Leading the Leaders: Edward L.R. Elson '28
Students who attend Asbury University get a front-row view of the determination, talents and potential of their fellow classmates and the alumni who have paved the way for their achievements. In this web series, we'd like to share that view with you! This is the first in an ongoing series about just a few of Asbury's world-impacting graduates.
Although he became a friend and confidant of presidents by the time he retired, Edward L.R. Elson began his career by graduating from Asbury in 1928.
After graduating, Elson earned his master’s of theology and served for 11 years at a church in California before joining the military as an Army chaplain in 1941. While in the Army, Elson was deployed to France during World War II, achieving the rank of colonel.
Impressed by Elson, General Eisenhower tapped him to be the envoy to the German Protestant Church after World War II to help in the rebuilding process.
In 1946, after returning to the States, Elson was selected to be the Senior Pastor at National Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C., where he remained for 27 years until his retirement.
A few days after Dwight Eisenhower’s presidential inauguration, Elson baptized the new president at the National Presbyterian Church. This is the only time a U.S. president has been baptized while in office. Eisenhower became a member and regularly attended church to hear Elson preach.
In one published letter to Elson, Eisenhower writes, “this year's observance of Good Friday … will surely strengthen Americans in their endeavors to live as Christian citizens in their relationships with their fellow men.”
Although he was closest to Eisenhower, Elson knew eight presidents. He would occasionally go on special missions for presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson. Elson’s travels included several trips to the Middle East where he met with prime ministers from Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq.
In 1969, Elson was elected Chaplain of the United States Senate, a position he held for 12 years. At Elson’s invitation Wilmina Rowland, in 1971, became the first woman to give the opening prayer for the Senate.
When Elson died in 1993, The New York Times printed a lengthy obituary, detailing his life and accomplishments.
--by Elijah Friedeman ‘15