Arthur S. Armour, 1908–1998
(Editor's Note: The Orthodox Presbyterian Church will be celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary in June of 2011. In anticipation of that milestone, New Horizons will be running a yearlong series of historical remembrances.)
Art Armour is remembered by many as one of the early fathers of the OPC (known as the Presbyterian Church of America from its founding on June 11, 1936, until 1939). Art was an elder at Westminster Presbyterian Church of Grove City, in western Pennsylvania, when it affiliated with the new denomination on October 20, 1936. When the Christian liberty controversy divided Westminster in 1937, he went to Faith PCA/OPC (which became Calvary OPC in 1966) in Harrisville, where he served on the session, while his father stayed with Westminster as it joined the Bible Presbyterian Church. This church changed its name to Covenant and later a portion of the congregation split off to become Wayside Church. When Wayside came into the OPC in 1949, Art had the unusual experience of serving on a committee of Presbytery to examine (and approve) his own father, T. F. Armour, for service as an elder. Covenant became independent and then joined the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, before reuniting with Wayside in 1965 and becoming Covenant OPC in 1966. So all the pieces of the original Westminster Church ended up in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
They say a man can be known by his friends. Art's closest friends were all ministersBob Atwell, John Clelland (whose wife was Art's sister Winifred), Cal Cummings, and Roy Oliver. Art and these men were trustees of Westminster Seminary; Art served in that capacity for thirty years. He was also a close associate of Ed Clowney, a professor there who became Westminster's first president. Armour, Clelland, Atwell, and Oliver were active in the early history of Covenant OPC.
But the most important measure of a man is his character. Arthur Armour was, above all else, a very kind, gracious, giving, wise, and peaceful man, who loved his Lord with all his heart and put his faith into action with a life of service and praise.
My knowledge of Art goes back to a Wednesday evening in 1957. I had been converted to Christ in April 1956 and discharged from the SeaBees in August 1957. My new employer sent me to Grove City, where I discovered Faith OPC just down the road in Harrisville. When I walked in the door of that tiny clapboard one-room church on a back alley, I discovered a handful of devout men praying: Rev. Cromwell Roskamp, Bill Kiester, Art Armour, his son Dave, and a few others.
That evening, Art did what Art frequently did: he met a young man new to the faith and invited him into his home. His wonderful wife, Marian, opened her arms of hospitality as Art sat me down in front of his living room fireplace, where he began to discuss with me the things of Christ. That evening began a period of about two years during which he would invite me to his home on Wednesday evenings and Lord's Day afternoons and evenings and mentor me in the doctrines of our Lord.
Often we would go to his cabin near Clintonville. He had purchased thirty-five acres of a beautiful hemlock valley with a rushing mountain stream and a waterfall. Bob Atwell's brother Grant, and his father, Ed, built a road into the site. Art then designed and had built by hand a stone- and glass-walled cabin, reminiscent of the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, using only stone and timber found on the site. Water came from a spring on the far side of the creek which one reached, if sufficiently courageous, by crossing a narrow, wildly swinging, steel-cable-supported bridge. The only fuel accepted for cooking and lighting came from a local gas well. Heat was produced by two beautiful stone fireplaces burning local kennel coal. Even the outhouse was a work of art. Those who have been privileged to enjoy the view from that throne will understand what I mean.
Many old-timers will remember Art for his many influences within the OPC. Art was an architectural graduate of Carnegie Tech. He was above all an artist and then a craftsman and a businessman. His skills as an architect could be seen in the cabin that he used so well to the glory of God, as he invited men and women from all over the OPC to share and enjoy Christian fellowship there.
Art made his living producing handcrafted aluminum giftware, which he designed and made in his own shop. The artistic pattern for each piece was chiseled by Art in reverse image into a steel plate. He, and later his numerous employees as the company grew, then hammered aluminum sheets into the pattern and fashioned and finished them into beautiful plates, bowls, and all kinds of containers. Armour giftware could be found in many an early Orthodox Presbyterian home. Many pieces are still available through eBay, because they are highly cherished by collectors.
Many churches in the Presbytery of Ohio had, and at least four still do have, a communion set handcrafted by Arthur Armour Aluminum. His son Tom maintains his shop as a museum in honor of his dad to this day, and has made a few extra trays for growing churches that have needed them.
And then there were the flannel-graphs. Designed by Ed Clowney and manufactured by Art and his workers, in a joint venture called Visuals, they found their way into Sunday schools across the land. Clowney wrote an instructional book to go with each flannel-graph kit. One that was very popular was "The Christian Soldier." Art posed as the soldier while Ed drew his portrait, and then Art put it all together in a kit with various pieces of armor for the Sunday school students to hang on Armour, the Christian soldier. Many of our young folks back in those days learned the historical truths of our faith through the work of Art and Ed. It was something Art loved to doan expression of his love of young folks and of the Lord. Everything Art did he did for the glory of God and he did it well.
There are many things in which we see the measure of a man. My experiences with Art were not unique. Art simply loved young people, and more than a few received similar personal guidance from him over the years. He performed a special service to the Lord by ministering to students at Grove City College.
But I may have had one experience that few could match. One day as we sat in front of his fireplace, I asked him a question. I had noted that as we spoke of the things of God, he often sat with his head down and his eyes closed. I finally got up the courage to ask him the reason for this unusual behavior. His answer was simple and to the point: "My sin!"
The author, an ordained ruling elder, is a member of Emmanuel OPC in Wilmington, Del. He consulted with Dave and Tom Armour in writing this piece. Reprinted from New Horizons, May 2010.