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´╗┐Title: A Statement: On the Future of This Church
Author: Holmes, John Haynes, 1879-1964
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Statement: On the Future of This Church" ***

Transcriber's Note: Page numbers are indicated thus [3] at the
end of each printed page.

The Messiah Pulpit


 the Future of This Church


John Haynes Holmes

Minister of the Church of the Messiah

Series 1918-1919----No. VI


Published by the

Church of the Messiah

Park Avenue and 34th Street

New York City



The Messiah Pulpit, by tradition and practice, is a free platform,
dedicated to the ideal of truth. Its sermons, in both their spoken
and written form, are the utterances of the preacher, who accepts
for them exclusive responsibility.

The publication of these sermons is made possible by a private fund
for this purpose. Contributions to this fund are needed, and may be
sent to Rev. John Haynes Holmes, 61 East 34th Street, New York City.



On the Future of This Church

On Sunday, November 24 last, as most of you know. I was invited by
unanimous vote of the people of All Souls Church, Chicago, "to take
up the work laid down by (their) beloved pastor," the late Dr.
Jenkin Lloyd Jones. On Thursday, November 28, I received this call
through the personal visitation of two members of the Chicago
church, and agreed to give it most earnest consideration. On Sunday,
December 1, through my associate, Mr. Brown, I announced this call
to the congregation of the Church of the Messiah, explaining that it
involved the ministry of All Souls Church, the directorship of
Abraham Lincoln Centre, and the editorship of the weekly liberal
religious journal, called "Unity." I stated in my announcement that
I had asked and been granted ample time for the consideration of
this call, but that I intended to answer it as speedily as possible.
On Thursday last, just five weeks to a day after receiving the
invitation to Chicago, I sent my reply for transmission to the
people of All Souls Church this morning. I choose this same time to
announce to you my decision.

At the beginning of my consideration of the problem, I found
questions of personal inclination and comfort inevitably to the
fore. For twelve years minus one month, I have lived and labored in
New York City. Every particle of moral energy which I possess, I
have invested here. Nearly all of my friends are associated with
this community. Especially am I bound by ties of deepest reverence
and affection to this church. Here are memories of joy and sorrow
and great trial which are more truly a part of me than the voice
with which I speak, or the hand with which I turn these pages. It
[3] needed but this single summons to teach me what I had not
known--how deeply my roots are struck into the soil of this place,
and how great the pain and hazard of their exposure, removal and

It very soon became clear to me, however, that personal
considerations could rightly have but little part in the settlement
of this problem. In no spirit of bravado, but in simplest
recognition of the truth, I say to you that I believe I would have
been betraying the profession which I have sworn to serve had I
permitted conditions of personal affection, however lovely and
precious, to determine my decision in this case. I take seriously
the fact of my ordination--that as a minister of religion I have
been "set apart," as the traditional phrase has it, to the high
purpose of propagating an idea, championing a cause, seeking the
best and the highest that I know in terms of God and of his holy
will. I am here, in other words, not to make or to keep friends, not
to enjoy pleasant associations of hand and heart, not even to serve
a particular church, but to serve, perhaps at the cost of these
other and more personal things, the great idea of which I speak. To
allow my individual sentiments to fix the place and fashion of my
professional service, would be to me as dastardly a thing as to
allow considerations of profit or prestige to make decision. Not
even my wife or my children could interfere in this case. My problem
was to determine where I could best advance the ideals to which I
have given my life--where I could find the weapons or tools best
fitted to my hand for the doing of my work--and there to stand. To
remain in this church and city might be infinitely desirable to me
as a man; but I must decide not as a man but as a minister, and
therefore if I remained, it must be because I could do no other!

But there was another consideration which held me to this impersonal
relation to the problem. I refer to the fact that the Great War had
brought to a focus in my own soul the inward and largely unconscious
spiritual development of a decade. I had discovered, through [4]
much tribulation of mind and heart, the ideal which I sought to
serve, and disclosed to myself at least the picture of the
realization of this ideal in institutional form. This same Great
War, however, had distracted my parish, absorbed the energies and
attention of my people, and in spite of wellnigh unexampled
forbearance, had introduced elements of misunderstanding and even
alienation. The conflict, in other words, had no more left our
church unchanged than the world itself. We had been shaken and
distressed and tortured and driven, so that we were no longer the
persons we once were. You knew me, and I knew you, as we were
yesterday; but we did not know one another as we were going to be,
or should want to be, tomorrow. It was necessary that we should meet
not on the plane of the past, nor even of the present, but on the
plane of the future, and thus find ourselves again, and discover
what now, in this new world, we wanted, and would be able, to do
together. Months before the War was ended, it had clearly entered
into my mind to summon you to conference on our future relations as
minister and people. This invitation from Chicago but precipitated
suddenly what was in itself inevitable sooner or later. It
introduced into a problem already existing between you and me, a
third element--namely, the people of Abraham Lincoln Centre. The
problem, however, in its nature, remained the same. I have work to
do. I have set my hand to the plow, and I must find the field where
I can best drive this plow through the furrow of my sowing.

