Geneva Hall

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Today’s post is by our guest author, the Rev. Philip H. Pockras, who serves as the minister of the Belle Center, Ohio, RPCNA congregation, and he has served there since 1985.  He lives about three miles from Northwood, OH and is currently the Moderator of the Synod of the RPCNA.  In addition, Phil serves as the Secretary of the Board of Corporators of Geneva College.  While his wife, Judy, and his sons, Nathaniel and Isaac, are all alumni of Geneva, Phil is a 1976 alumnus of the wonderful Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio, where he graduated with a BA in History.

Forerunner of Geneva College

genevaHall_Original_buildingWay at the top of the Great Miami River, Covenanters came to settle in the 1820s.  They came mostly from eastern Ohio and upstate New York, unlike Covenanters farther down state.  Those who’d earlier come up from South Carolina and Tennessee founded RPCNA congregations in Cincinnati, Xenia, Cedarville, and the Beechwoods near Oxford.  The newcomers were in a clearing in the woods far to the north of these places.  That’s how the settlement came to be called Northwood, Ohio, in Logan County.

They were farther away from schools back east.  In 1836, the first minister, John Black Johnston, was involved in discussion around a stove in the store in nearby Richland.  Presiding over the discussion was his brother, J. S. Johnston, the storekeeper.  The topic was the need for a school, particularly for the RP young men in the area.  There were other places for schooling in Ohio, particularly the wonderful Miami University down in Oxford, but Old School Presbyterians and Associate Reformed Presbyterians dominated.  They were good men, and a couple of them had RP pasts, but they weren’t Covenanters now!

genevaHall_Second_College_buildingJ. B. Johnston took the ball, so to speak, and ran with it. He put the idea for a “grammar school” before the Lakes Presbytery of the RPCNA in late 1847. He got their approval, and on April 20th of that year the school started up in Northwood with the name “Geneva Hall”.  Rev. Johnston had a brick building constructed, and Geneva Hall moved into the two-story, five-roomed building.  Geneva printed advertising and distributed it to papers, including those of the RP Church.  Students came, in increasing number, from nearby and from farther away.  It helped that a railroad came to the village of Belle Center, only three miles away, at around the same time Geneva Hall was opened.

The story from there on was a fairly familiar one.  There were ups and downs of enrollment and frequent changes in the faculty corps, who were mostly young ministers or young men anticipating the ministry eventually.  The RP Theological Seminary was held in the building 1849-1851.  A new girls’ school, the Geneva Female Seminary, began down the street.  Geneva Hall expanded their building to a third story and added more rooms to accommodate growth.  Several reorganizations occurred and, finally, Rev. Johnston decided he could not carry the load further.  He offered the school to the Synod of the RPCNA in 1857, and Synod accepted it, but without funding it.  Rev. Johnston left the RPC in 1858 to join the new United Presbyterian Church of North America, and Geneva Hall closed by 1861.

genevaHall_Female_Seminary_buildingIn 1865, several locals reorganized the school, hiring J. B. Johnston’s youngest brother, the Rev. Nathan Robinson Johnston, to run it.  His right-hand man, the Rev. J. L. McCartney (father of Dr. Clarence Macartney), succeeded in having freedmen come from the South for an education.  By 1872, the Hall, newly renamed “Geneva College”, was finally thriving under new President Rev. H. H. George.  It grew in size and influence there in Northwood until it moved, in 1880, to Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, where it still is and still seeks to be “Pro Christo et Patria”, “For Christ and Country”.

The building is gone.  The area long used it as a community center but demolished it in 1941.  A memorial stone with a bronze plaque marks where it stood on Ohio 638, between Bellefontaine and Belle Center.  One can read of Geneva’s early days in W. M. Glasgow’s The Geneva Book, available digitally, or in Dr. David Carson’s Pro Christo et Patria: A History of Geneva College.

Words to Live By:
Geneva Hall/Geneva College’s longtime motto is Pro Christo et Patria, “For Christ and Country”.  J. B. Johnston and others founded Geneva to be teaching all things in the light of Christ’s Mediatorial Kingship over all things (Ephesians 1:20-23). That motto still informs Geneva’s mission, even today, as expressed through the College’s document, Foundations of Christian Education. All subjects taught, and all aspects of life, must glorify Him. As such, it forms both a high calling and a solemn responsibility before the Lord.

As the Apostle Paul has written to the Romans, “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36). We, too, must seek to bring all things under Christ’s feet, including our dear nation. True patriotism involves working for our nation, our people, our culture to be in submission to Prince Messiah. What a goal to work for! Though our own beginnings may be small and in a little obscure clearing in a big woods, Christ knows them, honors them, and glorifies Himself through them. He shall put all things under His feet (1 Corinthians 15:25, Ephesians 1.22), so our efforts are by no means in vain.

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Putting a School on Its Feet

In that same sad year of 1833 when the Reformed Presbyterian Church suffered a division into Old Light and New Light denominations, a future blessing for the RP’s also came that year with the birth of Henry Hosick George. Henry was born on February 20, 1833 to parents Henry and Maria (Dolman) George, in Cumberland, Ohio. The family moved to Locust Grove, Ohio in 1839 and it was there where he received his early education, later graduating from Geneva Hall in 1853.

