Sunday, October 25, 2009

Happy Quasquibicentennial, Presbyterian Church of Danville

Today was our 225th birthday celebration. I got to teach the Sunday School version of all of that history in 50 minutes. That kind of class requires a great deal of compression.

Danville is in the center of Kentucky (that is why Centre College is so called). Kentucky is a border state. Churches in the border states have a strong reason to pursue a moderate course on divisive issues. And no issue was more divisive for the first two hundred years of the congregation's history than racial division. Kentucky was a slave state, and some members of the church were slaveholders. The leaders of the church, and the college they created, were abolitionists, even in the 18th century. They were moderate abolitionists, for gradualism and colonization. The church split in the 1850s, partly over abolition. It stayed split through the long years of Jim Crow segregation. After the Second World War, though, the old division was largely healed among the Presbyterians of Danville. After several false starts, the two congregations reunited in the 1960s, well before the national denominations did.

The Presbyterian Church of Danville began in 1784. The northern and southern Presbyterians finally caught up with our congregation and reunited in 1983. Racism is far from over in America, and there are no doubt pockets of it still in the Presbtyerian Church (U.S.A.). But the spirit of racism is gone. The reunion of the northern and southern branches sealed that change.

I date the new era of the Presbyterian Church of Danville, and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), from that date. Happy 25th, Presbyterians!

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