Monday, January 1, 2007
On Sunday, January 2nd in the year 1921, two radio engineers entered Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh for vespers. This might not have been considered unusual except for the fact one of the men was Jewish, the other Catholic, and even though they both donned choir robes, they weren’t there to sing. They were there because one of the choir members was an engineer for the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company, and they owned KDKA, the first licenced radio station in the United States, only two months old to the day.
The two men at the church were about to do something that had never been done before. Once their equipment was set up they would broadcast the first religious service in the history of radio. (They were asked to wear the choir robes so their presence wouldn’t disrupt the service.) The service was led by the junior pastor, Rev. Lewis B. Whittemore because the senior pastor, one Rev. Edwin Van Ettin, chose not to attend as he was leery of this new technology. After all, with 1200 seats in the church, and fewer than a thousand radio sets in Pittsburgh, there were more people in the congregation than there were able to receive the broadcast. Even so, the program went ahead as scheduled.
The event did not go unnoticed. In the following months more and more radio receivers found their way into the homes of East Pittsburgh and a nation waited to see if it was a passing fad or the shape of things to come. By the way, in the image above-right Dr. Frank Conrad, assistant chief engineer of Westinghouse Electric, is shown with the technology he developed that made KDKA Radio possible.
The following is an excerpt from an article by L. H. Rosenberg published just six months later in an the issue of Scientific American, dated June 4, 1921 :
“Not only is phonograph music transmitted from this station, but the sending out of a complete church service is the feature of each Sunday night. In the church and pulpit of the Calvary Episcopal Church of Pittsburgh are installed several transmitters. These transmitters are connected to a private telephone line which runs to the radio station seven miles from the church. When the choir sings, or the rector preaches, these transmitters respond to the sound waves and the music or sermon, as it may be, is transmitted to East Pittsburgh via the telephone line. There it is broadcast by means of the radio apparatus, thus allowing thousands of people to hear the service in their own homes. Think what this means to many people: the invalid, unable to go to church can enjoy its benefits without leaving his bed or wheel chair; the farmer, too far from town to go to church has the service brought to him; and the sick in the hospital are encouraged to get well by the wonderful words of the preacher. It is marvelous, this transmitting of church services by radio. One can almost imagine being in church. The blending music of the sixty men and boys lifted in song and the ring of the deep-set voice of the preacher all make the service seem realistic.”
Rosenberg had it right. Eventually Rev. Van Ettin over came his misgivings and led the services personally and the services from Calvary Episcopal continued until 1968. Today religious broadcasting, which includes not only radio, but television, cable, satellite and the Internet, is a multi-billion dollar industry. But more importantly, the number of people who can directly or indirectly attribute their salvation and continuing spiritual development to these broadcasts is beyond counting.
Thanks to the work of the Westinghouse engineers (Geeks?) who pioneered early radio technology and saw it’s potential for the gospel, there is no corner of the globe beyond the reach of God’s Word. Even areas were the preaching of the Bible is prohibited, the message can still be carried by these invisible electro-magnetic waves. More than ever before churches and other Christian ministries are taking advantage of every technological means available to them. And more people than ever before are responding to the message. And it all started in Pittsburgh at Calvary Episcopal Church 85 years ago this week.
Other things that happened this week - Jan. 1-6
- January 1, 379 Death of Basil the Great. Most well-known as the founder of a monastery in Annessi, he also succeeded Eusebius as bishop of Caesarea. Among his other accomplishments is the healing of the Antioch schism in the eastern Church, a famous explanation of the Trinity and a monastic rule that remains the basis of that followed by the Eastern Orthodox religious today.
- January 2,1909 - Aimee Elizabeth Semple, 19, along with her husband Robert Semple, was ordained to the ministry in Chicago by evangelist William H. Durham. Robert Semple would die of typhoid in Hong Kong while the couple were on their way to China. After re-marrying in 1912, Aimee Semple McPherson would go on to become a powerful evangelist, and would later found the Foursquare Gospel Church.
- January 3, 1521 - Martin Luther, the German Reformer, is excommunicated by Pope Leo X for challenging Catholic Church doctrine. Soon after that the 38 year-old Luther began translating of the Bible into the German language so that it could be read by the common people.
- January 5, 459 - Simeon Stylites, a famous hermit who lived at the top of a 60-foot pillar nonstop for 36 years, and inspired a number of others to do the same, dies on it. According to witnesses to the event his body was brought down from the pole "dripping with vermin." During his time atop the pillar Simeon preached many sermons on the need for a pious life, blessed thousands of pilgrims who came from all over the world to see him, and negotiated a number of treaties between local waring chieftains. All this without ever moving from the top of the pole!!
- January 6, 1850 Charles Spurgeon converts to Christianity after receiving a vision. Wrote Spurgeon, "It was not a vision to my eyes, but to my heart. I saw what a Savior Christ was, I can never tell you how it was, but I no sooner saw Whom I was to believe than I also understood what it was to believe, and I did believe in one moment." Spurgeon is regarded as one of the greatest preachers of all time, preaching thousands of sermons to congregations all over England.