Laity Lodge, Holy and Healing

Laity Lodge, situated in the Frio River Valley near Leakey, Texas, overlooks a magnificent vista of forested hills and jagged rock. Far from urban chaos, this retreat stands as a haven for those needing to explore pressing questions, absorb the peace of the Spirit, or simply run into God.

Founded in 1961 by Howard Butt, Jr., the lodge welcomes its guests to encounter the sacred in privacy or community. Visitors to the canyon sing, walk, converse, eat and pray. Trusting every guest to engage all available resources, each retreat is opened with these words: “We have an agenda, but we don’t have an agenda for you.”

Frederick Buechner, author of Godric and The Sacred Journey, was a frequent speaker at Laity Lodge, where his recorded lectures have been transcribed and published as The Remarkable Ordinary (2017). He recalled:

On my first visit to Laity Lodge, when I was told not to turn left at the Frio River but in the Frio, I knew I had reached the land of Oz. After my first few days there I knew that, more even than Oz, it was a holy place. The high hills spoke of it. The river spoke of it. The “blue hole” where we swam spoke of it, as did Betty Ann Cody’s a cappella singing of “There Is a Balm in Gilead,” which left my face streaming with tears and which I will remember until the end of my days.  I don’t believe I have ever known a place as full of human kindness and openness and grace as I have found in virtually everyone I met there….I doubt I will ever get there again, but it will always remain part of the best of who I am.

Theologian J.I. Packer, author of Knowing God, said, “Laity Lodge…is one of the Christian world’s best kept secrets. Personal maturity in Christ is what it was and is about, and its ministry goes from strength to strength.”

Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time, spent one month each year for a decade at the Lodge. She began one lecture series declaring, “I am very blessed to have been here for this month in this place which, I believe, is holy and healing.”

Madeleine L’Engle and Luci Shaw at Laity Lodge, 1997.

Eugene Peterson, pastor and translator of The Message, supported Laity Lodge’s efforts to erase the distinction between the “full-time” minister and the layman. He wrote, “…That seed quickly  matured into a lifelong determination to do whatever I can to abolish this expert/layperson division in the Christian community.”

Laity Lodge speakers whose papers are archived at Wheaton College include Frederick Buechner, Madeleine L’Engle and Luci Shaw.

The story of Laity Lodge is chronicled by former director Howard Hovde in A Dream That Came to Life: The History of the Laity Lodge Retreat Center (2007).

The Miracle of Muriel Arney

Muriel Arney of Red Oak, Iowa, was born totally blind in one eye, and partially blind in the other. But with a determined heart, she engaged life with more focus than many who are fully sighted. Writing an autobiographical statement for her Wheaton College application, she remarked, “I broke my arm in third grade while coasting. The pain wasn’t bad, missing school was terrible.” This statement summarizes Muriel’s relentless love of learning. Afflicted with a “spastic” leg ailment in addition to her blindness, Muriel managed to convey a radiant love for people and education. “There is nothing that she will not try or do,” wrote a former grade school teacher, “and she wants no sympathy.”

Walking with a cane, Muriel maneuvered efficiently throughout campus, carrying a tape recorder under her arm for recording lectures and class discussions. Listening intently to the sounds all around her, Muriel recognized fellow students and professors by their voices and footsteps, remembering names, though she hardly knew many of them. While enrolled at Wheaton College, she learned Braille and studied with friends as her vision worsened to total blindness, accompanied by terrible throbbing headaches. Navigating chapel aisles or crowded hallways, she was terrified that someone might jostle her and detonate the excruciating pain.

While attending the winter evangelistic services on February 7, 1957, the guest preacher, Reverend H. Lawrence Love, delivered the closing prayer as Muriel listened with her head bowed. Looking up, she was greeted by a stunning surprise. “There was my roommate,” she said, “plainly visible to me; the pain was entirely gone. How shocked I was! As soon as the service was over, I said to my roommate, ‘I can see!'” Later that night during a prayer meeting in Williston Hall, Muriel saw for the first time the girls who had been assisting her. The next day a medical examination proved 20-20 vision in her left eye. The Psychology Department chronicled the event as a genuine miracle.

Graduating from Wheaton College in 1959, Muriel continued her education at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois, and eventually completed her teacher’s certification. Suffering further operations, she used crutches and braces for support as she commenced her career as a teacher to those with disabilities. Suffering deeply but ready to testify to her savior’s abiding love, Muriel Arney died in Red Oak on December 26, 1968, after an acute five-day illness. Her life verse was II  Samuel 22:33, “His way is perfect and he maketh my way perfect.” Muriel’s mother, Pauline, wrote to Alumni Magazine, “May the testimony of her life for her Lord continue to be an influence and a blessing in the lives of her host of friends.”

Owen Lovejoy Scholarships

Owen Lovejoy (1859)

On November 23, 1859, the minutes of the Board of Trustees of the Illinois Institute, the precursor to Wheaton College, record that the Rev. Jonathan Blanchard opened the meeting in prayer and that seven new members joined the board.  Among these founding Trustees of the soon-to-be-established college was Owen Lovejoy, the younger brother of martyred abolitionist Elijah P. Lovejoy.  Owen was also a sitting U.S. Congressman from Illinois (who later introduced the bill to outlaw slavery in the United States) and an intimate friend of Abraham Lincoln.

Several years later during the annual trustee meeting of June 1864, Rev. Blanchard, now President of Wheaton College, proposed a new scholarship to honor Owen who had passed away the previous March. The Lovejoy Scholarships would support the education of students of color, and in his remarks about the fund, President Blanchard praised the work and character of his dear friend:

“As it has pleased our Heavenly Father during the last year to remove by death the Rev. & Hon. Owen Lovejoy, a member of this Board, we desire hereby to express our loyal and cheerful submission to the ordering of our Sovereign, infinitely wise and good, while we record our affectionate sorrow and our appreciation of the Christian, the philanthropist, the patriot, who has been removed from us in the meridian of his powers of his influence of his success.

As the life long champion of the despised slave he was worthy of our admiration and our affection. But to his principles of sympathy with everything, with everything that tended to abate from the spirit of caste and to promote a healthy public sentiment, he was willing to cast in his name and influence with this Institution, even when political honors, that had begun to rest upon him, might have tempted him to decline such a relation.

We will ever cherish the memory of his virtues, while we believe that the savor of his self-sacrificing life will be preserved as one of the rich legacies of our nation.

Whereas the Trustees of the Lovejoy Monument Association have proposed the endowment of Lovejoy Scholarships for the education of colored persons [sic] in such of our literary and professional Institutions as will receive the recipients of those funds to equal privileges and on the same terms with the white students.

Resolved, that this Board highly approve the proposed plan of perpetuating the memory of that Christian patriot, that true philanthropist Owen Lovejoy and that we proceed to the endowment of a scholarship of 1000 dollars upon the conditions required by the Monument Association and to be called the Lovejoy Scholarship.”

 

Will D. Campbell and Jim Wallis

At a time when racial tensions are high, we can revisit the unique career of a man who was a civil rights activist yet also sought to evangelize white supremacists.

Will D. Campbell, author and activist, occupied a distinct and somewhat lonely category as he preached a transcendent message of peace during an era of sharply divided political ideologies. Ordained in 1941 at age 17 as a Southern Baptist preacher, Campbell briefly served a pastorate in Louisiana before engaging his lifelong public ministry — advocating for Civil Rights. Presenting himself as a backwoods “bootleg” hayseed, wearing cowboy boots and straw hats, he actually possessed a fine intellect, abundant courage and quick wit. Campbell, siding unhesitatingly with the oppressed and disenfranchised, was one of four who boldly escorted African American students, known as the “Little Rock Nine,” into the racially segregated Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Campbell was also the only white man to attend the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1957.

In addition to frequent lecturing at churches and universities, Campbell wrote fiction and non-fiction. His novels include The Glad River (1982) and The Convention (1988). His autobiography, Brother to a Dragonfly, was a finalist for the 1978 National Book Award. Though Campbell vigorously battled inequality, his simple Christian faith elevated him above the violent forces of impassioned rhetoric. For example, he visited James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr., in prison, insisting that the segregationist too is a child of God and a brother. He also ministered to members of the Ku Klux Klan, performing marriages and funerals, visiting them in jail and hospital.

At one prominent event he introduced himself: “My name is Will Campbell. I’m a Baptist preacher. I’m a native of Mississippi. And I’m pro-Klansman because I’m pro-human being.” Not surprisingly, Campbell’s extraordinarily irenic ministry infuriated other civil rights leaders, stirring deep resentment. How could he do such a thing?

“Mr. Jesus died for the bigots as well,” Campbell reasonably responded. “Christ’s death and resurrection is for Eldridge Cleaver [Black Panther leader] and Robert Shelton, the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.”

Campbell later remarked, “I never was able to explain to them that pro-Klansman is not the same as pro-Klan. That the former has to do with a person, the other with an ideology. I tried to stand patiently, even in the face of fear and danger, because I had so recently learned that lesson myself.”

His invaluable perspective on race and equality was not lost on key figures of the burgeoning social gospel movement. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, invited Campbell on August 18, 1980, to write for his magazine:

You speak more sanely and clearly about reconciliation and the gospel than anybody I know. We would be very happy to have an article from you on what reconciliation means now, especially in light of the deteriorating racial and economic situation. Your relationship both to southern blacks and poor whites, and the Klan in particular, is pretty unique, and you might want to write something out of all that. Stories drawn from your travels as a sort of pastoral troubleshooter would well illustrate such an article. If the idea grabs you at all, we’d be interested. You could shape the article in any direction you wanted.

Campbell replied on September 2, 1980:

My feeling here is that I don’t have anything to say that I have not said several times already. The alleged resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan is, I believe, largely a media mind stance. The Klan has never really gone away. I continue to try to point out that a few hundred poor, confused folks marching around a burning cross, or even gunning down folks marching in Greensboro, are not the real racist enemy in the country. And a lot of folks go on seeing me as some kind of apologist for the KKK. I have never said that they are not evil. The point is that we who practice the sophisticated and socially acceptable brand of racism are more evil.

After an active career of prophetic proclamation and courageous action, Campbell died at age 88 in 2013.

Jim Wallis’s brief exchange with Will D. Campbell is maintained in the Sojourners collection (SC-23) of Special Collections, Buswell Library. Sojourners’ mission is to inspire hope and build a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world. You can read more about their racial justice efforts here

Faculty Voice – Plotting and Theming: Why I Became an English Major

Twenty-five years ago, the Wheaton Alumni magazine began a series of articles in which Wheaton faculty told about their thinking, their research, or their favorite books and people. Professor of English Emeritus Wayne Martindale (who taught at Wheaton from 1981-2011) was featured in the Winter 2011 issue.

Almost like a dare, students (and parents) often ask, “What can you do with an English major?” Because Philip Ryken was an English major, my answer could now be, “Serve as the eighth president of Wheaton College!”

Wayne Martindale, c2011

Actually, I do take this question seriously and often relay the vocations of former student teaching assistants. Statistics from the College help round out this list. Then, I get to the answer that has mattered most to me: Literature is about life and helps me understand it.

I didn’t come to an English major easily. My own undergraduate sojourn led through four majors: engineering, Bible, psychology, and English.

Looking back, I see that the hook was first set in my high school senior English class. We had to memorize 40 lines of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. I grumbled with the rest, but secretly, I loved it. For one thing, here in my previously unbookish life, was beauty. It was a beauty laced with the tragic sense that the future might be ugly or hurtful-or worse, count for nothing. “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow / Creeps in this petty pace from day to day / To the last syllable of recorded time.”

Shakespeare’s potent vision made me see that actions had consequences and could invite unnecessary pain; that unwashed guilt is living hell; that evil may and must be confronted.

I had found high seriousness. Choices mattered. Despite Macbeth’s claim that life was “a tale told by an idiot,” all lives had themes. There was a pattern of meaning we readers could see, even when the characters could not. They were all born for something noble, even if they missed it.

From Shakespeare to Dickens and Dostoevsky, there were many books filled with “seeings.” I discovered the truth of T.S. Eliot’s dictum that we come back from imaginative explorations to “where we start…And know the place for the first time.” In the plots of our lives, the sequence of events might seem random and the patterns fraught with apparent trivia- I sleep, I eat, I wash the dishes-over and over. Yet, even amidst the messy clutter of life, our experience is always suggesting some goodness and beauty and meaning beyond “ordinary” living. A literary plot skips the clutter and stages the patterns of life. As Lewis says, successful writers “throw off irrelevancies” and usher us into “whole classes of experience” closed to us before, and thus, “instead of ‘commenting on life,’ can add to it.”

But even plots and poetic images must move through time and space. What we really want is to connect with something that transcends both. That’s where the theme comes in: it is the meaning bigger than the sum of the parts. The author, like an interior designer, has come in and permanently rearranged the furniture of our minds.

It’s an easy step for the Christian reader to see that the teeming plot of human history is everywhere pregnant with the theme of the necessity of salvation and the reality of reconciliation.

The plots of our lives move through time and space, not randomly, but crafted by a Divine Author into a meaning beyond the sequence of events to fit an eternal theme. All stories are God’s story.

 

Billy Graham’s Class of ’43 celebrates 75th reunion

This year marks the the 75th reunion for the class of ’43 which includes it’s most famous alumnus, Billy Graham.  Twenty-five years ago, the famed evangelist gave the commencement address during his 50th reunion weekend.  Below is a transcript of his address to the class of 1993 taken from the Wheaton Alumni Magazine, Autumn 1993.

Today’s Investment, Tomorrow’s Return

Returning alumnus and renowned evangelist, this undergraduate commencement speaker urges graduates to use God-given time wisely.

 by Billy Graham, ’43, Litt.D . ’56

In a few minutes, you’ll walk out the door of Edman Chapel with a diploma in your hand and a life of uncertain length ahead of you. For some, it will be a long life. For others, it will be a surprisingly short life. And if you reach my age, you’ll wonder where the time has gone. It passes so quickly. A student at a university once asked me what was the greatest surprise of my life. I replied, “The brevity of life.”

Time is a nonrenewable resource that moves inevitably toward total depletion, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. Time is our investment capital. Our choice is to use it or lose it, either invest it or let it dribble away like sand through our fingers.

Jesus told the story, in Luke 19, of a nobleman who, before going on a journey, commanded his stewards to invest his money carefully. The Lord expects us to use what he has given us–whether it’s money, time, or talents–in profitable ways. And he promises his personal audit of our lives when he returns.

Time is an equal opportunity employer. Each human being has exactly the same number of hours and minutes every day: 1440 minutes, adding up to 168 hours per week.

In Psalm 90:10, the Bible indicates that our allotted time span on earth may be 70 years, or possibly an extension to 80 years. The psalmist goes on to say, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

Let’s think about the numbers in a typical lifetime. The first 15 years are in childhood and adolescence. We spend a total of 20 years sleeping. So we have only 30 years left, and part of that time must be spent eating meals, building family and social relationships, working at our jobs, and figuring out our income tax.

Rich people cannot buy more hours than the rest of us. Scientists cannot invent new minutes. Each day, we each have 86,400 seconds to invest. Time allows no balances, no overdrafts. If we fail to use each day’s deposit, our loss cannot be recovered. It’s not like putting savings in a bank and getting interest. We cannot hoard time to spend on another day.

Paul tells the Ephesians to redeem the time, because the days are evil. Redeem is a word from the business world, and in this context, it means to buy the time. Redeeming the time means making the most of every opportunity that you have, every minute, every second.

Our natural tendency is to count the days, but God tells us, make every day count.

Time is the capital God has given us to invest wisely. So the question is, “Where do we invest it?” God calls us to invest our time capital, our very lives, primarily in people. Not in projects; not in possessions. God invested his only begotten Son in us, as sinners–not because we were prime prospects to give him a good payoff, but because his heart is overflowing with love for us.

When I was your age, I said to people, “There’s one thing I don’t ever want to be. I don’t want to be an undertaker or a preacher.” And I put them in the same category.

But one night, 55 years ago, I said with tears at the 18th hole of a golf course, “Oh God, I’ll go where you want me to go and be what you want me to be.” I never dreamed what he had planned for the future.

God’s will, first and foremost, for all of us, is that you love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Then God’s will for you is that you live a holy life, to become like his Son in your attitudes and actions, in your thoughts and words. To be and behave like Jesus did, which means delighting in doing His will and serving others.

Jesus said, “I must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is day. The night is coming, when no man can work.” What was the work of Jesus? Simply to do the work of his Father and finish the work that had been assigned to him. He lived and died for others–for his friends and enemies alike. Jesus told his disciples, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Invest in heaven.

What are those treasures or investments? They are people who need to know God. I’ve seen these people all over the world. I’ve seen them in every kind of situation, every kind of culture. I know that what they’re searching for can only be found in a relationship with God.

Time is the capital that God has given us to invest. People are the stocks in which we are to invest our time, whether they’re blue chips or penny stocks, or even junk bonds.

Jesus was willing to take a risk with twelve diverse disciples. And he took a great risk with us. But when we talk of investments, everyone asks, “What return will I get?” A meaningful, fulfilled life that will count for God is the dividend that we receive for putting our trust in Christ and our time into people.

From my more than 50 years of experience, may I say to you young people today, as you face careers and the uncertainties of life, the best of all investments you can make is to help people come to the Giver of eternal life and peace, the Lord Jesus Christ.

You can’t count your days–but with Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, you can make your days count. You can invest whatever time is yours for a high-yield return in the lives of people whom you introduce to Christ. Right now, you can decide to invest your life in such a way that someday, you will hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come and share in your master’s happiness.”

So I would say to you today, don’t just graduate.  Commence.

Gordon H. Clark and His Correspondents

Dr. Gordon H. Clark taught Philosophy at Wheaton College from 1936-43. As a committed five-point Calvinist, Clark’s unswerving Reformed theology ran him afoul of certain members of the administration, including President Dr. V. Raymond Edman and trustee Dr. Harry A. Ironside, pastor of Moody Church in Chicago. Ironside wrote to Clark on July 13, 1942: “…I am thoroughly convinced that hyper-Calvinism is not consistent with a true evangelical attitude. Perhaps I should have used the word ‘evangelistic’ rather than ‘evangelical.'”

Though students like Ruth Bell (Graham) and others appreciated Clark’s precise, reasoned, self-described “cold” classroom presentation, contrasting the “warm” pietism popular at the time, pressure from various quarters resulted in Clark’s resignation. Leaving Wheaton College, Clark secured employment as the Head of the Department of Philosophy at Butler University in Indiana from 1945-73. After that he taught at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, from 1974-84.

Compiled by Douglas J. Douma and edited by Thomas W. Juodatis, Clark and His Correspondents: Selected Letters of Gordon H. Clark (2017) presents an array of Clark’s exchanges with such prominent evangelical and fundamentalist leaders as J. Oliver Buswell, V. Raymond Edman, E.J. Carnell, Cornelius Van Til, Carl F.H. Henry and J. Gresham Machen. The compilation uses many letters scanned from the College Archives of Buswell Library.

The Trinity Foundation in Unicoi, Tennessee, continues to republish Dr. Gordon H. Clark’s many books, tapes and pamphlets.

Senator Mark Hatfield Advocates “Power of Love”

Over four decades ago in February 1974, Senator Mark O. Hatfield spoke on Wheaton’s campus during the height of the Watergate scandal and merely six months prior to the resignation of President Nixon.  Although having visited campus before as governor and later as senator, the Oregon Republican stirred strong feelings from students and administrators alike due to his opposition to America’s involvement in Vietnam, as well as his support for politically liberal students whom some on campus characterized as “anti-war, anti-capitalist, anti-American.”

The following article from the Wheaton Record, 2/15/1974 (vol.96, no.14) contains excerpts from a floor statement given by Senator Hatfield.  The speech was given during a discussion on the Military Procurement Bill, but the underlying issues are particularly relevant even in a predominantly civilian liberal arts college and amazingly trenchant nearly a half-century later.  His death in 2011 was marked by tributes by both Special Collections, Buswell Library and the Billy Graham Center Archives.

U.S. Senator Mark O. Hatfield, c1967

There is no doubt that people feel threatened today, and feel insecure.  But the threats they feel are not those that are supposedly met by our military power.

People feel that their liberty is threatened, but not from any invading foreign army.  Rather, that liberty is seen threatened by our own domestic institutions, and even by our government.

I can think of no more fundamental threat to our security today than the cumulative loss of confidence in our government felt by the people.  The truth is that our citizens are no longer believing that our government and its representatives actually function as their servants.  Government has become an institution of domination, losing the trust of those who are to be governed.

There is nothing more fundamental to our “security” that that.  Yet we continue to believe that the most fundamental threats to that security come somehow from the outside.

We are misled, we are deluded to believe so.

When people’s confidence in their government is lost, when people’s human needs are going unmet, and when the nation’s life-supporting environment is in deterioration, then our nation is utterly insecure and will remain so regardless of how many billions we may spend elsewhere.  The place to start in building a true security is with these internal needs, not with a continued obsession about the readiness to fight any foe any place around the globe.

We must recognize how victimized we are by our whole national psychology about our power.

We believe, first of all that our power is always good, and only used for righteous purposes.  The belief is that if the good guys have the power, then that power is justifiable.  And of course, we inevitably look at ourselves as the good guys in virtually any situation.

Power tends to make individuals, or a nation, self-righteous.  That is an axiom that holds true as much for us as for any other people.

We suppose that our security comes through an inherent belief in our nation’s self-righteousness.  So we create a civil religion that baptizes our established powers of government and creates an idolatry of the Presidency, and forget the truth that power corrupts.

In a very real way, restoring the strength of our people can only begin with a spirit of repentance.  It is only by recognizing our errors, our wrongs, and our false gods that we can come to a proper understanding of ourselves.  That is the beginning of any true security.

In the end, it will not be the power of our military might that will usher in greater reconciliation between the people of the world.  Rather, that will only come from the power of spiritual love.

Such spiritual love must take root first in each one of us — and then extend out to our neighbor, to our communities, through our nation, and to the world — even to our enemies.

That is our only hope for security.

As the words of the prophet say, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.”

P.D. James (almost) at Wheaton College

P.D. James

Great Britain offers an abundance of superb mystery novelists, but after Agatha Christie, the reigning contemporary “Queen of Crime” was undoubtedly P.D. James, who published 22 books, fiction and non-fiction, and several short stories between 1962 and her death in 2014.

A committed Anglican and lay patron of the Prayer Book Society, James’s stories usually feature at least one religious character. In fact, her hero, Adam Dalgliesh, Detective Chief Inspector at Scotland Yard and poet, is the son of a vicar. The dynamics of good vs. evil are typically explored in her books. As such, P.D. James is often compared to another Anglican mystery writer from an earlier generation, Dorothy L. Sayers, whose papers are archived in the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College.

Perhaps some of the material in this 2009 book comprises what James might have taught at Wheaton College.

Sometime in the early 1980s, Barbara Reynolds, president of the Dorothy L. Sayers Society, introduced Dr. Beatrice Batson, Chair of the English Department at Wheaton College, to P.D. James at a soiree in London. Batson and James immediately fell into a comfortable friendship, discussing books and faith.

Eventually Batson, ever seeking opportunities to expose her students to fine literature, boldly asked James if she would like to travel to the States to teach a course on creative writing for one semester at Wheaton College. To Batson’s amazement, James quickly agreed.

However, with Batson’s retirement encroaching in 1985, administrative plans fell apart and P.D. James never visited the campus.

 

 

Clyde S. Kilby and Tennessee Williams

Dr. Clyde S. Kilby, late professor of English and founder of the Marion E. Wade Center on the campus of Wheaton College, is closely associated with seven British authors, particularly C.S. Lewis, Dorothy L. Sayers and J.R.R. Tolkien. In light of those interests, Kilby is not often mentioned in relation to American Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams (1911-1983), author of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Glass Menagerie, Night of the Iguana and many other successful plays, short stories and films.

But there is a connection, however slight. As this Christmas card to a colleague reveals, Clyde and Martha Kilby’s roots sprawled deeply throughout the rich southern soil that also produced one of America’s greatest writers.

Dear Beatrice: Did I tell you “Tennessee Williams,” your compatriot was born in St. Paul’s Rectory? His grandfather was a good friend of my parents! The house has been bought by the state and will become a Welcome Center when moved to a very large vacant lot across the street. A national “shrine” of the state! Come to see me!! Blessings and Christmas greetings, with love, Martha Kilby  

After years of profligate sexual activity and prescription drug abuse, Williams famously sought to “get my goodness back” by joining the Catholic Church in 1969. Evidently, Williams hoped to vivify not only his personal piety, but also his lagging creative and professional career. Instead he found himself more interested in ritual and architecture than doctrine. As a result, his renewed interest in spirituality did not solidify and he descended into a drugged stupor throughout most of the 1970s, only periodically producing new work.

If Tennessee Williams had discovered the writings of Lewis, Sayers, Tolkien and the other authors represented in Clyde Kilby’s Wade Center, perhaps his desire for a lively, enduring goodness might’ve permanently settled his disquietude for the final act of his life.

According to the website for the Tennessee Williams Home and Welcome Center, the rectory in 1993 was in danger of being torn down to accommodate a church expansion. In an effort to preserve this historic literary landmark, the yellow and blue gingerbread home was loaded onto flatbed trailers and moved to Main Street, where it was restored. Three months after the grand opening, Tennessee Williams was honored with a U.S. postage stamp, and a public ceremony was held in the home.

Recently honored with the designation of a National Literary Landmark, the home serves as the official Welcome Center for Columbus.