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     Welcome to the Presbyterian Historical Society of the Southwest web page! 

     "Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug." -- Isaiah 51:1  

 

PAPERS FROM THE 2020 ANNUAL PROCEEDINGS ARE NOW AVAILABLE. THEY HAVE BEEN MAILED OUT TO PHSSW MEMBERS. ANYONE ELSE REQUESTING A COPY MAY RECEIVE ONE FOR $10. PLEASE CONTACT EXECUTIVE SECRETARY, DR. JIM CURRIE AT

 

ALSO, REPRINTS OF "DOING JUSTICE, LOVING KINDNESS, AND WALKING HUMBLY: THE WITNESS OF SOME SOUTHERN PRESBYTERIAN PASTORS FOR THE CAUSE OF RACIAL HARMONY IN THE 1950S AND 1960S" ARE NOW AVAILABLE FOR $20 EACH. IF INTERESTED, PLEASE CONTACT DR. CURRIE AT THE ABOVE EMAIL ADDRESS. 

 

Currie's Column (June 2020) – Today's Communion of Saints" – Dr. James S. Currie, Executive Secretary 

     In Hebrews 11 we find what has been called the roll-call of the saints. From Abel, Abraham, and Moses through Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel, we are reminded of all those men and women who testified to and suffered for their faith in the good news of God’s love and faithfulness. In light of recent events in this country it is worth our time to recall many in the Presbyterian Church in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas who by their lives testified to a gospel of love and grace in times of racial tensions and violence, often at great cost to themselves.

     *On May 31, 1921 there was a massacre of African Americans in the Greenwood section of Tulsa, Oklahoma. First Presbyterian Church, Tulsa and its pastor, William Kerr, provided shelter and a safe haven for many of those African Americans.

     *In 1946 in Ada, Oklahoma the Rev. Mitchell Epperson, pastor of the Presbyterian church there, was forced to resign because he and his family defended the rights of an African American teenager to check out books from the local public library. It took Epperson two years to find another call.

     *Little Rock, Arkansas became a hotbed of racial tension when in September1957 nine African American students sought to enter Central High School. Rev. Dunbar Ogden, pastor of Central Presbyterian Church, was the only white clergyperson to accompany the students to school. They faced a torrent of angry white persons shouting abusive epithets, some even spitting on the students. Presbyterian pastors Marion Boggs and Don Campbell were among those who preached sermons on racial justice at the time. In the meantime, Ogden was asked to leave his church, finally receiving a call to Huntington, West Virginia. One of his sons committed suicide as a result of his family’s support of the integration of Central High School.

     *From 1964-1968 the Rev. Granville Sydnor served as pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Ferriday, Louisiana, home town of Jerry Lee Lewis, Mickey Gilley, Jimmy Swaggart, and Howard K. Smith, among others. Sydnor stood up to the KKK and often received phone calls threatening him and his family. Sydnor remained firm in his convictions, resisting segregation in all its forms. In 1968 he and his family moved to Minden, Louisiana.

     *In April 1925 the Rev. James H. M. Boyce became the organizing pastor of the Gregg Street Presbyterian Church in the Fifth Ward of Houston. In 1950 the congregation moved to a new building across from Wheatley High School and adopted a new name – Pinecrest Presbyterian Church. In 1955 Boyce was elected the first black moderator of Brazos Presbytery. After more than 35 years of ministry there, Boyce died on December 31, 1959. He was succeeded by Rev. David Shipley in 1960 and then by Rev. Ed Triem in February 1968. Triem remained there until his retirement in 1998. Among the strong lay leadership from that congregation over the years have been Nellye Joyce Punch, Rebecca Howard, and Sharon Darden.

     *”And time would fail me to tell” of Floyd and Selma Tate, Rev. John and Lib Minter, and Carrie Walker at University Presbyterian in Houston (an intentionally integrated church), Rev. Bob Walkup (Starkville, MS and McAllen, TX), Rev. Louise Row (Presbyterian pastor in Jasper, TX at the time of James Byrd, Jr.‘s death), among many, many others. As we make history today, may we do so knowing that others who have gone before us have given faithful and often costly testimony to Jesus Christ and the gospel of love, justice and truth.

