Christians around the world gathered at the communion table today for the 18th annual observance of World Communion Sunday. Since its founding 21 years ago by a small group of ministers as an effort to meet spiritual needs during the Depression, the event has grown into a worldwide observance in more than 50 countries. The observance began at sunup in the Fiji Islands and New Zealand – which are closest to the international date line, then continued westward around the world. Services will be held at sundown in Alaska and the Aleutians. Sponsoring the event is the National Council of Churches. The council’s director of the Department of Evangelisms, the Rev. H.E. McConnell, refers to the occasion as one of the high points of the Protestant church calendar. He calls World Communion Sunday a day of re-dedication which, in his words, “brings Christians together in the realest sense as they partake of the cup and break the bread together in God’s name.”
From now through November is also another important period for the nation’s Protestant churches. Known as Harvest Festival Time, the period will be marked by special services in many denominations, just as they were in Biblical times.
Many churches have continued to celebrate the occasion of Harvest Time, which stems from the primitive folk festivals combined with the Hebrew tradition and the Christian observance. Typical of the expressions of joy marking the harvest’s end were pageantry, sports, singing, feasting, and the general good fellowship between the farm owners and their workers.
In some communities the emphasis has shifted to Thanksgiving Day in late autumn and the remembrance of national blessings, with little mention of the bounties of the harvest. Just as the Pilgrims did on the shores of New England, many parishes now hold an all-day service of Thanksgiving for the Harvest Festival. Often participating are various agricultural groups, such as 4-H clubs, Future Farmers of America, the Farm Bureau Federation, National Grange, and the Farmer’s Union.
Significant developments back-dropping the Little Rock school integration case this week were statements by the executive committee of United Church Women and the integrated Greater Little Rock Ministerial Association. The Church Women sent a telegram to President Eisenhower commending him for his action in Little Rock. The message called the president’s action consistent with the statement of the National Council of Churches on the occasion of the Supreme Court decision on integration of public schools. It also stated that it was imperative that the governors recognized President Eisenhower’s responsibility for upholding the Constitution of the U.S. in maintenance of law and order throughout the nation. The United Church Women represents approximately 10 million women in the nation’s Protestant and Eastern Orthodox churches. Of its 2,200 state and local council affiliates, 12 state councils and 425 local councils are in the 12 Southern states. The other significant development was the statement by the Rev. Dunbar Ogden, Jr., president of the Greater Little Rock Ministerial Association. He declared: “We all share responsibility for what is happening at Little Rock.” The clergymen called on Little Rock citizens to pray for peaceful integration. Ministers of several denominations throughout the Arkansas capital immediately responded with sermons underlining the Christian’s obligation to the spirit of law, order, and justice.
Starting at sunset next Wednesday, the Jewish holiday of Sukkos will be celebrated in synagogues and homes the world over. For traditionalist Jews, Sukkos lasts for nine days; eight for reform Jews. Sukkos is history’s first thanksgiving festival and its origin dates back to biblical times. In the Hebrew language, Sukkos means “huts.” It recalls the gratitude felt for giving protection when they had lived in fragile homes during their long journey through the desert. The president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, has this to say upon the significance of Sukkos for modern times: “We need constant reminders today that no individual is self-dependent. We are indebted to Almighty God for the countless favors we enjoy daily…”
This program has stressed so often that our freedoms are indivisible that the reaction of some of you, as revealed in your correspondence, is that the reporter has gone far afield from religion. And yet, he reiterates that it is true that if we are denied even one of our freedoms, all are endangered. This topic is stressed currently by an editorial appearing in the local press Thursday of this week under the caption, “Church and Press Rise and Fall Together,” and the occasion for reminder is that this is National Newspaper Week, and today is specifically “Religion and the Press Day.” For once, this reporter finds himself in complete accord with the editor, his good friend Mr. Kelley. The editor says, in part:
“In a very real sense, the press and the pulpit are partners. It may seem at times that the two are far apart, but in a deeper sense they are not.
“You have heard it said that churches and newspapers rise and fall together. In every land bent under a tyrant’s yoke, two things stand out: (1) a controlled press and (2) an intimidated church. You may put it down for a truism that there cannot long be a free church in a nation which has a slave press. By the same token, a free press will not endure alongside an imprisoned church.
“The two thus are dependent on each other and complementary to each other. The press maintains freedom of the mind, and the church preserves freedom of the spirit. Take one away and the other is sorely distressed
“Perhaps it is significant that the first article of the Bill of Rights recognizes this church-press partnership by providing specifically that Congress shall make no law (1) respecting the establishment of religion and (2) abridging freedom of press of speech…
“As newspapers of this nation observe their “week” and dedicate themselves to the cherished task of keeping the people informed, they salute the churches of the land for their transcendent responsibility of keeping people faithful to their religious beliefs….”
