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A Covenanter Ghost Town

30. November 2016

Columns, Viewpoint,

  —Noah Bailey

“Oh, I’m a Reformed Presbyterian.” We stood stunned inside the Renfrow-Miller Museum in Billings, Okla. This town had lost its Reformed Presbyterian Church on June 3, 1926, many years before this lady was born. How could she consider herself a Reformed Presbyterian?

She explained. “My grandfather was J. C. Young. I am related to the McFarlands and Parnells.” This lady had the pedigree to be a blue-blood Covenanter. Yet she was a lifelong Methodist. This prompts a bigger question: What should be made of Covenanter ghost towns like Billings, Okla.? What should Reformed Presbyterians think of deceased congregations?

A sound doctrine of the church has the answer—the “holy catholic church” of the Apostle’s Creed. Our ghost towns remind us of the true nature of the Church: timeless and global, universal in space and time. A visit to Billings recalls that kingdom work never fails; the Church always grows and thrives, even when the local congregation falters or fails. The hope of Christian ministry transcends the quantifiable health of the weekly gathering.

The town of Billings literally began with a bang. At noon on Sept. 16, 1893, a cannon roared and waves of people raced over the sun-drenched prairie of the Cherokee Strip. Amid the dust rode Covenanters hoping for land near each other. Seven families with the last names of Henderson, McFarland, Young, and Chestnut succeeded. They originally staked property along the Red Rock Creek, ...

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