Fred Webber – General Presbyter of the Baltimore Area 1960-1971

Fred Webber InstalledOn Wednesday, September 28, 1960, the Rev. Fred M. Webber was installed as General Presbyter of the Presbytery of Baltimore. He remained in this position until his “retirement” in 1971. The installation took place at Faith Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland.

I’ve been digging around to learn more about my great uncle Fred and his involvement in the civil rights and ecumenical movements during the 1960s. To provide some background I’m considering these questions:

What did this move and new job mean for Fred Webber and his family?
What does a General Presbyter do?
What prepared him for this position?

Although I can’t really know what this new job and move meant to the Fred Webber family, I can imagine that Fred viewed it as a great opportunity. His wife, Carol, had been through several moves and job changes by this time – all part of the life of a minister. Three of Fred’s and Carol’s children were grown and on their own, so they were unaffected by the move from Hamburg, New York, to Baltimore, Maryland. However their youngest daughter, a Junior in high school, was “very angry (very, very, very angry)” with her father for moving before she finished high school and she did not make the move with her parents. Instead, Bea lived with the school librarian and her husband (members of Hamburg Presbyterian Church where Fred had been the minister), until the end of 11th grade. Happily, Bea reports that “the minister and his wife at the Catonsville Presbyterian Church (in Maryland), where Mother joined, had a daughter my age and she very graciously welcomed me that summer before our senior year. She met me on the way to school the first day and walked with me. After that, I found my own way and had a fabulous year, so I forgave my father.”

What does a General Presbyter do?

In my search for a job description, I found this one by The Rev. Dr. Kevin Yoho, General Presbyter of the Newark Presbytery: “As General Presbyter, I support and direct the work of the staff, provide guidance to the Mission Council, committees, and teams of the presbytery, represent and link the presbytery to educational, civic, and private institutions. I also serve as a pastor to the pastors and am available to offer confidential support, coach, and pray with our pastoral leaders. 

Many conversations emerge with opportunities for partnering with congregations seeking and changing pastoral leadership; supporting congregational leaders feeling the pain of transitions, stress, and conflict that comes from growth and transformation; encouraging congregations in their discernment and pursuit of their missional identity; offering leadership in the Synod and national Presbyterian Church, and fostering denominational, ecumenical, and interfaith relationships….

Building trust, celebrating growth, fostering discernment through appreciative inquiry, inviting collaboration, clarifying ministry, assessing wellness and effectiveness, offering guidance, leading presbytery staff; these are the kinds of activities that I hope add value to the entire presbytery as it helps every pastor and session fulfill their unique mission in the world.”

That last paragraph fits my imaginings of how Fred envisioned his role as General Presbyter.

What prepared Fred for his new job as General Presbyter and his involvement in the civil rights and ecumenical movements?

A rather stern looking family. Fred Webber 2nd from left

Fred Webber 2nd from left

Fred M. Webber was born to Dorinda Strange and M. D. Webber in 1906, the fifth of nine children. He was a younger brother of my grandmother Abbie. His father, M. D. Webber, served as a pastor in several small churches, although he eventually gave up the ministry in order to support his large family. Nevertheless, the practice of their Christian faith was a given in Fred’s family of origin.

Debate Champions

Debate Champions – Fred 2nd from left

Fred was an avid reader and enjoyed debate. He was named “Best Debater in the State of Iowa in 1926.” He graduated from The State University of Iowa in 1930 and later earned a Master of Divinity from Colgate-Rochester Theological Seminary in Rochester, New York. Fred began his ministry as a Baptist pastor in 1932, but was received into the Presbytery of Buffalo-Niagra in 1941 and served several churches in New York.

In a resume written around 1974, Fred summarized a few of his professional duties and accomplishments prior to his position as General Presbyter. It’s a little difficult to read, so I’ve typed in the highlights below.

Webber, Fred Myron 1974 Resume pt. 1

Webber, Fred Myron 1974 Resume pt. 2

* In Bath I followed a Pastor who had left under quite unhappy circumstances, so my first responsibility was a healing ministry, which I feel was rather well accomplished.
* (Weedsport) My major contribution to the life of this congregation was broadening its view of the total mission of the church; from virtually no support of mission outside the congregation, we moved to fairly significant support
* (Youngstown) I found here the same lack of support outside the parish, and brought that support up to a respectable figure. Growth in membership was about 20%, and in attendance about 40%
* (Hamburg) Once again I was confronted with a lack of concern beyond the parish … By the time I left, the church was giving $1.00 to general mission for every $2.00 for local mission. Membership grew from about 150 to over 1,000; a new church was erected.
* Fred was commissioner to the General Assembly in 1947, 1958 and again in 1965.

