Washington Gladden.

The Christian league of Connecticut online

. (page 1 of 10)
Online LibraryWashington GladdenThe Christian league of Connecticut → online text (page 1 of 10)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


3 3433 07998334 6

O P r f) M M F n y i n r j -r













TILD-^N ; wj.jDAnoNS

^ 1917

Copyright, 1883, by The Century Co.



THE first of the many snow-storms that
made memorable the winter of eighteen
hundred and seventy-five had just fallen
on the smooth roads of New Albion ; a slight
thaw with a following frost had polished up the
sleighing, and two hearty-looking gentlemen,
behind a powerful gray horse that needed no
urging, were taking their first taste of the winter
pastime. They seemed to be enjoying it ; for,
as they flew past the pedestrians toiling along
the sidewalk, their faces shone and their laughter
rang merrily. The one who held the reins was
a man of forty, smooth-shaven, but for a narrow,
brown side-whisker; with a clear and fair skin,
into which the stinging winter air was bringing
a healthy crimson tint; a strong chin, a well
chiseled nose and brow, a blue eye, and a kindly
smile. You would have guessed he was a clergy-
man, and would have missed ; he was the cashier
and manager of the First National Bank of New


Albion. The other was perhaps a Httle younger,
with dark skin, full beard, and bright, black eye ;
his figure was slight but well made, and he wore
a gray ulster, and a sealskin cap without a visor ;
a journalist, you would have said, or perhaps an
artist, and would have been wrong again ; for he
was the Rev. Theodore Strong, pastor of the
Second Congregational Church in the same
thriving town. The cashier, Mr. Franklin, was
his parishioner, and had been his college class-
mate ; the old friendship had been the cause of the
minister's location in his present pastorate, and
was now one of its strong supports. Old Major,
the good gray horse, had learned well the way
to the parsonage, before which he used often to
halt after banking hours; whence the parson, if
he v/as to be had, was whirled away for a breezy
hour or two on the country roads. These drives
with his old friend were unadulterated recreation.
It was a distinct understanding between them
that the cares of the bank and the parish were
always to be left behind.

" No shop, now, old fellow ! " Franklin had
said when he came for his friend the first time ;
" religion and business ought to be mixed some-
times, no doubt; but, for you and me, just now,
rest is both business and religion*."

To such a respite the hard- worked parson was
nothing loth, and the hours thus spent were full


of the keenest delight. All anxieties being
resolutely left behind, the minds of both friends
were free to take in every fresh phase of roadside
beauty, every new glory of sky or river or
meadow. Other common pleasures they had in
books and studies beyond the range of their
work, of which they communed with much
invigorating conversation ; while, as each was
a good story-teller and sure to pick up a budget
of mirthful anecdote, their discourse was plenti-
fully spiced v/ith fun.

It must not be inferred that the banker
always refused to consult with the pastor about
the parish work ; on the contrary, he was his
most trusted and judicious counselor ; it was
only that these hours of recreation were sacredly
guarded from the intrusion of professional

On this December afternoon the talk had
ranged widely as usual, and had kept clear, as
usual, of all work-day topics, when, suddenly,
Mr. Strong, in a tone half apologetic, broke out :

*' 'Ware, Walt ! I'm coming perilously near to
the Second Parish in my next remark — as near
as Bradford."

'* Twenty miles ! Rather dangerous ! W^ell, go
ahead; but see that you keep your distance."

" The matter is this : Johns, of the East
Church, in that metropolis, is trying to start a


Congregational club, into which he wants to
gather all of that ilk in this region, — representa-
tives, at any rate, of all the principal churches ;
he has written me to come up to help him incu-
bate the project. Shall I go ? "

"Yes, go, and 'sit on it' hard."

" You are explicit, as usual. Now tell me why.
Don't you Hke Congregational clubs? "

" Never tried one. But clubs are generally
wooden things. What is it proposed to do v/ith
this one ? "

" Oh, there is to be a supper, of course, once
a month ; and a paper read by somebody after
supper, and a discussion of the paper, and a
general powwow after the discussion."

