Charles Tindley was an uneducated African American man turned prominent preacher, hymn writer, and pastor. Born in 1851 in Berlin, Maryland, young Charles narrowly escaped following his father’s footsteps as a slave. He was hired out by various families, some of them cruel, to help provide for his family’s financial needs. With his childhood thus spent, there was no opportunity for learning, and he was illiterate. He learned to read by firelight from scraps of newspaper he picked up from the road, sounding out the letters till he was proficient enough to read the Bible. When he was 17, he married his wife Daisy, and they had eight children together.
After emancipation, Tindley moved to Philadelphia, where he was converted to faith in Christ at Bainbridge Street Methodist Church. He became a janitor there, and his previous attitude of diligence and self-study continued to serve him well as he attended night school and completed coursework for seminary school. In 1902 he was elected pastor of this same church. He soon saw great fruit as the meetinghouse was expanded or relocated multiple times to accommodate the growing congregation, eager to hear his strong, biblical preaching. At 6’4, he was an impressive figure, with a deep voice that drew your heart in to listen.
Not content to minister only within the walls of his church, Tindley was active in public evangelism on the street corners of his city. Undaunted by the unconverted and unchurched, he became known to the cabbies of Philadelphia as “our pastor.” He was greatly known in his community for acts of benevolence and kindness – feeding the hungry, opening the church to the homeless in the cold, and counseling those in need. As the church continued to grow from a flock of 130 to over 3,000, his congregation insisted they rename the church “Tindley Temple.” Sadly the night before the dedication, his beloved wife Daisy passed from this life, and he could not attend the opening.
Through the years of his ministry, Charles suffered many slights and insults due to his skin color and his lack of formal education. Other cares, familiar to those in ministry, left him misunderstood and hurting. Of his song “Stand By Me,” Tindley wrote:
“It was when I was overburdened with criticisms, abuse, and hard and many oppositions–some of them from those whom I took to be my best friends– I wrote “Stand By Me.”
Tindley understood what it meant to have that friend that “sticketh closer than a brother.”
Tindley laboured faithfully in the word until he died in 1933, in his eighties. His poverty-stricken church buried him in an unmarked grave, but his life poured out for Christ upon the city of Philadelphia left an imprint no memorial could fully express.
Thou who rulest wind and water, Stand by me.
In the midst of tribulations, Stand by me;