Geneva Hall had been organized just a few years before, in 1848, and was located in Northwood, Logan county, Ohio. [not to be confused with the other Northwood, OH, in Wood county, about eighty miles north]. Thus Henry was one of its early graduates, and much of the rest of his life was lived in close connection with the school.  Upon graduation from college he became a tutor at the school, and in 1856 was made Professor of Greek. Studying theology at the Northwood and Allegheny Seminaries, he prepared for the ministry and was licensed by the Lakes Presbytery of the RPCNA in June of 1857, being later ordained by the same Presbytery and installed as pastor of congregations in Cedarville and Cincinnati.

His tenure as pastor of these congregations was short-lived, first resigning from the pulpit of the Cedarville congregation in 1866 and then from the Cincinnati congregation in 1872, at which time he accepted the call to serve as the President of Geneva Hall in Northwood. He had served as the Moderator of the RP Synod in 1871, an indication in itself of his rising prominence within the denomination and perhaps a precursor to his election to serve as president. One significant change instituted at the school upon his taking the presidency was a name change for the institution, from Geneva Hall to Geneva College. On a personal note, two years later, the Ohio Central College awarded Rev. George the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity. In 1878, Rev. George also became the pastor of the RP congregation in the nearby village of Rushsylvania, though again he was only pastor for a short term, resigning the pulpit after two years.

In 1879, under Dr. George’s leadership, the trustees began to explore the possibility of relocating the school. Four locations were under consideration, and finally Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania was chosen, largely because of a promise of 10 acres of land from the Harmony Society, a utopian pietist group. There was also an accompanying promise which had been secured from the township of Beaver Falls, a commitment of $20,000 for a building. And so construction began on “Old Main,” the original and still the central building on the Geneva College campus, with work on that building completed in 1881, despite slowdowns caused by the bankruptcy of two construction companies. Meanwhile, the school had already relocated to Beaver Falls in 1880, taking up temporary quarters in the interim.

In the early days of some institutions, there is often an unusual spirit of camaraderie and a willingness to do whatever must be done. Historian David Carson commented that in the early days of Geneva College, in the 1880’s, “The faculty did everything from collecting student tuition to planting trees on the campus…The president, in addition to his teaching, administrative duties and fund raising, was in charge of the building and grounds.”

In William Glasgow’s history of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, he appropriately commends President George as the one responsible for much of the prosperity of the College in the closing decades of the nineteenth century. Dr. George continued as President until 1890, surrendering that post to work for a time with the American Sabbath Union. Then in 1894, Dr. George was installed as the pastor of the East End Reformed Presbyterian church in Pittsburgh. Little more than a year later, he became field secretary for the National Reform Association, and he held this position until the time of his death some nineteen years later, on March 25, 1914.

[The National Reform Association is noteworthy in American history for its long-standing efforts since 1864 to amend the U.S. Constitution to include specific reference to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.]

Words to Live By:
I could easily put together a long list of names of those whom the Lord has used to almost single-handedly advance various works and ministries, often working against great obstacles. There would be Max Belz and the Cono Christian School, or Franklin Dyrness and the Quarryville Retirement Community, or Robert G. Rayburn and Covenant College and Seminary. The Lord raised up Henry H. George and used him to position Geneva College for future service to the Church. As John Knox said, “One man with God is always in the majority.” What is the Lord leading you to do? How will you serve in His kingdom?

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

Glorifying God by Education

Quiz time! What Christian college today came about as the result of the sharing of ideas in a general store by Scots-Irish bargain hunters? Or what sports team logo came from a tornado which swept the campus in the early part of the twentieth century? If you answered  Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, give yourself a hand.

The year was 1836. The place was Northwood, Ohio.  James Stewart Johnston was the keeper of a general store in that small town which did business with many Scots-Irish customers. Besides shopping, it was also the place to share ideas, one of which was the starting of an educational institution for the second generation. And the one who seemed best to do it was the Rev. James Black Johnston, the pastor of the Miami (of Ohio) Reformed Presbyterian church, and brother to James Steward Johnston. So on April 20,  1848, Rev. Johnston began to teach Latin to a group of seven male students. He called it Geneva Hall, so named after the city of John Calvin in Switzerland. The class became so popular at Geneva Hall that women were added to the mix shortly. Pastor Johnston had to move the location to a log house in the village of Northwood, Ohio.

Before long, the Civil War between 1861 – 1865 caused the school to close, at least briefly. But after that national struggle, some say that the school opened as a Freedman institution, in which freed blacks began to study. The very fact that the Underground Railroad operated nearby makes that story a possible reality. Soon white students were included in the mix of education.

Seeing the need to be closer to an urban center caused the school to move to Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania in 1880, close to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The land was given by a German society in that area. The school’s sport teams were known, understandably as the Covenanters. The first basketball game in the country was held by Geneva College  and  New Brighton YMCA in 1893. It wasn’t until early in the new century that the school’s sport team names was changed to the Golden Tornado after a literal tornado swept through the campus buildings, taking the golden dome of the oldest building off with it.

What is more important than these traditional facts which every college had to one degree or another, is that this college is a Christian college, both in name as well as in reality. All of the faculty must profess that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior. All of the professors and lecturers of the Department of Biblical Studies must adhere to the Westminster Confession of Faith. This is the only college of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America.  Its purpose succinctly is “to glorify God by educating and ministering to a diverse community of students for the purpose of developing servant leaders, transforming society for the kingdom of Christ.”

Words to Live By:   Their stated aim in education should be the stated aim of all Christians, that is, of seeking by their words and works to transform society for the kingdom of Christ. In what way will you be accomplishing that this week? Month? Year?

Through the Scriptures: Psalm 28 – 30

Through the Standards: Justification, according to the confession of faith

WCF 11:1
“Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.”

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