     (Some of the stories cited above can be found in Doing Justice, Loving Kindness, and Walking Humbly, edited by James S. Currie, copyright 2014).

 

Currie's Column (April 2020) - "Dr. Not Afraid" - Dr. James S. Currie, Executive Secretary

     His name was Eugene R. Kellersberger. He was one of many American missionaries to what was then called the Belgian Congo, and has since then been called Zaire, and that today is simply known as the Democratic of Congo. Between 1903 and 1970 there were 65 missionaries from Texas who went to labor in the Belgian Congo. In those years there were others from other states, including 14 from Arkansas, 12 from Louisiana, and two from Oklahoma.

     Kellersberger was born August 6, 1888 in the little community of Cypress Mill, Texas which lies on Farm Road 962 just east of Highway 281, between Johnson City and Marble Falls. After graduating from the University of Texas in 1911, he enrolled at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, earning his M.D. in 1915. The following year, under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, he left as a medical missionary with his wife, Edna Bosche, for the Belgian Congo.

     Working in Bibanga, Kellersberger treated more than 10,000 cases of African sleeping sickness, caused by the bite of an infected tsetse fly. His wife, Edna, contracted that disease and was forced to recuperate, first, in London while Eugene completed a course in surgery at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, and later in Texas with the couple’s two daughters. Unfortunately, while staying with her children with her father, in October 1923 she was shot and killed by her father’s estranged wife. In 1930 Kellersberger remarried to Julia Lake, a traveling representative of the PCUS Board of Christian Education.

     While continuing his work in Bibanga, Kellersberger became an authority on the treatment of leprosy. Because of his willingness to touch leprosy patients, he became known in the community as “Dr. Not Afraid”. He developed into such an authority on the treatment of leprosy that in 1940 he was asked to become the president of the American Leprosy Missions, located in New York City. So, after 24 years of work in Bibanga, Congo, he moved to NYC where he worked for 13 years. He retired to Florida in 1957 and died in 1966. He is buried in the place of his birth, Cypress Mill, Texas. Inscribed on his gravestone are the words from Romans 8:37 – “More than conquerors through him that loved us.”

     Among other Texans who served as 20th century missionaries to Congo were Thomas Chalmers Vinson (evangelist, 1912-1928) and Glenn and Betty Murray (evangelists, 1939-1974). Theirs is a powerful legacy of responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the great physician, that these and many others have left us. For that, and the labors of so many others, we are grateful.

     Today there are many in this country who are exemplifying courage as they risk their own lives, responding to the coronavirus pandemic. They, too, have earned the moniker “Dr. Not Afraid”, a name that is not at all restricted to those with an M.D. The story of Kellersberger’s life and service can be found in two works by his daughter, Winifred Kellersberger Vass. One is in her book, Dr. Not Afraid (published in 1986 and again in 1999). The second is in a presentation she made in March 1986 at the annual meeting of the Presbyterian Historical Society of the Southwest. In the latter she also summarizes the work of several other Presbyterian missionaries to Congo.

 

Currie's Column (December 2019) - A Gentleman and a Scholar - Dr. James S. Currie, Executive Secretary

     Thornton Rogers Sampson was born in Hampden Sidney, Virginia on October 9, 1852. His father was a professor of Hebrew at Union Seminary in Virginia. When Thornton’s grandfather learned that his own son decided to enter the ministry, he is quoted as having said, “Well, the Church may have gained a good preacher, but the devil has lost the best dancer in Virginia.”

     Thornton attended Hampden Sidney College and the University of Virginia, graduating from U.Va. on July 3, 1873. It was there that he decided to study for the ministry. His first theological studies took him to New College at the University of Edinburgh. After a year there, he went to Leipzig, Germany where he undertook a study of Hebrew. In 1877 Sampson went to the American College in Beirut where he hoped to learn Arabic. Upon returning to the States in 1878, he entered Union Seminary in Virginia and was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of East Hanover. In that same year he was ordained in Charlottesville, Virginia.