In order to make plain the situation, as it has presented itself to
my mind during the last five weeks, I must turn to the past for a
moment, and bring to you therefrom some fragments of autobiography.
Those of you who were present at the meeting on last Monday night,
have already heard what I am about to say. I beg your undivided
attention, none the less, that you may note the bearing of this
recital not on a problem presented, as then, but on a decision made,
as now.

I entered the Unitarian ministry in the year 1904, [5] under the
influence of motives not unfamiliar. In the first place, I saw the
pulpit. I went into the ministry for the same primary reason which
has held me there through all these years gone by--a desire to
preach. I think I can say, in no spirit of boasting, that from my
earliest days I have had an intense interest in the problem of
truth, and a passion to interpret and defend by the spoken word, the
truth as I saw it, to other men. It is just this passion, I suppose,
which makes the preacher, as distinguished from the poet or the
scientist. So Phillip Brooks would seem to suggest in his famous
dictum, that preaching is "Truth (conveyed) through Personality."
Furthermore, the truth which I desired to expound was theological in
its nature. My whole approach to the problem was along the lines of
speculation in the field of religious, as distinguished from
political or social, thought. God, the soul, immortality, the origin
and destiny of man, sin and salvation--these were the questions that
held me, even as a boy, partly, I suppose, because of native
inclination, partly because of careful training in a Unitarian home
and church, mostly I am convinced because I early came under the
spell of that prince of liberal preachers, Dr. Minot J. Savage. To
do what Dr. Savage was doing each Sunday, preaching to eager throngs
the great truths of the Unitarian gospel--this became the consuming
ambition of my life. I wanted to stand in a pulpit and preach. I
decided to do so; and if judgment in such a question can be based on
experiences of inward joy, I am ready to testify that my decision
was not unwise.

I entered the church, therefore, primarily because it had a pulpit.
But other reasons, not so decisive, and yet impressive, persuaded me
to this same end. Thus I saw in the church not only a pulpit but an
altar. Indeed, the pulpit distinguished itself in my mind from a
platform or a teacher's desk, by the fact that it was always
associated with the presence, visible and invisible, of an altar for
divine worship. It was easy for me to picture myself as saying all I
wanted to say in [6] college halls, in theater meetings, in public
forums, but I craved for my work on behalf of truth the atmosphere
and environment of spiritual devotion. It was my desire, in other
words, to be not merely a teacher or speaker, but a preacher; not
merely a prophet, but also a priest. This does not mean that I am a
churchman, as such; or that I find any permanent significance in
rituals or other forms of worship. But there is in me that which
seeks the stimulus of praise and prayer, the uplift of conscious
communion with the Eternal, the consolation of appeal to, and trust
in, God. Not only from habit, but from temperament, I find myself at
home amid religious rites. Nothing so moved me on my one trip to
Europe, as the hours I spent under the shadows of the great
cathedrals. As a quiet place of worship, as well as a high place of
testimony, the church called me in those youthful years, and I gave

A third motive for my choice of the ministry must not be forgotten.
I refer to the appeal of the church as a place for action, a service
station on behalf of public causes. My vision of what we mean by
public causes was strangely limited. It scarcely went beyond the
Unitarian denomination, and the works of charity and kindly reform
with which it has always been identified. I was a passionate
Unitarian in those days. I had read, and been deeply stirred by, the
story of the achievements which Unitarianism had wrought on behalf
of freedom, fellowship and character in religion. I reverenced its
saints and prophets, and longed to follow in their train. Hence the
eagerness with which I sought preparation for the Unitarian
ministry--that I might serve the church--advance its glory and
magnify its work.