It does appear that these were valuable experiences that Fred could apply to his job as General Presbyter. In the resume above, he says the following about his work in the presbytery: Presbytery was severely divided when I came, and we made significant strides toward uniting it. 

In addition to the experiences listed above, Fred was known as having a “can do” attitude as exemplified by his favorite saying, “If you can read, you can do anything.”

Among the files sent to me by Fred’s daughter, Bea, is a humorous letter written in 1968 addressing the Presbytery of Baltimore at the 566th Stated Meeting. The letter was submitted by the congregation at Catonsville and speaks of Fred as an impossible man in an impossible job in an impossible place.

November 16, 1968

November 16, 1968

An additional question I have is what influenced Fred’s involvement in the civil rights movement. I haven’t read any of Fred’s sermons, so I don’t know if, when, or how often he preached on the issue of civil rights, but it is obvious from his resume that Fred always pushed his congregations to look (and give) beyond the doors of their church. I asked family members to offer their thoughts regarding what influenced Fred’s commitment to civil rights:

Anyone care to speculate what his early life and family experience played based on what you heard from Fred or what you heard about or experienced yourself in the home of Dorinda and M. D. Webber? Or maybe it was time spent in seminary, as a pastor?

I received the following responses:

* I think his civil rights position came from his Christian principles. I think civil rights became a big issue after he had a congregation.
* Bea found a 1920s prayers for social justice book in all the things she went through last year, so I think his convictions surely came from his full life experiences.
* One of our grandmother’s (Dorinda Strange Webber) brothers was killed by an Indian before she was born. She talked about that fact fairly often, but I never heard one negative word about that particular Indian or about Indians in general. I think that the Webber family was not into racial, ethnic bigotry at all. God made and loved each human being, no matter color, etc. I think that would have had an impact on anyone who lived with them – especially those who grew up with them.

To add a little more context, I did just a smidgen of research on the Rev. Dr. Kenneth G. Neigh, who gave the sermon at Fred Webber’s installation. Mr. Neigh was the general secretary of the Board of National Missions, a position he held from 1959-1972.

In 1996, the New York Times published an obituary for Kenneth Neigh calling him “a national Presbyterian church official who put the church in the forefront of the civil rights movement and broadened its commitment to social causes in the 1960s.” It continues – “For a man who was less than five and a half feet tall and had an uncommonly soft voice, Mr. Neigh wielded a lot of power from his office on Riverside Drive, then the headquarters of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States….. Although he had official power only within his own church, Mr. Neigh’s pioneering approach was credited with influencing similar efforts in other churches, especially after his friend and admirer, Eugene Carson Blake, the Presbyterian Church’s top ecclesiastical official, carried Mr. Neigh’s vision with him when he became head of the National Council of Churches and later of the World Council of Churches.”

So – there we have some background to place Fred Webber in Baltimore in the 1960s. Coming soon – a look at some of Fred Webber’s actions in support of civil rights and ecumenism – and perhaps a look at some of his other contemporaries, including Eugene Carson Blake.

If you would like to read more about Fred M. Webber, click the Fred Myron Webber tag/link at the bottom of this post.

Webber, Fred Myron 1930 College DiplomaWebber, Fred Myron Master of DivinityWebber, Fred Myron 1932 Baptist

 

Our Family Stories: JFK – Memories from the Webber Branch

I asked all of the branches of my family to send me their memories of President Kennedy and of his death. I shared my memories in a previous post. Here are the memories I received from the Webber (my paternal grandmother) side of the family – in the order in which I received them. (I have added photos and video clips.)

Bea Webber Haskins: 
university-of-marylandI was in a large lecture hall, one of those tiered rooms, at the University of Maryland, College Park. I don’t remember what class. All of a sudden, there was a gasp from someone way up high in the back. The professor stopped and asked very sarcastically if he was interrupting someone. A girl’s voice said, very haltingly and seriously, “Oh, my God. The President. The President. He’s been shot.” In the stunned silence that followed, the professor said something like, “How do you know?” or “What are you talking about,” something like that. She held up a transistor radio and said she was sorry, but she had been listening to it during the lecture and this news Zenith_8-transistor_radio.agrwas just announced. The professor, to his credit, realized the student was not fooling around and asked her to bring her radio to the front, where he turned it up as loud as he could so we could all hear it. I don’t know if he dismissed us or if an announcement came over the P.A. system, or what, but eventually we left. Classes were cancelled and it was almost time for the Thanksgiving break. My then boyfriend, later husband, picked me up. He was not a Kennedy fan, but he was as saddened by the assassination as I was.

