Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"He breaks the ‘Bread of Life’ with clean hands."

from a student of Jesse Halsey's at McCormick

It may be a presumptuous for a student to undertake the task of writing a biography of his professor, but the joy that the writer has gleaned from making new and rich discoveries of insights into the character of his “Ideal” has and will out-weigh any possible misunderstandings relative to gathering and interpreting the facts.

The writer wishes to thank all who have asked him in obtaining information about Dr. Halsey: Dr. John Frederick Lyons for assisting in finding some of the articles that Dr. Halsey wrote and The Reverend L.W. Harvison a personal friend and admirer of Dr. Halsey who gave many interesting facts about him as a pastor in the Seventh Presbyterian Church, Cincinnati, Ohio.

The “biographer” wishes to beg pardon from Dr. Halsey for the poor attempt at writing his biography. The writer will be very happy to have corrections made where needed.

“My Ideal”

Dr. Jesse Halsey was born in Southampton, Long Island, New York. “Go where you will through these United States, when you find certain names you know their forbears came sometime or other from Southampton—such names as these: Howell, Sayre, HALSEY, Pierson, Cooper, Herrick, Fordham, and Topping.[1]

Along with his big wrists and heavy hands go his covetous ability of doing a thousand-and-one things properly and well. The present writer, observing that these characteristics are generally those of men who have spent many of the formative years on a farm, was not surprised to learn that his “Biographee” was once a farm boy. Could any but a farmer’s heart “see” “farm houses low and sturdy with grey weathered shingles punctuate the flat countryside. Shingles three feet long, rived from red cedar that grew in the swamps, worn thin now where they have defied the east-wind-driven storms of two hundred winters and the bristling heat of as many summers, but with butts still thick enough to cast healthy shadows in endless parallel windows where the long sweeping roofs on the north side slope almost to the ground . . .

“Leaning barns and wood sheds where eel-spears and clam rakes and harpoons prod the latest agricultural machinery. A discarded seine is sometimes seen, used now as a net for tennis or volleyball, but a swift reminder of days when corn was grown with fish for fertilizer—‘two bunkers to a hill.’”[2]

After having done countless chores on the farm and having laid an academic foundation he went to Princeton where he sat at the feet of the famous teacher who conceived the idea for the League of Nations, Woodrow Wilson. A little insight into a teacher-student relationship is suggested by the two swapping dictionaries. After Princeton, Dr. Halsey went to Union Seminary.

Dr. Halsey served with Dr. Wilfred Thomas Grenfell in Labrador, doing countless and diverse duties from fixing plumbing to assisting at the operating table. With Dr. Grenfell, Dr. Halsey shared the rewards of skillful service joyfully rendered. “Dr. Grenfell always had a high regard for him. The same is true of men like Dr. Henry Sloane Coffin and Dr. Robert E. Speer,” writes the Reverend L.W. Harvison.

During the First World War, Dr. Halsey served abroad as chaplain, ministering to our men “whatever, whenever, and wherever.” At the close of the war he “returned from Russia and spoke at the synod of Ohio concerning the fame of Wilson and America in Russia at that time.”[3]

Accepting a pastorate in Cincinnati, Dr. Halsey soon became a “leader of a small growing group of ‘liberal’ ministers at a time when it was dangerous to be known in that Presbytery as a liberal. Largely under his influence, the spirit of that Presbytery was changed from one of belligerent fundamentalism to one of a harmonious fellowship of men of divergent theological beliefs.[4]

While pastor of the Seventh Presbyterian Church there in Cincinnati, Dr. Halsey organized what is now known as the “Presbyterian Ministers’ Breakfast Club.” It meets the first Monday in each month in the dining room of that church. This club grew out of a need for ministers to “get together” in attempting to solve problems and to lay plans. Thanks to the resourcefulness of Dr. Halsey the club was organized and given such a start as to be still a high-light of the month for the ministers.

He is the type of man to whom men instinctively turn for help in time of trouble. He has gone beyond the bounds of organized religion to be friendly to men of other faiths and cults. To other ministers he has been a kind of “pastor’s pastor” or a bishop without Episcopal authority because he has cared nothing for authority over others. “He has unstintedly given of his time to help others and has always been interested in the pastors of the small churches who have been in need.”[5]

Not only is he an outstanding churchman, but a citizen. At Cincinnati he was a positive force for civic righteousness. “There are things to see in Cincinnati—as in any other big city. I am not thinking of them except as they help one to feel the pulse of the municipality and gauge its inner spirit. The Chamber of Commerce will direct you to the sights of the town. I would guide you to its heart.”[6]

“His church was always interested in missions and gave generously. He was interested in improving conditions of church life in the deteriorated West End of Cincinnati. I have known him to drive thirty miles to take food and money to an old man and his wife who were strangers but appealed to him in need. I do not suppose that even he knows how much of his money he has given away to those in need. But these things were never done with an eye to publicity . . . He is a man of humility and utterly devoid of pretension. He has taken criticism humbly where many of us might have been disposed to defend ourselves against it.[7]

Even his best friends do not consider him as a great preacher, yet he is a great preacher from the standpoint that when he preaches it is truth coming out of his big heart and personality. “He is a man who, as much or perhaps more than any other I know, incarnates his gospel.”[8]

He has given many the impression of being blessed with a strong physical constitution, by maintaining a physical pace that is beyond the energy and inclination of most men. He did much of his reading late at night after his family retired and while most of his fellow ministers were asleep.

He breaks the ‘Bread of Life’ with clean hands. “I think he has never said anything ‘off-color’ or smutty.”[9]

“He is a man with a variety of interests: music, art glass, poetry, short stories, cooking, painting, and whatnot . . . He is at much at home in a pair of overalls with a rake or shovel in his hands as in a pulpit robe . . . In Cincinnati, he organized a group of ministers to paint the interior of my church. It would be interesting to know just how many churches he has helped to decorate on the inside and outside.”[10] During the fall and winter of 1945, he was not only instrumental in getting the chapel organ put in, but he did some of the work. During the Christmas holidays he and a few students painted the interior of the chapel.

Dr. Halsey has always been a man of open-mindedness, but he has been unfailing in loyalty to Christ. As a professor of Pastoral Theology he attempts to see (and does see) both sides of the question. He can see with the eyes of the so-called “liberals,” “conservatives,” “radicals,” and whatnot. He sees through the eyes of pupil as well as teacher. He is a friend to everyone.

The “biographer” has made reasonable effort to find and read as much of his writings as possible. Again the old saying, “Great teachers do little writing” is illustrated. The most widely known of his work as a composter and compiler I believe, is his most helpful suggestions for funerals: LIVING HOPE.

The article on the newly revised Book of Common Worship, “A Sense of Direction”[11] gives insight into the Pastor as a lover of good form in worship. (Dr. Halsey served on the revision committee.) The article on “Books of Common Worship” that appeared in the winter number of “Religion in Life” (1933) gives a rather complete list and helpful comments on the various books. Dr. Halsey’s rich, suggestive and helpful prayers, responses, and litanies often have some quotation or paraphrase from works of such great men as Dr. W.E. Orchard and Dr. John Hunter.

Dr. Halsey generously gives much credit to many great men as having exerted influence upon him. It was Dr. Richard S. Campbell, says Dr. Halsey, who influenced him to enter the ministry. About a dozen great men who influenced Dr. Halsey had as their model Maltie Babcock. “Behind him (Dr. Halsey) have been certain persons of Christian influence: his father, his sister, Dr. Grenfell, Dr. Coffin, and others I may not know.”[12]

Dr. Halsey has been shepherding the “budding undershepherds” here at the seminary since 1939. He was not here long before the students found in him a confidential and able counselor. One student remarked, “Dr. Halsey has more ‘horse-sense’ than all of the other professors put together.’”

Dr. Halsey’s office is the most popular office for students seeking sound advice, or coming with sorrows or joys. He gives the student the impression that he has all the time needed to listen to some problem.

It is unfortunate (for the students) that Dr. Halsey’s many duties require his presence off the campus. [Amen is written in the margin by JH.]

In class he is careful to give the student a wholesome combination of the scholarly with the practical. He also sees that every student who takes his courses shall at least know something about weddings and funerals.

The present writer has heard him called or referred to as “Skipper” and “Uncle Jesse.” Perhaps his “nick-names” will suggest a much better biography than a hurried student can possibly write.

[handwritten at bottom] Humbly I say “thank you.” I’ll try to live up to the implications. JH

[1] “The East riding of Yorkshire,” Jesse Halsey, The Presby. Tribune, July 1940, p. 12.
[2] IBID, p. 11.
[3] From a personal letter from L.W. Harvison, Harvey, Ill. Oct. 24, ’46.
[4] IBID.
[5] IBID.
[6] “The Spirit of Cincinnati,” Jesse Halsey, The Presbyterian Tribune, May 16, 1935.
[7] From a personal letter from L.W. Harvision.
[8] IBID.
[9] IBID.
[10] IBID
[11] Jesse Halsey, The Presbyterian Tribune, July 1944, p. 17.
[12] From a personal letter from L.W. Harvison.

The Jesse Halsey Manuscript Collection. Special Collections, Princeton Theological Seminary Library.

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