75th Anniversary Special with the Rev. Dr. Louis C. Schueddig

Paul, in the presence of Christ, was moved to ask a revealing question. The struggle and the yielding of that great soul are rolled up into it. As I look at the printed page, it seems to stand out in bold relief. When I think on the story, it seems to shout itself at me, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"

Peter Wallace: That's Bishop J. C. Harrell from a Protestant Hour broadcast in 1946. Today the Rev. Dr. Skip Schueddig joins us to celebrate 75 years of faithful weekly broadcasts. I'm Peter Wallace, and this is Day 1.

Peter: Today we launch a special series of programs celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Protestant Hour and Day 1 on the radio. Over the following five weeks you'll hear new sermons from preachers representing two of our founding institutions, as well as a few of the most popular preachers of years past. Coming up are Dr. Tom Long, Bandy Professor Emeritus of Preaching at Candler School of Theology at Emory University; the Rev. Dr. Leanne Van Dyk of Columbia Theological Seminary; Bishop Kevin Strickland of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA; the Most Rev. Michael Curry, presiding bishop and primate of The Episcopal Church and one of the world's favorite preachers; and the Rev. Dr. Greg DeLoach of Mercer University McAfee School of Theology. But today we're taking a special look at the history of the Protestant Hour and actually hear some of the outstanding preachers of the 20th century. To help us do that, we're honored to have with us the Rev. Dr. Louis Schueddig, who for 30 years served as president and executive director of the Episcopal Media Center and our parent organization, the Alliance for Christian Media, before retiring in 2012. An Episcopal priest, Skip was for many years the Episcopal producer of the Protestant Hour and served as the program's host for an interim period in 2000. Skip, thank you for helping us celebrate this ministry milestone!

Skip: Thank you, Peter, it's great being back in the studio.

Peter: A few years ago, we undertook the major task of digitizing the Protestant Hour archives from 1945-1995. Tell us how you got involved in that project.

Skip: Well, first of all, my knowledge of the Protestant Hour goes back to the 1950s. Growing up in St. Louis where it was broadcast, my German grandmother would weekly go upstairs and listen to the Protestant Hour, so I was well aware of it; and after seminary and serving as a pastor in churches for 15 years, I was called in 1983 to be the Executive Director of the Episcopal Media Center and found that one of my duties was to help select the Episcopal preachers for the Episcopal series, and then in the '90s got more involved in the organization itself. And then in 2004, The Protestant Hour merged with the Episcopal Media Center and I had responsibility for all the programs. Just about the time I was getting ready to retire, the University of Georgia Peabody Archives contacted us because the archives of the Protestant Hour and other productions had been housed there for about eight years; and they were sounding the alarm that if something quickly was not done to digitize, restore these programs, they'd be lost to the future. So, we set out to raise some money and to begin doing the legwork. I scheduled the programs. I outlined the preachers and then wrote a paper about the history of the program and, finally, we received the digitized master programs of about 1,900 programs.

Peter: Why do you think it's so important to restore these archives?

Skip: Well, in many respects, Peter, the second half of the 20th century represents a classic era in the history of Protestant preaching. Many of the preachers during that time had studied under some of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, people like Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr, and they had read the great books of people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer. They had been impacted by not only the 1st World War and the recession, but, of course, the 2nd World War. They were, in a way, many of them men who had served in the war, and they were of a cut of a style of oratory that has been changed - I won't say lost - and gives us great historical documents telling us of the times of post-World-War America and on through the decades up to the '90s.

Peter: And we'll be offering those archived radio programs on our website at Day1.org in the months to come. Tell us how the Protestant Hour program got started back in 1945.

Skip: Well, a group of church leaders in the Southeast decided that they needed to make use of this relatively new medium of radio to help lift up the country in its doldrums at the very tail end of World War II. They called themselves the Southern Regional Radio Conference, and they really didn't have a major plan for the program. They just sort of dived in and had three or four or five stations at the very beginning and a little studio in the basement of Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. And things grew. At first the program was, as I'd call it a little slipshod; it didn't have a good consistency of announcing or music. The music was all over the place until the Protestant Hour itself decided to raise the money to build a building with studios - a vast studio actually - with 68,000 square feet, and that's when in 1954 that I think the Protestant Hour as a brand really was launched.

Peter: As you mentioned, you reviewed all the programs and sermons in the Protestant Hour archives and wrote a fascinating monograph. What are some of the historical and theological trends that you found?