" Just so. Stuff, talk, — that's a club. But what
special topics do you think this one will be most
apt to light on ? "

"Denominational topics, largely, of course;
how to consolidate our churches ; how to increase
the esprit du corps ; how to promote our various
benevolent enterprises."

" Certainly. It is part of a movement to
stiffen the last syllable of that sesquipedalian
sectarian substantive, ' Congregational/^;;/.' I do
not like the name at all, and the sting in its tail,
which it is now proposed to sharpen and harden,
is the part I like least."

"There you go again," laughed the parson.
" It's a downright insult. Major, when a man


with such a horse as you are insists on riding
a hobby.''

" Oh, well," continued the banker, " there's
nothing particularly sinful in this indulgence
that the Bradford Congregationalists propose ;
doubtless, the fellows who like to run things will
enjoy it much, but I doubt if the outcome is
valuable. There will be some increase of good-
fellowship, and much burning of incense under
the nose of the idol of the tribe. The more per-
fect the success of the club shall be, the further
off will be the practical cooperation to which we
must come at last."

"There is truth in what you say," answered
the parson ; " and I own that I am coming more
and more to your way of thinking about such
matters. But when two ride a hobby one must
ride behind, and I am not yet quite so fierce a
foe of the sects as you are."

For a few moments there was silence, broken
only by the click of Major's hoofs upon the icy
road and the sough of the wind through the
pine forest by the side of which they were

*' Look here, Theo," the banker at length con-
tinued, " couldn't we do a better thing?"

'* Several things, no doubt. But what, for
instance ?"

" Couldn't we organize a Christian League
Club here in New Albion ?"


" Softly, softly, sir ; you are breaking over

" I know I am ; but you began it."

''And what was said, a few minutes ago, about

** I remember ; but there are clubs and clubs.
This need not be a wooden one — indeed, it
couldn't be ; it would have to be made on a very
pliable pattern.

** Show us hov/."

" The thing has no shape in my own mind
yet ; but why shouldn't we strike for a little
practical Christian union in this town ? We have
enough of the sentimental sort, and bad enough
it is. The union meetings of the week of prayer
always bring out the prayer-meeting rounders,
— men who have no standing in their own
churches nor among their fellow-citizens ; men
like old Bill Snodgrass, who can reel off cant by
the fathom, and whose word, in any business
transaction, is as good as his bond only because
neither of them is worth a row of pins. There
never is a union meeting in which Bill doesn't
exalt his horn at least twice. Then there is
young Cyrus Smiley, the effusive and irrepres-
sible, and Tom Trafton, the censorious sputterer,
whose -prayers are mainly digs at the ministers."

" I know it," broke in Mr. Strong, greatly
amused at the vivid characterization of his


friend. " But have you heard Trafton's last on
his own pastor?"

''No; what was it?"

" Dr. Sampson told me the story himself. You
know that Tom has taken a special dislike to the
Doctor, and betrays it in all his prayers. The
other night, in the prayer-meeting, he said, in
his jerky way : ' O Lord, grant that our temp'r'l
food may not be so skerse and poor as the spir-
itooal food pervided for us ; for ef it is, we sh'll
all be in the poor-house within six months.' "

Franklin laughed.

" Tom outdid himself that time. Think of let-
ting such a creature loose in a prayer-meeting !
But that is the sort of person that revels in
union meetings. At home he can be suppressed,
at least in part; but a joint service of the
churches gives him vent. So that, practically,
our attempt at Christian union consists mainly
in meeting together a few times a year, to be
rasped ^nd disgusted by these persons who put
themselves forward as the representatives of our
common Protestantism. Now, I wonder whether
some plan could not be devised by which the
real people in our churches could be brought into
working union, and the flood-trash kept out."

"Yes, that's the question. But you don't seem
to get ahead very fast in answering it."

" Patience, patience, young man ! We'll work


this thing out, but it will take time. The fact is,
New Albion is an excellent place to start such
an experiment. The relations between the
churches are amicable ; there has been no un-
necessary multiplication of religious societies as
yet; there are no churches here that ought to
be killed, except one or two colored churches ;
the population is intelligent, the ministers are all
good friends; the thing can be done."

