Monday, June 21, 2010

The Louisville Presbytery and its Bookstore and Libraries

Books and the PC(USA) Headquarters

One might say that the Calvinistic tradition is known for its books, considering its founding theological dignitary's most famous volumes, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, are massive books in size and content. Yet such can be said of other so-called Reformers, like Luther, whose own output fills any library reference collection or pastor's office wall. During my trip to Louisville last week, I managed to find the headquarters of the PC(USA). It was a fine old structure, re-designed and built not long ago from the shells of two old downtown Louisville factories. If I recall correctly from my tour around the complex, the factories were owned by someone on the board of trustees or an executive council, and were sold to the Prebyterian Church (USA) for $1.

The first image above is from the bookshop located on the first floor and associated with Westminster John Knox (WJK) Press, the main publishing house of the denomination. The bookshop, which holds mostly (or only?) imprints of the publisher, opens at 9AM usually. I had gotten there just a bit early...maybe around 8:20AM, and someone was already available to give personal tours of the buildings. The very friendly woman behind the entry desk guided me in the right direction and to the tour leader, who worked on the upper floors. And both were gracious hosts. I was guided through the many floors of the headquarters, the top floor being the 6th if I remember correctly. On one of the higher floors, we found the library and an exhibit of the Presbyterian Historical Society, which is not located in Louisville, but in the Philadelphia area. If anyone is interested, here is their website:

The library of the PC(USA) headquarters, though not impressive, was cute, snug, and tucked away for the quiet researcher. Morning sunbeams threw themselves into the L-shaped chamber, filled mostly with proceedings of meetings and other run-of-the-mill Reformed tradition tomes. At first glance, the library appeared to be a simple room, as we can see in this picture. And it was a simple room with a few inlaid shelves. But it also had a side-arm hallway, which ended with a built-in desk with some "library-ish" amenities. The walls in the hallway had built-in shelves as well. It was a nice use of space, which might have otherwise been wasted on, say, a broom closet. (Not that broom closets aren't important too!) But from the image below, you can see how the space was configured to accommodate the "expanded" library space.

Now this "main library" was more of a reading room and research space. The most pleasant surprise was how each department of the PC(USA) headquarters had its own distinct library collection, depending on what their brand of outreach or advocacy was, for example. In one division, we see the "Women's Advocacy Library" below, which was an outstanding and extensive collection.

One of the most beautiful portions of the PC(USA) headquarters may be found in the chapel, located on one of the upper floors. It has a fine view of the Ohio River outside its main window. Below, a design of cut colored glass, each of which rotates, allows for light to be reflected on the ceiling.

Below, we see the finely carved doors of the sanctuary, hand-crafted somewhere in the west or Midwest, according to the guide. Notice the image of the book carved in the door.

Above is the atrium, the space between the two former factories, converted into the headquarters. Below is a display case from the bookstore.

Finally, we have the entryway, complete with winged Louisville horse. Many of these horses could be spotted around the city. This one was exceptionally colorful. One other item of interest may be seen under the wing to the left. As I entered the PC(USA) headquarters, a Korean man, whom I think was a minister, was protesting. I approached him and looked at his sign. Then he handed me a 5 page protest letter, signed "Rev. Kyung Suh Kim and Korean Hope Christian Church...Irvine, CA." The protest letter, which I read later, is a bit hard to understand, but basically claims that the Korean Hope Christian Church, founded in 1971 as an immigrant church had been suffering some financial and congregational set-backs, which finally resulted in the PC(USA) confiscating their church's property. Apparently, the Korean Church had various relations with the PC(USA) over the years, which were meant to bolster the church and its credibility as a denominational entity; and part of this included land that the PC(USA) gave to the Korean Church. But a stipulation was made in the by-laws of this gift that the PC(USA) could retract its gift under certain conditions. When I asked the tour guide about it, she mentioned that the Korean Church was situated on land owned by the PC(USA). Whatever the story, it is still unclear. The PC(USA) has had an extensive history with Korean and Korean-American Churches, but also complex relationships. McCormick Seminary in Chicago, for example, a PC(USA)-in-name institution, used to have a Korean faculty member, but this professor is no longer a member of the faculty. There is still a significant Korean student population, which contributes tremendously to the building of the seminary community, yet a community in need of Korean-oriented leadership. Despite the complexities found in this denomination, it still appears to be forging ahead and surviving in very positive ways. It was good to finally get a chance and visit the HQs, since many of my Presbyterian colleagues speak of Louisville as the Mecca of the church. Well, maybe not that strongly. Perhaps a little more intercultural discussion and repair might lead to a consideration for the future...and make Louisville the "Soeul of the Church." We'll wait and see.

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