Some of us may be familiar with this curious line from the old gospel hymn, Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing, written by Robert Robinson in 1758. What exactly is an “Ebenezer”?
Many of us perhaps think of the stingy, hard-hearted Mr. Scrooge whose life takes a dramatic turn with a terrifying series of angelic visitations in Charles Dickens’ short novel, A Christmas Carol. Dickens borrowed Scrooge’s given name from a Bible story. In 1 Samuel 7, after Israel repels an invasion by the much more powerful Philistine army, Samuel sets up a stone monument and names it eben ha‘azer — “the stone of help,” normally rendered “Ebenezer” in English translations — because, the prophet says, Israel’s God obviously had helped them win the day. As a monument to God’s faithfulness and love in the past, “Ebenezer” would remind Israel in the future to live by faith, trusting God. So Scrooge’s given name is cleverly both ironic and predictive. “Ebenezer” is everything Scrooge is not when the story begins and exactly what he will become by the time the novel ends.
I thought of this Bible story as I listened to General Minister and President Teresa Hord Owens preach in morning worship at National City Christian Church in Washington, D.C., on November 5, a service that included my installation as president of the Disciples of Christ Historical Society and served as a prelude to the dedication of DCHS’s Oscar Haynes Exhibit on Disciples African-American history, on permanent loan to that congregation. She preached on a similar story from Joshua 4, where Joshua builds a monument with 12 stones taken from the riverbed of the Jordan that temporarily dried up as the Israelites crossed over into the Promised Land. Like Samuel’s “Ebenezer,” Joshua’s monument would use the memory of God’s help in the past to inspire Israel to live with faith and hope in the present and future. The particular calling of the Historical Society, Terri said, is to do that, to carefully gather and preserve stones of blessed memory as a constant reminder of our journey with God so we’ll understand its purpose and direction and walk its path in faith and hope.
DCHS is in the Ebenezer business. We collect and arrange the bedrocks of our particular faith tradition so we’ll know who we are and where we are heading. As a general ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada, we have a particular calling to help the church remember the ways God has helped us in the past so we can live more just and faithful lives today and tomorrow.
I am honored to join archivist Shelley Jacobs and the dedicated core of Bethany College students and other friends of the Society who generously offer their time and hard work to organize and maintain the church’s official archive in Bethany, WV. Our new state-of-the-art facility sits next to the historic home of Alexander Campbell, the early 19th Century Scots-Irish immigrant whose writings and sermons helped spark a unity movement that gave birth to the Disciples, the Christian Churches-Churches of Christ, and the a cappella Churches of Christ. All three “streams” of this American reformation movement are represented in our collection on the grounds next to the Campbell mansion.
We hope to see you in Bethany, but we are also exploring ways to bring more of our resources to you. Look for changes to this website in the coming weeks and months as we work to increase our outreach and accessibility. We also will continue to sponsor lectureships and conferences both in Bethany and elsewhere.
God has helped us in the past. DCHS stands as a witness to God’s great faithfulness as the church walks boldly toward the just and peaceful future of God’s desire. Here we raise our Ebenezer!