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GA News: Melva Costen wasn’t sure reunion would work

SAN JOSE — For Melva Costen the year leading up to the 1983 reunion was busy, demanding and deeply personal. Her husband, the Rev. James Costen, was the 1982 moderator of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA).

James and Melva Costen were at odds over reunion. While James was hopeful and excited about the possibilities, Melva would look at him and “think he doesn’t know this thing is not going to work,” she recalls.

Her concern sprang from his coming from the Midwest and perhaps not understanding fully what this reunion meant for the black churches in the South. These churches were predominantly established by the northern stream following emancipation. They were segregated by denomination from the Presbyterian Church U.S. Some of the animosity that needed healing stemmed from this division of neighboring Presbyterians.

James Costen had a strong hope. “His whole being was hope,” Melva said, in the possibilities of reunion, and he would tell her that people were capable of forgiving and forgetting. But Melva thought that people would not forgive or forget that easily.

Melva had a great deal of fear looking toward reunion. She found the only hope she had was in her husband’s hope, and this hope was fed as she traveled with him during his moderatorial year.
In light of the concerns about racism, old wounds and the nervous feelings, the Presbyterian Black Caucus began training black Presbyterians in non-violent and non-confrontational means of interaction — all in preparation for the 1983 reunion.