It was with such ideas as these in my heart that I was ordained in
February, 1904. Within two years there came an event which shook my
life to its foundations, revolutionized my thought, and changed the
whole character of my interest and work. I refer to what we have [7]
learned to describe in our time as the social question. This
question, of course, is nothing new. It has burned at the heart of
life from the beginning, and at intervals has flamed forth like the
eruption of a volcano, to the terror and glory of the world. Its
latest phase, as we know it today in the religious field, made its
appearance at about the time I entered the ministry. I recall that
the book, which first revealed the fires so soon to burst upon
us--Prof. Peabody's "Jesus Christ and the Social Question "--was
published in 1903, the year before my ordination. I was not
unprepared for what was coming. My deep-rooted reverence for
Theodore Parker, the supreme prophet of applied Christianity in our
time, and my enthusiastic study of his life, had revealed to me the
meaning of socialized religion. But I had caught only the pure
essence of its spirit; I had not thought to apply it to the social
problems of today. Indeed, I was not aware of the existence of such
problems. My whole approach to the question of truth and experience
up to that time, had been along the lines of speculation in the
field of theological, as contrasted with political or social,
thought. In the second year of my ministry, however, I read Henry
George's "Progress and Poverty"; then followed the writings of Henry
D. Lloyd and Prof. Walter Rauschenbusch; then came the deep and
prolonged plunge into the waters of socialism. For several years
after I came to this church, I was in a state of intellectual and
emotional upheaval impossible for me to describe. At last came a
conviction which was a complete reversal of all my former ideas. I
was as a man converted; I was as one who had seen a great light.
Henceforth I was a social radical; and religion, pre-eminently not a
testimony to theological truth but a crusade for social change. Of
course, my interest in theology has persisted; but its place in my
life has tended to become ever more subordinate to other and more
directly practical interests. You know how the character of my
preaching has changed since I first entered the Messiah pulpit. You
know with what [8] waxing intensity of expression I have moved to
the left of our various divisions on the social question. You do not
know, hence I must tell you, how this intensity of radical
conviction is destined to continue in the years that are now before
us. For the war has accelerated the social crisis beyond all
forecasting. In two years has transpired what fifty years could not
have consummated under more normal conditions. Three great
empires--Russia, Germany, Austria--and several newborn countries,
like that of the Czecho-Slovaks, have been captured by the
Socialists; and the British Empire seems promised to the British
Labor Party in not more than another decade or two. The social
revolution long prophesied, long hoped for, long feared, is here;
and this means in countries like our own, still untouched by change,
such a "sturm and drang periode," as makes even the Great War pale
into insignificance. Now in these years which are before us, I
propose to speak and serve for the speediest and most thoroughgoing
social reconstruction. I am committed both by conviction and
temperament to the program of the British Labor Party and its policy
of indirect or political action for the advancement of that program.
This is my predominant interest at this moment, and through what is
destined I suppose to be the whole period of my life. This is as
much the cause of our day as abolition was the cause of the days
before the Civil War. To this I have given all I have--from this I
intend to withdraw nothing that I have given. Not in any sense of
bitterness or violence in method, but in every sense of utter change
as the end desired, I am committed to the ideal of the complete
democratization of society.

When the significance of this transformation first broke upon me, I
felt an impulse to leave the church, and attach myself directly to
the labor movement. I recall how my soul leapt in answer to the
great scene at the close of Kennedy's "The Servant in the House,"
when the Vicar strips off his clerical garb, seizes the dirty hand
of his brother, the Drain-Man, and cries out, [9] "This is no
priest's work--it calls for a man!" I was deterred, however, not, I
hope, by cowardice but by wisdom. On the surface I felt that I
should miss the services of the church--the prayers and worship with
my people. Deeper down, and nearer the heart of things, was an
unshaken trust in the church as a social institution. I loved her
traditions, reverenced her saints and prophets, believed in her
destiny--was unconvinced that she must necessarily serve the
interests of reaction. At-bottom, was a perfectly clear
understanding that my approach to the social question was a
spiritual approach, and my acceptance of it the acceptance of a
religious task. I saw my new position as nothing more nor less than
the logic of Christianity. Men must be free from all oppression,
because they are children of God, and therefore living souls. They
must be equal in opportunity and privilege, because they are members
of the holy family of God, and therefore brothers. They must be
lifted up out of poverty, disease, war, because their heritage is
the life of God, and they must have it abundantly. The material
aspects of the social question, I would be among the last, I trust,
to ignore. These are central--but central only as the fetters are
central to the problem of slavery. Furthermore, the means which I
recognized to the great end, were also spiritual. I could find no
place in my thought for the use of violence. The plea of
class-conscious rebellion never won my acceptance. Only patience,
persuasion, and much love for humankind, seemed to me legitimate
weapons of reform. In other words, I was again a victim of the logic
of Christianity. And where did this logic hold me, if not to the
church? Where could I make plain my spiritual position, or bring to
bear my spiritual influence, apart from the church? If this
institution must hold me altogether aloof from the social question,
then of course my duty was manifest. But its pulpit was wide open to
social preaching; its altar a chosen place for social consecration;
and its machinery of service all at hand to be shifted from the gear
of [10] charity to the gear of justice. Why not stay, therefore, in
the church, as Theodore Parker stayed, and fight capitalism, as he
fought slavery, in the garb of a minister of Christ?

