Mount Morris Presbyterian Church in New York City gained twelve new members in 1975 and lost thirty-two. The statistical report of the United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. shows that the Harlem congregation ended the year with 364 on its rolls.

For many reasons, the church on Manhattan’s West 122 Street is not typical of the 8,686 congregations in the denomination, but it was in the company of the majority when it reported a net loss in 1975. The nation’s largest Presbyterian body has been recording membership losses for the last ten years, shrinking from over 3.3 million to under 2.7 million, an 18 percent decline. In 1975 alone the UPC lost 65,565 communicants.

That continuing decline was the focus of attention last month when the denomination’s annual General Assembly met in Baltimore. Before it got down to the business of examining reasons for the membership loss, the assembly singled out Mount Morris for a distinction accorded to few churches. One of this Harlem congregation’s ruling elders (lay officers) was elected moderator.

The new presiding officer, Thelma D. Adair, is a professional educator with a doctorate. She spent about four years (1968–72) as an executive at the denominational headquarters. She is the first black woman to serve in the church’s highest position, and she is also the first pastor’s wife to hold that post. A. Eugene Adair, her husband, was called to Mount Morris in 1942 to take charge of a building but no members (all the former members—who were white—had moved away). Because of her husband’s low pay Mrs. Adair has worked outside the home most of the years since then.

The Adairs don’t attach any great importance to statistics. The church’s “influence is not easily recorded” in membership totals, ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.