Skip: Interestingly, right after the war there was immediate concern about the moral decay in the country. You have to realize that the country was depressed. Almost every family in the nation had either lost a family member or knew a family member who was killed in World War II, and young people were acting out what they then called this newfangled thing called juvenile delinquency. And, of course, as they years of the '40s came to an end, the country found itself in the throes of a deep worry about the spread of communism and the use of atomic power. It was interesting as I reviewed the archives how frequently the preachers talked about the spread of communism. It became almost an obsession, and I look back and it was for the country as well. They thought that Christianity itself as a religion was at risk. It was good against evil, Christianity against communism. And here's a good example of that from a sermon by the great Episcopal preacher and evangelist Samuel Shoemaker, who was then rector of Calvary church in Pittsburgh. This is from 1957:

Never before has any force planned such a world strategy as communism nor come so near to carrying it out. The discovery of atomic energy may prove less important to the world than the discovery of such terrible psychological techniques as can reduce living, sentient, responsible people to human pulp. Let alone, Genghis Khan knew as much about physical destruction and mass slaughter as the communists. But nothing has ever been seen in the world like a combination of skilled warfare, intellectual indoctrination of younger generations, and psychological pressures such as those applied by the communists wherever they get a foothold. Almost a third of the world is under communist rule or influence. The world that believes in freedom and democracy is on the defensive, and I think myself that the world was never in greater danger. We watch this unfolding horror of a free world shrinking little by little and of the communist monster biting off more and more portions of it to devour.

Peter: Were all of the sermons of that era like that?

Skip: No, not all of them. I would have to say that many, if not the majority, of the sermons were pretty straightforward in terms of biblical interpretations of the readings that were chosen - the Scriptural readings. Some, I think we'd have to say, compared with sermons today, had more of an evangelical tone and some were based on issues of personal life, spirituality, family life, how to have a good marriage, how to raise children. And some were highly intellectual, like a series that the popular and renowned Presbyterian preacher Dr. John Redhead preached. It was on the best theologians of the 20th century. He took a theologian a week, and it's really quite an astonishing series. Many of the Anglican preachers - the Episcopal preachers - were brought over from England. That was a popular thing to do at the time. We had every archbishop of Canterbury and most of the arc bishops of York preaching. And they would do series on the Apostles Creed or the Ten Commandments. And then in the mid-'50s, of course, there was a huge social shift, and churches were starting to realize the growth in the suburban areas, and churches were growing in attendance. And there was a great kind of a zeal of returning veterans, and during the whole Eisenhower culture of the '50s it was kind of the "Father Knows Best" era, and I'd say that preaching actually became a bit more anxious because the preachers weren't necessarily happy with these social changes and found them a bit threatening. Even things like television were denounced again and again in some of the programs.

Peter: Well, Skip, I know it's impossible to identify the best preachers, but who were some of the ones that really impressed you?

Skip: Well, it may be simply the criterion of longevity that some stood out because they were returned by their denomination year after year after year; but to be honest, I think the person most often referred to or remembered is Edmund Steimle. He was extremely popular and was truly one of the greats. The Methodists had Dr. Robert Goodrich from a large church in Dallas, Texas, and John A. Redhead from North Carolina. He had a wonderful style for radio, very comforting, very pastoral, and I think this clip shows some of that. It was a sermon he delivered in 1954:

A long time ago you gave God his walking papers because you rebelled at the idea of someone who always stepped in and blocked the road to the things you wanted to do by giving you a set of rules that said, "Don't." And then there came a whole flock of questions about God and trouble, and God always came off at the losing end, unable to square himself in the light of something called justice. If you are in the middle of that tunnel now, keep going. Take the word of one who has been there. Keep going and you'll come out into the light. And then when life catches up with you and you need something to lean on that's stronger than your own strength, shut your eyes and make friends with the Master. When you do, you'll discover that God is a long sea mile from being a joy killer and has become for you the life giver. And then you'll be ready to sing with the Psalmist, "The Lord is the strength of my life.

Peter: Say more about Edmund Steimle. So many of our great preachers of today have told me that listening to Steimle on the Protestant Hour helped shape their own ministries.