" Undoubtedly, my eloquent friend ; but what

*' We can have a meeting, from time to time,
of the ministers and certain representative men
of the various churches, to consult about the
interests of morality and religion in this com-
munity. That's the dry bones of it."

"The next question is how to make these dry
bones live,"

** Yes, and you must help me solve that. Your
practical tact and skill in managing people come
in play just here."

''Thank you ! I wish devoutly that something
of the sort could be brought about, and I will
do my best to devise a feasible way of accom-
plishing it. But it must be managed cautiously.
Don't flush your game !"

Old Major had arrived at the parsonage, and
the parson dismounted, with a promise to give
the matter of which they had been talking early
and full attention.


THE problem which we have seen the banker
and the parson getting ready to attack is a
knotty and an urgent one. How to bring the
Christian churches of our country into practical
unity ; this is a question round about which a
great deal of talk has been going on, but to the
careful consideration of which but few minds
have been turned. All the discussion has
vibrated between two points : the desirableness
of a spiritual fellowship among denominations,
and the feasibility of an organic union of the
denominations. A great multitude agree in say-
ing that the sects ought to dwell together in
unity, — that is to say, that the ministers ought
to exchange pulpits, and that members ought to
pass freely by letter from one church to another,
and that Christians ought to meet now and then
in union meetings, and say pleasant things in
their prayers and speeches about one another,
and sing together

''Blest be the tie that binds,"




and so on. So much of Christian union as this,
neariy everybody beheves in. The more strenu-
ous sectarians stick at some of these points, but
not very persistently ; to refuse this much in-
volves some measure of opprobrium. But there
are many who insist that, while Christian union
may have this extent, it can have no more ; that
it is vain, and, indeed, rather sacrilegious to ask
for anything beyond this. Others declare that
this sentimental union is of no value ; that what
we want and must have is organic union, a
consolidation of all the sects into one church,
so that Protestantism shall stand over against
Romanism, compact and united, all under one
central government, moving with well ordered
and harmonious march to the conquest of the
world. These two conceptions have divided
between them the debaters about Christian
unity ; and it must be owned that each side
brings against the other arguments that are well-
nigh unanswerable. The believers in what is
called spiritual unity insist that the organic unity
asked for is impossible ; the believers in organic
unity declare that spiritual unity, as it now exists,
is of very little consequence.

Some abatement of these extreme views must,
indeed, be made on both sides. The measure of
unity to which the churches have already at-
tained is by no means to be despised ; their



relations are vastly better than they were forty
years ago, when Presbyterians or Congregation-
alists had no more dealings with Methodists or
Baptists than the Jews once had with the Samar-
itans ; when keen contempt and bitter abuse were
common currency among the sects. It is not a
slight, but an important gain, that Christians of
all names are able now to meet together on
friendly terms in social worship. On the other
side, it is too much to say that the dream of the
Church existing as one compact body can never
be realized. Stranger things than that have come
to pass. The truth lies about midway between
these disputants. The spiritual unity to which
we have attained, though not worthless, is ridicu-
lously inadequate to the present need of the
Church ; and the organic unity for Avhich we are
exhorted to labor, though it may not be impos-
sible, is yet a long way off. Is there not, some-
where between the emotional fellowship of the
present and the organized ecclesiasticism of the
future, a measure of cooperation that is both
desirable and attainable ? This was the problem
to which the practical mind of Mr. Walter Frank-
lin had turned. He was a man, as his pastor
well knev/, who had a way of bringing things to
pass ; and Mr. Strong was not therefore sur-
prised, at the close of the next Sunday evening's
service, to be joined at the church door by his



friend, with an ominous gleam of speculation in
his eyes.

"Pretty well used up to - night, Theo ?" he
queried. The Romans knew how to convey
more delicately the hope of a negative answer.

"Not at all," said the minister, who never
knew on Sunday night how tired he was. " Fresh
as a lark. Come home with me, and we'll have
it out."

" Have what out ?"

" That matter that you're eager to talk about.
You have done bravely in keeping away till the
Sunday work was over, and I haven't the heart
to put you off any longer. Come on."

" Seems to me I have detected a few delicate
allusions to it in sermons and prayers to-day.
Your mind's as full of it as mine is, dissembler !
And I'm only going over with you to find out
your plans."