Decision on this point came fairly early, and it was favorable to
the church. Strangely enough, however, it brought me little peace
and surety in my church relations. Outside, in the denomination at
large, I found myself in almost constant conflict with my fellows.
There were few meetings or conferences in which I did not speak in
protest and vote with minorities. Here in the Messiah parish there
was no trouble, thanks to your forbearance, friendship, and
scrupulous loyalty to freedom; but almost from the beginning there
was uncertainty, wonderment, at times unrest, on the part of those
longest associated with this society; and the records show a
melancholy tale of withdrawals of those, not unable to endure
differences of opinion, but impelled to turn away when the
institution, long precious in their sight, no longer presented the
recognizable attributes of a Unitarian church. That my own
shortcomings as a man and a minister were responsible for much of
this disturbance inside and outside the parish, I have no doubt. But
as I look back over the years, I also have no doubt that there was
something much more fundamental here, at the heart of the trouble.
That I was a heretic on the social question was insignificant, for
Unitarians have long since learned not only to tolerate but to
respect their heretics. What was infinitely more important, as I now
see, was the fact that unconsciously through these years, I was
coming to question not the church itself, as I have explained, but
the whole order and purpose of the church as it now exists. Every
ecclesiastical institution today is denominational in character. It
belongs primarily to some particular sectarian body, and is pledged
to the service of this body. Sometimes the central body is narrow,
as in the case of the more orthodox Protestant denominations;
sometimes it is liberal, as in the case of the Unitarians and
Universalists. [11] But always there is a distinctive form of
organization, or type of ritual, or doctrine of belief, or spirit of
association, which binds these separate churches into a single
group; and always this distinctive feature is something which had
its origin, and still finds its vitality, in the thought and
experience of an earlier age. Every one of our denominations, and
every one of the churches in our denominations, is representative of
past controversies, not of present interests and duties. No one sect
can be distinguished from any other, except by a reference to the
text books of Christian history.

Now with the intrusion of the social question into religion, a new
concept of church organization came immediately to the fore. The
unit of fellowship was now no longer the denomination, but the
community. The centre of life and allegiance was no longer the
challenge of ancient controversy, but the cry of present day human
need. The more I became interested in questions of social change,
the less I was concerned with questions of denominational welfare.
The more I became absorbed in the people of New York City, the
closer became my fellowship with other ministers similarly absorbed,
and the remoter my fellowship with those who were bound to me only
by the accident of the Unitarian tradition. More and more my hand
and heart went out directly to men who saw and labored for the
better day of which I dreamed; and only indirectly to those with
whom I was appointed to serve, but who could not or would not catch
the vision of my dreams. An irreconcilable conflict was here being
joined--the old, old conflict between a dead and a living
fellowship. It was my intuitive, although unconscious knowledge of
this fact, which made me a rebel in every Unitarian gathering of the
last ten years. It was a similarly unconscious instinct of
self-preservation which taught my Unitarian brethren, to whom the
old association was still central, to resent the things I sought. We
had been born together, and we lived together; our past and our
present were joint possessions. But when we faced the future, we
divided; my [12] colleagues, many of them, were content with old,
familiar ways, while I sought new associations.

What was dimly felt in those days, was suddenly transformed into
something clearly seen by the impact of the Great War. If this
stupendous conflict has revealed anything in religion, it is that
the sectarian divisions of Christendom are no longer to be
tolerated. In the fusing fires of battle, Presbyterian, Methodist,
Episcopalian, Unitarian, even Catholic, Protestant and Jew, have
been melted, and now flow in a single flaming stream into the mould
which shall fashion them into a single casting. Man after man has
returned from the front, to tell us that the denominational church
is dead. A new ordering of Christendom is at hand. The unit of
organization will be not the one belief, nor even the one spirit,
but the one field of service. Not the sect, but the community, will
be the nucleus of integration. We will have groupings not of
Methodist churches, and Baptist churches, and Unitarian churches, to
remind the world of ancient differences, but of New York churches,
and Boston churches, and San Francisco churches, to teach the world
of present needs and future hopes. Our churches will be related as
the wards in a city are related, or the cities in a state, or the
states in the nation. We shall be all Christians together, as we are
all Americans together. We shall have different religious ideas as
we have different political ideas. But we shall be organized
religiously, as well as politically, in a single community. Our
churches, like our schools, will be the possession, and the resort,
of all!