     Most of us who have heard of Thornton Rogers Sampson know that he was the first president of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. The Seminary was officially established in 1902, but Sampson had labored the preceding two years raising funds to hire a faculty and provide some financial support for students. Between the time of his ordination in 1878 and his coming to Austin Seminary, Sampson worked as a missionary in Greece for twelve years (Athens for seven years and Salonika for five). After a stint in Europe and a tour of Presbyterian mission stations in Asia, Sampson and his family returned to the States in 1892. For two years he served as the Foreign Missions Secretary for the Synod of North Carolina. He then accepted a call to serve as president of Fredericksburg College in Virginia.

     In 1896 Sampson received and accepted a call to serve as president of Austin College in Sherman, Texas. From 1884-1895 the Presbytery of Central Texas and the Synod of Texas supported an attempt to start a Presbyterian seminary in Austin. Dr. R. K. Smoot, pastor of First Southern Presbyterian Church in Austin, and Dr. R. L. Dabney, professor at the University of Texas (and formerly at Union Seminary in Richmond), provided the leadership for the Austin School of Theology. However, in 1895 the work of that school had to be “suspended” due to Dabney’s blindness and the inability of Dr. Smoot to run the school alone. In 1900 Sampson was prevailed upon to leave Sherman and move to Austin. His efforts bore fruit and the doors opened in the fall of 1902.

     Due to the efforts of many saints who followed Sampson, Austin Seminary has continued to prepare persons for the gospel ministry for over a century. Due to health reasons Sampson resigned as president in 1905, but continued to teach. In addition, his interest in and support of public education led the state of Texas to call him in 1914 to serve as the executive secretary of the Conference for Education in Texas. Sampson continued his work at the Seminary while, at the same time, taking on this new labor.

     In the summer of 1915 he and his wife went to Colorado for a vacation. She stayed in Denver while Sampson went on to Estes Park where he enjoyed fishing and hiking in the mountains. On a fishing trip in Rocky Mountain National Park he never returned. He was last seen on September 2. His body was never recovered, but 17 years later, on July 9, 1932 his skeleton was found. Fluent in seven languages, committed to the idea and ideals of education, and profoundly interested in the world mission of the church, Sampson left a legacy that is rich. As we make our own history today, we do well to give thanks to God for those who have gone before us who, like Thornton Rogers Sampson, planted seeds that continue to bear fruit today.

     (Much of the information for this column came from the 1917 book, Thornton Rogers Sampson: A Life Sketch, by Arthur Gray Jones, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, San Antonio from 1895 to 1921).

 

Currie's Column (June 2019) 

WHAT’S YOUR CHURCH’S DNA? Dr. James S. Currie, Executive Secretary Presbyterian Historical Society of the Southwest (email:

     In 1953 two British molecular biologists, James Watson and Francis Crick, developed a model that described the genetic structure of the hereditary material in each of us. The double helix became the name for that model and the hereditary material became known as our DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid.

     At the annual meeting in February of the Presbyterian Historical Society of the Southwest, the host pastor, the Rev. Dr. Lacy Sellars, delivered a superb presentation on the history of First Presbyterian Church in Hot Springs. The other presentations were equally fine, but one reference Lacy made has stuck in my memory. He talked about the DNA of that congregation. With all the talk these days about tracing our own personal genetic identity and ancestry using DNA evidence, I found it fascinating to think about the DNA of our faith, our theology, our congregations.

     As Christians, we certainly trace our faith to the gospel of Jesus Christ as witnessed in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. As Presbyterians, we trace our theological roots to the 16th century reformers – John Calvin, John Knox, Heinrich Bullinger, Huldrych Zwingli, and Theodore Beza, to name only a few. Twentieth century theologians in this Reformed tradition include such persons as Karl Barth, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Niebuhr’s brother, H. Richard Niebuhr.

