Henry Highland Garnet Weekend

A Letter to Pittsburgh Presbytery from
Rev. Brian Wallace
Associate Minister for Emerging Ministries &
Acting Head of Staff
Thursday, February 1, 2024

Dear Friends-

I am somewhat of a history buff.  Many of my childhood vacations were spent visiting the many forts and battlefields within driving distance of my childhood home.  These trips included visits to Gettysburg, Yorktown, Ticonderoga, Lexington and Concord, Fort McHenry, and Fort Niagara.  I was fascinated by the history and loved hearing the stories of these places and all that had occurred there.  Had it not been for my love of numbers and relative dislike of writing essays, I might have pursued a history major in college.  There’s something powerful about knowing the story – be it of a nation, a family, or even a single person that helps shape how you view both the past and the future.

Last week, I used this space to talk about our nature (as a Presbytery) as that of being a covenant community.  One aspect of being a covenant community is understanding that our story, the story of our community, doesn’t start or end with us. Instead, we stand in the wake of those who have come before us.  The story of our Presbytery is, well, our story.  Just as our nation has a story, our families have their stories, and we have our own story, our Presbytery has a story.

One part of that story is a person named Henry Highland Garnet.  For some, this is a familiar name, but at least for me, he was a figure I was largely ignorant of until I joined the Presbytery staff.  The story of Henry Highland Garnet is part of the story of Pittsburgh Presbytery, as he served as the first pastor of the Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church.

In honor of his work as a member of our Presbytery, the Executive Committee has designated the third weekend of February as Henry Highland Garnet weekend.  As part of the weekend, the Amos 5:24 Ministry Team and the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Black Presbyterian Caucus are hosting two events at Grace Memorial on Friday and Saturday of that weekend.  There will be dinner and dialogue from 6:00 – 8:30 pm on Friday, February 16, and lunch and discussion from 11:00 am – 2:30 pm on Saturday, February 17. Speakers for the events will include Rev. Gavin Walton (Pastor of Grace Memorial), Rev. Jimmie Hawkins (Director of Advocacy for the PCUSA), and B. Marshall (Founder of Pittsburgh’s Juneteenth Celebration).  More information is available here.

I’m excited to share that over 30 people have signed up to attend the events at Grace Memorial. But I also believe that there is more that we can do, even if you’re not able to attend.

  1. Watch the video Ralph and I put together about the weekend and the legacy of Henry Highland Garnet.
  2. Find out more about Henry Highland Garnet.
  3. Include the following announcement in your bulletin that Sunday:
    • Dr. Henry Highland Garnet Weekend – This weekend, Presbyterian churches throughout Pittsburgh are remembering and honoring the week of the Rev. Dr. Henry Highland Garnet. A noted abolitionist, Garnet was the first African-American to speak inside the US Capitol and came to Pittsburgh in 1873.  While here, he served as the first pastor of the Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church, which still faithfully gathers in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.  The legacy of Dr. Garnet continues to inspire those who work tirelessly in pursuit of racial justice within our churches and our society.
  4. Include mention of Dr. Garnet and his work as part of your Sunday sermon.
  5. If you can attend the events on Friday-Saturday, host an adult education gathering and share what you learned about Henry Highland Garnet.

Among battlefield buffs (like myself), you’ll sometimes hear people talk about the “whispers” you’ll hear when you visit historic places.  While not literal whispers, there is a very real sense of the history that happened in that place that you don’t get just by reading about it.  My hope, and my prayer, is that you’ll find some way to learn from and be inspired by the legacy of one of our people, who was part of our covenant community, the Rev. Dr. Henry Highland Garnet.

In Christ,

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