The Universalist Leader, January 7, 1922, p. 2-3.
The Universalist Comrades
Nature of the Organization– Achievements and Plans
The Rev. John Smith Lowe, D. D.
WE have all heard more or less about the Order of Universalist Comrades. In spite of such knowledge about the Order as has filtered through the denomination, it is only natural that many should still be saying, “What is it all about ?”The purpose of this article is to answer that question.
Nature of the Organization
The order of Universalist Comrades is a new movement and yet in its present form it is the product of a considerable process of evolution.
The new men’s society was started at the Worcester, Mass. session of the General Convention in 1917 by Louis Annin Ames of New York City. The moving spirit at the time was the creation of a “Fellowship of Universalist men who have rendered valuable service to the Universalist Church.” The plan was to take into membership in the National Order individual men in local churches who were qualified to join. It was assumed from the first that these men who had already served would be ready to render still further service to the Church as occasion might require and opportunity offer.
During the progress of the “Drive”in 1919 a National Committee of Fifty Men with Ralph W.E. Hunt of Portland, Me. as chairman was created for the purpose of making the Drive a success. This committee of fifty key men in various sections of the country created a working machine of over three hundred and fifty men in the local churches whose avowed intention was to push the Drive; and they pushed it with a vigor that was largely responsible for the victory achieved. It is anticipating our thought a little, but I pause here to remark that while we are asking what the Comrades have done to date as a body, we must not fail to make mention of the service these men rendered in our financial campaign of 1919. It is hardly putting it too strong to say that it is exceedingly doubtful if we ever could have raised all the money we did had it not been for their labors. True enough, they were not all of them at the time members of the Order of Comrades– most of them were not– but they soon came to be a large part of the working force of the Comrades’ movement as at present constituted.
Those who knew what these men had done in the Drive, as the Baltimore Convention came on, faced a problem and saw an opportunity. The problem was the crying need for a working organization of laymen that could be counted on to fill the same place in the functions of the Church among the men of the denomination that has been filled so splendidly, for over half a century, among the women, by the Women’s National Missionary Association. It was agreed that nothing was more seriously needed by the denomination than a strong, permanent, aggressive organization of men who would develop a commanding program and carry it through successfully.
They saw the opportunity in these three hundred and fifty men, as yet unorganized, but who had done things and had thereby demonstrated not only their ability but their disposition to do them. “Here is our chance,” we said. “Here is a movement too good to be lost. We must weld these men and hundreds more with them into a permanent organization of laymen for the Church. The very thing the Church wanted, needed, has come into existence spontaneously. It is here. All we have to do is to clinch it.”
In haste we went to work mapping out a plan of organization for the new movement with the nucleus already in existence. Articles were drawn up, several possible names were proposed, and plans were made to form the society at Baltimore.
When we reached Baltimore, however, we discovered what we had not known before– because we were not present at the Worcester meeting – that an actual men’s organization had been created at that time. It was obvious that two men’s societies, duplicating each other’s activities, ought not to exist side by side. There was but one thing to do and that was to merge the contemplated movement with three hundred and fifty men, with the existing Order of Universalist Comrades. This was done. Thus it happened that Mr. Ames and his associates at Worcester planned more wisely than they knew.
Because the scope of the work aimed at by the three hundred and fifty men, however, was somewhat different and more comprehensive than that provided for by the Comrades, some changes in the existing order were necessary. These changes were quickly and harmoniously made. The constitution was amended so as to admit to membership all who are desirous of rendering service to the Church as well as those who have rendered service to it. Provision was made for the organization of chapters in the local churches, the controlling idea being to create an aggressive, working organization that should, to repeat a comparison, do the same thing with the man power of the whole Church that the Women’s National Missionary Association has done with the woman power of the denomination. Fifty years ago the women started out. To-day they are really mighty in their strength. Their record of service and achievement is one of which they may justly feel proud. They have outstanding and constantly expanding interests in Japan, while they support and supervise missionary enterprises in two states here in the the missionary enterprises in two states here in the homeland. Fifty years from now the Universalist Comrades will be in existence. They will number in their membership the great majority, if not all the men of our denomination. They will have behind them a story of concrete things done that will deserve and receive the blessing of humanity. They will still have ahead of them a program of service that will challenge the courage of men and win their support.
One thing is certain. This new movement among our men is not a passing fancy, a whim of the hour, a  merely transient, temporary thing that has begun only to run a brief course and die. The Comrades have come to stay. The men mean business. From the national officers, who have given freely of their time and strength, advancing money to meet obligations when necessary, down to the individual members, all have worked from the first with a determination to create a permanent working organization of laymen. Never for a moment has the thought entered their minds that they were working for something that would last for a day only. Their plans and purposes are for all time, and fail they will not.
There is one final word to be said with reference to the nature of the Order. At Detroit still another change in the constitution, looking to a larger fellowship of service, was made so that henceforth any one is eligible for membership who desires to serve his fellow men through the main or auxiliary branches of the Universalist Church. If we serve our fellow men through the Church we shall both build and serve the Church.
It is both logical and legitimate to ask concerning the achievements of the Comrades. What have they done to date to arouse our interest and to merit our enlistment? Wait just a second while we get our bearings. The men who make up the membership of the Comrades are not children, but the Order itself is an infant in point of years. Founded only four years ago, in existence as at present constituted only two years, the Order is a mere child as yet. You don’t ordinarily expect much of a two-year old child. You know you must give him time. I don’t like to use military figures, but it is a fact that you must devote about two years to recruiting and training an army before you can expect much of it.
What has our youthful men’s organization done during the first two years of its existence?
It has grown in numbers and in strength. The recruiting has progressed satisfactorily. The membership has been increased from a few over one hundred to over two thousand. State chapters have been organized in at least six states. Over forty chapters have been organized in local churches in twelve states.
One could make out a pretty good case in defense of the contention that all we have any right to expect of a new organization during the first twenty-four months of its existence is that it shall grow in numbers and personnel to such an extent that it will have at its command resources that will make possible the carrying through of great programs of service.
The National Order of Comrades, however, can boast of a number of things accomplished which do credit to its brief existence. It has awakened a new and deeper sense of responsibility to the Church on the part of the men. Church attendance campaigns have been conducted which to this day in some localities are bearing fruit. This endeavor has been followed by a concerted effort to get the men to unite with the church, and in one state at least as a direct result of the Comrades’ work the membership gain for last year representing an unprecedented number of men was the largest on record.
The Comrades have started men’s classes in a number of Sunday schools. They have opened up several dormant churches. They have taken over the financial budget of local churches in many instances, placing them on a sound business basis. They have inspired not a few men to become licensed lay preachers, and these lay preachers are supplying pulpits in which there would be no preaching except for the service they render. As the movement progresses we may expect a rapid increase in the number of men who will enroll as licensed lay preachers. How far reaching this one activity on the part of the Comrades will be no one can estimate. An army of lay preachers will send to our theological schools an army of candidates for our ministry.
The Comrades have conducted and are still conducting in some states institutes with speakers representing each branch of our Church work. These institutes will grow in popularity and usefulness and in time spread throughout the country. They have conducted “Leader Subscription Drives” in many parishes which have resulted in many new subscribers to our denominational paper.
In addition the Comrades have advertised denominational events such as the Gloucester Celebration and the Detroit Convention. This publicity has resulted in the presence at these gatherings in increased numbers of men many of whom had never before attended such meetings. One achievement at the Detroit Convention will become historic. I refer to the really wonderful occasion on Saturday night when the Comrades, spontaneously and without a single word of appeal, subscribed over $35,000 for the Memorial Church in Washington, D.C., the largest single amount raised at any one time, it is believed, in the history of the Church.
It is not contended that this brief summary of what has been done by the Universalist Comrades is a complete record of their doings. It gives a cursory view of their activities, and one must admit that it would be unreasonable to expect much more of a two-year old organization. It is really surprising that the showing is so good.
Looking into the future we ask: In what direction are the Comrades headed? What is the program? What are the plans?