     What is the DNA of your congregation? What are the special emphases or characteristics that describe the witness your church makes? For some, it may be fine preaching. For others, it might be an outstanding music program. Perhaps there is a special outreach effort to meet the needs of your community. Or maybe it’s an education program that takes seriously shared learning at every age. The art and architecture of your church building may tell the gospel story in a unique and powerful way. The DNA of some congregations includes an interest in and involvement at the presbytery, synod, and General Assembly level. Then there are some churches that simply exude a spirit of joy and welcome to all who come through their doors. And this is not an exhaustive list.

     I have had the privilege of serving churches whose DNA has included one, two, and more of the characteristics that describe the life and service of Christian discipleship. What are some of the DNA characteristics of your congregation? Who are some of the persons who over the years contributed significantly to the life and service of your church? It might be someone who goes about quietly making a difference, or it might be someone with a larger voice. Has someone written the story of your church and its DNA? It could be fun as well as important. I’d be interested in such stories. Feel free to share them.

 

Currie's Column (April 2019)

A PRESBYTERIAN QUIZ James S. Currie, Executive Secretary Presbyterian Historical Society of the Southwest

     In recent weeks I have been receiving in my email box unsolicited “trivia quizzes”. I don’t know where the origin of these quizzes, but it is fun to take them. All are multiple choice questions. Some of the answers I know, but many I don’t know and have to guess. Some are right, and some are wrong. No judgment, no ridicule. And I learn something almost every time. I thought it might be fun to try this out on our knowledge of Presbyterian history in the Synod of the Sun. All four states in the Synod are covered in these questions. Don’t worry about wrong answers. There’s no judgment here. It’s simply an attempt to have fun and maybe learn something new. The answers are at the end. So here goes.

(1) What is the oldest Presbyterian congregation in Texas? (a) Houston (b) Galveston (c) Clarksville (d) San Augustine

(2) When was Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary founded? (a) 1883 (b) 1902 (c) 1895 (d) 1910

(3) From whom did the Presbyterian church purchase Mo-Ranch? (a) J. Paul Getty (b) the Roman Catholic Church (c) Exxon-Mobil (d) the widow of Dan Moran

(4) How many Presbyterian colleges are there in Arkansas and what are they? (a) two – the University of the Ozarks and Lyon College (b) one – the University of the Ozarks (c) None (d) one – Hendrix College

(5) Who was the only local clergyperson to walk with the Little Rock Nine students at Central High School in 1957? (a) Will Campbell (b) Don Campbell (c) Dunbar Ogden, Jr. (d) James Mosley

(6) Who was the first Presbyterian to preach in Arkansas? (a) Cumberland preacher John Carnahan (b) W. H. Roberts (c) Marion Boggs (d) Richard B. Hardie

(7) The first moderator of the Southern Presbyterian Church (PCUS) in 1861 came from Louisiana. Who was he? (a) John C. Barr (b) Benjamin M. Palmer (c) Benny Benfield (d) Bob Stalcup

(8) At the beginning of the 20th century Presbyterians in Louisiana were part of what Synod? (a) the Synod of Mississippi (b) the Synod of Texas (c) the Synod of Arkansas (d) the Synod of the Sun

(9) Having served as associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Shreveport, this church historian died in 2016. Who is he? (a) Benny Benfield (b) Huey Long (c) Lloyd O’Neal (d) Spencer Murray

(10) Where were the two main Presbyterian colleges in Oklahoma in 1910? (a) Norman and Tulsa (b) Muskogee and Durant (c) Tulsa and Oklahoma City (d) Wewoka and Broken Arrow Oklahoma

(11) Presbyterians have, historically, established educational institutions that ministered to Native Americans as a result of the Trail of Tears. One was located outside Idabel, and another was outside Hugo. Name them. (a) Wheelock and Goodland (b) Dwight and Kingsbury (c) Durant and Wheelock (d) Kingsbury and Goodland

(12) How many presbyteries are in Oklahoma? (a) five (b) two (c) four (d) three

Bonus Question: Where was the 2019 annual meeting of the Presbyterian Historical Society of the Southwest held? (a) Austin (b) Shreveport (c) Tulsa (d) Hot Springs

