Dialogue: A Conversation with Monroe Hawley
In addition to his teaching work, Hawley is the publisher of the Wisconsin Challenge, produced three times a year to share plans and news of Wisconsin churches. He and Julia, his wife of 62 years, have worked with the paper since 1963. He also has helped plan the annual Fallhall Glen Preacher’s Retreat and the Wisconsin Christian Youth Camp since 1964.
He is the author of four books — “ Redigging the Wells,” “Searching for a Better Way,” “The Focus of Our Faith” and “Is Christ Divided?“ — and four Bible correspondence courses.
Nearly a half million correspondence courses are distributed annually by Hawley Publications, a family-owned business that largely supports the Hawleys.
After preaching for congregations in Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin, he serves as an elder and a minister for the Southside congregation in Milwaukee, where he has been since 1958. He served as a trustee of York College from 1989 until 2007.
He and Julia have three sons who preach and a daughter. They are faithful Christians.
Wisconsin is not the Bible Belt. Does reaching people with the gospel in northern states pose special challenges? What is your advice for overcoming them?
From our perspective, it is an advantage to be outside the Bible Belt. We don’t have to deal with religious prejudices.
True, many people are ignorant of the word and don’t know the difference between the Old and New Testaments. But for 30 years we have had an effective direct mail program that has attracted many seekers. Some are hurting people who are looking for answers that relate to God. Often they are seeking a spiritual family and community.
Our opportunities are greater now than at any time in my memory. We just need to communicate better the message that, in God’s family, we do care.
Describe the growth of the church in Wisconsin in the past 50 years. What factors have contributed?
When we moved to Wisconsin in 1951 there were about 10 congregations in the state. Today there are about 50.
A major factor in the growth has been the longevity of service of preachers who have come to Wisconsin and stayed. For example, Carl Frazier has worked with seven churches in his 55 years here and has spent his life helping troubled churches.
We have also been blessed with a remarkable spirit of unity. The Midwest Preachers’ Retreat at Fallhall Glen has contributed to this spirit for 44 years.
You undoubtedly have seen many changes in the church in Wisconsin and the surrounding region over your life. What changes stand out as you reflect on your years in the church?
When I grew up in Michigan we had Southern transplanted churches made up of people who came to work in the auto plants. They were ineffective in reaching the natives because they did not relate.
When we came to Milwaukee, most of the members were also Southern transplants. That has all changed. Our congregation at Southside is mostly composed of first-generation Christians who were native to the area who can influence their neighbors.
The religious climate has also changed. Thirty years ago most people had a religious profession. Today much of our society is effectively unchurched. There are many people who are actively seeking spiritual solutions to their needs.
How would you describe the status and condition of the churches in Wisconsin today?
On the positive side, we now have a number of churches with elders — contrasted with only about five congregations with elders 15 years ago.
Still, we have too many struggling churches needing effective leadership. We need to catch a vision of what God can do through us rather to lock into a perpetual smallness mentality.
Most congregations are now financially self-supporting and no longer need outside financial assistance.
You have worked to unite various groups within the church. Can you provide a few specific examples?
I have been involved in about 40 unity forums. These include discussions with non-institutional and instrumental brethren.
In our first one in Wisconsin we quickly learned how ignorant we were of one another. Our terminology was even different.
Getting to know others on a personal level is vital to breaking down barriers. This promotes trust necessary in finding common ground.
It is vital that we approach unity discussions with an open mind rather than having a predetermined agenda of proving the other side wrong.
What insights do you have about improving relations between black and white churches?
To improve congregational relationships we must first promote personal relationships. We need to find ways of cooperating that go beyond announcing the activities of other churches.
I am convinced that differences between predominantly white and predominantly black churches are more cultural than racial. We should acknowledge that different styles of worship are not grounds for separation.
I think it is encouraging that more congregations are now multiracial. This helps all of us to learn to accept one another.
What are the most important lessons you have learned over the years of your ministry?
Accept people where you find them, not where you want them to be.
In winning others to Christ, seek to reach the heart, not just the mind. Do not be so concerned about the personal problems of individuals that you lose your perspective enabling you to help others. Put God to the test and you will learn experientially that God does keep his promises.
The seed we sow will in time produce, but not always where and when we expect it to do so.
You have influenced so many people through your ministry. What do you hope to leave as a lasting legacy?
Part of Julia’s and my legacy is our four children, all of whom have dedicated Christian families. The effective servant of God must not neglect his family.
I would hope that in some small way I have been God’s instrument in bringing God’s people together. I would also hope that I have contributed to a better understanding of the nondenominational body of Christ.
What advice and encouragement do you have for the church in general today?
Our movement began as a call to non-sectarian Christianity. Biblically speaking, the church of God is composed of all those who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ.
This is how we should think of the divine body. While as a brotherhood we still profess to be nondenominational, too often our speech betrays us. Our neighbors perceive us as being another denomination, and that view isn’t all their fault.
We need to shift our focus from doctrinal correctness to the person of Jesus Christ, and by our practice demonstrate to the world what it means to be Christians only.
FeedbackI wondered, when I looked under “ANNIVERSARIES” on page 27 of the September 2012 issue, whether I’d see the Hawleys there. I don’t even know their actual anniversary date. I was just thinking about them. And there they were! “67th: Monroe and Julia Hawley.” Two who have kept the mandate first given to Abraham — “be thou a blessing.”Jim KnutsonCircle Church of ChristCorvallis, Oregon
USAAugust, 18 2012I am interested in buying one copy of each of Monroe Hawley’s Bible correspondence courses. Do you have them and how do I purchase them. I need a price on his books also.ruth ann howellSummerdale Church of ChristOrange Beach, AL
BalwinMay, 16 2011