Five days before George Washington was sworn in as first President, the Senate acquired its first chaplain. Just short of 180 years later it swore in his fiftieth successor, the Rev. Dr. Edward L. R. Elson of Washington’s National Presbyterian Church. Five other Senate chaplains have come from the same congregation.

Elson says, “I am deeply sensitive to the awesome responsibility of standing in the midst of power, representing One who rejected raw physical power in order to make available to all mankind a higher power.”

But Elson, who baptized President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953, is used to being in the midst of temporal greatness, and as his wife Helen put it, his post ought to be “a natural development” of his ministry in the Capital. Eisenhower attended his church regularly for eight years, and its rolls include a wide sampling of official Washington.

Elson succeeds the ailing Rev. Dr. Frederick Brown Harris, 83, who resigned after serving as the Senate’s spiritual shepherd since 1942, save for two years when Peter Marshall held the office.

His counterpart in the House is the Rev. Dr. Edward Latch, a Methodist who was family pastor to then Vice-President Nixon.

Senator Lee Metcalf (D.-Mont.), a Methodist, had nominated the Rev. Dr. Edward B. Lewis of Capitol Hill Methodist, but Mississippi’s Senator John Stennis (D.-Miss.), an elder in Elson’s church and leader of the weekly Senate prayer breakfasts, nominated his pastor. The Democratic Caucus had a potentially ticklish situation on its hands, but despite strong feelings, harsh words were not uttered behind the closed doors. Elson won a two-year term, 28 to 20, over Lewis, who was Harris’s frequent standby.

Outside the closed doors, however, all was not as irenic. One senator loudly protested that Elson’s brother Roy—longtime aide to retiring Senate President Carl Hayden (D.-Ariz.) and unsuccessful opponent of Senator Barry Goldwater (R.-Ariz.) for a seat as Hayden’s successor—had dropped the hint that his brother was up for consideration and that any favorable response would be appreciated. Lamented the disappointed senator: “This kind of power certainly didn’t hurt Elson’s chances.”

The part-time post (Elson continues as pastor at National Presbyterian) pays $17,500, compared to the $2,320 paid in 1949.

The Nixon inauguration marks the second time for Elson on the inaugural platform. Twelve years ago, as Ike’s pastor, he watched Nixon take the oath as Vice-President.

Mrs. Elson, District of Columbia Mother of the Year two years ago, recalls how the Nixons were their neighbors in his vice-presidential days, and daughters of the two families were in the same Scout troop.

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Elson, 62, a native of Monongahela, Pennsylvania, is an evangelical well known for his strong belief in the “God and country” charism. As a staunch defender of U. S. policy in Viet Nam, two years ago he led a successful fight in Washington Presbytery to defeat a resolution calling for immediate cessation of bombing and negotiations aimed at American withdrawal.

A strong admirer of fighting Harry Truman, he has held strongly to the Truman Doctrine, which tightened the line against Communists in Lebanon, Greece, Turkey, and Korea. This, he said, shows that “history has made a turning point in favor of American civilization.”

As a leader in a denomination torn between the conservative and the liberal theological and social stance, Elson has sometimes gotten into trouble with fellow Presbyterians. His identification as a contributing editor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, he said, proved part of his undoing when he was being considered for the post of moderator of the denomination.

Elson graduated from Asbury College, a holiness Methodist institution, and took his master’s at the University of Southern California. He holds sixteen honorary doctorates.

Elson is always busy; among other tasks Of late he’s been writing a book on Eisenhower. Maybe that’s why he keeps most of his Senate prayers short—something many senators appreciate. Elson said he usually arrives about an hour before the Senate convenes, stays on the floor a while after the prayer, then mingles with the official Senate family.

He plans to be homebound more with the new job. “Now I can concentrate my extra-parochial energies in one place.” The place is Room 220 in the Old Senate Office Building, looking out over Constitution Avenue.


What may be a White House first was scheduled for the first Sunday of President Nixon’s stay in the White House—an interdenominational worship service in the East Room. Nixon dislikes having the limelight thrown on his worship, and also the intricacies of security involved in the family’s attendance at a local church. The White House service will probably be held frequently, though not every week. It will be open to all the official White House family and will reflect in large measure their shades of religious belief.

Longtime friend and confidant Billy Graham is expected to play a major role in keeping the program moving, and probably will be a frequent speaker.

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Tennessee Williams Converts

Tennessee Williams, known for “earthy” plays, is nearing the end of what he considers his path to heaven. He planned to be in Rome this week with letters of introduction to Pope Paul VI.

