Last month I talked with Ann Esslinger, calling from Bellevue, Washington, who was looking for information about an ancestor named David Wallace McQuiston. According to the U.S. Census records for 1900, he lived in Kearney on 2nd Avenue. By 1910 he was in Illinois. According to family tradition, he was the pastor of a Presbyterian congregation. Ann called to find out if the church had any records of her ancestor’s ministry in Kearney.
While Ann was on the phone, I consulted The First Hundred Years…A History of The First United Presbyterian Church by John F. Wells, Pastor, written for the congregation’s 100th anniversary. There was no mention in that book of a Rev. McQuiston. I said that perhaps he was a pastor in another Presbyterian denomination, most likely the United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPNA) a church with Scottish roots that united with the larger Presbyterian Church in 1958. This seemed likely, not only because of his Scottish name, but also because they knew he was a graduate of the UPNA’s Xenia Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh.
While we were talking, my eye was skimming Rev. Wells’ church history, and I came upon a paragraph describing the ministry of the Rev. Alexander H. Fraser, who served from 1901 to 1908. There I read:
One of the first projects that faced Mr. Fraser was that of receiving into membership all those who had been in Kearney’s United Presbyterian Church. This had been a congregation of conservative Scottish background which had been able to erect a rather substantial wooden building on the corner of where the St. James Roman Catholic Church now [i.e. 1973] stands. For some unknown reason, it fell upon hard times, lost its pastor, and in going out of existence was absorbed into our membership.
I read this passage to Ann, and also gave her contact information with the Presbyterian Historical Association in Philadelphia, the repository for the official documents of our denomination and its predecessor denominations.
It was a joy to be helpful to Ann, but it also made me ponder about the rich history of our church, and of each of our families; of how much of it is forgotten, and how meaningful it can be to learn about it. Who knows how much the unique character of our own congregation has been formed by the contributions of Presbyterians who came from Kearney’s UPNA church?
It also reminded me of an essay written by T. S. Eliot called Tradition and the Individual Talent:
Tradition … cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labor. It involves, in the first place, the historical sense, and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence.
Surely it is the real presence of the past that is the most important result of our studies of family and church histories, but above all, of reading and studying the Bible together. In the Bible we read what God said and did thousands of years ago, and by the gift of the Holy Spirit and our own great labor – which is also a gift of the Holy Spirit—we find out what God is saying and doing today.
Thank God, not just for the memory makers but also the memory keepers. Let us cherish them both. They are the means by which we are reminded: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Thanks be to God!