A delightful grove of towering redwoods sets the backdrop of the Mount Hermon Conference Center. The quiet hush of trails winding through the trees welcomes visitors away from the rush of a highway as well as the pressures of life. For those retreating to the Mount Hermon Conference Center, it means leaving the chaos behind to dedicate time for the study, contemplation, and the exposition of God’s Holy Word.
In his book, Apart with Him, Harry R. Smith wrote, “The testimony of Mount Hermon has been and will be one of wholehearted unswerving loyalty to the whole Word of God. God always keeps His promises. He has honored His Word and has blessed in the lives of countless thousands, who in the
past . . . have come under the influence of Mount Hermon. Human leaders have come and gone, but the testimony is unbroken.”
With Mount Hermon’s “unswerving loyalty” to the Word of God, it is no wonder that it has partnered with Dallas Theological Seminary to bring “Dallas Week” to families every summer. For seventy years this collaboration can attest to the continuous testimony and legacy that has impacted many.
How did this relationship start? Before their partnership, Mount Hermon had speakers from the Seminary participating in many of the conference programs. Some came for a week. Others spoke for a day or so. It wasn’t until 1949, however, that the Seminary inaugurated its own conference. And there were some notable folks excited about the partnership.
A remarkably gifted Bible teacher, Mrs. Graeme MacDonald of San Francisco, California, had for some years taught women’s Bible classes in the San Francisco area and at several points on the peninsula. As a great admirer of the late Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, president of DTS at that time, Mrs. MacDonald went to hear him speak.
“I recall vividly the summer of 1944 when Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer spoke at Mount Hermon for the first time,” Mrs. MacDonald once told an interviewer. “Many of us were thrilled with his messages . . . and many of his words still ring in my memory and heart.”
Bringing an entourage of women leaders, Mrs. MacDonald became a regular attendee at the Mount Hermon conference programs when Dr. Chafer was scheduled to teach. He would oftentimes teach in the mornings and then she would teach in the afternoon.
Not long after, Dr. Chafer was contacted by the Mount Hermon staff to return. When the Seminary started its own conference, Mrs. MacDonald arrived at the conference along with the entourage of ladies.
As a help to the members of her classes, Mrs. MacDonald encouraged them to attend the entire conference if possible, but in any event to attend at least one day. This “day” soon developed into a mass rally with several hundred ladies driving to Mount Hermon to attend the conference sessions and to have a time of fellowship. These groups brought unsaved women from every walk of life to hear the clear
exposition of the Word of God.
Another woman who attended “Dallas Week” at that time was Evie. She was a contemporary of Mrs. MacDonald. Evie had a Christian broadcast down in Santa Cruz every Saturday morning telling Bible stories to children, and she loved to share the gospel. Doug Mackinnon and his wife, Jalaine, remember Evie at the conference. Jalaine recalls, “Doug and I started coming with our family twenty years ago in 1999, and Evie came to the conference when she was in her nineties.”
In 1972 Kay Gudnason wrote Rings in the Redwoods: The Story of Mount Hermon introducing the history of Mount Hermon in its sixty-fifth summer. In it she explains, “The only other person from [DTS] who has been on the speakers platform each of the more than [twenty] years of the Mount Hermon Conferences is Dr. John F. Walvoord, who has appeared as a faculty member, assistant to the President and from 1953, president of Dallas.”
Up until then, no one had attended the conference more than Dr. Walvoord. It was Chaplain Bill Bryan, however, who exceeded Dr. Walvoord’s attendance record. For fifty-five years, Chaplain Bill greeted and led families in worship every summer, never forgetting a name in the process. “What a joy and delight it is to see you all,” he said at his last speaking engagement at Dallas Week. “I love you. You’ve endeared yourself to Shirley and me all these years and we consider many of you a part of our lives. And you have impacted us as you have intersected with us.”
Chaplain Bill started attending in 1960 as a student and would play his horn. He attended the conference again the next year. After he and Shirley were married in 1962, they went together. She played the piano while Mrs. Geraldine Walvoord played the organ at the conference.
Chaplain Bill started leading the music and later, when Dr. Don Campbell became president of the Seminary, he ended up giving Chaplain Bill the responsibility. It proved difficult at first, Chaplain Bill explained. “The first time we took our son Gary was in 1964. He was six months old. Shirley was the conference pianist and in those days the people in leadership dressed to the nines.” The men would wear suits and the women would wear dresses. “Shirley was wearing high heels and whenever the music would stop, she’d run down the hill in her heels after playing the piano to go nurse Gary or change his diaper and then run back up the hill for another session.”
Many years came and went, but it was being with the families, speakers, the individual folks that Chaplain Bill loved. “Mrs. J. treated you right. She was gracious and wonderful, a good hostess. She was the head cook for years.”
Chaplain Bill also remembers all of his friends who attended the DTS conference. Some came from a variety of Bay Area churches. “One of the main leaders, Garland Chen came to Chaplain in 1970 to get the famous ‘East-West’ Ping-Pong tournament started. Also Darwin and Patty Fong have been long time attendees. There was also Dr. Merrill Unger. He was the chair of Old Testament at the seminary. For two years he was my professor. He had written a lot of books. He was brilliant and respected as a Hebrew scholar. He wrote a Bible handbook and wrote multiple books. He was from Baltimore, Maryland. He was a sharp guy.”
In the summer of 2015, during his last week as a speaker at Mount Hermon, Chaplain Bill said, “It’s wonderful . . . to think about different ones of you here and what God is doing through your lives and how you’re ministering for the kingdom. No one is indispensable. Isn’t that good? The ministry is bigger than all of us.”
He later prayed, “Thanks for giving us the chance to be together again, and to share together and savor the moments together that we have. Give us joy today as we move about these grounds and our lives. And I pray that we will be a blessing to the people around us—be salt and light in this dark world that we live in and use us for Your kingdom purpose I pray.” Amen.
For more information on this year’s conference, please visit dts.edu/hermon.