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New Horizons

Goings On at 7401

Roger Schmurr

(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 is running a yearlong series of historical remembrances.)

Originally the denominational committees on Foreign Missions, Home Missions, and Christian Education rented office space in downtown Philadelphia. But in 1960 they purchased a three-story, stone mansion at 7401 Old York Road in Melrose Park, Pennsylvania, just north of Philadelphia. It became known affectionately simply as "7401" (pronounced "seventy-four oh one").

The committee staffs worked at 7401, as did the employees of Great Commission Publications, and committee members also assembled there from across the country for their periodic meetings. Women from local OP congregations used the small kitchen and even smaller dining room to serve delicious meals to the hard-working committee members. Once a member from Montana brought in a large amount of elk meat from a recent hunt. The aroma of that meat slowly cooking filled much of the building that day, making it difficult to concentrate on our work.

We staff persons were privileged to meet many home and foreign missionaries as they reported to these meetings. That personalized our prayer meetings before work on Tuesdays. Although much of the staff work of the committees was done separately, employees had lunch together on the third floor. There we solved every imaginable theological, ecclesiastical, interpersonal, political, and financial problem ever faced by a human being.

At 3 p.m., John Tolsma, Great Commission Publications' art director, would grab a pen and beat on the metal lamp shade over his drawing board on the third floor to summon anyone within hearing distance to a ten-minute break in the art department. This was especially gratifying at Christmastime, when the art department received variously flavored popcorn gifts from contract artists. John recapped the popcorn can in timely fashion to ensure that some of its contents would survive for another day.

I quickly learned that work at 7401 was challenging, but also enjoyable. Dorothy Cilley was always willing to take a look at some editing problem that I faced and to suggest a way to make my manuscript more intelligible. When Lewis Ruff became general secretary for Home Missions, he had Tolsma design a bulletin insert with Lewis's picture and the word changes prominently displayed. Unbeknownst to Lewis, John covertly produced a temporary, alternative insert with a picture of a baby climbing out of his diapers.

General secretaries and Allen Curry (for GCP) often traveled away from 7401, returning later with interesting reports on various OP ministries. At some point, Allen began using his travels to broaden my perspective on work with New Horizons. I started to receive handwritten notes and cards from a Martha, who supposedly was an avid reader of the magazine and really appreciated the occasional cartoon. The mailings were postmarked in different cities because Martha visited relatives. I learned all about her life—even the death of her husband, Otto. But when I left the work of the Committee, staff members presented me with Martha's final card, which subtly suggested that she was the product of John Tolsma's imagination and that her communications were mailed by Curry on his various travels (I hope I have the prank figured out correctly). It was good to have such supportive colleagues.

So impressed with 7401 was a doctor two buildings away, that in 1990 he walked in the front door and offered $500,000 for our building. The purchase price in 1960 was $49,000 (plus $16,000 for renovations), so we agreed to sell. Time spent at 7401 was well spent.

The author was general secretary for the Committee on Christian Education 1979-88 and GCP's Coordinator of Production 1988-92. Reprinted from New Horizons, Sept. 2010.

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