on the wall just inside the door of Joe and Elizabeth Engles New York apartment is a
small frame displaying two bits of paper a bill for £15.80 for dinner at the
Handsel Restaurant in Edinburgh, Scotland, and a scrap of paper bearing an Edinburgh
address and the words 4:00 oclock and Betty Barr.
framed keepsake holds the place of honor among the Engles gallery of paintings and
mementos because the loves of Joe Engles life his wife, Elizabeth, Reformed
preaching, organ music, and Scotland all came together on an Edinburgh Saturday
morning twenty years ago.
Engle was a tourist that day in the land of his ancestors when he walked into St. Giles
Cathedral for the first time in his life. I wanted to see where John Knox had
preached in the 1560s and to hear the organ, he remembers. He approached an elder
arranging flowers for an afternoon wedding and asked her where the console was located.
She didnt know, he laughs, but I asked her to have dinner with
me. She turned me down, but invited me to tea, and we had dinner the next night.
Eighteen months and fifteen trips to Scotland later, Engle married Elizabeth Barr.
Joe Engle has always loved the Presbyterian Church. A native Ohioan, he traces his
Scottish Presbyterian roots back to 1690, and more recently to the Fairmont Presbyterian
Church in Cleveland, where he was ordained an elder. He is proud to be part of a tradition
that educates its clergy to preach carefully prepared sermons.
A good sermon lifts you up to the goodness of life, opens a window to God,
he says. Wherever there is strong preaching, there is a strong church.
And Joe Engle knows that it is not just the minister who makes preaching strong. It is
also the seminary, and the committed lay person. Engle served for nine years on the Union
Seminary (New York) board of trustees and endowed a chair in preaching there. James
Forbes, minister of Riverside Church in New York, was its first occupant.
While on the Union board, Engle met James Kay, then a Ph.D. candidate at Union and now
on the PTS faculty. He began to learn of Princetons historic commitment to teaching
both homiletics and speech.
So many theological seminaries today do not require their students to even audit
a course in homiletics, Engle opines, let alone take a course for credit.
[Princeton requires both.] Because Princeton is so serious about preaching, it made it
easy for me to want to support their efforts.
Support them he did, endowing the Joe R. Engle Chair in Homiletics and Liturgics in
1997 (now occupied by James Kay) and in 1999, a new chair in preaching named to honor his
wife the Elizabeth M. Engle Chair in Homiletics, which has been assigned to Nora
Ive been blessed in being exposed to so many wonderful preachers in my
lifetime, Engle says, naming Ganse Little, Theodore Parker Ferris, David H. C. Read,
James Forbes, and Thomas Tewell. They have had a profound effect on me, and I want
to do whatever I can to assure that the church will continue to train these wonderful
messengers of hope.
Joe and Elizabeth Engles generosity does not stop with supporting future
preachers. While Joe is not himself a musician, he says that the sound of the pipe organ,
the king of instruments, feeds his soul.
Twenty years ago, Engle gave a new pipe organ to the Presbyterian Church in Coshocton,
Ohio, in honor of his parents, who were longtime members of that congregation. More
recently, he and Elizabeth provided a small Allen organ to the 100-member church they
belong to in the Cayman Islands. The church, founded in 1846 by a Church of Scotland
minister from Jamaica, seats 128 people, and it is a short walk from the Engles
vacation home on the island.
|Princeton Seminarys Miller Chapel will be the third
beneficiary of Joe Engles passion for the organ. He has made a generous gift for the
tracker organ that organ builder Paul Fritts of Tacoma, Washington, is constructing for
the renovated chapel chancel.
Joe and Elizabeth Engle
The tracker organ, chosen by the chapel renovation committee and by C. F. Seabrook
Director of Music Martin Tel, is a mechanical-action, rather than an electrical-action,
instrument. Everything is connected mechanically in a tracker organ, Engle
explains, so you hear a cleaner sound. He is thrilled with the selection of
Fritts to build the Miller organ. Although he doesnt know Fritts personally, Engle
calls him one of the top organ builders in the nation. Joe is an organ
groupie, laughs Elizabeth.
Elizabeth and Joe do not support the churchs preaching and music ministry from a
distance. In the 1980s, they were members of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in
Manhattan, where Elizabeth was an elder. Today they worship at Fifth Avenue, in part
because they can walk to church. Its our neighborhood church, says Joe.
Fifth Avenues ministry gives them hope at a time when they know that many
churches are struggling. On Easter there were lines of people around the block
waiting to get into the sanctuary, Engle says. There were more than 3,400
people in church that day; they were literally standing in the aisles.
He also applauds that congregations center of adult Christian education, a dream
of its pastor, Tom Tewell (Class of 1973). It brings hundreds of people to the church on
weeknights to study theology and the Bible.
Joe Engles enthusiasm for the ministry of the Reformed family of the church of
Jesus Christ is more contagious because it is not naive. I know there is a lot of
tension in the Presbyterian Church today, a lot of fights, he says. But we
should remember that these troubles are not unique to our time in history. Consider the
fact that all the pipe organs in Scotland were destroyed after the Reformation, and it was
only in 1807 that the first organ in Scotland was reinstalled in St. Andrews
Church, Glasgow. The outcry was so great against it that it remained only a few months
before the presbytery ruled the use of organs in public worship of God contrary to the law
of the land and of the church.
It was not until 1878 that an organ was built in St. Giles, the first organ
successfully installed in post-Reformation Scotland.
Joe Engle plans to be on hand when the new organ is installed and dedicated in Miller
Chapel in the fall of 2000. Though he had never visited the Seminary campus before 1992
and has never heard a sermon preached in Miller Chapel, he looks forward to hearing the
Word of God preached there and honored by the new organs rich chords.
To listen to the sounds of a great tracker organ and have it followed by a fine
sermon is, for me, the most wonderful experience in the world.