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Making History Today: "...and a time to laugh"

Presbyterian Historical Society of the Southwest

James S. Currie, Executive Secretary

From 1959-1968 the late Jerry Tompkins served as pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Monticello, Arkansas. For 41 years one of that church’s members, Lamar Williamson, served as the clerk of session. Over the years Williamson also served as Sunday school teacher, Sunday school superintendent, elder, deacon, trustee. An attorney whose specialty was property rights and state and county jurisdiction having to do with the “meanderings” of the Mississippi River, he was elected elder in 1916. 

In 1969 Tompkins published a collection of excerpts from session minutes taken by Williamson. The title of the collection is …And A Time to Laugh: Notes from the Pen of an Untamed Iconoclast. As one who has reviewed session minutes to make sure they are “decent and in order,” I find Williamson’s minutes refreshingly unorthodox. In his Introduction Tompkins notes, “There is nothing subtle or underplayed in his humor, as the reader will quickly see. His remarks are forthright, sometimes bordering on the insulting. He took his job seriously but obviously he thoroughly enjoyed his task” (p. xii). Tompkins goes on, “Except for what he says of himself in the minutes, his most deadly darts are aimed at his fellow elders. There is nothing mean or petty in his intentions. One becomes aware that Lamar Williamson believes that being on the Session of any church is awesomely serious business, but by some elders taken lightly, indifferently, and carelessly…” (p. xii). 

The contents are divided into the following areas: “Opening of Meetings,” “Elders,” “Members,” “Pastors,” “The Clerk of Session,” “The Sacraments,” “Money and Church Property,” “Miscellaneous,” and “Adjournment.” 

So, with gratitude for his self-deprecation, sense of humor, and commitment to Jesus Christ and his church, what follows are a few excerpts from the pen of this “untamed iconoclast.” 

“January 28, 1940

“The Pastor reported the names of approximately fifty Montecellonians who should definitely be members of this church. In the absence of enthusiastic excitement on the part of the Elders present, the Pastor announced that he would carefully review these names and give to each Elder a list of those persons whom the Pastor thought could best be reached by the respective Elders. The Elders grunted no aggressive disapproval to thus disposing of the matter.” 

“April 9, 1939 

“PRESCIENCE. The church membership is deeply impressed by the vibrant sincerity and contagious ambitions of the new Pastor, and is delighted by the charming personality of both Mr. and Mrs. Healy. We fondly expect him to be another Ezekiel walking through the valley of our dry bones. Selah.” 

“September 1, 1940

“The Session was rudely awakened from its monthly summer hibernation, hypnotic sleep, complete inactivity, suspended animation, and general joy by the return of the Pastor from his month of vacation. 

“The Pastor expressed his appreciation for a profitable and pleasant vacation…. The Pastor was obviously full of vim, vigor and vitality, eager for work. The Session admired this evidence of youth, but was able to ward off any visible contagion from the Pastor’s spirit.” 

“January 28, 1940

“The Pastor reported the condition of the Treasury to be low (like the outside thermometer and the inside spiritual conditions) but not alarming: in other words, worse after getting better.” 

“June 25, 1939

“The Pastor announced that the regular quarterly Communion would be observed the following Sunday, viz: July 9, 1939, it being thought not fit that the spirit of harmony, Christian fellowship and reverence which should accompany the observance of the Lord’s Memorial Feast of Love should be contrasted by the spirit of division, dispute, niggardliness, worldly selfishness, and aggressive indifference to the spiritual welfare of the Church which usually accompanies a congregational business meeting for the purpose of raising money.” 

“March 13, 1955

“…The baptism was performed in an impressive manner by the pastor, as announced, to which the Clerk hereby attests because he was there. The pastor’s sermon which immediately followed was very appropriately ‘Were You There?’” 

“July 30, 1933

“The hour for refreshment in the form of the historic Sunday dinner having arrived, a motion to adjourn was unanimously carried by the first vote of the Session indicating much enthusiasm.” 

“February 4, 1940

“The Session was disintegrated with prayer.” 

The writer of these columns will be taking a few weeks off, hopefully resuming these columns in about a month. 

The Presbyterian Historical Society of the Southwest exists to “stimulate and encourage interest in the collection, preservation, and presentation of the Presbyterian and Reformed heritage” in the Southwest. If you are not a participating member of the Society and would like to become one, the annual dues are $20 per individual and $25 per couple. Annual institutional and church membership dues are $100. Checks may be made out to PHSSW and sent to: 

PHSSW – 5525 Traviston Ct., Austin, TX 78738.  

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