Photo credit: By ArnoldReinhold (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Tom Kessler:

Tom's parents - Woodrow Wilson Webber and Orville Kessler

Tom’s parents – Woodrow Wilson Webber and Orville Kessler

The election of 1960 when JFK was elected was the first one I remember.  I would have been 6 at that time, and Dad took me with him when he went to vote after work.  I have dim memories of a long voting line and feeling very excited about getting to go along. I was 9 years old and in the 4th grade in November 1963 and can remember learning about President Kennedy being killed from my teacher in school that day after lunch.  I don’t remember much about the discussion except for one boy saying that when he first heard about it he thought it was a bad joke.

riderless horse JFKcapitolNov25'63I had forgotten that the assassination was on a Friday, but that would explain why I have a sense of time sort of standing still and not going back to school until after the funeral which was on the following Monday when school was cancelled.  By that time we had a TV in the house, and I watched all the funeral coverage – including of course the iconic images of the funeral procession with the riderless horse, the flag draped casket and the Kennedy family with JFK, Jr. saluting the casket.

Wilda Morris:

Wilda's "Vava" - Myron D. Webber and Dorinda Webber (my ggrandparents)

Wilda’s “Vava” – Myron D. Webber and Dorinda Webber (my ggrandparents)

I graduated from high school in 1957 and went to American University in Washington DC to study political science. I grew up under the influence of Vava (Grandfather Webber), so of course I joined the Young Democrats (Vava named his youngest daughter Woodrow Wilson Webber; that is pretty strong evidence of his political proclivities).

In the fall of 1960, the Young Democrats succeeded in arranging for John F. Kennedy to speak briefly on campus on October 7, the same day as his second televised debate with Richard Nixon.  I was, of course, in the crowd of excited students listening to and cheering Kennedy. I was also among a small group of American U students who headed up Nebraska Avenue to WRC-TV, the NBC station where the Kennedy-Nixon debate took place. We stood along the

WRC-TV © by James G. Howes, 1962

WRC-TV © by James G. Howes, 1962

street by the driveway into the station and eagerly awaited the arrival of both candidates. Security wasn’t nearly as strict in those days as it is now. I could have reached out and touched Kennedy’s and Nixon’s cars when they arrived (though of course I didn’t). After the candidates went into the station, we returned to campus and watched the debate on the TV in the lounge of a dorm (In those days students did not have TV sets in their dorm rooms.).

The 1960 election was the first presidential election in which I was eligible to vote. After I received my absentee ballot from Johnson County, Iowa, I went with a Republican friend to vote and have our ballots notarized. If my memory is correct, we did that at the Registrar’s Office. We joked about cancelling each other out, though we were voting in different states.

There were evidently not many Iowans vying for tickets to the Kennedy inauguration. At any rate, my Congressman responded favorably to my request for a ticket. I had to pick it up at his office the day before the inauguration. On that day, eight inches of snow fell in D.C., more that DC knows how to handle! A lot of cars were abandoned, and traffic was a mess. It took longer than I expected to get to the Capitol Office Building, but I succeeded in getting my ticket. Standing on a street corner, waiting for a bus that would take me back to campus, I got very cold. I decided it would be better to walk than just stand there. I hiked the bus route, so I could catch the next bus, but it was a long time before one got through.

My roommate had two reserved-seat tickets to the inaugural parade. The temperature had dropped drastically so she decided she did not want to go. A friend (whose name I cannot recall) and I were happy to receive the tickets. My friend did not have a ticket to the inauguration itself, but she stuck close to me. Whenever I had to show my ticket to go through a gate, she just followed me in. No one stopped her. My ticket was for a standing-room section—we had to stand through the whole ceremony, including the new president’s speech. But we were so happy to be there that we didn’t complain. The standing room area was pretty crowded, which helped keep us warm.

After the ceremony, my friend and I walked up Pennsylvania to find our seats. We were quite fortunate, for the seats were in front of the US Treasury Building, just east of the White House. As the parade approached our seats, every act came alive. The bands began to play their best songs. Everything designed for the delight of the new president and his family happened within our view. With our coats buttoned up, our scarves tied tightly, gloved hands in our pockets, and our legs wrapped in blankets, we stayed through the entire parade.