Skip: I would sum it up in a word: Edmund Steimle had power. He had the power of an enormous faith, the power of an enormous intellect. He knew the scriptures backwards and forwards. He had the power of the ability to write a brilliant sermon and the power to relate to the audience. Unlike most all of the other preachers on the Protestant Hour, he considered the Protestant Hour audience his congregation, and he felt a very intimate relationship to that audience. And people felt it. And he was very emotional when he retired after 20 years, the longest term ever of any preacher having served on the Protestant Hour. It was very, very touching, and I'd like us to hear a clip from what has become known as Steimle's valedictory sermon. It was 1974.

And the darkness has been pretty thick at times. We've had our own private darknesses in our personal lives through these years, you and I, of course. But beyond our own private darknesses the world has provided plenty of darkness in these 20 years. And I've been at pains in these sermons not to let you forget it. Because? Because the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is meaningless unless it is seen in the context of the actual world in which we live. One of the most insidious heresies of our times is to see the gospel as an escape from the darknesses in our lives and in the world around us. And if we are to preach the hope that is laid up in heaven for us, then we have to see that hope smack in the middle of everything which seems to deny it. For, at the center of the gospel, is the denial of hope. The cross. The crucifixion. The darkness of death. It is in the face of that denial of hope that the resurrection holds out its hope for us and for our world. So, Paul: "God has delivered us from the dominion of darkness." The darkness is there. The cross is there. Suffering, loneliness, and death are there. But we are delivered from the dominion, the power of the darkness to bury our hopes. That, as I see it, is the task of preaching, not to deny the darkness but to shed light on our path as we walk through the darkness. And I hope that through the years I've managed to shed a bit of God's light and hope and life on your path. For it is God's world after all, it is still in his hands. And so, at the end of the Lord's prayer we pray, "for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever."

Peter: Still so relevant. You mentioned Robert Goodrich was a regular preacher representing the Methodist Church. Tell us some more about him.

Skip: Yes, it was a period when the churches like to return their preachers year after year. It took a while for the Episcopal Church to get into that pattern, but the Methodists, and of course, the Lutherans with Steimle, got on the bandwagon right away, and the Methodist preacher was, for a good long time, was Robert Goodrich from Dallas, Texas. And he, unlike Steimle, stayed away from the broad social issues of the day and stayed more to the personal questions of faith and spirituality and morality, and had a great voice. Here's a clip from Dr. Goodrich from a sermon he gave in 1953:

Each year sets new records for the psychiatrists, alcoholism, gambling, suicides, broken homes. Year by year the curve seems to go upward, but all of these are symptoms. The disease is a deep frustration in the heart and soul of persons. And even in its milder forms, this disease produces unhappiness and unhealthiness of soul. Certainly one of the chief causes is an unsatisfied longing in the heart and soul for life to have some durable satisfactions, some enduring significance. You see, God has set eternity in our hearts. That means more than a longing to survive the grave. It means that our hearts crave something that is permanent. We're not simply creatures of time, and we will be restless, unhappy, frustrated until we feel that life counts for something, something that makes a difference today and tomorrow. Just to eat and sleep and exist can never satisfy men who have eternity in their hearts. Life and labor must fulfill some purpose.

Peter: Skip, what about civil rights and race relations? How was that major cultural issue handled by the Protestant Hour preachers during that sensitive era?

Skip: Well, that was one of the fascinating observations I made in that there was an early program preached in 1947 about this issue and then it was not brought up again for an entire decade - to the late '50s. But the first person to ever bring it up in a sermon was William Wallace, a Methodist preacher from Oklahoma City. Here's what he said:

Today is race relations day in our Methodism. Isn't it about time that we strip off some of the prejudices from our minds on this question and begin to work it out realistically? I am as white as any and was born farther south than the Deep South, and I want to say that the Southern Christian white man needs to take the lead in this great problem before our nation at this time. All the Negro wants or needs is a fair deal, just and square in every way. Can't we grant that to him? Verily, I believe we can and we must do this.

Skip: That's a strong statement for 1947. Then later on African American preachers were featured occasionally as individual preachers or as part of a series. The first to offer an entire 12-week series of an African American was the Episcopal series with the Right Reverend John T. Walker, a good friend of mine who was then the Episcopal bishop of Washington. He was beloved as a pastor and a social activist and was well known around the world and was a good friend of Archbishop Desmond Tutu's. Here is the elegant voice of Bishop Walker:

If you live in El Salvador, in Nicaragua, in Uganda, or the Middle East, you may well wonder whether peace or freedom will ever come. If you are unemployed in America, if you live in any of our major cities, you may well ask what there is to be joyful about. Yet in all these places, these same people are greeting one another, "A Happy and Blessed Christmas to You!" they cry or sing, even as we do here. "Joy to the World, the Lord Is Come," many proclaim. From whence does such hope spring? What is it that keeps faith alive in South Africa or El Salvador or any of the places where fear, hunger, and death stalk the earth?

