Dr. John Van Buren Flack was born in Holmes County, Ohio, May 12, 1840. His father's name was John V. Flack. His mother's name was Mary Maddox, who died when John was about nine years of age. He was raised by an aunt and uncle. He always maintained that he was converted just after his kind aunt had kneeled by his little trundle bed and prayed for her adopted child. John was educated at Holmes University and began preaching at the age of 21. He was very successful as a circuit preacher and soon took front rank as a pulpit orator and revivalist. In the early years, Flack was nicknamed "Boy Preacher."
Flack spent most of his early years in Illinois. He and Miss Marietta Smith were united in marriage July 28, 1867, in Galesburg, Illinois. They had seven children, five boys and two girls. Later, Flack moved from Illinois to Iowa where he became the pastor at Weston, Plainville (where he lived), Dallas, Bethel, Wheeling, and Red Rock churches. In 1868, Rev. Flack received a call to visit Missouri and meet with "a people there, who had for 26 years previous, maintained an unsectarian church organization as an independent religious body. In this conference, the question of recognizing a general union with the general Christian Union of the United States came up, and afterwards the preamble and resolutions by which these local churches became united with the churches at large known as the Christian Union, was written by myself and signed by the entire committee ..." stated Flack. In so doing, Flack organized these churches in the state of Missouri which subsequently became the oldest organized churches in the Christian Union religion in the world.
Of his ministry in Iowa, Flack said this was one of the best charges he had ever served, embracing a happy period in his life, but providence decreed he should take his family, remove from the state of Iowa and cast his humble lot with the people of Missouri. His last year in Iowa was 1870. He states, "My last year in Iowa was one of much hard work, and almost continual revival. I also during the year, held several blessed meetings in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio and was one of the editors of the Christian Witness. During this year, I published my book, The Origin, Nature and Design of Christian Union, 1,000 copies were soon disposed of. Leaving much and many incidents unrecorded of my pastoral and evangelistic work in Iowa, I will pass to the beginning of my work in Missouri in the year of 1870."
Flack became deathly ill with malaria and doctors thought his death was certain. But, Flack claims "by the grace of God life was prolonged" and his wife and youngest son accompanied him overland by buggy to their new home in Missouri -- Haynesville, which is the location of Holt, today. Flack held his first revival meeting at Salem church in 1871, followed by one at a Union chapel in Ray County. He held a serious of meetings at what was called Rocky Fork, in a school house and organized their first church. In meantime, he took his family and removed to Missouri City where he lived and did an extensive dry goods business. In this city, Flack aided the Methodist church, doing almost all of the preaching there, but made no effort to establish a Christian Union church there. In the course of time, he traveled through a valley on his way to a revival at Salem church in, what would soon now, become Excelsior Springs.
It was the year 1880, and Flack heard tell of the miraculous powers of the spring water that A.W. Wyman possessed on his property. Flack states that the "Excelsior Spring enterprise" began with one spring hidden away among high weeds, in an uninviting, obscure, apparently worthless section of Clay county, Missouri. He had the water analyzed, then formed partnership with Wyman and, with a straw stack in the little valley, began advertising the water and noting the marvelous cures. He named the spring "Excelsior" from Longfellow's poem (later changed to Siloam), laid out the town, named all the streets, erected the first dry goods business, and founded the Christian Union church.
Flack's dry goods store sat on the corner of Broadway and Main and was purposed to carry the largest and most complete line of dry goods, boots and shoes, hats and caps, and notions to be found in the city. He also established and edited three newspapers, and one monthly magazine in the city, conducted a drug business, and real estate business, and at all times served as pastor from three to five local churches (which established themselves in the first, white frame Christian chapel), never for one hour slighting his ministerial duties and obligations to God. He gave the lot that the church was built upon and almost $1,200 for it's erection, doing most of the work with his own hands. One of his sons, Charles A. Flack, followed in his father's footsteps to become a minister, converting at a revival held here. In 1884, he was made a Doctor of Divinity by Rutherford College, North Carolina. He also had opportunity to preach at Edinburg College. Flack pastored the Christian Union church until 1904, after what time he preached the merits of the waters throughout the central states and worked to advance Excelsior Springs. He advertised the waters extensively and wherever he went, he let the people know of the curative power of the waters of Excelsior Springs. Rev. Jerry Clevenger recalled in writing, "I remember how he used to use envelopes in his correspondence that were covered with advertisements in reference to the waters."
In 1906, in the company of Rev. G.W. Michell, Rev. A.C. Thomas, Rev. W.P. Hunt, Rev. H.S. Mitchell and J.W. Hyder, Flack went to a meeting of the Christian Union general council in Homer, Indiana. Rev. G.W. Mitchell was elected president and Rev. Flack was elected secretary. On June 1, standing in the barnyard at the home of Wash Veatch, Flack staggered, caught himself but was then carried into the house and a physician called. He improved and his fellow companions began their journey back to Excelsior Springs. Flack remained with the Veatch family for about 10 days, until his wife could reach Indiana and bring him home. On August 13, in Excelsior Springs, he passed away.
At the time of his death, Flack was editor of the Christian Union Witness Herald, published in this city. He was presiding officer of the Christian Union general council; and serving as secretary of that body. He was secretary for 25 years in succession. He devoted many years of his life to religious work. He preached in all parts of the country.
The last rites and ceremonies of respect took place at the original Christian Union chapel on August 14, 1906. The city suspended business and traffic of all kinds from 12 o'clock until after the funeral procession started from the chapel on Excelsior street to the ceremony at Salem. On the casket were placed wreaths of flowers from the mayor of the city, from the Commercial club, from the postmaster, city collector, and from Dr. Fraker. The funeral discourse was delivered by Rev. Dr. Mitchell, followed by Rev. T.M.S. Kenney, pastor of the Baptist Church of Excelsior Springs, a very close personal friend of Dr. Flack. Rev. A.C. Thomas, pastor of the Christian Union Church, and Rev. Jerry Clevenger and Rev. Joseph McAdams also took part. Rev. Hubbard of the Methodist and Rev. West of the Presbyterian churches were also present. After the clergymen had finished their eulogies, Judge W.E. Fowler was called to make some remarks in behalf of the City of Excelsior Springs. The vast audience then took their farewell of the friend of Excelsior Springs and humanity and grand christian worker and the remains were taken to Salem cemetery and laid to rest. Pall bearers were: Mayor J.R. Holman, Judge W.E. Fowler, J.W. Snapp, C.W. Fish, J.R. McIver, and W.E. Templeton.
Flack was survived by his wife, Marietta, and four childen, William D. Flack, Virgil H. Flack, Van B. Flack, and Miss Ethel Flack.
An Account of religious ministry during the Civil War