Worshippers at the May 3 National Day of Prayer Service sponsored by the Abilene Interfaith Council “break bread together in peace.” Photo by Loretta Fulton



Prayers said and sung, poems, including one that traveled to the moon, the beating of a Native American drum, and a ceremony of “breaking bread together in peace” added to the mosaic of the National Day of Prayer Service sponsored by the Abilene Interfaith Council.

The service was held at noon Thursday at the Center for Contemporary Arts, with speakers from eight faith traditions offering prayers. Two others, representing Islam and Buddhism, were not present.

The service ended with the passing of loaves of challah bread made by Gay Beitscher of Abilene’s Temple Mizpah. Abilene Interfaith Council President Jacob Snowden noted that the motto of the council is “Let Us Break Bread Together in Peace.”

“Today, we get to use our motto literally,” he said.

His hope was that even though people may have come as strangers, the would “leave as friends” or at least “friendly.”

The gathering of people offering prayers from many faith traditions on the National Day of Prayer is a testament to the heart of the United States Constitution. Omer Hancock, a retired Hardin-Simmons University religion professor, gave a brief history of National Day of Prayer and noted that the first freedom guaranteed in the Bill of Rights is freedom of religion.

Those 10 guarantees in the Bill of Rights also include freedom of speech and the freedom for people to assemble peaceably. Thursday’s gathering included three of the 10 rights guaranteed by the Constitution, Hancock noted. And, he said, people gathered would do well not to take those rights for granted.

A National Day of Prayer was established as law in 1952, although national prayers date to 1775 when the Continental Congress asked the colonies to prayer for wisdom in forming a nation. The first Thursday of May was named the official observance day in 1988.

Faith traditions represented at Thursday’s service were Anglican (Episcopal) Karen Boyd, Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest; Baha’i, Sammie Garza; Roman Catholic, Dason Williams, Holy Family Catholic Church; Judaism, April Powers; New Thought Spirituality, Natalie Messer, Unity Spiritual Living Center; Norse Pagan, Avalon Santana Zakazakina; Protestant, Stephanie Hamm; Native American, Icie Mitchell.

“Faith is a path,” Hancock said in his introduction, and it involves the practice of praying.

Mitchell, methodically tapped a ceremonial drum as she recited the “Prayer to the Creator in the Shape of a Buffalo,” sung in the Lakota language.

Messer, representing New Thought Spirituality, read two poems, including one that made it to the moon. A copy of “I Am There” was hand delivered to the moon in 1971 by astronaut James B. Irwin on Apollo 15. The poem was written by James Dillet Freeman, poet laureate of the Unity School of Christianity.

“Do you need me?” the poem begins. “I am there.”

Poet Maya Angelou also was quoted. Hamm, representing Protestanism, read Angelou’s prayer which begins, “Father, Mother, God, thank you for your presence during the hard and mean days.” The prayer ends with the words,

“Dear Creator, You, the borderless
sea of substance, we ask you to give to all the
world that which we need most—Peace.”




McGarvey Ice, left, and Amanda Dietz, brought part of the Martin Luther collection from the library at Abilene Christian University, to the Abilene Public Library Nov. 7 to display during the annual volunteer luncheon. These works, and more, all are available in the ACU library. Through the end of the fall semester, they will be gathered in one collection called, “Here I Stand: Martin Luther’s Reformation at 500.” Photo by Loretta Fulton

By Loretta Fulton

Many words have been spoken about Martin Luther’s defiant act during the 500th anniversary of his historic deed that marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation and many more will be.


Dr. Robert Ellis

But perhaps none will sum up the action, and the consequences, quite as well as Robert Eillis’ words at a luncheon Oct. 31 at Hardin-Simmons University, the actual date of Luther’s act.

“It was the Post-It Note heard around the world,” said Ellis, interim dean of HSU’s Logsdon School of Theology.

Every speaker points out that what Luther did in one sense was quite ordinary. He posted a notice on a church door, something as common in 1517 as sticking a Post-It Note on the refrigerator is in 2017.

But the consequences were extraordinary. His “Post-It Note” was a list of 95 theses arguing that the sale of indulgences or pardons from sins, a practice adopted by a few priests, was wrong and should be banned.

