In May 1866, the Committee for Education of Freedmen shared its first annual report with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (Old School). The year before, as the Civil War came to an end, the denomination’s General Assembly had organized the committee with the purpose of establishing churches and schools among the communities of African Americans freed from slavery.
The report shares that “The American Bible Society has donated 2,000 volumes of the Word of God to be distributed among the Freedmen, under direction of this Committee … Thus encouraged, the Committee entered upon its duties.” From June 1865 to May 1866, the committee sent 36 missionaries and teachers into the field. In 1870, it merged with the Freedmen's Department of the New School Committee of Home Missions, becoming the Committee of Missions for Freedmen. In 1883, the Freedmen's Committee was formally incorporated as the Board of Missions for Freedmen.
The evening of May 12, 1965, the Presbyterian Church in the United States welcomed the first woman ordained in the denomination, the Rev. Dr. Rachel Henderlite.
Henderlite was a teacher, scholar, author, ecumenical leader and advocate for justice. In addition to her historic ordination, she achieved a number of other important “firsts.” She was the first woman on the full-time faculty at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and the first woman president of the Committee on the Consultation on Church Union.
That night in May, she was ordained by Hanover Presbytery in the sanctuary of her home church, All Souls Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia. There, surrounded by loved ones, she made history.
In May 1985, More Light Churches hosted its inaugural conference at West Hollywood Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles. More Light Presbyterians is an organization with roots that reach back to the 1974 General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (UPCUSA), when the Presbyterian Gay Caucus bloomed into existence. The caucus' founder was David Sindt, an openly gay Presbyterian who at that year’s assembly held up a sign reading, “Is Anyone Else Out There Gay?” The group was organized with the mission of allowing the full participation of LGBTQIA+ people in the life, ministry and witness of the church and in society.
In 1978, when the UPCUSA General Assembly ruled that LGBTQIA+ people could not serve in official roles, several churches began to declare themselves “More Light” churches — congregations dedicated to welcoming the LGBTQIA+ community into their ministries more fully. The number of More Light churches continued to grow, until, in 1992, they joined together to create the More Light Churches Network. In 1999, the network merged with the PGC to become More Light Presbyterians — a group that continues its advocacy work today with more than 300 churches as members.
In May 1992, Margaret Purchase could be found volunteering in Israel.
Purchase, a UPCUSA missionary, spent decades serving overseas in various capacities, including in Iraq (1956 to 1969) and Lebanon (1969 to 1973), where she served as director of the Christian Education Division of the Near East Council of Churches. She returned to Lebanon in 1979 to teach English at the Hamlin Hospital School of Nursing in Hammana, where she would stay until 1986.
Upon her retirement and return to the United States that same year, Purchase became involved in Christian-Muslim interfaith dialogue and in educating people about Islam and the Middle East through volunteer work with the Institute for Global Education in Grand Rapids, Michigan. There she initiated a project on "Understanding Islam" in 1993. Concerned about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Purchase made several mission trips to Israeli and Palestinian communities in the 1990s.
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