Blake, Eugene Carson
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Time Period
11/7/1906  - 7/31/1985
Description
Eugene Carson Blake (1906-1985) was a prominent Presbyterian minister known for his ecumenical efforts. As a Presbyterian leader, he successfully led a merger between the Presbyterian Church in the United States and the United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPCNA) in 1958. In 1960, he famously proposed a merger between Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, and United Church of Christ denominations, which earned him a cover story on Time magazine on May 26, 1961. He also served as president for the National Council of Churches and the general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC).

Along with his commitment to ecumenism, he supported the Civil Rights Movement. On July 4, 1963, he was arrested while participating in an attempt to integrate Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in Baltimore, Maryland. In the following month, on August 28, he participated in the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, marching in the demonstration and speaking at the Lincoln Memorial.
Interactive Timeline(s)
Presbyterian Religious Events and People in American History
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Presbyterian Religious Events and People in American History
Narrative
Early Life

Born on November 7, 1906, in St. Louis, Missouri, Blake belonged to a middle-class, Presbyterian family of Scottish and Northern Irish descent. He attended Princeton University, majoring in philosophy and playing guard on the football team. After graduating in 1928, he served for a year at Forman Christian College, Lahore, India (now Pakistan) where he taught English, philosophy, and the Bible. He then studied theology for a year at New College, Edinburgh, before entering Princeton Seminary, where he graduated in 1932.

Presbyterian Pastor and Leader

In the same year, he was ordained a minister in the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUSA). His first job was as assistant pastor at the Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas in New York City. He then served as the head pastor in three large churches: the Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas in New York City (1932-1935); First Presbyterian Church of Albany, New York (1935-1940); and Pasadena Presbyterian Church in California (1940-1951).

At age 45, he was elected to the office of the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PCUSA, the church’s chief executive officer. During his tenure from 1951 to 1966, he faced the issues of McCarthyism, the decision to ordain women (achieved in 1956), and the adoption of the Book of Confessions (achieved in 1967). These were also the years of the Civil Rights Movement, which Blake wholeheartedly supported. On July 4, 1963, he was arrested while participating in an attempt to integrate Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in Baltimore, Maryland. In the following month, on August 28, he participated in the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, marching in the demonstration and speaking at the Lincoln Memorial.

Blake also supported ecumenism, attending the first assembly of the WCC in Amsterdam in August 1948, and serving from 1954 to 1957 as the third president of National Council of Churches. In 1958, he successfully led the PCUSA to unite with the United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPCNA), and the two became the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA).

Preaching in Grace Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco on December 4, 1960, Blake proposed a union between the Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, and United Church of Christ denominations. His proposal gained national coverage, and he appeared on the cover of Time magazine on May 26, 1961. His sermon resulted in the creation of the Consultation on Church Union (COCU), which continued to meet for four decades and, in 2002, became Churches Uniting in Christ.

World Council of Churches

The WCC elected Blake to be its general secretary on February 11, 1966. His first task was to make the final arrangements for the Fourth Assembly of the WCC at Uppsala, Sweden, July 4-20, 1968. The assembly is perhaps best remembered for Study Section III, “World Economic and Social Development,” which called on Christians to work for greater social justice in the world.

During Blake’s tenure, the WCC strove for ecumenical inclusion, promoted interfaith dialogue, and implemented the Program to Combat Racism, which included funding for revolutionary organizations. At this time the WCC also established the Commission on the Churches’ Participation in Development, which provided a number of poverty studies. As an outspoken opponent of the war in Vietnam, Blake was no longer welcome in President Lyndon Johnson’s White House and was later placed on President Richard Nixon’s “enemies list.”

Blake retired from the WCC in 1972. An unsuccessful candidate for moderator of the UPCUSA in 1973, he then worked for the anti-hunger organization Bread for the World. He died in Stamford, Connecticut, on July 31, 1985.
Religious Groups
Presbyterian-Reformed Family: Other ARDA Links

Events
Merger of UPCNA and PCUSA
Movements
Civil Rights Movement
Ecumenical Movement
Photographs

Eugene Blake- Wikimedia Commons- photo by Ben Merk, from the Nationaal Archief Fotocollectie ANEFO (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Book/Journal Source(s)
Kurian, George Thomas, and Mark Lamport (Eds.), 2016. The Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Web Source(s)
https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781442244320/The-Encyclopedia-of-Christianity-in-the-United-States-5-Volumes
If you enjoyed reading this entry, please buy the Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States at the link above.
Web Page Contributor
Michael Parker

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