CHURCH AND COLLEGE RELATIONSHIPS
A DIAMOND ANNIVERSARY REVIEW (1948)
Frank E. Weyer
It is especially fitting that one evening should be set aside in this anniversary program to give special attention to the close relationships that exist between this church and Hastings College. Many members of this church, especially those who have lived here for a number of years, find it difficult to think in terms of the First Presbyterian Church without immediately thinking of the College. The same is true of those who are connected with the College. Students and faculty are so closely identified with the Church and its various organizations that they soon find themselves including these activities as a part of their weekly schedule. Over a period of years about one-third of the student body have been Presbyterians; but on the other hand, two-thirds of the out-of-town students attend the services of this church from week to week.
Three dates in the early history of Hastings serve as landmarks in illustrating the early relationships between this church and Hastings College:
August 10, 1873, the birthday of the First Presbyterian Church
August 19, 1873. On that date, the Hastings weekly newspaper appeared with an article entitled "Why not have a Presbyterian college in Hastings?" The editor of that paper, Mr. A. L. Wigton, was an elder in this church.
On November 19, 1873, the third important date, the Session of this church, which consisted of Mr. A. L. Wigton and Mr. Samuel Alexander as elders and Dr. Griffes as pastor, appeared before Presbytery to present a request from this church and this community to establish a college at Hastings. Incidentally, this was the first meeting of the newly formed Presbytery of Kearney, and the overture from this church was the first item of business of the new Presbytery. In regular Presbyterian form, Presbytery referred this request to Synod. The next spring, as the first item of business, this request to found a college at Hastings was presented to the Synod of Nebraska, which, incidentally, was, likewise, meeting for the first time.
Those familiar with the history of Hastings College know that the College was not organized until eight years later, due to drought, grasshoppers, and the Depression of 1873. The church, on the other hand, grew rapidly almost from the first, paralleling the growth of the town and the community.
It is a matter of more than passing interest and significance that the early pressure to establish Hastings College came largely from the officers and members of this church. This group of men, reflecting their Calvinistic background, was influenced by those great concepts of life centering in a belief in the sovereignty of God, the brotherhood of man, and the inherent worth of the individual. It was natural, therefore, that these men should want to build the two institutions which give primacy to those great concepts of life. The Presbyterian Church as a denomination had been known as a college-building denomination, having established more colleges than any other founding agency in the four decades immediately prior to the Civil War. A further reason for the establishment of so many colleges lies in the fact that so many of the pioneer ministers of those years were young men, recent graduates from college and seminary, who brought not only missionary zeal to their field, but also an ardent enthusiasm to establish education.
The years from 1873 to 1888 represent fifteen years of growth and development in the life of this church. During this period of time the congregation outgrew their first edifice, a small frame structure located at Fourth and Lincoln, and a new church on this location had been built. An incident occurred in January of 1889, which strikingly illustrates the vital concern that this church then had, and always has had, in the life of the College. The new church was almost completed, but as yet had not been used. It was planned that the first service in the new church should be that of the Annual Day of Prayer for Colleges. A short time prior to this day, however, the College authorities announced that they were facing an almost impossible situation. A debt of $ 37,000, a staggering amount for those days, was threatening the life of the College. It looked as though the doors of the institution must be closed. Three days before the scheduled Day of Prayer, a prayer band was organized which included students, faculty, and friends. For three days and three nights in relays of one hour each, someone was in this church praying that somehow the life of Hastings College might be saved. The rest of the story is familiar to many of you. On that third day a message came from Mrs. Cyrus H. McCormick, Sr., saying that if the $37,000 debt could be cleared, she would contribute $15,000 as the first endowment fund of the six-year old Hastings College. The debt was cleared and the College took a forward step; but in the chronology of the church you will have noticed that the church, which was built in 1888, was not dedicated until ten years later. This congregation saved the College, but at the expense, temporarily, of this church.
The next incident to which I wish to refer comes some thirty-seven years later and within the memory of many here tonight. I refer to the 1925 endowment campaign when Hastings College was bringing to a close its $470,000 campaign. It was the last night of the campaign and this church was packed. The entire community was anxious to learn the result. As the final hour arrived and the tellers were tallying the last of the more than 4,000 pledges, the victory signal was given; the organ sounded the note; and the entire congregation stood and joyfully sang "Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow."
Another relationship between the Church and the College, which is a pivotal one, centers in the pastor of this church. Without a single exception every minister has been interested in the welfare of Hastings College, has been a member of the Board of Trustees, and has given freely of his time, his talent, and his leadership to the work of the College. Probably few outside of those employed for that purpose have given more to Hastings College than have the ministers of this church.
Apparently the giving has not always been one-sided, as the records reveal that the first honorary degree given by Hastings College was given to a pastor of this church. That was in 1894. Since that time three other honorary degrees have been given to pastors of this church, and two of the men receiving degrees are with us tonight, Dr. Wight and Dr. King.
Another pastoral relationship that has existed between the Church and the College was in the assistant pastor. For a number of years the man who served as assistant in this church was called "the student pastor" and, at the same time, taught the courses in Bible at the College. With the growth of both institutions this relationship was discontinued a number of years ago.
This address would be incomplete if further reference were not made to the contacts that students have had in the life and activities of this church. As I said earlier, two-thirds of the students attend this church week after week; over a period of years, having taken part in the young people’s work, have taught Sunday School classes, have sung in the choir, and have taken positions of leadership and responsibility in other church activities. Recognizing the importance of assisting the student to establish a church home while in college, this church instituted a special type of student membership: the student retained his active membership in his own church, but became an associate member of this church during his student days. This practice was discontinued a number of years ago, largely for bookkeeping reasons.
In a very real sense the First Presbyterian Church of Hastings is the home church for hundreds and thousands of students. These men and women, as they look back upon their student days, think of this as their church home in the same way in which they think of Hastings College as their Alma Mater. We are happy for this close relationship; and may I express the wish that it may continue on this basis in the years ahead. Seventy-five years of mutual cooperation are behind us. As we face the future, may we be good stewards of this heritage.