A presidential pew
Abraham Lincoln’s church home remembers his legacy
November 20, 2013
“We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Most Presbyterians have heard these words from President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, delivered 150 years ago yesterday, on Nov. 19, 1863.
But how many know that Lincoln considered New York Avenue Presbyterian Church his home church?
“Probably the 650 that we have here,” said church administrator Judith McGovern with a laugh. “Plus those who visit us learn of his connection to the Presbyterian church. We get calls all the time — there are more Lincoln scholars than you can believe.”
Our nation’s Civil War president never became a member of New York Avenue, but he worshiped there often enough to rent his own pew (for $50 a year) — a popular way for churches to raise support at the time.
Visitors from all over the world also come to see the Lincoln stained-glass window along the north side of the church. It shows the president standing during prayer at New York Avenue, which was his custom.
“It is absolutely gorgeous,” McGovern said.
The window, she noted, depicts Lincoln’s trials as Civil War president, his search for divine guidance and his devotion to uniting a nation that had been split apart by war.
His counsel and discussions with Phineas Gurley, the church’s minister at the time, are shown in the left corner.
“Two years ago, a group of high school students from Algeria came to visit,” said McGovern. “It was such a thrill to talk with them about my God, my Jesus, my church — we don’t worship Lincoln, but if history draws people into a church, that’s a good thing."
“We are a real peace-and-justice community here. Our building is open for our homeless neighbors every day, as much as we can. They can come in for a pair of pants. We do breakfast with them once a week. We give space to those who need it. We have a good reputation for serving others — the history of the building helps that.”
Editors Note: Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries held their advocacy training days at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.