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by Barbara A. Chaapel

Hanging on the wall just inside the door of Joe and Elizabeth Engle’s New York apartment is a small frame displaying two bits of paper — a bill for 15.80 for dinner at the Handsel Restaurant in Edinburgh, Scotland, and a scrap of paper bearing an Edinburgh address and the words “4:00 o’clock” and “Betty Barr.”

The framed keepsake holds the place of honor among the Engles’ gallery of paintings and mementos because the loves of Joe Engle’s life — his wife, Elizabeth, Reformed preaching, organ music, and Scotland — all came together on an Edinburgh Saturday morning twenty years ago.

Engle was a tourist that day in the land of his ancestors when he walked into St. Giles Cathedral for the first time in his life. “I wanted to see where John Knox had preached in the 1560s and to hear the organ,” he remembers. He approached an elder arranging flowers for an afternoon wedding and asked her where the console was located.

“She didn’t know,” he laughs, “but I asked her to have dinner with me. She turned me down, but invited me to tea, and we had dinner the next night.” Eighteen months and fifteen trips to Scotland later, Engle married Elizabeth Barr.

Joe Engle has always loved the Presbyterian Church. A native Ohioan, he traces his Scottish Presbyterian roots back to 1690, and more recently to the Fairmont Presbyterian Church in Cleveland, where he was ordained an elder. He is proud to be part of a tradition that educates its clergy to preach carefully prepared sermons.

“A good sermon lifts you up to the goodness of life, opens a window to God,” he says. “Wherever there is strong preaching, there is a strong church.”

And Joe Engle knows that it is not just the minister who makes preaching strong. It is also the seminary, and the committed lay person. Engle served for nine years on the Union Seminary (New York) board of trustees and endowed a chair in preaching there. James Forbes, minister of Riverside Church in New York, was its first occupant.

While on the Union board, Engle met James Kay, then a Ph.D. candidate at Union and now on the PTS faculty. He began to learn of Princeton’s historic commitment to teaching both homiletics and speech.

“So many theological seminaries today do not require their students to even audit a course in homiletics,” Engle opines, “let alone take a course for credit. [Princeton requires both.] Because Princeton is so serious about preaching, it made it easy for me to want to support their efforts.”

Support them he did, endowing the Joe R. Engle Chair in Homiletics and Liturgics in 1997 (now occupied by James Kay) and in 1999, a new chair in preaching named to honor his wife — the Elizabeth M. Engle Chair in Homiletics, which has been assigned to Nora Tubbs Tisdale.

“I’ve been blessed in being exposed to so many wonderful preachers in my lifetime,” Engle says, naming Ganse Little, Theodore Parker Ferris, David H. C. Read, James Forbes, and Thomas Tewell. “They have had a profound effect on me, and I want to do whatever I can to assure that the church will continue to train these wonderful messengers of hope.”

Joe and Elizabeth Engle’s generosity does not stop with supporting future preachers. While Joe is not himself a musician, he says that the sound of the pipe organ, “the king of instruments,” feeds his soul.

Twenty years ago, Engle gave a new pipe organ to the Presbyterian Church in Coshocton, Ohio, in honor of his parents, who were longtime members of that congregation. More recently, he and Elizabeth provided a small Allen organ to the 100-member church they belong to in the Cayman Islands. The church, founded in 1846 by a Church of Scotland minister from Jamaica, seats 128 people, and it is a short walk from the Engles’ vacation home on the island.

Princeton Seminary’s Miller Chapel will be the third beneficiary of Joe Engle’s passion for the organ. He has made a generous gift for the tracker organ that organ builder Paul Fritts of Tacoma, Washington, is constructing for the renovated chapel chancel.

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Joe and Elizabeth Engle

The tracker organ, chosen by the chapel renovation committee and by C. F. Seabrook Director of Music Martin Tel, is a mechanical-action, rather than an electrical-action, instrument. “Everything is connected mechanically in a tracker organ,” Engle explains, “so you hear a cleaner sound.” He is thrilled with the selection of Fritts to build the Miller organ. Although he doesn’t know Fritts personally, Engle calls him one of the top organ builders in the nation. “Joe is an organ groupie,” laughs Elizabeth.

Elizabeth and Joe do not support the church’s preaching and music ministry from a distance. In the 1980s, they were members of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, where Elizabeth was an elder. Today they worship at Fifth Avenue, in part because they can walk to church. “It’s our neighborhood church,” says Joe.

Fifth Avenue’s ministry gives them hope at a time when they know that many churches are struggling. “On Easter there were lines of people around the block waiting to get into the sanctuary,” Engle says. “There were more than 3,400 people in church that day; they were literally standing in the aisles.”

He also applauds that congregation’s center of adult Christian education, a dream of its pastor, Tom Tewell (Class of 1973). It brings hundreds of people to the church on weeknights to study theology and the Bible.

Joe Engle’s enthusiasm for the ministry of the Reformed family of the church of Jesus Christ is more contagious because it is not naive. “I know there is a lot of tension in the Presbyterian Church today, a lot of fights,” he says. “But we should remember that these troubles are not unique to our time in history. Consider the fact that all the pipe organs in Scotland were destroyed after the Reformation, and it was only in 1807 that the first organ in Scotland was reinstalled — in St. Andrews Church, Glasgow. The outcry was so great against it that it remained only a few months before the presbytery ruled the use of organs in public worship of God contrary to the law of the land and of the church.”

It was not until 1878 that an organ was built in St. Giles, the first organ successfully installed in post-Reformation Scotland.

Joe Engle plans to be on hand when the new organ is installed and dedicated in Miller Chapel in the fall of 2000. Though he had never visited the Seminary campus before 1992 and has never heard a sermon preached in Miller Chapel, he looks forward to hearing the Word of God preached there and honored by the new organ’s rich chords.

“To listen to the sounds of a great tracker organ and have it followed by a fine sermon is, for me, the most wonderful experience in the world.” dot.gif (37 bytes)

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