And anything that this reporter might add to that simple but profoundly important statement would, indeed, be superfluous.
In this connection it is sobering to reflect that doubtlessly sincere, but equally doubtlessly misguided, people in our midst do not really believe in a free press. In the week’s news comes further information about the City Board of Review of Knoxville, to which august body this reporter has not infrequently paid his disrespects. This time the whipping boy (or, more accurately whipping girl) is the current issue of Life Story, which according to the arbiters of literary good taste in our neighboring county, is banned for girls because, according to reports, it contains a number of stories about “hard luck” girls. Numerous other magazines came under the censorship of the book burners. November issues of Sir, Bedside Reader, and Caper, as well as the October issues of Playboy, Tan, Night and Day, and Vol. 1 of Men’s Digest. Apparently members of the board had a good time debating among themselves what is and is not obscenity. Ho hum! I have not read or looked at any of these magazines, nor can I afford to buy them, but this publicity about them does arouse my interest, and probably that of everybody who read the item. Much, perhaps most, of the stuff appearing in such magazines is, to this reporter, merely trash. But it is probably equally true that those who like such magazines would give his reading material the same label. Publications that violate obscenity laws are a matter for consideration and decision by the courts, not by self-appointed or even locally appointed do-gooders who think that they and they only know what people have sense enough to be permitted to read. It is likely that most of us Americans resent the idea that we cannot be trusted to determine our reading menu for ourselves without the help of Madam Grundys, however well-meaning such people may be.
The next comes under the heading of how mixed up can you get department: The subversives in Hungary are trying to overthrow communism and establish capitalism. Subversives in the U.S. are trying to overthrow capitalism and establish communism. In both cases the governments are scared silly. And in Cyprus: Greece says it is Greek; Turkey says it is Turkish; Britain says it is British. What the people of Cyprus say definitely does not count.
Without attempting to classify this next, I pass it on to you for what it is worth, if anything, which is highly doubtful. The National Association of Evangelicals, a fundamentalist group, sometimes referred to by the caustics as “Ignorance Inc.”, endorses the Walter-McCarran Act. Its release admits, “Only the National Association of Evangelicals has consistently supported the national origins system.” Some of the members of this thriving religious organization believe the Earth is flat and that virgins have babies.
Well, we Americans are a peculiar people. Americans fought World Wars I and II because they were shocked and outraged at the absurdity of any other people claiming to be superior to Americans in anything. Today our quarrelsome State Department gets its greatest support from resentment that any other people can produce bigger and more devilish instruments of death than can Americans.
Anyway, the pessimist has a great advantage over the optimist. He doesn’t kid himself. He does not pretend a pimple is a dimple. He is prepared for trouble. So he receives unexpected blessings. The optimist is never prepared for reverses. He is condemned to an endless round of disappointments. The stoics are the happy people. So it would seem that the answer is to be a happy, cheerful pessimist, for if anything pleasant happens, you will be surprised.
Since the days of our New England forefathers when education was designed to be the best safeguard against snares from the devil, Americans of religious belief, and many who were not religious, looked upon education as an important ingredient not only of a religious society but also for a democratic one. During the next several months, Tennesseans are going to be called upon to make decisions with respect to education in the state that will have far-flung implications, not only for today but also for the future. The legislative council is about to complete a rather searching survey of state education and its findings will soon be available. Already the state commissioner has warned against our jumping to conclusions that trade schools are the panacea for our educational ills. I should like to take what few minutes remain of today’s time to comment briefly upon this subject, reserving for next Sunday more extended comment.
Far too many people regard liberal education as a ghostly shadow of things. Instead, it is real and substantial, for no matter how glorified our science and how practical our technology, both need an arterial connection with basic education if they are to live. A liberal education is practical because, if for no other reason, it provides experience in formulating judgments about concrete contemporary problems. While it probably will not do a complete job of preparing young men or women for life, it does initiate the sort of personal growth that leads to maturity. It encourages wisdom, judgment and perspective, three qualities badly needed in facing the daily decisions of life. It is all-important, according to Dr. James R. Killian, president of M.I.T., that engineers, scientists, and other technically trained men in this atomic age have a solid grasp of the humanities, being well-grounded in the liberal arts as well as the techniques of their profession. For no matter how clever a scientist may be, he still must live with them, work with them, and participate in the responsibilities for the human qualities of life, by providing the student with knowledge of himself and others, of the physical and biological world, and of his own and other cultures. It gives him an historical view of man’s achievements and of his religious and philosophical heritage. It helps keep him in balance.
The story is told that the middle-aged Tennessean said that when he went to school they learned him to figure but not to read, and now when he went down the road and saw the signs he could tell “how fur but not whar to.” Technological education can teach one “how fur.” But is it not about time that we learned not only” how fur” but “whar we are a goin?” More of this next time.