The final leg in Thomas Lanier Williams’s spiritual odyssey began on Epiphany, January 6. Badly shaken by the death of his friend Tallulah Bank-head and by a serious case of Hong Kong flu that brought into focus a decade-long fear of death, the 57-year-old writer, who believes he has had personal brushes with the devil or the spirit of evil, sent his brother to fetch a priest.

Over glasses of Scotch, the Pulitzer Prize-winner told Jesuit Joseph LeRoy of a memorable experience at Cologne Cathedral in Germany during which “the grace of God touched me.” Encouragement came from his brother, William Dakin Williams, who converted to Catholicism during World War II.

The priest and the playwright met several times during the week to discuss the confession of faith required for converts. Tennessee paused over belief in immortality until Father LeRoy read Jesus’ words in John 11:25, 26: “I am the resurrection.” Declared Williams, “If that’s what the Lord said, I believe it.”

Although Williams was baptized as an infant in the Episcopal Church, LeRoy rebaptized him January 11 at St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Church in Key West, Florida. Afterward Williams entertained the guests at the service with dinner at his home, where he and the priest exchanged books. Father LeRoy gave Williams a copy of No Man Is an Island, by the late Thomas Merton, whose writing Williams admires. The playwright gave the priest a book containing three of his plays. On the flyleaf he wrote: “Dear Father Joe, Faith is in our hearts, or else we are dead.”

Tennessee, who calls himself a Catholic writer, considers his last half-dozen plays Catholic because, more than earlier works, they deal with the conflict of evil and good. But his best plays are yet to come, he believes, because his conversion will aid his writing.


The Lunar Devotions

What prompted the Apollo 8 crew to read the Bible and pray as part of their telecasting from the moon?

The story behind the historic lunar Christmas Eve “service” witnessed by untold millions began to unravel this month when the astronauts met newsmen in Washington.

The initial query came from NBC reporter Roy Neal: “To us here on the earth one of the real highlights of your mission was your reading from Genesis. Can you give us some background on that—where the idea came from, how you handled it?”

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Air Force Colonel Frank Borman, the flight commander, replied: “Yes, Roy, we can. We were, of course, aware that we were going to have television on board the spacecraft.… Having had television, we said we wanted to do something significant, because here we are around the moon on Christmas, and so on.

“And we consulted with friends. We thought among ourselves. We first thought perhaps it would be more of the ‘one world’ theme where we would tell everyone on earth that, gee whilliker, we are living on one earth. But then one of the suggestions was to read the first ten verses of the Bible, and that seemed so appropriate and so simple that we adopted that.”

Decision magazine reports in its February issue that the desire to have Scripture aboard the spacecraft was a matter of prayer for a Gideons group that meets each Monday morning just outside Houston. One member of the group, Bass Redd, chief of the flight technical branch of the Manned Spacecraft Center, was said to have been told by NASA authorities that it was up to Borman. When Redd asked Borman in early December whether any thought had been given to Bibles, the astronaut reportedly replied, “No, and I’m glad you reminded me of it.”

The Gideons then secured New Testaments with non-combustible covers for Borman and his flight companions, Navy Captain James A. Lovell, Jr., and William A. Anders, now a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force. Lovell and Anders reportedly took along their New Testaments, and Borman took a Bible of his own. Borman’s Bible was identified as the one from which the spacemen read while on television. The slight pauses between their readings were attributed to the time it took to float the space-weightless Bible from one man to another.

At the Washington news conference Borman was also asked what, beyond the Bible reading and prayer, was the religious significance of the flight.

He said that “the religious significance of the flight, at least personally to me, was the opportunity to view firsthand this mass of matter that perhaps will unfold some of the secrets as to how everything started.”

Borman added that “I don’t think that any of us could undertake—I’m not aware of any man that could undertake this kind of journey without some belief—or at least I couldn’t—and so it was a fulfillment for me of a very basic belief.”

Earlier, in a speech at the Capitol, Borman jestingly noted that one of the lesser-known accomplishments of the flight had been getting “good Roman Catholic Bill Anders to read the first four verses of the King James Version.” (Borman and Lovell are Episcopalians.)

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Borman also needled members of the Supreme Court, who sat directly below him, for their ban on public-school prayers: “Now that I see the gentlemen in the front row, I’m not so sure we should have read the Bible at all.” After the speech Borman was greeted by Chief Justice Earl Warren. The astronaut later described Warren’s words as “pleasant.”