This vision of the church as a community, or civic centre, is the
logical application of socialized religion. It is no accident that
together these two things have captured my life. For a moment, just
as the idea of the social question set me thinking of leaving the
church altogether, so this idea of the community church set me
thinking of leaving this church and organizing in this city an
independent religious movement. Indeed, this latter thought has been
something more than a [13] momentary temptation. To have a church
has been with me from the beginning a necessity. To have a church of
the new community order has become a great desire. Last spring I
seriously considered presenting to you my resignation, that I might
enter upon the fulfillment of this hope. Last summer I pretty
definitely made up my mind to lay this problem and prospect before
you, as soon as peace should come, and the distractions of war be
gone. Then, at the very moment when peace came, as though to
anticipate and thus forestall my decision, there came the call from

Most of you know what Abraham Lincoln Centre is, and many of you by
what pioneer devotion this church of the future was fashioned out of
a traditional church of the past. It is not perfect; in some ways it
is already itself became traditional again. But it stands today as a
more complete embodiment of what I feel a modern church should be
than any other institution of which I know in America. The
invitation from the people seemed to me an instant bestowal of all
for which I seek. I do not think I could have resisted this call to
service, had it not been for your rightful claims of loyalty and
affection, and my own reluctance to abandon the project of
accomplishing my desires in New York. These considerations made me
hesitate--and while I hesitated, I thought. Why should I turn
elsewhere for the fulfillment of hopes which may be as surely if not
as swiftly realized here? Why should I undertake to build an
independent church in this city, or accept the leadership of a
church however remarkably developed in Chicago, when the Church of
the Messiah, pledged to freedom, and long committed to the idea of
progress, lies ready to my hand? Why should I seek the easy
inheritance of another man's completed work, and thus avoid the hard
labor of building an institution of my own, which, for that reason
alone, would be moulded nearer to my heart's desire? Above all, why
should I assume that my people who have loved and sustained me these
dozen years, are unwilling to move on with me in comradeship [14] to
the new pathways of the new world which we have entered, or by what
right make decision involving my future ministry here or elsewhere,
without taking them fully into my confidence and searching the
utmost temper of their minds? These were the questions which came to
me promptly on the receipt of the Chicago call. Should I undertake
to organize an independent church in New York, should I go to
Chicago as minister of All Souls' Church and Director of Abraham
Lincoln Centre, should I stay here as minister of this Church of the
Messiah--this was my problem. I could not solve it, with fairness to
myself or to you, until you had spoken. Hence, the meeting of last
Monday night, called by the helpful co-operation of the Board of
Trustees, and attended largely by our people.

In addressing this meeting, I stated in some detail the future
conditions of church work which I proposed to establish or to find.
I had intended originally not to make these public, at least all at
once; but rumor has been busy, and exact information, for purposes
of correction, if nothing more, has now become essential.

First of all, therefore, may I say that I made announcement to this
meeting, as I would now make announcement to you, that I have left,
or am planning to leave, the Unitarian denomination, and propose not
much longer to be known specifically as a Unitarian minister. The
reasons for this change in my life, I shall make plain at another
time; this morning I content myself with stating the fact. Almost a
year ago I resigned the office of vice-president of the Middle
States Conference of Unitarian churches, which have held ever since
I came to New York. Two months ago, I resigned from the Council of
the Unitarian General Conference. Two weeks ago, I resigned my
life-membership in the American Unitarian Association. Next May,
when the new list is made up, I expect to withdraw my name from the
official roll of Unitarian clergymen, and thus sever the last strand
which holds me to the Unitarian body. Of course, I shall join no
other denomination, and in [15] this sense shall be independent. But
to me this action means not isolation, but entrance into that larger
fellowship which I so long to share. No barrier will then separate
me from those Episcopalians and Baptists and Methodists and other
men, who are my real spiritual brethren. I shall be at one with all
men everywhere--at home with the family of mankind. I shall not so
much cease to be a Unitarian, as to become a Christian. This matter
is of course personal; and it thus affected only incidentally the
problem which was before our meeting last Monday night. It is easy
to find precedent for the occupancy of a Unitarian pulpit by a
minister not a Unitarian. At the time of the famous Year-Book
controversy, Mr. Potter of New Bedford, Mass., and several of his
colleagues, withdrew from the Unitarian body, but continued to hold
their Unitarian pulpits. The latest instance of which I chance to
know was called to my attention by the death last week of Prof.
George A. Foster, of Chicago University. Dr. Foster was born, bred
and ordained a Baptist; and yet last year was called to fill the
pulpit of the First Unitarian Church church in Madison, Wisconsin;
and died in the service of this church, a Baptist.