" Well," said the parson, as he let his friend
in at the door of the parsonage, ** it has been
on my mind now and then, I own. And the
place to begin is Jerusalem. I saw Dr. Phelps
last week, and, in talking about church sociables
and so forth, I asked him why the Old Church
did not sometimes invite their neighbors to their
festivities. He took me up at once, of course,
and told mc very cordially to come over to their
sociable on Tuesday evening, and to bring along


a good delegation of the Second Church people.
I replied that it was rather hard to be obliged to
beg an invitation ; but that I should pocket my
humiliation and go, which seemed to please the
old gentleman m.ightily. So I want you and
your wife, and Deacon Hunter and his wife, and
Shaw and his mother, and the Burnham girls,
and a few others — a dozen or fifteen of our
wide-awake people — to meet here on Tuesday
night, and we will go over in a body and take
'em by storm."

"■ Capital ! " exclaimed Franklin. " The church
sociable is one of the strongholds of sectarian
exclusiveness ; if we can capture that and turn
its guns upon the enemy, one great point will
be gained."

'' There is no need of despising the church
sociable," replied the minister. " It serves a
good purpose, and is no more accountable than
the Church itself for * sectarian exclusiveness.'
Human nature is to blame for that, not the
Church, nor the sociable."

** But I am not talking about remote causes,"
persisted the banker. " What I see is this : the
church sociables in most of our villages and large
towns cut up society into cliques. Active and
zealous church members find but little time for
the cultivation of social relations beyond the
bounds of their own parishes. I have heard it


said, more than once, by intellii^ent citizens, that
there is not much general social intercourse
among the best people of this town, and that the
fault lies at the doors of the churches. The First
Church people are a set by themselves, and so
are the Second Church people, and the Episco-
palians, and the Baptists, and all the rest. The
devotion of the church members to their own
societies hinders the development of a broad,
social life."

"That is true," answered Strong, "and there
is something here to regret, beyond question.
Nevertheless, there are com^pensations, w^hich
you, Walter Franklin, must not overlook. If
the churches have somewhat hindered the culti-
vated classes outside of the large cities from con-
sorting together, they have also helped to bring
together the cultivated and the uncultivated
classes, and that is one of the things that most
need to be done. They have substituted verti-
cal lines of division in society for horizontal ones.
Bad as the church cliques are, they are not so
bad as the stratifications of social aestheticism.
But I am not defending social exclusiveness in
the churches ; I am trying to overcome it, as a
step tow^ard something higher."

" You are perfectly right, and you may count
on me. We will be on hand Tuesday evening.
Good-night ! "



It was a merry company that followed Mr.
Strong into the parlors of the First Church ; and
though they were received at first with polite
bewilderment, it was not long before hospitality
and good-fellowship asserted themselves in the
heartiest fashion. The hosts exerted themselves
to entertain their guests, voted the innovation a
delightful one, and promised to return the visit.
This was the beginning of a series of fraterniza-
tions among the churches of New Albion ; none
were neglected ; the Adventists, who v/orshiped
in Central Hall, and the tv/o colored churches,
were surprised in their turn by visiting delega-
tions from the other churches that dropped in
at their prayer-meetings, and stopped afterward
to shake hands and to say a few pleasant words.
So far as it could be done socially, the ecclesias-
tical entente cordiale was fairly established in this
prosperous town.

All this was so much of the nature of a recre-
ation, that the banker and his friend excepted it
from the list of forbidden subjects, and often
chanted the praises of Christian fraternity to the
music of Major's sleigh-bells.

" It is all excellent, so far as it goes," said the
banker, one day in January ; ** but I want to see
the thing put on a business basis. The im-
provement in the social relations of the churches
is a great gain ; it signifies vastly more to have


the people meet in this friendly way, and show
each other neighborly courtesies, than to have
them talk the cant of Christian union now and
then in a prayer-meeting — but it is not enough.
We want some method by which this fraternity
shall have a distinct and influential expression."