There is a program, but it is not finished in the sense that there is nothing that can be added to it. It is an elastic program that continues in the making as we go along. There are certain lines of service to which we are committed, and there are certain definite objectives at which we are aiming, but the list is not complete. Provision has been made for the inclusion in the Comrades’ program of any suggestions as to worthy interests which will supplement what is already in mind.
Specifically, the Comrades band themselves together in a fellowship whose underlying purpose is to call men to right relationship with God and man. This is fundamental. Unless we stand first and foremost for this great ideal the realization of all other objectives will be an empty performance, even if possible.
In the local church the plan is to continue the good work so splendidly started until every parish is alive with Comrades who are working to increase the number of men in the Sunday audiences and on the membership roll; working also to properly finance church, to put the men behind the Bible school, enlist the services of men as lay preachers; in a word, to make the church a strong aggressive spiritual influence in the city or town where it is located. In behalf of humanity, throughout the community, the nation, and the world, the idea is to promote the cause of Universal Brotherhood by seeking to influence legislation and by originating movements where possible, as well as by helping such measures as may already be in existence for the advancement of civic betterment and mutual understanding.
At present, in support of the denomination, the Comrades are committed to two major projects. The first is the erection in Tokyo, Japan at the earliest possible moment, of a Boys’ Home for boys and young men attending the educational institutions of that city.
The need for the Boys’ Home is urgent’ and it offers us a chance to render a service that will place the genuineness of our professed belief in Universal Brotherhood beyond question. There are forty-one colleges and universities in Tokyo, with 93,000 students, 80 per cent of whom are from the country; and eighty high schools with 56,000 students, 50 per cent of whom are from the country. Only 39 per cent of the schools have dormitories, thus leaving 90 per cent of the college and university students (83,700) and 10 per cent or 5,000 of the high school students (total 89,000) without dormitory accommodation.
These students thus unprovided for are compelled to live in boarding houses where conditions are unspeakably bad as to food, charges, noise, lack of social facilities (recreation rooms), and where there are absolutely no uplifting influences. It is not an orphanage we are planning to build, worthy as that object would be, but a home for the boys who will one day control the destinies of Japan because of their educational training. To prove to the world that our profession of a belief in the Universal Brotherhood of Man is not a sham and a pretense, we must act, not argue. One brotherly service rendered, one brotherly act engaged in, will go farther to prove that we mean what we say than a train load of finely spun arguments.
The second is the completion of the fund needed for the erection of the Universalist National Memorial Church in Washington, D.C. The Memorial Church has received sufficient comment in print and otherwise so that nothing additional is necessary, aside from the observation that the Trustees of the General Convention will accept the offer of the Comrades to complete the fund for the project. For the time being certainly the men have plenty for which to work.
No attempt is made to say that all Comrades must devote themselves to the lines of work mentioned and to them exclusively. The one fundamental condition of membership is the desire to serve one’s fellow men through the Universalist Church. How the service is rendered and to what specific objects it is directed is a matter of secondary importance.
Meanwhile, the Order must continue to grow in numbers and in strength. The recruiting is to be pushed with vigor. The Comrades Organization has not been fully launched until the man power of the entire denomination has been enlisted and much more. The two thousand members we have now should go to ten thousand, ten thousand to fifteen thousand, and on up. If you are not already a Comrade your summons has arrived. The Order can not do big things until it is itself big in numbers.
A Membership Campaign is now in progress under the direction of Fred A. Moore of Arlington, Mass. His appeal is irresistible and the cause for which he pleads is compelling. You will hear from him soon if you have not already. Certainly your response will be prompt and favorable. Do not wait outside to see whether or not the National Order of Universalist Comrades justifies itself. Come in with us and be the justification of it. If with your help it fails to justify itself, no one can blame you. If it does justify itself and you have not helped, you will never forgive yourself even if every one else does. Mr. Moore, in behalf of the men, is calling you. The Church offers you both an opportunity and a responsibility. Accept the one, discharge the other, and you will gladden the Church, uplift mankind and strengthen yourself.