Even in orthodox churches, the  denominational tag is losing its
significance. Thus, when the City Temple London, the most famous
Congregational church in the world, sought a successor to Dr.
Campbell, it chose Dr. Joseph Fort Newton, of Iowa, a Universalist.
We are getting sensible enough these days to recognize that the
essential thing even about a minister is not his name but his
manhood. Nevertheless, my contemplated change in denominational
status might well be regarded as a part of the whole problem before
us, and I therefore made careful mention of it last Monday night.
Secondly, and more important, I stated my desire that the church
which I should serve tomorrow, might itself be undenominational, at
last to the degree implied by my conception of what I have called
the community church. By this I meant that the church should
proclaim [16] as its primary interest and aim identification with,
and service of, the people of its community, to the subordination,
and, if necessary, the ending of its connection with persons of
various and scattered communities who have no other bond of union
than that of a single denominational inheritance. Was I wrong when I
ventured the assertion at the meeting of our Society, that in this
church we have already moved far in this direction? Unconsciously,
in the last dozen years, it seems to me, we have been moving out of
the denomination, into the community. Nearly every interest in this
parish is a community and not a denominational interest. Our natural
affiliations as a church in this city have not been so much with
churches of our own denomination, as with churches of various
denominations distinguished like ourselves as predominantly civic,
or community, institutions. This congregation is an independent
congregation. If the Unitarian name adheres to it at all, it is to
the embarrassment of those whose Unitarianism is their pride, and to
the confusion of those who, not Unitarians either by birth or
conviction, desire to join us in spirit and active work. For years,
like "the chambered nautilus," we have been outgrowing our
denominational shell, and seeking "more stately mansions." Is it not
time, now, that we left this "outgrown shell," and became at last
the full and free community institution of which I speak? Should we
not at least clear ourselves of ancient entanglements to such degree
that we may invite people openly and honestly to come into our
portals not because they want to profess themselves Unitarians, but
because they want to confess themselves lovers and servants of

Again, I stated at last Monday's meeting my desire that the church
which I shall serve tomorrow, may have a name which means something
in the language and thought of our time. The application of this
principle to our church is obvious. The name, Church of the Messiah,
is precious to many of us, because it awakens memories and revives
tender associations. But a name [17] is important not from the
standpoint of those who know what it means, or ought to mean, but of
those who do not know. The name of a church, like that of a
business, is an advertisement. It is a symbol, a slogan, a banner.
It should tell at once to everybody what is behind it, what it
stands for; and this is exactly what our name does not do, except to
the initiate. Dr. Savage tried to save the situation by associating
with the name, Lowell's familiar line, "some great cause, God's new
Messiah." I have tried to breathe the breath of life into the
corpse, by attaching it deliberately to our various activities--as
the Messiah Forum, the Messiah Social Service League, etc. But all
in vain! Our name suggests a hope of ancient Judaism, a period of
Unitarian history, a habit of Episcopalian nomenclature--and that is
all! It should be changed, to give some adequate expression of our
ideals. The City Church, the People's Church, the Community Church,
the Church of the People, the Church of the New Democracy, the
Fellowship, the Free Fellowship, the Fellowship of Social Idealism,
the Fellowship of the Kingdom, the Fellowship of Spiritual
Democracy, the Liberal Centre, the Community Centre,--think of what
we might call ourselves, if we but had the courage. And after all,
what courage would it take, save that long since displayed by our
fathers in this church? How many of you know that for fourteen
years, this church was known simply as the Second Congregational
Unitarian Society of New York. Then in 1839, because the name
Unitarian was open to serious misconstruction, this name, except in
its strictly legal uses, was dropped, and the highly orthodox name
we now bear, was substituted. I stated at our meeting that if I
should remain as your minister, I should hope that this church might
similarly baptize itself afresh in the language of our own time, and
in the spirit of our own life!

Again, at this meeting on Monday last, I stated that a modern church
should have free pews. This statement needs no definition or
argument. The system of pew [18] rentals is an abomination, already
abolished in countless churches more orthodox than our own, and a
scandal in any church claiming to be liberal or democratic.

