Sharon Kinsey's Blog
As I was doing some research in preparation for a Sunday Adult FF class, I happened to run across an Article from the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago dated 9/16/23. It was titled “A Tale of Two Cities,” and below the title was this quote that caught my eye:
“The Church primarily exists for those outside of it.” The quote was from Elam Davies. Dr. Davies was the earliest Pastor I can remember growing up in FPC of Bethlehem. Having been born in Grovesend, Wales, we were his first pastorate in the United States. He left Pennsylvania in 1961 to come to Chicago, where he lead the Michigan Avenue church until 1984.
Both of my parents had grown up in the church; my mother was a cradle Presbyterian and my father belonged to a Congregational church but would sneak into the Methodist church to sing in the choir. When Dr. Davies came to Bethlehem, his gentle demeanor and powerful preaching led many members, including my parents, to a deeper, richer understanding of what it meant to be a Christian. I still have copies of many of his sermons, hand-typed by the Church Secretary on carbon paper upon request. He touched on topics like Goodness and Godliness, The Last Word about God (which was, of course, love), and even one questioning the opulence of the silver chalice and communion plates we used to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
I’ve read those sermons over and over, along with his book This Side of Eden, which is about the good news of a God who never gives up seeking to rescue us from ourselves. I was young when he was at FPCB, but I remember those Sunday mornings, my folks looking down from the choir loft, and my brother and I listening to words that seemed incredibly important. He’d gone to Cambridge but his perfect English retained a hint of his Welsh roots. He so often emphasized that we were to serve “the last, the lost, the least, and the lonely.”
When he arrived in Chicago, Davies quickly hired a recent McCormick Seminary graduate named Lesslie Anbari, who became the third woman to be ordained in the Presbytery of Chicago. He brought an end to Fourth Church’s embarrassing practice of pew rentals. He became involved with several urban ministries and created programs to serve Hispanic youth, young people from Cabrini-Green, and those in prison. By leading this change in mindset from a neighborhood church to a world in need, after a decade, more than half the church’s members were under the age of forty.
For me, I’m watching our own church here in Valparaiso experience a remarkable change. I have been a member since 2004 and I feel new energy, vison, and commitment. I see caring partnerships and willingness to reach out beyond our community. We have a Pastor who, from the start, called us Beloved and promises each week that the good news is real, and Christ will love us unconditionally forever, and ever, and ever. Those comforting words are empowering us to share what we believe. The tenets of Matthew 25 embrace all that we do. We work together, laugh together, weep together, and push ahead as we minister to and serve, “the last, the lost, the least, and the lonely.” I heard those words first from Elam Davies, I see my faith family living them out each day.