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Co-operation In Home Missions

WHEREVER we look, the competitive idea and spirit, both in theory and in practice, is giving way before the modern principle of co-operation. In social theory and experiment, the thought of our day moves from individualism toward collectivism. In politics, party lines are breaking down and men of diverse theories are uniting for the attainment of practical ends. In the industrial, and commercial, and financial worlds, combination spells success. "Efficiency" is the new word on everybody's lips, and to the stern test of its requirements all the processes of the business world must be brought. Not less must the methods of every religious enterprise be judged in terms of efficiency, for the evangelization of the world pre-eminently deserves the name of "big business." Waste of time and effort, re-duplication, unnecessary expense of any kind are less defensible here than elsewhere. The real difficulty in this field, however, arises from the attempt of conscientious men to discriminate between waste and necessary expenditure, and to discover how far it is possible for Christian people, with their differences of religious views, to combine their forces for economy of effort.

There are peculiar obstacles in the way of full co-operation between the churches in home missionary effort. On the frontier, denominations contest for new territory. Their prosperity and growth depend upon pushing forward and occupying the points that promise some day to be strategic. All the motives of denominational pride and ambition, together with a sincere fidelity to denominational convictions and downright earnestness of religious purpose, combine to urge the churches to occupy the new districts at the earliest possible moment. The necessity for comity and co-operation in home missionary enterprises arises from the fact that these impulses, working in all denominations alike, drive them in the same directions, and tempt all to occupy those localities that give most promise of becoming centers of influence. "As soon as a town was opened," said a speaker at the Chicago meeting of the Federal Council, "the denominations used to hurry into it: Episcopalians in the parlor-car, Presbyterians in the sleeper, Congregationalists in the day coach, Baptists on the tender, and Methodists on the cow-catcher; and by the time those in the passenger coaches had unlimbered, the Baptists and the Methodists were building their chapels. Very soon the problem was how to get some of the denominations out!" For years the various sects have labored at the task of winning the new empire of America for Christ, each with its independent plan of campaign as though it alone were in the field, without consultation or cooperation, or troubling to acquaint itself with the methods or results of the activities of others engaged in the same enterprise.

Reassuring signs of a better day are appearing. The task is so great nothing less than the conquest and development of a new nation and the need so appalling, and the results of such guerrilla warfare so meager in comparison with the need, that the denominations have been driven to join hand, and heart, and will, in their common work of evangelization. Here are almost 100,000,000 of the most energetic and progressive people under the sun, in a territory vast and rich enough to support a population twenty times its size, pressing forward in an irresistible tide into the sparsely settled regions on the western slope of the continent; eager for gain, ready for privation and sacrifice in the pursuit of it, needing the touch of that idealism that alone can redeem such ambition from sordid greed, and presenting an unexampled opportunity for the ministration of the Church which alone can furnish the altruistic impulse. On the broad prairies, towns spring up almost over night, and the plowshare of the pioneer turning over the unbroken sod transforms the rolling plains into waving fields of grain. Vast irrigation projects convert waste places into a luxuriant garden and cause the desert to blossom as the rose. Everywhere upon the frontier, homes are hardly built before schools are planted among them; but the saloon and gambling house are quick to follow in the wake of progress. If such new territories are to be won for God and righteousness, the church must be early upon the field and make its contribution to their development during the early, formative years.

It is the prosperity of America that is, in part, its peril. The story is told of a soldier in the army of Antigonus who became conspicuous for his bravery upon the field of battle. With invincible courage he faced the most overwhelming odds, led forlorn hopes to victory, was foremost in the charge and last in retreat. Attracting the attention and admiration of his officers, he was brought into the presence of the general. On inquiry it was found that the man was poor and afflicted with a distressing and painful disease. In pity the general bestowed money upon him, and placed him under the care of his best physicians, who soon relieved him of his malady. But it was quickly discovered that the soldier had lost his enterprise and courage. He no longer led the charge. Formerly the very discomfort and suffering which distressed him had driven him forth to every desperate endeavor; now he sought his ease, for, as he remarked to his comrades, he had some-thing worth living for health, home, family, and other comforts, and life under these conditions was too valuable to risk. Such is the peril of prosperity, —an ignoble content, a cowardly conservatism, a base materialism, a self-centered satisfaction with things as they are, a blind indifference to the compulsion of great causes, a regard for the body of things and a contempt for their soul. Above all, because of its prosperity and promise of material good, America needs the offices of religion.

Toward this land of plenty, as to another Canaan, the peoples of the older world, oppressed by poverty, are flowing in a steady stream of a million or more a year. As an ever-increasing proportion of this immigration comes from the south and east of Europe, the problems which it offers grow more acute and grave. What are we to do with these eager folk who press upon us, ignorant, most of them, of our language and of our institutions, with contrary social and political traditions and ideals, and of another spiritual heritage? What, rather, are they to do with us? Are these unassimilated masses to despoil our institutions and remove our landmarks, and to make of the descendants of the Puritans strangers in an alien land? And what shall we say of the 10,000,000 negroes whose ancestors immigrated against their will, and who now share our inheritance? No scheme of colonization will solve this problem: they are here to stay. The day is not very far distant when these 10,000,000 will have become 20,000,000. We cannot hope that the masses of the negro population can remain in ignorance, living in squalor and poverty, without the contamination of such conditions spreading throughout the commonwealths in which they reside. We cannot have ignorance, or poverty, or vice anywhere in the community without its affecting the entire population. Add to these elements that go to make up the urgent problem of American life, the pitiful necessities of the Indian wards of the nation; the menace of Mormonism; and the growing numbers of those who come to us from Mohammedan lands, from the minarets of whose more than threescore temples on this continent there daily sounds the muezzin's call to prayer; and we may see how large looms the task committed to the evangelical churches of America.

Similar and related to this problem of a complex population is the engrossing and insistent problem of the American city, to which the larger proportion of our immigration flows. Today the city dominates our civilization, socially, politically, and religiously. Whereas in 1800 one in twenty of the population dwelt in the city, in 1900 the proportion was one in three; and with the development of our manufactures it will not be long before one-half of the people will assuredly be found residing in municipalities. Already one-half of the population of the Empire State lives in New York City. Not Springfield, but Chicago, is the political, and social, and commercial capital of Illinois. America gets its ideals from the city: as goes the city, so goes the nation. If there is corruption in the city, the whole body politic suffers. If the saloon rules the city, the country will not escape. If the government of our cities is the scandal of American life, then republican institutions the nation over are imperiled. If there is contempt for law there, the power of the law languishes elsewhere. The political problem is largely a city problem. A Christian civilization is on trial in the city. And if the city church fails, we cannot hope to redeem that failure by conquests in the town and countryside.

Such conditions are a challenge to the faith and consecration of the Christian Church; and it is becoming increasingly evident that no single communion is sufficient to meet them. To these vast, unassimilated masses in the very center of our population, who come to us from other lands, there must be brought the finest products of a Christian civilization. If these are to be Americanized, a large share in the task will devolve upon the Church. With a magnificent optimism, Senator Hoar of Massachusetts, shortly before his death, declared, "I believe that if all Americans of native birth should die tomorrow, the masses who have come to us from other shores may be trusted to preserve and carry to success the spirit of American institutions;" but such hopefulness would be only complacent folly unless adequate efforts are made to imbue these millions with that spirit in its best estate. The negro must be evangelized and taught, the Indian protected from his weaknesses and his enemies, Mormonism checked and its venom extracted, and the frontier communities molded and inspired by the influences of religion. The island possessions of the new America, moreover, must be evangelized. Competition in these high tasks is folly; the competitive spirit de-feats its own ends. Only co-operation can win America for Christ.

The pioneer among agencies which have applied themselves to the solution of these problems is the American Sunday-School Union, whose fruitful service has extended over the last 98 years. Believing that through an interdenominational rather than a denominational effort the Christian Church can most effectively reach the isolated and neglected rural districts all over the United States, it has sent its missionaries into the remotest corners of the land, rallying the Christian forces, however small or crude, and planting union Sunday-schools to serve as the nuclei of Christian activity. The annual report of the Union for 1915 describes the labors of ten district superintendents, under whom are 224 general or local missionaries serving fields each covering from one to a dozen counties. These missionaries are constantly engaged in studying religious conditions in their fields, especially in rural and isolated districts. Where such communities are without Sunday-schools, interest is aroused by house-to-house visitation, teachers and officers are enlisted, and Sunday-schools organized. During the year covered by this report, these field workers organized 1,368 new schools and reorganized 687. Many an abandoned church has been rehabilitated through the organization within it of such a union Sunday-school. "Not infrequently," declares the report for 1914, "in communities where two denominational churches have been closed for years, the missionary, by determining 'not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and him crucified,' brings the people, who in the past had been in different de-nominations, into one united congregation, identified with a denomination of their own choosing." Seventy-eight congregations were organized last year and transferred from the care of the American Sunday-School Union to denominational control. The pioneer work could have been only non-denominational in the true sense, since these 78 churches were divided among 14 different denominations.

The organization through which the Home Mission Boards of the Protestant churches of America are seeking to correlate their missionary forces is the Home Missions Council. Organized as recently as 1908, it is now composed of representatives of 33 societies and boards connected with 21 distinct de-nominations, embodying nine-tenths of the nation-ally organized home mission forces. This organization holds regular meetings twice a year for the consideration of great administrative questions, and through its special committees and deputations seeks to determine the facts that compose the home mission problem, and to further co-operative effort. The spirit in which it pursues its task is evident in the principles which, in conjunction with the Commission on Home Missions of the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America, it has lately formulated and recommended to the Home Mission Boards of the denominations co-operating. It instructs its representatives:

1. To confer with like officers of other Home Mission Societies or Boards and arrange to allot the entirely unoccupied fields among the various bodies so that each shall feel a special responsibility for given fields.

2. To decline application for Home Mission aid at any place where the gospel of Christ is earnestly and adequately promulgated by others and where assured prospects of growth do not seem to demand the establishment of other churches.

At least ten of the national Home Mission Societies and Boards, including all but one of the large denominations, have given their explicit endorsement to these principles. While the spirit of the administrative officers of all the leading boards is in full harmony with such a program, it cannot be denied that there are multitudes of people, ministers, missionaries, and laymen, in every communion, who have not yet reached an equal height and breadth of view. It is the membership at large which determines the actual policy to be pursued even within denominations that are least democratic ii polity. That this is still, in many quarters, directed along the old competitive lines, is not so much the fault of the leaders as of the local administrators at the front.

The organization of the Home Missions Council has made possible a co-operative study of the various elements that compose the home mission problem. During 1914, for example, the Council's Committee on Immigrant Work conducted an extensive inquiry concerning the immigrant population of the United States, including in its surveys the Bohemians, Poles, and Magyars, and, less completely, the Finns, Croatians, Serbs, Armenians, and other nationalities. The results of these studies not only revealed the meagerness of the total work carried on by the allied denominations, but, in the words of the committee, "made renewedly clear the irrelevancy of our denominational distinctions in this field, save as in a few cases the people ministered to come from nations having a considerable Protestant tradition."

For the first time in the history of the home mission enterprise, it has become possible, also, through the Council, to make careful and comprehensive investigations of particular sections of the country to determine the conditions actually existing and the genuine needs of the fields. These studies or surveys, made during 1913 and 1914, were initiated by a deputation of board secretaries in a series of "consultations" with members of state boards and committees, state and district superintendents, and other field administrators of home mission work in 15 of the western states. After the preliminary consultation, each conference selected a state survey committee composed of representatives of each religious body co-operating, who have been publishing the results of their investigations in a series of bulletins. The first deals with a general survey of the entire territory under observation, including those states in which the largest proportion of the funds contributed to the treasuries of home mission boards and national societies are applied in various forms of evangelization and church extension. Later bulletins are devoted to the results of more intensive surveys of Oregon, North Dakota, Colorado, Northern California, and Washington. While the region examined embraces almost one-half of our continental territory, only 13.7 per cent. of the total population is now found within it; and while the average density of population for the country at large is 30.9 per square mile, that for this region is only 8.8. During the past decade this vast territory has in-creased its population at a rate double that of the increase of the country as a whole, and evidently will soon include a population commensurate with its size. Thus is suggested something of the "civilization-building, and the consequent strain upon social institutions, which this region will experience in the next few decades." Not one of the states under observation shows a percentage of Protestant church membership to population equal to that for the country taken as a whole, while six of the states show Roman Catholic percentages exceeding that for the entire country.

Considerable attention has been given in an earlier chapter to the "overlapping" of religious agencies. This is a serious condition, occasioning waste of money, time, and energy. It is also the cause of much hostile criticism of the Church and its methods. But reports of its prevalence may easily be exaggerated and, as a matter of fact, the surveys of the Home Missions Council indicate that on the frontier, at least, it is a negligible factor in its effect upon the efficiency of American Christianity compared with that of "overlooking," or the neglect by all denominational forces of large sections of the population. In an investigation of the state of Colorado, made within a few years by the Commission on Home Missions of the Federal Council, while many instances of an unwise reduplication of church organizations were discovered, such as that of a town of 400 people with four churches, all supported by home mission aid, 133 communities were reported, ranging from 150 to 1,000 souls, without Protestant churches of any name, 100 of them being also without a Roman Catholic church.

The study of 15 states undertaken by the Home Missions Council was appropriately called "The Neglected Fields Survey." Of one of the states it is reported that it may be conservatively estimated that at least 458 school districts have groups of people living more than four miles from the nearest church, and that these groups comprise at least 32,796 persons. From a township in this state with a population of 300 the report was received, "There is not a church of any kind in the township, nor any religious services of any kind. There are only about 20 Catholics and 20 Lutherans who profess any religion." Such conditions are common in most of the states surveyed. Of the districts in Oregon reporting, 54.1 per cent. have no church or Sunday-school activities, and it is estimated that 33,000 school children in the state reside in districts not supplied with organized religious work. "I have lived here 11 years," writes one correspondent, "and I think there have not been more than seven sermons preached in this district in that time." Others report not having had services in 15 or 20 years. "It is safe to say," states the report for Colorado, "making allowances for the fact that returns were received from only 55 per cent. of the districts in the state, that at least 25,000 or 30,000 people in Colorado live more than four miles by a practicable route of travel from the nearest church. Naturally many of these people live in small communities scattered over a large area, making church work, as it is usually done, impracticable. However, that is not true of all, as is indicated by the fact that one district with a population of 716 reports 'seven or eight saloons, no church, one service per month;' and another, with a population of 460, reports that 'the saloon is doing all that is being done." "Throughout Washington and Oregon," writes Dr. Ward Platt, of conditions prevailing seven years ago, "may be found scores of narrow valleys teeming with people. No one is doing anything for them religiously, as but little is attempted by any church for Washington or Oregon outside the towns. In southwestern Oregon is a county of about 1,500 square miles in which live at least 2,500 people, mostly American; and no denomination, according to the report made last year, is doing any work whatever in that whole county. They are absolutely without church privileges.'" One in charge of a large field in western Washington declares, that "in his division only 209 towns out of 1,146 have church organizations, leaving 937 towns and villages without any religious privileges whatever. Over half the children in western Washington have never been enrolled in a Sunday-school. The whole region is in its infancy and is developing with astounding rapidity." "Where in this race," asks Dr. Platt, "is the Church of God?"

It ought to be said, however, that since these statements were made by Dr. Platt, conditions in this section of the country have, without doubt, much improved as the field has been more fully occupied by evangelizing agencies. During the four years closing in 1914, the American Sunday-School Union alone has increased the number of its missionaries in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho to 11. Through their efforts 400 new Sunday-schools were organized, with 1,400 teachers and almost 12,000 pupils; prayer-meetings and young people's societies were established in large numbers, and over 1,000 persons professed conversion. Out of the Sunday-schools thus established, 14 churches of different denominations were organized. That deplorable need of further efforts still exists, however, in many districts of the far West is indicated in the following summary in the report of the Neglected Fields Survey Committee to the Home Missions Council at its meeting in 1914: "In Oregon 30.7 per cent. of the districts sending in returns have churches and Sunday-schools; in North Dakota, 27.7 per cent.; in Colorado, 26.6 per cent.; in California (northern portion), 28 per cent.; in Washington, 32.7 per cent. While many districts reporting failed to reply to the question as to whether there was immediate religious activity, the percentages of those definitely reporting no religious activity are: in Washington, 40.1 per cent.; in California (northern portion), 36.9 per cent.; in Colorado, 25.4 per cent."

The final report of the committee which directed these surveys, made to the Council at its meeting in 1915, declared that, "in the 6,515 school districts reported upon, the best state had 44 per cent. with-out any kind of a church or Sunday-school, and the worst 64 per cent. ; and that each state showed from 25,000 to 47,000 people living more than four miles from any church." "Perhaps more significant," the report continues, "is the fact that even where churches of some kind are reported, it is shown that they are not pouring through the community a continuous stream of life. Thirty-five per cent. of them hold less than four services a month. But even of those which have more or less preaching, a large proportion are without continuous ministry. From 31 to 51 per cent. have no resident pastors."

It was to study and to meet such conditions by concerted action that the Home Missions Council was organized. It is not the intention of the Council to foster the organization of union or interdenominational churches, since, as it believes, the history of such organizations, deprived of denominational influence and control, is not encouraging. Wherever churches should be combined, the Council recommends that it be done by the method of reciprocal exchange between denominations, ac-cording to the method described in the preceding chapter; with provision for receiving into associate or full membership in such denominational organizations the members of any other communion as shall make them truly community churches. Yet the Council does not take upon itself the function of interfering in the disposition of the affairs of individual churches: it can do no more than make recommendations, leaving local adjustments to be administered by those upon the field. It is not the purpose of the Council to decrease or hinder the work of any denomination, but rather to stimulate the activities of every Christian body, and to en-courage particular denominations to enter specified fields that are unoccupied or neglected. It advocates no theoretical scheme of Christian unity, but stands for the most practical forms of co-operative effort that are immediately possible. It seeks, moreover, to systematize and correlate those forms of work, in which the denominations are already engaged in common, as, for example, educational work for the Indians, and, where possible, to employ a single agency for tasks better accomplished by union effort, as is instanced in the appointment by the Council of a traveling evangelist among the Hindus in America.

In the effort to devise a plan for co-operative action, in view of the facts revealed by the "Survey of Neglected Fields," a series of conferences was held by the committee in six western states during 1914, with results the importance of which for the future of the home mission enterprise can hardly be over-estimated. A federation for the more effective conduct of home missions was instituted in every state, or existing federations further developed. The plan projected in Utah, which has already been adopted by all of the state and national boards and ecclesiastical bodies affected by it that have thus far taken definite action upon it, and upon whose favorable consideration its initiation depends, is of the utmost significance as indicating the trend of the new co-operative principle of our home mission agencies. In outline,' the plan calls for the organization of a Utah Interdenominational Commission, to be composed of two persons appointed by the state organization officially representing each religious body co-operating, a secretary of each supporting national board having ex officio membership. To this Commission general policies of co-operative work within the state are to be submitted for advisement, and by it sums to be used in the co-operative work are to be determined, and such other duties discharged as shall be jointly assigned by the co-operating religious bodies. In addition, a Utah Home Mission Workers' Council is contemplated, to be composed of four workers chosen by each religious body co-operating, this Council "to promote co-operative work in the field, advise in the adjustment of differences, arrange for the effective use of funds assigned to the co-operative budget, and increase by all practicable means the efficiency of the work of all the co-operating agencies throughout the state." It is proposed to organize also an Annual Utah Workers' Institute of three or more days' duration, to be of an educational character, designed to inspire and train workers for efficient service, open to every ordained minister, mission-school teacher, or other worker in the state, with the necessary expense of attendance to be paid in every case by such methods as each denomination may adopt. It is provided in the plan that "action of the Council affecting established home mission policies, enlargement of co-operative budgets, or the relations of denominations, shall be undertaken only after the concurrence of the Commission." Finally, it is agreed that the plan "does not contemplate the curtailing of denominational autonomy, nor encroach upon the prerogative of the ecclesiastical bodies co-operating, except as herein provided, or as each and all may later agree."

This plan, if successfully instituted, appears to be adapted to bring the dream of a co-operative Christendom down from heaven to earth. Foreign Mission agencies, as we shall see in the following chap-ter, possess the instrument through which their efforts may be correlated and unified. The Home Missions Council suffices to bring together the leaders in home mission endeavor, and makes possible the formulation of broadly inclusive plans. The great deficiency has been the lack of a plan by which the co-operative spirit could be conveyed to the point of actual application to specific religious tasks. The actual responsibility for the expensive and wasteful competitive methods prevalent particularly in rural communities rests, for the most part, upon state denominational organizations, and these, in most instances, are carrying on their work without systematic co-operation in the occupation of fields, or even conference with one another. In a few states, as in Maine, state federations of churches concern themselves with particular problems of comity and co-operation, but such federations, in general, are so loosely organized that they are in constant danger of degenerating into select coteries for the ineffective if innocuous discussion of doctrinal agreements and differences. There is imperative need either that larger discretionary and executive powers shall be delegated to such federations for the settlement of particular questions of comity and co-operation as they arise, or that, by some such plan as that of Utah, those responsible for the direction of denominational efforts within the state shall regularly meet for the discussion and mutual adjustment of the projects and methods of their denominations, and for the correlation of the forces which they control.

Thus the Home Missions Council is breaking out new paths in the field of interdenominational co-operation. It is making it possible for the denominations included within it thoroughly to study the facts that enter into the home mission problem as no single denomination is able to study them, and then to plan a united campaign to disseminate knowledge of the facts and to meet the needs that are disclosed. It involves no slackening of the bonds of denominational loyalty or loss in the force of denominational conviction. But it is based on the assumption that the character of the differences that separate the affiliated denominations is not such as to prevent cooperation in the tremendous task of the evangelization of the continent, and that it is not essential to the spiritual welfare of America that the entire population should become Methodist or Presbyterian, or members of any particular denomination, so long as all are Christian, and the springs of national and personal life are purified and sweetened. It is a long step forward that the churches are definitely agreed that God does not plan to save America by means of any one denomination, and that a broader avenue has been discovered along which the forces of Protestant Christianity may march together.

( Originally Published 1915 )

The Union Of Christian Forces:
The Expense And Waste Of Christian Disunion

The New Testament Ideal Of Christian Unity And What Became Of It

The Passing Of The Sectarian Spirit

The Growth Of The Spirit Of Christian Unity

Christian Unity Through Federation

The Union Of Christian Forces In Country And Village

Co-operation In Home Missions

Co-operation On The Foreign Mission Field

Organic Church Unity

The Basis Of Organic Unity



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