Peter: So, how did the Protestant Hour fare in the 1970s and '80s as the mainline denominations began to see a decline in membership and battles over issues like the ordination of women?

Skip: You'd never know it was happening. I mean, it was interesting because the preachers, of course, didn't want to get into the negative issues about their declining membership on air with - by then, I would say it was near the height of the station network, in the 600s - and they were very careful to stay positive. Most of them stuck to the text and the interpretation of the text and the proclamation of the Gospel.

You mentioned the ordination of women. Of course, in many denominations, women were not yet accepted for ordination. After that changed about the mid-'70s or so, women were frequently on the Protestant Hour. One of the women to preach regularly was a professor at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. and her name was Dr. Catherine Gonzalez. In 1975 the Presbyterian Church featured a 15-part series with Dr. Gonzalez and her seminary colleague Dr. Donald Wardlaw. It was shared by the two people, but it also represented the first time a Presbyterian series was produced jointly by the southern and the northern branches of the Presbyterian Church. Let's listen to a clip of Dr. Gonzalez from that series. Here she is speaking on the preparation for Lent and Easter:

This is the first week in the season of Lent, the six weeks of preparation before Good Friday and Easter. In our usual way of thinking, if we spend six weeks preparing for an event, there's very little chance we'll be surprised by the celebration. But with Lent, the situation is really different. One of our greatest problems as Christians is that we can so easily take Good Friday and Easter for granted, as though they were thoroughly to be expected. And we do this for some very bad reasons.

Peter: Skip, would you say there was an overall message or theme woven through these years of Protestant Hour programs?

Skip: Yes, and I think it's probably best represented by the very last program that was recovered in the archive collection, and it is a sermon by the Rev. Dennis Allerson from Northminster Presbyterian Church in Bellville, Pennsylvania:

Not one thing depends upon your effort alone because Christ lives, and in this world - still a mess, still the storm, still the froward - you have Christ, still the Strengthener and the Comforter, and bringing us to the text, tossing fear and uncertainty like chaff to the wind, Christ, still the Shepherd and the Guardian of our souls.

Peter: Skip, you've given us a fascinating historical tour of the Protestant Hour, the forerunner to Day1. There's one more person I want to ask you about who can be heard throughout the archives and that's longtime host Don Elliot Heald, who served for something like 50 years. Here's a sample of his unforgettable voice:

You have been listening to the Protestant Hour, produced and distributed by the Protestant Radio and Television Center, Atlanta, GA. The Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopal Radio and TV Foundation, the United Methodist Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are pleased to have presented today's program. We hope the program's good news was spiritually stimulating for you. This is Don Elliot Heald suggesting you join us next week....

Peter: Don, of course, was the General Manager of WSB Television and Radio, WSB Radio being our flagship station from the very beginning. But tell us more about Don, who served as a mentor for both of us.

Skip: That's certainly true, Peter. Don was such a great man. He was a faithful member of the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta, and he truly saw his work with the Protestant Hour and Day1 as a ministry, a personal ministry. And I think, if anything, his greatest joy was getting to meet the preachers. He always said, "I just love meeting all these different preachers, and they're so interesting, and they're so diverse." And even though he sort of was slipped in in the early years--it took many years for him to become the regular announcer on the program--Don really helped to give the program its very own brand.

Peter: And, of course, there's our announcer Sherrie Miller, who has been a key part of the broadcast for nearly 30 years now. So Skip, what's one thing from our program today that you hope our listeners will keep in mind in the days ahead?

Skip: Well, I would say it was a truth from the very beginning and remains true today that the Protestant Hour and Day1 is very clear in the message that to know God’s love is to hear it preached, and to hear it preached in the tradition that believes that we are saved by grace through faith.

Peter: Skip Schueddig, thanks for being with us on this special 75th anniversary Day1 program.

Skip: Thank you.

Edmund Steimle:

But we are delivered from the dominion, the power, of the darkness to bury our hopes. That as I see it is the task of preaching. Not to deny the darkness, but to shed light on our path as we walk through the darkness. And I hope that through the years I've managed to shed a bit of God's light and hope and life on your path, for it is God's world after all, it is still in his hands, and so at the end of the Lord's Prayer, we pray: "For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever."