Cathedral of the Incarnation, Baltimore

by Mary Klein, Diocesan Archivist

A Christmas message from Presiding Bishop Henry Knox Sherrill appeared in the December 1956 Maryland Churchman. “Of recent years national and international crises have brought great and unaccustomed strains. . .God seems far removed from daily life and work. Then comes Christmas, …and God in Christ is in the processes of history, yes, and in all the ordinary experiences of life, reconciling the world, and therefore us, to Himself. The realization of this fact is the true joy of Christmastide.” Surely, we can relate to the “national and international crises” spoken of by the Presiding Bishop, although the 2020 crises involved world-wide pandemic, political upheaval, and suspension of everyday life. But, whatever the circumstances, the message of Christmas stays the same.

 In 1921 and 1922, The Maryland Churchman’s December issues carried appeals from the Family Welfare Association, stating, “people must face hunger, separation and despair unless kind friends will come forward to prevent it. These people are all members of the Episcopal Church and are all known to the Family Welfare Association which appeals to the church people to bring help and Christmas cheer into homes where there is want and suffering.”

Presiding Bishop Henry Knox Sherrill’s Christmas message, December, 1956
Click on the image to view the cover of The Maryland Churchman, December, 1956

The Right Rev. John Gardner Murray, Bishop of Maryland and Presiding Bishop, sent Christmas greetings via The Maryland Churchman in 1926 and 1927, and his successor, Edward T. Helfenstein’s message appeared on the front page of 1934’s December issue. Mired in the throes of the Great Depression, Bishop Helfenstein’s Christmas message spoke of the gift of love. “Out of the travail of this time of darkness, in the sorrow of our daily lives, that Peace which the world can neither give or take away will come to all who in childlike faith and heaven-sent light accept this most wondrous gift.” That same year, Miss Evelyn Parsons, the bishop’s secretary, was personally leading a tour, advertised as “Christmas in the Land of an Indian Princess”. In association with the Merchants & Miners Line, a steamship company organized in Baltimore in 1852, a traveler could, for $75 spend nine days in Daytona Beach and St. Augustine, Florida, including a  visit to the Bok Tower in Lake Wales, boasting a 205 foot-tall tower housing a “singing carillon” of bells. The advantages of heading south in the winter to visit the “happy hunting ground of the Red Man”, were advertised by promising “the health-giving rays of a summer sun, the whole year round.”

Bishop Murray’s Christmas message, The Maryland Churchman, December, 1927

Bishop Helfenstein’s Christmas message, The Maryland Churchman, December, 1934

The Maryland Churchman, December, 1950
Click image to view Bishop Powell’s Christmas message, December, 1950

The human condition seems to be consistent, whatever the era or crisis of the day. Bishop Noble Powell, in his 1950 Christmas message said, “Never has man needed a Saviour more than today. Man has demonstrated that he cannot save himself. God comes in Jesus Christ to save men from their fears…He comes to save us from the emptiness of living by disclosing to us the richness and fullness of the life that is lived in accordance with the will of God. He cones to save us from our hates with corrode and ruin our lives and relationships by showing what the love that God has already put in our hearts can do if we use it day by day.”

And so, as Bishop Murray wished to all in 1926, “May the Grace and Truth that came by Jesus Christ be yours this Christmas Day.” 

Bishop Murray’s Christmas message, The Maryland Churchman, December, 1926