*' Exactly," answered the parson ; ** we have
been getting up steam ; now v/e want to utilize
our power. How shall we do it ? "

" I thought you were managing the business,"
replied Franklin ; " but, since you ask the ques-
tion, I'll give you my idea. Let us have a little
party at my house some evening, including the
ministers and about three of the best members
of each church, and see what comes of it."

*' How shall the three best members of each
church be chosen ? "

'* We must choose them ourselves. We know
this community well enough to pick our men."

The preparation of this list was not, however,
an easy matter, as the banker and his pastor
found. Mr. Franklin's knowledge of the business
standing of the " leading members " served to thin
out Mr. Strong's ample catalogue of nominees.

" Rodney Merrill ? Yes; he's a good talker,
but his word doesn't stand for much. Better
put young Porter, the carpenter, in his place.
Stevenson ? H'm ! He's a customer of mine ;
but I don't like his way of doing business.


Montgomery ? I've got some memoranda on
Montgomery. He failed not long ago ; and
not ten days before the collapse he borrowed a
thousand dollars at our bank, solemnly assur-
ing me that he had not less than twenty thou-
sand dollars in available assets, and not more
than five thousand dollars of debts. The in-
ventory showed that his figures were exactly
right, only the debts were twenty thousand, and
the assets five. It was a mere slip of the tongue,
no doubt; but we'll pass Montgomery. This com-
pany must be a clean one, and there is no lack
of sound and reputable men in our churches."

" How about the colored brethren ? " queried
Mr. Strong.

" The colored brethren must be left out," was
the answer ; *' not for social, but for ecclesias-
tical reasons. One of the first duties of this
league of ours, if it ever gets into operation, will
be the suppression of these colored churches.
When the colored people abandon their own
organizations, and join the other churches, they
may come fe as representatives from them. We
will have no color-line in the Christianity for
which this club stands. I'll go as far as any
other man in fraternizing with colored men ;
but with colored churches, never. The secta-
rianism whose only basis is the color of the skin
is the meanest kind of sectarianism."


OUT of the thirty-two persons invited, thirty,
representing all of the eight churches ot
New Albion, gathered in Mr. Franklin's parlors on
the sixteenth of January. The clergymen were
all present, and the absentees were not conspic-
uous. Tea was served in the parlors, and Mr.
Franklin was amused to see how completely
sectarian lines were blotted out in the grouping
of the guests about the small tables. To the
eye of the social devotee it would have seemed,
no doubt, a mixed multitude — people of all
grades of society were here ; but the hospitality
was so frank and hearty, and the entertainment
of such a simple sort, that the humblest people
were at their ease. And what was of more con-
sequence, these people were all known to one
another as being engaged in various kinds of
benevolent work in the community ; the caincr-
aderie of Christian service was a stronger bond
than that by which most social circles are drawn
together. Dr. Emmons Hopkins Phelps, the


venerable and well beloved pastor of the " First
Church of Christ in New Albion," was tete-a-
tete with the Rev. Murray Henderson, the young
pastor of the Universalists ; Dr. Thomas Samp-
son, the stalwart wit and excellent scholar, who
adorned the pulpit of the Baptist Church, was
cheek by jowl with the genial Dr. Philip Strick-
land, of St. Mark's Episcopal Church ; and here
and there Congregational deacons were sand-
wiched between Episcopal vestrymen and
Methodist stewards.

" What are you going to do with your happy
family when you get them trained ? " asked the
Rev. John Wesley Thorpe, Methodist, of the
beaming host.

''Travel with 'em," was the prompt answer.
*' Take 'em up to Hardscrabble and West North-
field, and over to Hockset, and show 'em to the
natives for ten cents admission, the proceeds to
be divided equally among the home missionary
societies of the several denominations."

" Such a show would be a great curiosity in
those parts, no doubt," said the clergyman.
*' But my friend Peters, here, thinks that the
saints in Hardscrabble would be horrified to
see Dr. Phelps eating and drinking with a Uni-

" It is somewhat bewildering, I own," replied
the banker. *' But I think that, when they



looked into Henderson's face, they could say
nothing against it. Look at him now ! It's a
face for Raphael."

** Solar radiance, isn't it?" responded Peters.

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Online LibraryWashington GladdenThe Christian league of Connecticut → online text (page 1 of 10)