I graduated from American University in 1961, but stayed in DC for the summer, working fulltime in the Registrar’s Office. I met Edgar Morris briefly on the last Monday evening of the summer—shortly before we both started graduate school at the University of Illinois. After we were married on August 31, 1963, we moved to College Park, Maryland, because Ed had a job at the National Bureau of Standards. As a result, we were back in the Washington area at the time of the assassination of President Kennedy. I was at home, straightening up the apartment and listening to the radio when I heard the terrible news. I called Ed at work to tell him, but I think he had heard the news there. I remember the radio playing mournful music between updates. The Bureau of Standards closed and Ed came home early. This was the first big shared sorrow of our married life.

caisson_bearing_the_flag-draped_casket_of_President_John_F._Kennedy_leaving_the_White_House..._-_NARA_-_200455Ed and I went to DC to watch the procession that transferred the President’s body from the White House to the Capitol Building. We had the sense that we were witnessing a tragic piece of history as the riderless horse passed by.

Howard and Sue Rees who worked with Baptist students in the DC area knew we were pretty distraught by the president’s death. They also knew we didn’t own a TV, so they invited us to their home to watch the funeral with their family. Had it been just me, I might have gone downtown in hopes of seeing some of the world leaders who came for the funeral. Some of our friends from Calvary Baptist Church did go to the vicinity of Saint Matthew’s Roman Catholic Church, and saw Charles de Gaulle and Haile Selassie, as well as others who attended the service. We only saw them on TV.

I lost some of my naiveté and some of my optimism when Kennedy was assassinated. Before the assassination, I don’t think I believed things like that still happened—they were part of history but not the present. Would that it were so!

Yvonne Addis:
Yvonne's Grandmother n- Dorinda Webber

Yvonne’s Grandmother Dorinda Webber

On that November 22, I was at my sorority house in Iowa City eating lunch in the dining room downstairs when our house mother came into the doorway and said, “Girls, the president has been shot.”  It is a freeze-frame moment for me.  We all went up to her apartment and huddled around the TV. Another memory I have is that soon after he was killed, I took my Grandmother Webber for a ride in our car.  I remember her weeping and saying, “It’s like losing a member of the family.”
P.S. It’s not too late to share your memories, Webber (or any other branch) family. I’ll just add them on.
And any other readers – please share your memories too!
2013.11W.11I’m linking this to Sepia Saturday as it fits the prompt theme for today.
Please feel free to read my personal memories of JFK here and my memories of the space shuttle Challenger disaster here.
But, my all means, see what others are sharing at Sepia Saturday!

Sepia Saturday – Webber’s Mystery Parade No. 1

Sepia Sat 13 April 2013Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images.

Today’s prompt photo is entitled “Palmer’s Mystery Hike No. 2″. My contribution is a photograph from my grandmother’s (Abbie Webber) photo album. It features people walking in a parade wearing hats – and it is a mystery to me and my cousins.

Webber.Myron David.parade

My great-grandfather, Myron David Webber, is the man who turned to face the photographer and there is an X by his legs. M. D. Webber was a school teacher early in his life and served as a pastor in several churches. He also learned the trade of plastering and earned, or supplemented, his income as a plasterer for many years.

Our best guess is that this picture was taken in Iowa City, Iowa, where M. D. Webber lived from 1926 until his death in 1959. My cousin thinks it looks like it could be on Iowa Avenue near downtown. Google doesn’t provide a street view of Iowa City at this time, so I couldn’t go panning up and down the modern street to see if any buildings look like those in the picture.

Although none of us are aware of Great-grandfather belonging to a union, I’m guessing that this is the local chapter of a plasterer’s union he belonged to – and maybe this was part of a Labor Day parade.

There is another photograph from the same page of the album that looks like it was taken the same day based on Great-grandfather’s clothing.

Webber.Myron David and Strange.Dorinda Rebecca

The woman in the picture is M. D. Webber’s wife and my great-grandmother, Dorinda Rebecca Strange.

I once posted “Strange in a Strange Uniform“. Here we have “Strange in a Strange Hat”.
Strange.Dorinda Rebecca in funny hat copy

Looks like a homemade hat for whatever the occasion or celebration.

Date? I’m guessing 1930s?

Now join the parade, hit the trails, or take a leisurely stroll to see what others have prepared for Sepia Saturday today.