Lastly, I stated my desire that my church should have a
non-covenanted membership. On the side of organization, this means
of course that we make our church and society a single body, and
thus abolish the present system of two unrelated groups, the one
business and the other spiritual in character. On the side of
religion, it means that we abandon the idea of an inner group of
members, who have reached some spiritual eminence not attained by
others. Of course, in our body, this sanctification aspect of church
membership has disappeared from our apprehension. But if this is the
case, why should we retain the form? What is essential is
organization and fellowship on the basis of simple brotherhood. Here
we are, comrades together, worshipping and working to the great end
of a better world. We must be bound together in some way, for we
must be an enlisted body, not a mob of unrelated individuals. But
let it be a Roll-Call to Service--a joining of the church as of the
Red Cross for the love of mankind. In spirit, our membership is
already this; but its form is not so much an embodiment of the new
democracy of the saviors as an echo of the old aristocracy of the

It was with these five points that I confronted the members of this
Society last Monday evening. I stated them much as I have stated
them this morning, and then asked not that action be taken, but that
sentiment be expressed. Since that time, I have been assiduously
collecting information of what took place. Official report of action
taken, of votes passed, has been laid upon my desk. Friends have
written or spoken to me their impressions of the gathering. I have
myself canvassed the members of the Board of Trustees, and have
received replies to my questions which show such high endeavor to
convey accurate information and sound advice, quite apart from
personal opinion on most points, as does [19] abounding honor to the
persons concerned. From what has thus come to me, I deduce three
facts about this meeting. First, that the members of this church
were willing to face without revolt or rebuke, questions which more
often than not in the past have been the occasion of unseemly
quarrel and unholy schism. Secondly, that the consideration of these
questions was carried on for two hours without bitterness of spirit
as between the members of the church, or as between these members
and the absent minister. Lastly, that there is a large working
majority in this church who desire the things that I desire. Taking
these facts into my own soul, which must be the last court of
decision, after all, I have become convinced that I am confronted
here by a situation which I can neither ignore nor evade. My
challenge to you has been answered by a challenge to myself. To
refuse this challenge, is impossible. To leave this fruitage of my
twelve years of plowing and planting unharvested, and thus to wither
and be scattered, would be a crime. I have therefore declined the
call to Chicago, and will remain here as your minister!

To this announcement of my decision in this case, may I make, in
closing, some two or three supplementary remarks?

In the first place, for the benefit of such rasher or more
enthusiastic spirits as may be present in this place, I would state
that I have no intention of abusing the confidence thus reposed in
me, or the power thus granted me, by demanding immediate and final
action on all the points of my program. We are members here not of a
political caucus, but of a church; and it behooves us, therefore, to
observe even the uttermost refinements of good-will and mutual
consideration. We must respect with scrupulous fidelity the rights
of each, and seek nothing that falls short of the happiness of all.
Determination must now yield place to patience, and courage to
sympathy. Conversion and not conquest is our method. I had rather
wait years to gain my point with the consent of every heart, than
carry off the victory [20] tomorrow with some hearts broken and
thrown away. I have a perfect faith in the power of persuasion--an
unshaken confidence in the ultimate supremacy of love; and am quite
willing to leave to these mystic forces the determination of the
time, the method and the ultimate form of our accomplishment.

On the other hand, lest there be those who think that deeds are not
to follow upon words, may I state that I take up my ministry in this
church afresh today with the conviction that I am committed to a
program, and you committed to its decent and friendly consideration.
Nay more, I am persuaded that we are ready for unanimous action on
some points. At the regular annual meeting of this Society, on
Monday, January 13, I hope, and have every reason to expect that a
resolution will be introduced, providing for the abolition of the
pew rental system of financial support, and the establishment of the
principle of free pews. I shall recommend that certain methods be
employed for the affecting of this great change: (1) that all
present pew-holders be invited to surrender their sittings and to
pay to the treasurer in the form of subscription what they now pay
in form of rent; (2) that those who may be for any reason unwilling
to make this change, be protected in their rights and be guaranteed
their sittings, so long as they may desire this arrangement; (3)
that all new-comers be invited to support the church by subscription
payments only, and no pews or sittings be rented anew under any
consideration after a certain date. By some such procedure as this
we shall gain our end, protect our present income, and impose
compulsion upon no single individual.

Secondly, it is my hope, and expectation, that at this annual
meeting next week, the problem of our name as a church will be taken
up. I shall recommend that a committee be appointed to consider a
new name for the Church of the Messiah, and to report back to a
special meeting of the Society perhaps in the early spring, their
recommendation on this point.