Answers: (1) – (c) Clarksville; (2) – (b) 1902; (3) – (d) the widow of Dan Moran; (4) – (a) two – the University of the Ozarks and Lyon College; (5) – (c) Dunbar Ogden, Jr.; (6) – (a) Cumberland preacher John Carnahan; (7) – (b) Benjamin M. Palmer; (8) – (a) the Synod of Mississippi; (9) – (d) Spencer Murray; (10) – (b) Muskogee and Durant; (11) – (a) Wheelock and Goodland; (12) – (d) three. Bonus: (d) Hot Springs

 

Currie's Column (February 2016)

     Following a recent worship service one woman commented, “The person sitting next to meet said that she wishes we would sing more traditional hymns.” Within five minutes another woman observed, “The words to today’s hymns were wonderful!” And the debate over church music, in general, and choice of hymns, in particular, goes on. Whenever a new hymnbook is published, the embers of controversy over which hymns are included and which are excluded are stoked once again.

     I grew up on “the old red Hymnbook (actually, it’s burgundy). It’s still one of my favorites as it includes many fine hymns which did not “make the cut” in subsequent hymnals. In a couple of generations we have had The Worshipbook, The Presbyterian Hymnal, and now Glory to God. I was stunned to read recently that “more hymns have been written in traditional forms in the past generation than in any other period in Protestant history, with the possible exception of the last several years of Charles Wesley’s life” (John D. Witvliet’s Preface to A More Profound Alleluia, edited by Leanne VanDyke, p. x).

     Although the adjustment has taken time, I find myself liking “Glory to God” more and more. Not only does it include many more hymns (over 850 hymns with some old and some new), but many of the new hymns are also set to familiar tunes. In addition, the growing linguistic diversity in the Presbyterian Church is reflected in providing various languages with some of the hymns. What has fascinated me for many years is how ecumenical we are when we sing. Our hymnbooks include such 19th century gospel hymns as Fanny Crosby’s “Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine!” and “To God Be the Glory” as well as Isaac Watts’ 18th century hymns, “Joy to the World” and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, the 12th century “Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts” as well as Marty Haugen’s “Let Us Build a House” (1994), spirituals as well as chants from the Taize community in France.

     In addition, these hymns can be a wonderful lesson in church history. While good hymns are universal and not limited in their message to the time in which they are written, they can nevertheless be a reflection of their time. Timothy Dwight, a Congregationalist minister and president of Yale College, was a leader in the Second Great Awakening in this country when he wrote “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord” in 1800. Dwight’s grandfather was Jonathan Edwards, part of the First Great Awakening in the 1730s in Northampton, Massachusetts. And yet, Mel Bringle’s 2000 hymn “When Memory Fades” (tune: FINLANDIA) addresses the contemporary issue of dementia, but does so in the context of God’s unfailing love and faithfulness. Hymns reflect the breadth and depth of theological traditions. “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” and “Standing on the Promises” come out of a different time and tradition (19th century gospel), and yet many still draw great comfort in them. Just as much comfort is taken, however, in such hymns as “The Church’s One Foundation” and “For All the Saints” which are much more in line with the Reformed tradition.

     As we make history today, may we praise God through the hymns that we sing, but may we also listen to the words and grow both in our appreciation of the faith and for those who are able to express that faith through words and music.  

 

Currie's Column (April 2016)

     Recently I had the wonderful experience of driving down U.S. 59 to Edna, Texas where a Presbyterian church building that was constructed in 1908 had been restored. Two local history buffs had decided to pool their money and restore the structure that no longer served a congregation and had fallen into disrepair. The job now complete, with much of the original features still intact, several of us were able to tour this beautiful architectural edifice. It was fascinating to imagine the voice of Rev. Eugene McLaurin, pastor of that congregation 100 years ago, filling that space as he preached from that pulpit and served as pastor to that community. McLaurin’s son was with us on the tour a few weeks ago.

     On that same day we drove about ten miles south of town where another structure that served as the “mother church” in that area in the 19th century, the Texana Presbyterian Church, stood. This was not its original location, but the building had also been restored. Neither of these two buildings serves as home to a congregation anymore, but they do host community events.

