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Grafton Trophy

“An event of unique interest was the awarding of the Grafton cup, a trophy won for the Louisville Seminary by A. L. Jamison of the junior class, for the best [written] sermon, in a competition carried on between a number of the southern Presbyterian Seminaries. The trophy was donated by the grandchildren of C. W. Grafton, D. D., who has been for more than sixty years pastor of a great county church in Union, Miss.”

From The Register of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary
May/June 1934, Page 3
“1934 Commencement”

The Trophy's History

Faculty minutes from the 1934-35 academic year reported that early in the year the faculty of Louisville Seminary received a letter from Dr. T. H. Grafton of Mary Baldwin College asking if the seminary would be willing to have its students take part in a sermon contest among the seminaries affiliated with the southern Presbyterian church (PCUS).  The faculty responded in the affirmative.  Louisville Seminary was affiliated with both the northern (PC USA) and southern churches, and students from each branch would be eligible to enter.  The proposal was that each seminary would submit no more than three sermons for judging on their merits as exhortations of practical use to a congregation. 

In January 1934, Dr. Grafton wrote to say that Union Seminary in Virginia had declined to participate, one seminary was waiting to see what the others would do, and Louisville and one other had agreed to enter their students in the competition.  Was Louisville still willing to proceed without Union, and would Louisville allow Dr. Grafton to announce that intention to the undecided seminary?  Again, the faculty agreed with Dr. Grafton’s proposal, and asked Dr. Frank Caldwell, Professor of Homiletics, to review the entries from Louisville Seminary students and determine which should be entered in the contest. That year Louisville Seminary Junior A. L. Jamison won the first contest, and his name was engraved on the large silver trophy.

A report on the 1935 commencement mentioned that A. L. Jamison had won the cup again, and, that should a student at the seminary win it a third year the cup would remain at Louisville Seminary.  And in 1936 two Louisville Seminary students, A. L. Jamison and James A. Overholser, tied for first place in the contest, and the Grafton cup took up permanent residence at Louisville Seminary.  After that date, the contest was solely among the Louisville Seminary students.  First place winners were recognized at commencement and had their names engraved on the trophy.

Each year a scripture passage was chosen, and students submitted written sermon outlines and a finished sermon on that passage. The sermons were read, but not preached. Judges were selected from outside the seminary and points were assigned based on the judging standards. The sermon with the lowest number of points won.  In case of a tie, a second group of judges was used to make the final decision.

Unfortunately, the earliest sermons are not part of the Library’s collection, but in 1946 seminary President and Professor of Homiletics Frank H. Caldwell and Vice President and Professor of Practical Theology William A. Benfield collected sermons from other winners and runners-up into a book, Selected Sermons by Students of Louisville Presbyterian Seminary, 1938-1946.  The first sermon, from 1938, was the one submitted by Professor Benfield when he was a student.

While the main focus of the Grafton cup contest had always been the practical application of advice in the sermon, that focus was not officially recognized until 1941 when two laymen of Chattanooga, TN, W. D. Gilman, Jr. and W. D. Gilman, III, gave the seminary $1,700, to be used to award monetary prizes for the first and second place sermons.  The Gilmans were concerned that sermons should be useful messages that would help Christians with practical advice and instruction.

The connection between classroom learning and the needs of a congregation were noted by President Caldwell. He wrote in Selected Sermons that the addition of the monetary prize for both first and second place in the contest helped him “keep ever before the students in that field [homiletics] the conviction that a sermon is a tool to be used, not a work of art to be displayed.” From 1941 onwards the competition was known as the Grafton Trophy–Practical Preaching Contest in recognition of the Gilmans’ gift.

In 1981, Library Director Ernest M. White wrote to all the winners of the Grafton Trophy–Practical Preaching Contest for whom the seminary had addresses and asked them to submit copies of their prize-winning sermons.  He was able to collect ten more sermons from 1947 through 1963.   The last time the prize was awarded was in 1963 due to the depletion of the Gilmans’ funds.


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