Glenn Jonas is Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Charles Howard Professor of Religion at Campbell University. This interview is based on his new book, A Cloud of Witnesses from the Heart of the City: First Presbyterian Church, Raleigh, 1816-2016 (Mercer University Press, 2016).
JF: What led you to write A Cloud of Witnesses from the Heart of the City?
GJ: The First Presbyterian Church of Raleigh, NC, contracted with me to write A Cloud of Witnesses from the Heart of the City. The church celebrated its bicentennial this year and in 2012 they enlisted me to write their history. I had just completed a similar project for the First Baptist Church of Raleigh that year. Writing these two books has been the most enjoyable, yet challenging, scholarly work that I have done.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of A Cloud of Witnesses from the Heart of the City?
GJ: In A Cloud of Witnesses from the Heart of the City, I attempt the chronicle the two hundred year history of one of the leading churches in the heart of downtown Raleigh, NC, the capital city of the state. I set the story of this local congregation within the broader context of regional, state, national and denominational history and in doing so, provide a glimpse of Presbyterian history from the “bottom up” rather than from the “top down.”
JF: Why do we need to read A Cloud of Witnesses from the Heart of the City?
GJ: A Cloud of Witnesses from the Heart of the City, is a useful read for any member of that church. However, others will find interest in the book because it provides a glance at the history of a denomination from the perspective of one congregation. Typically, denominational histories are written from the perspective of the leading theologians, ministers or denominational leaders. My approach is to tell the story from the perspective of the people who sit in the pews each week. So, I provide a look at Presbyterianism from the perspective of the local congregation as it filters up to the denominational leadership.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
GJ: During my second year of seminary, I made a decision to pursue a Phd at Baylor University in the history of Christianity. This was approximately 1983. During my doctoral work, I focused on American Religious history, a subset of American history, and a field in which I continue to be fascinated.
JF: What is your next project?
GJ: Currently, I am working with two other scholars here in North Carolina to edit a work which will highlight the various religious traditions in the history of North Carolina.
JF: Thanks, Glenn!