Oldest Christian Church given even older Bibles

One of the volumes now at the Dixie First Christian Church apparently dates to the late 18th century.

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This is the first four versus and part of the fifth verse of Genesis in the larger Bible. Notice all the notes below--The book is officially termed a "self-interpreting Bible," with notes and observations from Rev. John Brown. The Bible probably was published in the late 1700's by William Mackenzie of Howard Street, Glasgow, Scotland.

DIXIE -- History of early Southeast Washington and biblical knowledge fairly seep from the pages of two old Bibles that have come to rest in what's said to be the oldest Christian Church in Washington, the Dixie First Christian Church.

It is impossible to know where the Bibles have been and how they ended up in a vacant Seattle apartment, but a penciled note on the inside cover of the smaller book, plus information left inside the Bible and gleaned online offer some clues.

The intermediary in this Bible story was a St. Bernard puppy, purchased in 1980 by Gene and Barb Hell in the Seattle area. They became friends with the Wensman family, who sold them the pup and corresponded regularly.

The Wensmans owned several apartment complexes in the Seattle area and when cleaning a vacated apartment discovered two Bibles. Knowing the Hells were Christians, the Wensmans asked them if they would like the two old Bibles; they accepted.

Also 30 years ago, the Hells were friends with Joe and Chris Rhymes, now pastors of the Dixie church. Joe and Gene frequently worked together at the downtown skid row mission for men in Seattle.

The Rhymeses moved to Southeast Washington about 20 years ago, and were no longer in regular touch with the Hells.

The Hells recently learned the Rhymeses were in Dixie and decided to take the Bibles on an eastward journey, as well as reconnect with their old friends. During their surprise visit they presented the two Bibles to the Rhymeses and the congregation.

One Bible is quite large, and offers little information about its personal past, although it is called a "Self-Interpreting Bible," with notes and observations from the Rev. John Brown. According to the opening pages it was "stereotyped and printed by William Mackenzie of Howard street, Glasgow, Scotland." There is no publication date, but it was likely printed in the late 1700s.

The Bible is the most comprehensive Joe Rhymes has ever seen, he said recently. It includes in-depth analysis of Jewish laws and types; geography and history of nations; chronological index of scripture history; a table of all biblical proper names and their meanings; tables of weights, measures, monies and times; black-and-white pictures of early English paintings, and closes with a section of the Psalms of David, in metre.

It's the smaller Bible that offered tantalizing clues to families who helped settle the Walla Walla and Lewiston-Clarkston valleys. Besides entries recording births, marriages and deaths in the center pages of the book, there are a few clippings and photos found inside the book that offer glimpses into the lineage of early residents in the Walla Walla Valley.

Names in the Bible include Richard Perry (R.P.) Steen, Elizabeth Ann Teel, Calvin Boyer, Naomi Boyer, Mildred Boyer, Eleanor Boyer, Eurella Ann Boyer and many other members of the Steen family. Dates are from the mid- to late 1800s.

A quick search of Internet genealogy sites, shows the families seem to have settled in the Lewiston and Clarkston area. One detail not shown in the Bible family section, but noted elsewhere, is that Elizabeth Ann Teel and R.P. Steen married on June 18, 1863, in Walla Walla. If the information on a newspaper clipping found in the smaller Bible is accurate, they were married by the Rev. Cushing Eells, founder of Whitman College.

In "Lyman's History of Old Walla Walla County, Volume 1" R.P. Steen was among the leaders elected to office in Columbia County, beginning in 1876, when he was elected sheriff, and again in 1878. In the 1880 election he was listed as an elected representative.

A brief entry in ancestry.com indicates Richard Perry Steen was born in Knox, Ind., on Feb. 29, 1840, and died Jan. 2, 1905 in Asotin, Wash. The entry also notes he married Elizabeth Ann Teel and had seven children.

One of those children was Luella Mae Steen Rummens, who died May 13, 1962, in Seattle, according to Ancestors.com. Possibly it was Luella who took the Bibles to Seattle.

The Bibles are on display in the Dixie church, and the congregation plans to build a display case for the books, but they will be available for those interested to study.

To contact the church, call 509-522-5494. Pastor Rhymes can be reached at 337-6105.

According to its website, the church is the oldest Christian church in the state. It was incorporated on March 29, 1888. The church is located at 66 S. Actor in Dixie.

Carrie Chicken can be reached at cec@innw.net or 522-5289.

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