Who’S Hughes

Out in Iowa, where freshman U.S. Senator Harold Hughes comes from, farm wives mix all their spices together in some flour, put it in a paper bag, toss in the chicken pieces, and jostle the bag a minute or so. Hughes has done the same thing with his fundamentalist Methodism.

Yet with all the spicy accretions to orthodoxy, the three-term Democratic governor of Republican Iowa reduces ultimately to an evangelical with a let-all-the-good-guys-in approach.

Winsome, handsome Hughes lives and breathes politics. He also lives and breathes religion, he made clear in an interview during his first hectic week on Capitol Hill. He thinks politics and religion ought to go hand in hand. But Hughes is no mere do-gooder. His record shows a hard-fisted, realistic approach. He’s willing to look for the utopian in the Senate, but is amenable to programs offering something less that have meaning for the here and now. His home-state experiences with liquor and regulation serve the point well.

“I’ve been an alcoholic from my birth,” Hughes unhesitatingly admits. “To me to drink was to die.” High-school-age restlessness and college-day socializing at the University of Iowa (he dropped out to marry and go to war after the first year) made him push his mother’s fundamentalist strictness aside, and the disease began taking its toll. After the war, while driving trucks for a living, Hughes found help in Alcoholics Anonymous, this time for good. “I quit 300 times before, and every time I meant it. I wanted to swear off desperately.”

Conservative Iowa was a dry state until maverick Hughes took the governorship. In view of the nightmarish experiences behind him, his fellow Hawkeyes might well have thought the dries had the referendum in the bag. Not so. Hughes came out strongly in support of making liquor legal, and it won decisively.

“If I could do away with liquor by pulling a switch, I would certainly do it. But I can’t,” Hughes reflected. “I was tired of my boyhood days as a Methodist where once a year we heard a Temperance Sunday hellfire-and-brim-stone message against liquor. But, hell, nobody ever did anything about it. There was open violation of the law all over the place.… In fact, the Des Moines Register found that their reporters could buy drinks illegally in seventy-seven of ninety-nine countries.”

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Already the Senator has made prayer at the Congress prayer room a regular practice. “Prayer is a matter of life to me.… It is a more powerful force than the hydrogen bomb.” The licensed Methodist lay preacher and former church bass soloist says he has visions and some of the charismatic gifts. “Everyone could have these gifts,” he said, “if he’d only let go and let God open up the channels.”

Among his associations, he seems to take special delight in the Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship, which explores seances and other parapsychological phenomena. Hughes said the organization has served most in expanding his spiritual awareness. Travel out of the provincial context of his native Ida Grove (he pronounces it Idy Grove), intellectual religious inquisitiveness that was “sinful” when he was growing up, and appreciation of others’ religious experiences have broadened his purview.

Although he has set aside some of the strict teachings of his own boyhood, Hughes believes strongly in the primacy of the home. “Many of the problems wrong with us today as a nation exist because there has been an abdication of home responsibilities, making people void in church response. We need proper instruction to develop the whole person.” Laying the stress to his conviction, Hughes seldom makes a political engagement on Sunday. “That’s reserved for church, home, and family.”


Barnhouse And Boice

When James Montgomery Boice was a lad, family pastor Donald Grey Barnhouse once mused with the Boice family that all the long-tenure preachers at his Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia had last names beginning with B. And maybe James would someday join the string.

Last year, at age 29, he did. And in March Boice also takes over the radio “Bible Study Hour,” currently broadcast on ninety stations, which gained prominence in Barnhouse’s pulpit heyday.

The late Dr. Barnhouse, an old-style meticulous expositor, became known for taking a decade to work his way through the Book of Romans on the radio broadcasts. And Boice, who began his Philadelphia preaching last May with Philippians 1:1, had only wrapped up chapter 2 by this month.

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Whatever the similarities in theology and style, Barnhouse was ever the loquacious platform personality, while Boice, less self-assertive, personifies the cool scholarship of the 1960s. He holds a Harvard B.A. in English, a Princeton B.D., and a Basel D.Theol.

Before going to Tenth Presbyterian, Boice was assistant editor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, and his boss there, the Rev. Dr. Carl F. H. Henry, is doing this month’s “Bible Study Hours.” (Series speaker Ben Haden quit suddenly last August, and some substitutes have been used.)

Besides straight preaching, Boice’s programs will answer listeners’ questions and feature interviews. Two early ones are with other Boice mentors: former Stony Brook School Headmaster Frank Gaebelein (who was phoned by Barnhouse one fall to permit last-minute admission for young Boice), and Princeton Professor Bruce Metzger, who will comment on scholarly problems in dating the pastoral epistles.

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