John J. Murray's Report on 2006 Conference
It was my privilege to be asked to speak at the Family Conference organized by our Church in North America in August. I flew into Atlanta in temperatures reaching 100 degrees. It was good to escape into the air conditioning of the Rev. Warrren Gardner's car and home. On the Monday I went with the Gardner family and other members of the congregation on a nine-hour car journey to Northern Virginia. The Conference Centre is on the lower slopes of the Shenandoah Valley amidst the Appalachian Mountains and is appropriately called 'Highland Retreat.' The Centre belongs to the Mennonites and the accommodation and facilities are ideal for a family conference. There were 85 present at the Conference, of whom 45 were adults and 40 were children under 18 years of age. Those attending came from ten states: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and Missouri.
Each day was arranged with two addresses in the morning and one in the evening. I was invited to give a series of four biographical sketches - two on Professor John Murray and one each on Robert Murray M'Cheyne and Andrew A. Bonar. The Rev. Robert McCurley gave four very searching addresses on 'Lowliness as one of the marks of spiritual maturity.' The Rev. Sherman Isbell contributed two helpful sermons on 'Church and Covenant,' and 'Sowing and Reaping.' The organizers gave the Rev. Kenneth Macdonald the responsibility of evangelistic messages and his second sermon on the sufferings of hell was most moving. It was wonderful to see large familes sitting together under the teaching of Scripture and to meet with a number of young people showing potential for future service in the Church. Nathaniel Biser of Cumberland, Maryland was presented with a certificate in recognition of his recitation of a portion of the Shorter Catechism.
The success of the Conference owes so much to the skills and hard work of Sherman and Lisa Isbell. The food for the four days was planned, purchased, prepared and served with teams of helpers. Sherman is an expert collector of books, new and second-hand. The book table offered a wide selection of titles, and daily reviews and recommendations by the speakers helped to boost sales to $3700. Sherman's historical research is put to good use in the historical tours he organizes. I was privileged to be with him on two.
The first was the one organized on the Wednesday afternoon of the Conference. A party of 35 went to Lexington, a place associated with such well-known figures as Dr. Archibald Alexander, Robert E. Lee and 'Stonewall' Jackson. We were fully equipped with directions and pages of historical detail. We visited the ruins of New Monmouth Church where the Rev. William Graham was pastor and where there was a revival in 1789-90. Archibald Alexander was converted at the age of 17 under Graham's preaching. He studied theology with Graham at Liberty Hall Academy. This became known later as Washington and Lee University. After his exploits in the Civil War, Robert E. Lee became President there. In the campus there is much to remind us of his achievements.
It is good that a new generation in North America is beginning to appreciate the Reformed heritage in doctrine and worship. Nothing less than a recovery of this is required if the church is to be delivered from her present shallowness and malaise. A day of opportunity is presented to our ministers and congregations in North America and they deserve our prayers and support.