Luther wanted reform, and he got the Protestant Reformation, plus a church named for him. He also got excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

Ellis was one of a long list of people who have spoken about the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation at Hardin-Simmons this semester. This semester’s Spiritual Formation Colloquium was titled, “Crises and Reform,” with weekly speakers. The colloquium started Aug. 31 and continues through Nov. 30.

Abilene Christian University will host a two-man panel at 4 p.m. on Nov. 14 in the Chapel on the Hill of ACU’S Biblical Studies Building. “The Reformation at 500 Years: Necessary Correction or Divisive Mistake: How Should it Shape Christians Today” will be the topic of the debate between John Armstrong, president of ACT3 Network, and Ryan Rojo, parochial vicar of the Cathedral Church of the Sacred Heart in San Angelo. Armstrong, a historian and ecumenist, participated in the production of the video documentary on the Reformation, “This Changed Everything.” The event is free and open to the public.

And, Abilene Christian University’s Doug Foster, professor of church history, presented two talks at First Central Presbyterian Church. Each of the talks has brought new insight.

MartinLutherThe presentations at Hardin-Simmons were based on Luther’s “solas,” which included “sola scriptura,” “sola fide,” “sola gratia,” solus Christus,” and “soli deo gloria,” or “scripture alone,” “faith alone,” “grace alone,” “Christ alone,” and “to the glory of God alone.”

On Sept. 28, Mary Alice Birdwhistell, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, spoke on the precept of “grace alone.” She said that at times, ministers feel the weight of the world is on their shoulders. They carrying the weight of what people say about them, the church’s finances and polarizing issues, plus the weight of the people’s concerns.

“Friends, ministry is heavy,” Birdwhistell said. “It is too much for any of us to carry on our own.”

Then, Ephesians 2:8 came to mind, “For it is by grace you have been saved.” The pastoral implications are great,  Birdwhistell said. Pastors can run their lives and their churches like they depend on works, but there is always more work to be done.

Birdwhistell urged the future pastors at the forum to pay attention to the moments when grace shows up “and we have nothing to do with it.”

And, she urged them to take care of themselves and to nurture their own relationship with God. Ministry is not a to-do list, she reminded.

“Ministry is so much bigger than we are,”  Birdwhistell said.

creed_photo (1)

Dr. J. Bradley Creed

On Oct. 30 and 31, Dr. J. Bradley Creed, a church historian and president of Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina, gave two lectures at Hardin-Simmons on the Reformation and also spoke at a luncheon.

Luther had a good sense of humor, Creed said, but suffered from a troubled soul. He was looking for peace and forgiveness. He was looking for a gracious, forgiving God in the church and couldn’t find him.

“He had a hard time with God,” Creed said.

Luther couldn’t find the God he was seeking in the church, but he did find him in the Bible, Creed said.

Five hundred years later, we might ask, “So what?” in terms of the consequences of the Reformation.

First, we take for granted we can own a Bible written in our own language.

“Martin Luther is partly responsible for that,” Creed said.

Luther was hidden in a castle for a year by friends who feared for his life. He was a marked man because of his rants against church practices. He didn’t waste the year feeling sorry for himself. Instead, he spent it translating the Greek New Testament into the German language.

Second, Luther may have been responsible for the first sexual revolution, Creed said. He broke from the church, married a nun, and became a matchmaker.


Dr. Douglas Foster

Doug Foster, church historian at Abilene Christian University, distributed a worksheet on a remarkable document at his concluding talk at First Central Presbyterian Church Nov. 1. The document was the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” signed by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church in 1999.

The doctrine of justification was of central importance in the Reformation. Luther argued that humans were justified by the grace of God, through Christ. In the 16th century, the church’s position was that people were saved by good works.

The joint declaration stated that, “In faith we (Lutherans and Catholics) together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God.”

It further stated that, “We confess together that good works–a Christian life lived in faith, hope and love–follow justification and are its fruits.”

The last article of the joint declaration, Number 44, stated, “We give thanks to the Lord for this decisive step forward on the way to overcoming the division of the church. We ask the Holy Spirit to lead us further toward that visible unity which is Christ’s will.”

It took 482 years for Luther’s 95 Theses to result in the joint declaration, with numerous monumental reforms along the way, but it did, indeed, turn out to be the “Post-It Note heard around the world.”



ACU instructor brings humor, insight into ‘A World Gone Mad’


(Editor’s Note: Randy Harris, an instructor at Abilene Christian University, led a two-day seminar Aug. 4-5 on Christian ethics. Always entertaining and insightful, Harris didn’t disappoint. He invites anyone interested to a “Ministers’ Lunch Hour with Randy Harris”, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Aug. 29, in the Hunter Welcome Center on the ACU campus. His topic will be “Does the Church Matter?” Cost, including lunch, is $15. To register, go to and click on “Events” by Aug. 22)

By Loretta Fulton

The title of the two-day seminar was “Christian Ethics in a World Gone Mad: How to Cope and Even Thrive.”


Randy Harris

By the time it was over, some in the sessions may have suggested a name change to: “Solving Christian Ethical Problems Can Drive You Mad.”

Such is the nature of Christian ethics–it ain’t easy. Thankfully, the leader for the Aug. 4-5 seminar at Abilene Christian University was Randy Harris, a popular instructor at ACU, who made the sessions not only informative and enlightening, but also entertaining.

If you want to be driven truly mad, and entertained at the same time, read “ The Trolley Problem, or Would You Throw the Fat Guy Off the Bridge” by Thomas Cathcart. Harris suggested everyone attending the summer short course read the book beforehand. Those who did realized that spending just two days pondering ethical issues could be maddening.

An example of the ethical dilemmas thrown out by Harris for the participants to ponder:

  1. God wills it because it is good.
  2. It is good because God wills it.

Answer: “Not exactly.”

Scholarly types might want to know that the brain-teaser officially is known as the Euthyphro Problem, first posed by Plato. Don’t worry–even Harris had trouble spelling it. (more…)

Faith in Scouts restored, despite president’s ‘inappropriate’ speech

(Editor’s Note) Rick Hammer, a biology professor at Hardin-Simmons University and a Boy Scout leader, eagerly led a group of area Scouts to the National Boy Scout Jamboree, or “Jambo,” held in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. He experienced many high points and one major low point–President Trump’s talk to the Scouts that caused an uproar. Below is an expanded Facebook post from Rick, dated July 27.)

“On My Honor…”

By Rick Hammer

Good morning from Jamboree at the Summit Center and our final day at Jambo! We are expecting rain to begin this afternoon and to continue until we depart at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning.

I think this morning has been my best day at Jamboree. I walked out of our camp this morning carrying three heavy postal flat-rate shipping boxes of bling (and a dirty T-shirt or 2) to mail back to Abilene.

Well, it’s a 15-20 minute walk mostly uphill and I was not looking forward to it at all. I had not taken more than a few steps out of our camp and onto the trail when four Scouts from Brownsville came up and insisted on helping me since they were headed the same way.

It’s my best day ever, not because I did not have to carry the boxes but because I got to see four Scouts selflessly demonstrating and living the Scout Law. I gave them all of our Texas Trails patches that I had with me. This experience has renewed my belief in what Scouting is supposed to be all about.

Stealing of cell phones, chargers, and patches has been rampant this week. That, along with much inappropriate pro-Trump political comments and disrespectful behavior during the presidential visit had my belief in the Scouting Law and Oath on the low end.

Four excellent Scouts from Brownsville provided my best day and experience at the 2017 National Scouting Jamboree. God bless them and Scouting! The day after the President addressed us Boy Scouts at the Jamboree with an unfocused, irreverent, and politically motivated speech, the Boy Scouts of America issued an official statement distancing themselves from most of the comments made by the President at Jamboree.

Trump recently stated that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA)  officially called him to personally congratulate him for his talk at Jamboree. BSA has officially denied Trump’s dishonest claim. Just another example of the discordance and abuse of integrity coming from this administration.

This is the real and tangible lesson that Scouts and Scouters should take away from last week’s Jamboree appearance and political speech by the President. From the Boy Scout Oath, “On my honor…”