Acclaimed lecturer to explore ties beween religion and American politics at annual Faith Alive Preaching Series

First United Methodist hosting prestigious lecture series on Sunday and Monday

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK, News-Telegram Managing Editor

Feb. 15, 2008 - The timing couldn't be better for this year's featured speaker at the annual Faith Alive Series at First United Methodist Church, which will be held Sunday, Feb. 17, and Monday, Feb. 18, at the church.

This year's guest lecturer at the 12th series, created in honor of the late Henry C. and Novie McGrede, is Dr. Paul Benson, a frequent lecturer in world religion who also has an interest in the synergy between American politics and religion. With the Republican and Democratic primaries less than a month away in Texas, Benson's presentations should prove quite timely.

According to Dr. Dan Hoke, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church in Sulphur Springs, Benson's presentations are both riveting and informative.

"Paul Benson is the finest history professor and storyteller I have ever known," said Dr. Hoke.

Dr. Benson is a professor of English, religion, and humanities. He holds a bachelor's degree in English from Pacific Lutheran College, a master's degree in English from Colorado State University, and a doctoral degree in English from The University of North Texas.

He is a longtime professor of humanities at Mountain View College in Dallas, and an adjunct professor at Amberton University and Northwood University. His frequent callings to speak on faith around the world stem from his special interest in Egypitan, Greek-Roman, and Asian religion. But he also has a particular fascination with homegrown religions sects.

Dr. Benson's resume is as impressive as his tenure of some 38 years of teaching on the college level. He has published articles in both literature and music, and his interest in cultures around the world sparked his co-founding of the Texas Cultural Alliance and its program, "Excursions," through which he has organized student tours of ancient sites around the world.

He is a three-time winner of national teaching awards and numerous local, state and regional education honors, most recently the regional Outstanding Humanities Educator Award. Two years ago, the National Ednowment for the Humanities appointed Dr. Benson to the position of director of the Landmarks Workshop entitled "Concord, Massachusetts and Early 19th Century Utopian Thought."

The 12th Annual Faith Alive Preaching Series focuses on the theme of "God's Candidates: The Marriage of American Politics and Religion." As the title suggests, the series will explore the important influence of religion in American political life.

The series will begin Sunday morning when Dr. Benson will speak on "Wesley's New Birth: Methodism and Politics" at 8:30 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. That evening, at 7 p.m., Dr. Benson will continue with "Bad Angels and Tulips: The Foundations of Capitalism in Religion."

The final day of the series, Monday, begins with a noon talk on "Cross of Gold and the Yellow Brick Road: America's Gold Religion." A free community luncheon will follow in the church's Fellowship Hall.

The event concludes at 7 p.m. Monday evening with Dr. Benson's talk on "An American Theocracy: The Mormon Model."

The preaching series is held in honor of Henry C. and Novie McGrede, who were born in Longview in 1891 and 1892, respectively, became childhood sweethearts and married in 1912. The couple became active in First United Methodist Church in Longview, where Mr. McGrede served as superintendent of the Sunday School.

They came to Sulphur Springs in 1926, entered the Coca-Cola business and joined First United Methodist Church, where both were active in church affairs.

Henry McGrede served as chair of the church board and in numerous other capacities through the years, including president of the Bishop Ward class when a goal of "100 men in attendance for 100 Sundays" was established. He was also a member of the board of directors of Methodist Hospital in Dallas for 19 years. Novie McGrede was active in the Woman's Society and Sunday School programs.

Henry McGrede died in 1978, and Novie McGrede in 1989.

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