     And so, as I drove home that afternoon, I wondered why should anyone care about these buildings now. Has the church become little more than an item of architectural or historical interest or, perhaps even worse, simply a museum? After all, we all know that the church is the people, not a building. And yet, we have all kinds of museums, monuments, and memorials that jar our memories and serve to remind us not only of our past, but also of how and why we are where we are.

     In my part of the world the San Jacinto Monument stands nearby as a reminder of those who fought and died for Texas independence. The Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee serves as a vivid reminder of the struggle for civil rights in this country, a struggle that continues. Holocaust Museums help us remember a tragedy that we forget at our own peril. Art museums celebrate the gifts of talented artists, past and present. We hope that the church does not become simply an architectural memorial or a museum.

     We are the people of God who live, work, and serve in the present. But we do so knowing that we would not be here were it not for the faithful witness of those who have gone before us. As we make history today, may we do so with a keen sense of gratitude to God for the communion of saints who “have fought the good fight, ... finished the race, and have kept the faith” (II Timothy 4:7). We stand on their shoulders.

 

Currie's Column (June 2016)

     In 198 C.E. the theologian Tertullian wrote a treatise called Prescriptions against Heretics. In that treatise he warns Christians against succumbing to the wiles of philosophical wisdom over against the wisdom found in Scripture. To be guided by worldly wisdom is to engage in heresy. He asked, What does Jerusalem have to Athens?

     That question has persisted through the centuries and is a prominent one today, whether we are aware of it or not. More often than not, it is couched in such language as the tension between Christ and culture. Some lament the deleterious effects culture has had on the Christian faith and community. Others maintain that many aspects of culture have had a positive influence on who we are, both as individuals and as Christians. Do not literature, movies, and the arts, in general, reflect something about the human condition, whether noble or ignoble?

     In 1949 H. Richard Niebuhr of Yale Divinity School delivered some lectures at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary under the title “Christ and Culture.” These lectures were published in 1951 under the same title and has become a classic in conversations having to do with the relationship between the church and culture. Niebuhr offers five paradigms that reflect different perspectives on this issue: Christ Against Culture, the Christ of Culture, Christ Above Culture, Christ and Culture in Paradox, and Christ the Transformer of Culture.

     In 1999 George Marsden offered a reevaluation of Niebuhr’s paradigms in lectures at Austin Seminary’s Mid-Winter Lectures. Others have also weighed in on this issue, especially as the issue is exhibited in this country -- for example, Bradley Longfield’s Presbyterians and American Culture: A History (2013); Stephen Prothero’s "American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon" (2003); and Stephen Nichols’ "Jesus: Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to the Passion of Christ" (2008). For many, beneath the general issue of the relationship between Christ and culture is the issue of how we read and interpret Scripture. Is it possible to view Scripture as the divinely-inspired Word of God and, at the same time, written by real human beings who lived in real time in the real world? Do we allow the Spirit to work on us, in us, and through us as we read Scripture? Are we governed by the letter of the message or the spirit of the message? Can the same passage of Scripture affect us in different ways at different times in our lives, or can it only be read in one way? Just as Scripture informs our view of the world, can culture inform our understanding of Scripture? What does Jerusalem have to do with Athens? What does Christ have to do with culture? What does the church have to do with the world? These are questions that are as much alive today as they were in Tertullian’s day, and we would be foolish to ignore them. We continue to struggle with them just as earlier generations have done so. As we make history today, may we be faithful and may we be honest in our conversations with each other. And, whether we agree or disagree, may we not give up on each other. 

JERUSALEM AND ATHENS - CHRIST AND CULTURE

JERUSALEM AND ATHENS - CHRIST AND CULTURE In 198 C.E. the theologian Tertullian wrote a treatise called Prescriptions against Heretics. In that treatise he warns Christians against succumbing to the wiles of philosophical wisdom over against the wisdom found in Scripture... [read more]

STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS

Recently I had the wonderful experience of driving down U.S. 59 to Edna, Texas where a Presbyterian church building that was constructed in 1908 had been restored. Two local history buffs had decided to pool their money and restore the structure that no longer served a congregation and had fallen into disrepair... [read more]

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