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Historic sermon delivered

Tall and commanding behind the pulpit, the Rev. Dr. George M. Docherty turned the Sunday morning worship service at Huntingdon Presbyterian Church into an exercise of historical immersion. Carefully selected music, the usual service reorganized and a historically significant sermon — the congregation was taken back to near 50 years ago, to the era of the Cold War and the threat of nuclear weapons and communism.
Docherty, 91, of Alexandria, originally from Scotland, Great Britain, has been thrust into the limelight recently, the result of the controversy over the pledge of allegiance and whether or not the pledge’s declaration that the U.S. is one nation, “under God” is constitutional. Depending on which camp you belong to, Docherty is your man — the one who either deserves credit, or is to blame, for the words “under God.”
Members of Huntingdon Presbyterian Church, guests and other members of the community, heard the same words this passed Sunday morning that President Dwight Eisenhower heard Sunday, Feb. 7, 1954, during the Lincoln birthday service at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C.
The president was so inspired by Docherty’s sermon that he lead Congress on a campaign to make America “one nation under God.” School children now say those words every morning, ball players before every game and civic leaders before every meeting.
Docherty’s sermon, as everyone found out Sunday, is really about how to define and describe the “American way of life.” He said, “It is going to the ballgame and eating popcorn; it is shopping in Sears & Roebuck; it is losing heart and hat on a rollercoaster” …. “it is being bored with television commercials.” It is all these things, but as Docherty noted, “it is deeper than that.”
Docherty reminded the congregation that the United States is a country whose roots were sowed by Puritans, so called because “they wished to live the pure and noble life purged of all idolatry and enslavement of the mind, even by the Church.” Docherty said, “They did not realize that in fleeing from tyranny and setting up a new life in a new world, they were to be the Fathers of a Mighty Nation.”
The preacher also talked about Abraham Lincoln, and how the 16th president, 90-some years before Eisenhower, already contrived the county was “under God.” Thomas Jefferson did before Lincoln. Docherty said, “Wherefore, Lincoln claims that it is ‘under God’ that this nation shall know a new birth of freedom. And by implication, it is under God that ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.’”
Docherty said the realization that the pledge was lacking the concept so obvious and important to the founding fathers and great statesmen of the past, came “in a flash” when he learned the pledge from his young sons.
“They were very proud of the pledge and rightly so,” said Docherty. “I don’t suppose you fathers would have paid as much attention to that as I did. I had one advantage over you. I could listen to those noble words as if for the first time.”
Docherty said after “brooding over each word,” he came to a “strange conclusion” that there was something missing — “the characteristic and definitive factor in the ‘American Way of Life.’” He said he found the pledge could be that of any republic. “In fact, I could hear little Muscovites repeat a similar pledge to their hammer and sickle flag in Moscow with equal solemnity, for Russia is also a republic that claims to have overthrown the tyranny of the kingship.”
The pledge needed something that could define the borders between “Communist Russia” and the “democratic institutions of this country.”
Turning to the words of Thomas Jefferson, Docherty told the congregation, “If we deny the existence of the ‘God who gave us life,’ how can we live by ‘the liberty he gave us at the same time?’”
He said, “This is a God-fearing nation. On our coins, bearing the imprint of Lincoln and Jefferson, are the words ‘In God We Trust.’ Congress is opened with prayer. It is upon the Holy Bible the president takes his oath of office. Naturalized citizens, when they take their oath of allegiance, conclude, solemnly, with the words, ‘so help me God.’”
In 1954, Docherty, in his sermon, said he felt the issue of the day was, “A freedom that respects the rights of the minorities, but is defined by a fundamental belief in God.”
It is a way of life, he said, “that sees man, not as the ultimate outcome of a mysterious concaternation of evolutionary process, but a sentient being created by God and seeking to know His will, and “Whose soul is restless till he rest in God.”
He said, “We are one nation, indivisible under God and humbly as God has given us the light we seek liberty and justice for all. This quest is not only within these United States but to the four corners of the globe, wherever man will lift his head towards the vision of his true and divine manhood.”
David N. Taylor, who had returned home to Huntingdon for the weekend, was moved by Docherty’s sermon. “Dr. Docherty really is a national treasure,” said Taylor. “He is a great Christian statesman.”
Pastor Richard E. Gardiner Jr., who willingly gave the pulpit to the man who put “under God” in the pledge, said Docherty fits right in with other Christian statesmen who have attended Huntingdon Presbyterian. “Our church has a rich history and he is part of that history, he said.”
Gardiner, who welcomed the congregation and introduced Docherty, said all present were going to be the recipients of a rare treat. “This is not by some interpreter, but by the same person who changed our pledge of allegiance.”