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Recent News from PHS-SW

     Welcome to the Presbyterian Historical Society of the Southwest web page! The 2017 Annual Meeting was held March 3-4 at St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church in New Orleans. After a wonderful dinner we heard a presentation on the state of historical research among Presbyterians by board member and retired pastor, John Spaulding. 

     On Saturday morning there were three more presentations. At 9 a.m. the Dr. Kris Peterson presented the story of "The Bayou Blue Presbyterian Church and the Lowland Center." That was followed by a presentation by Margaret Nell Johnston entitled "Presbyterians of South Louisiana and Matanzas, Cuba." The final presentation was "100 Years of World Mission/Global Ministries of St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church" by Henrietta Harris and John Geiser.  

     If you would like copies of these presentations or more information about the PHSSW, please contact Dr. Jim Currie at 281-991-8700 or . Members of the Society receive complimentary copies of these presentations. 

     The 2018 annual gathering of the Society will be February 16-17 at the Lake Highlands Presbyterian Church in Dallas. Details will be announced later. 

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

 

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. 

"A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE"

Winston Churchill is reputed to have said, “History is written by the victors.” If that is true, it may be because the losers are not around to write it, or it may simply be that they were outvoted... [read more]

"LEST WE FORGET"

On the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, Rudyard Kipling wrote the poem “Recessional”... [read more]

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