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Elon celebrates gift of 1770 New Testament belonging to founder of the Christian Church

The 247-year-old religious text, used by the Rev. James O'Kelly as he preached in North Carolina and Virginia, was donated to Elon by Steve Lynch of Burlington, N.C.

Steve Lynch of Burlington, N.C. standing with Elon President Leo M. Lambert and holding the 1770 New Testament owned by the Rev. James O'Kelly and presented to Elon on Tuesday. 

A New Testament printed in 1770 and owned by the Rev. James O'Kelly, the founder of the Christian Church, traveled far as O'Kelly rounded his circuit of churches to preach the gospel. 

A view of the 1770 New Testament that was translated from the Greek by John Worsley of Hertford, England. 

​And on Tuesday, May 2, the historic text owned by this historic figure in the Christian Church, which in 1889 founded Elon College, came home. Elon preserves numerous artifacts and archival documents related to O'Kelly, and now can claim the New Testament that he is likely to have held in his hand in 1792 as he began to lay the foundation for his departure from the American Methodist Church and the creation of the Christian Church. 

The significant gift comes courtesy of Steve Lynch of Burlington, N.C., a retired captain of the Burlington Police Department and descendent of O'Kelly, who has owned the Bible since 1975. The weathered leatherbound text will join O'Kelly items such as the saddlebags he used as he traveled the circuit and will rest in a custom-made walnut box Lynch had made for it when it was given to him.

Lynch's great-great-grandfather was Albert Anderson Lynch of Mebane, who was related to O'Kelly's wife. The New Testament was one of his possessions that was passed down through the family over the years. 

"I hope the Rev. O'Kelly would be proud of the university that they created," said President Leo M. Lambert, who received the gift from Lynch during a ceremony in the university's archives within Carole Grotnes Belk Library. "It's wonderful to see all these pieces of Elon's history coming back home again."

The text printed 247 years ago was translated from the Greek by John Worsley of Hertford, England, and includes notations from O'Kelly in its margins and his name in the front. O'Kelly began using the text when he was an influential clergyman with the American Methodist Church in eastern North Carolina and southern Virginia, and continued using it when, in 1792, he and his supporters left the Methodist Church to found the Christian Church, now the United Church of Christ. 

Lynch signs the deed of gift for the Rev. James O'Kelly New Testament. 

University Archivist Chrystal Carpenter called the New Testament "a significant piece of history, not only family history, but of the Christian Church." Carpenter told Lynch that he is "not just a history buff, but you are an educator and advocate for your family history and history in general." 

Raymond Beck '75, a historian who is researching the life of the Rev. O'Kelly, connected with Lynch and helped facilitate the gift to Elon. Speaking during Tuesday's event, Beck noted that the formation of the Christian Church marked the creation of the first American-based denomination, with the Christian Church a wholly American spin-off from the Methodist tradition using the New Testament as it's centerpiece. Beck noted that colleges and universities that preceded Elon's creation in 1889 all had their roots in European Christian denominations. 

"To my thinking, James O'Kelly's 1770 New Testament represents the ecclesiastical roots of Elon College, now Elon University," Beck said.

Also in attendance at the ceremony was 99-year-old Edith Brannock '39, an O'Kelly descendent and the daughter of Ned Brannock, an 1899 alumnus who was a beloved chemistry professor, teaching for more than 50 years. Edith Brannock was an assistant professor at Elon, teaching home economics.

The New Testament will be displayed in the walnut box that Lynch had made for it, sitting on top of an oak table the university had made from a fallen tree on the campus. 

Owen Covington,
5/2/2017 3:15 PM