1964: When the NMC Traveled to NYC
1964: When the NMC Traveled to NYC

– October 31, 1964 –

The International Conference on Missions is taking place in Cincinnati next week, November 15-18. It’s the sixth time the gathering has come to the Queen City, and the first time it’s been there under its “new” name, ICOM. Cincinnati last served as host in 2007; the conference was known as the National Missionary Convention until 2011.

As is the case with the North American Christian Convention—now known as Spire—the best-attended gatherings among our fellowship of churches traditionally take place in the heartland. And so, that’s where most of the ICOM/NMC gatherings have taken place during its 60-year history.

Here’s an unofficial tally of the cities that have most frequently served as hosts:

Six times — Indianapolis and Cincinnati

Five times — Peoria, Illinois

Four times — Lexington, Kentucky;  Knoxville, Tennessee; Springfield, Illinois; and Tulsa, OK

In looking over a list of host sites, I was surprised to see that New York City twice has hosted the National Missionary Convention . . . in 1964 and 1981.

I tracked down an article by Rolland A. Steever about the 1964 NMC in NYC that appeared on page 7 of the October 31, 1964, Christian Standard.

The article doesn’t dive deeply into the missions focus of that gathering. Instead, it seems more like a wide-eyed letter to home about the “little convention” meeting in the “Big Apple.” The article even shares a few newsy tidbits that are more typical of reporting found in small-town newspapers than what I’m accustomed to reading in Christian Standard. (That’s not a criticism—I’ve worked for small-town newspapers.)

And so, here’s what the 1964 was like (for those who were not there):

_ _ _

Big City Convention

National Missionary Convention registers more than a thousand in New York City

By Rolland A. Steever

When the Seventeenth National Missionary Convention met September 22-25 in the Hotel Henry Hudson in New York City, it was the first time in the history of the Restoration movement that a major convention of this people has come to New York. When it was first considered, even the most optimistic of the eastern ministers felt that holding the convention here was quite a bold undertaking. All agreed, however, that the work of the eastern churches had matured to a point that they could realistically entertain this convention. So the invitation was extended to the continuation committee and was accepted.

A previous committee of local ministers had been assisted by the New York City convention bureau in the effort to locate a suitable meeting place. The Hotel Henry Hudson had the necessary accommodations.

Richard Bourne, of Ansonia, Connecticut, led an enthusiastic local arrangements committee for the convention. These men found an extremely helpful attitude on the part of the various city agencies who were accustomed to helping convention groups of all sizes. This helpfulness continued from the first contact to the time of the last “Amen” of the final session.

Attendance, while not as large as would be expected in the Midwest, was representative of mission work throughout the world and of brethren over the nation. Every session had a substantial attendance from the 1,014 persons actually registered.

To bring a missionary convention into the greatest city on earth was bound to produce many “different” experiences. Hotel personnel were to be seen standing about, listening at all times. The janitors went to the rooftop to listen, while in the early morning more than one hundred persons would gather for a period of song, devotion, and prayer for the city.

A new tape recorder was expertly stolen right from under our very eyes, and while Robert Van Lew was lamenting the loss of this piece of equipment borrowed for convention use, a bus boy from the restaurant where he ate came running after him to return a camera which he had left at his table.

A highly agitated lady came in off the streets and caused a commotion in a morning session, but was induced to sit in on the meeting. She finally left, but only after she had passed through the nursery and eaten the cookies left there for the children.

The same evening another lady attended the session and left her name and address, with the request for a minister to call at her home. She had received literature passed out while the teams were doing their street preaching in Times Square in the late afternoon of each day.

A convention like this in a city accustomed to entertaining more than 100,000 visitors a day perhaps passed by without much notice in the city itself, but our eastern churches will never forget this great series of sessions. They were thrilled beyond measure for they had finally attained a long-sought and hardly-expected stature in the Lord’s work.

Mr. Steever, minister to the Creswell Church of Christ, Bel Air, Maryland, served as publicity chairman of the Seventeenth National Missionary Convention.

_ _ _

I feel compelled to note, the National Missionary Convention “invaded” New York City just over seven months after the Beatles landed at JFK Airport, officially launching the “British Invasion.” Also, the writer doesn’t say whether attendees visited the 1964 New York World’s Fair, but I have to believe some who attended the gathering took advantage of that opportunity.

By the way, the Hudson Hotel is still operating along West 58th Street at Ninth Avenue. At present it is undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation. The building was constructed by Anne Morgan, daughter of J.P. Morgan. When it opened in 1929, it was known as the American Woman’s Association clubhouse and residence for young women. After the AWA declared bankruptcy in 1941, it became the Henry Hudson Hotel. During World War II, it housed Dutch soldiers. And for a long period of time—until 1997—it served as headquarters for public television station WNET.

—Jim Nieman, managing editor, Christian Standard

(Photo of part of the New York City skyline taken by Harold Egeberg, 1960; courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

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