, August 20, 1896, page 31]

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Updated 5 February 2019