As regards the problem of non-covenanted membership [21] I propose
to recommend that this matter be promptly referred to the Advisory
Board for study; that this body, in turn, report its findings to the
Board of Trustees for similar study; and that this Board, at such
time, and in such way, as it and the ministers may deem proper,
bring the matter before the Society for action. This question is
complicated, and poorly understood. We shall want to examine the
experience and precedent of other denominational bodies, and of such
independent religious organizations as the Ethical Culture Society
and the Free Synagogue. We must find, or create, a system of
membership which shall accurately and fully represent the spiritual
idealism of this church, as well as practical utility, at its best;
and this is a task calling at this moment not for action but for

There is left the most important of all questions which I have
raised--the continued connection of this church with the Unitarian
denomination. It is to me an occasion for surprise that some of you
should have imagined that I was desiring, or expecting, action on
this matter last Monday night. I have been still more astonished to
hear, during the week, that some of you suspect or infer that a
decision on my part to remain will involve an immediate intention to
proceed to the capture of the church for purposes not disclosed. On
Monday night I gave expression to a conviction and a hope, and asked
you to register opinion thereupon. Beyond that I would not go, and
could not if I would. Those of you who have been Unitarians for
years, are Unitarians today, and desire to remain Unitarians, must
be protected in your rights. The indebtedness of this church to the
many in generations gone who have served it for the sake and in the
name of Unitarianism, must not be repudiated. Moral obligation as
well as legal necessity may make it impossible for this church to
sever connection with the body of its origin. Above all, I am
insistent that there shall be no quarrel or schism on this issue.
There may be place here for change by evolution, but never by
violence. No faction must presume to dictate what may [22]
come beneficently by consent alone. What I did on Monday last was to
plant in your minds the seed which found lodgement years ago in
mine. What I shall now do is to wait the germination of that seed
through a period of years which may be less, and may well be more,
than I endured. And I do this with the more content and confidence,
that I have little doubt as to what the result will be. I have not
lived with you all these years gone by, without learning the
openness of your minds, the instinctive passion of your souls for
right, the quickness of your sensibilities to all sweet influences
of progress and good-will. If there be truth in my conviction for
change, it will in time be your conviction, as it is mine. If this

    "The freer step, the fuller breath,
    The wide horizons grander view,"

then it will inevitably work enchantment in your hearts as it has in
mine. And if not, then shall I trust those sweeping tides of change
which are now engulfing all the world and destined so soon, to
obliterate the barriers of denomination, so that this issue between
us must vanish for good and all. And in any case, we may ever have
the task of making our Unitarianism in this place of so new and
wonderful a character that this body to which we are bound, may
itself become transfigured by the service we perform for God and
man. I am quite content, therefore, to postpone this question for an
indefinite period. By the inward consent of converted minds, or the
outward logic of inexorable events, this problem will be settled in
due time, and with perfect amity and concord.

Lastly, may I congratulate you, as I am congratulating myself, on
the high adventure of the spirit which we undertake this day; and
appeal, without apology, in frankness unashamed, for your support in
this endeavor? I call to my people in this church, to join their
hands and hearts in this great enterprise of faith. Not to divide,
but to unite you, am I speaking: for it is the challenge of high aim
and struggle which alone can hold [23] us to accord. I call as well
to people outside this church--strangers and friends alike, who
have turned from the churches of the past, but, still devout in
expectancy and love, have waited long for the new church of the
morrow. Our vision may be dim, our purpose weak; but we are trying
for something higher and better than man has ever known--and we need
the help that you can give. We need your money--bills cannot be paid
without it. We need your names--a body cannot exist and labor
without members. We need your love--our hearts must falter if we
have it not. To all who hear these words I speak, to all who read
them when they are printed, to all whom rumor may inform and
question, I cry out, Come! To go on alone, were not so hard. I can
do it, if it be necessary. The blazed trail, as well as the broad
avenue, knows the footsteps of the Lord. The wilderness and the
solitary place, as well as the crowded city, is the abode of God.
But better than loneliness is comradeship. The explorer may see from
afar the Promised Land, the pioneer may spy it out, but it is the
marching host that enters to conquer and possess. To you all,
therefore, I lift my cry

    "We have chosen our path--
    Path to a clear-purposed goal,
    Path of advance!--but it leads
    A long steep journey, through sunk
    Gorges, o'er mountains of snow. . . .
    Fill up the gaps in our files, Strengthen our wavering line,
    Stablish, continue our march,
    On to the bound of the waste,
    On, to the city of God."


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