A CREATIVE MESSAGE from his pulpit is the first responsibility of every Universalist minister. Any preacher’s creative period begins when he begins — through the movements of his own mind and spirit — preach out of his own contacts with life, when his faculties begin to strike through what has been given him to what he finds for himself. Our ministers must feed their preaching on keen observation, keep it warmly alive by human contacts, give it power through their own brooding and meditation, and vitalize it by projecting their own experience into the lives of their people. A minister must “study to prove himself a worker who needeth not to be ashamed”, for neither oaks nor sermons grow in a vacuum. There is much to be said about corporate sin, but private virtue for the public good is still a marked need. In a Universalist church social vision should be the very necessary and perfectly logical fruition of the religious maturity of the individual. To be sure, James tells us pure religion and undefiled is this: “to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction”; but the effectiveness of even such practical Christianity as this is utterly dependent upon who does the visiting. What has he himself to offer to the one visited? Spiritual resources are needed if a minister’s help is to be effective Christian help. No amount of running about can possibly compensate for the neglect of one’s own inner life.
The minister is expected to be a churchman. When Universalist ministers are ordained they are impressed with the fact that they are adding their own lives, their own faith and works, to an age-long and continuous stream which has been both food and drink to the souls of men. Theirs is a high and noble heritage. They are not at liberty to do as they please, but only as they ought. The churches they serve are not “their” churches. These churches are Universalist churches. Our ministers are ordained by, and (wherever they may be) are representatives of The Universalist Church of America. The Universalist Church has a faith and a mission for which its ministers are responsible. Any minister who finds some safe and happy spot where he contentedly preaches and speculates is withholding his strength from this horizon-yearning stream. Universalist ministers are not strangers. When they go from parish to parish they must go with a deep and abiding sense of fellowship and continuity in a common task. Universalist ministers are comrades-in-arms, serving a church whose mission is of far greater consequence than what the local parish does or than what may happen to themselves. By their spirit, their attitude, their deeds, they are called “to witness” by their example the fruits of a religion intelligently alert, psychologically sound, and practically valuable.
It is the minister who, in the final analysis, must be interpreter to his people of the function of the church. The dream must be translated from dream to fact; and he is the translator. Like other men, he may be a husband and father, a man of business interests, a teacher, a citizen. In the very nature of the case, he is “a man of the world”. But he must be more, infinitely more, for he has a special function which gives to his calling distinction.
He knows and utilizes the art of worship. To be sure, worship is not the monopoly of the minister; but it is his specialty. It is the minister who helps people make vivid to themselves what it can mean to have a God who is real. It is the minister who helps these same people attain the type of ethical and moral conduct such as should logically follow man’s consciousness of God’s reality. Our ministers are not “priests” in the accepted sense of the term, but they do perform the priestly function in so far as they enrich relationship between a man and his God. This relationship is aided by public and private worship, an art which should be the specialty of a minister.
The minister is an evangelist, that is, he carries to people “a gospel” (good news). He is a pastor, visiting those in need, calling on strangers, counselling, encouraging, teaching, preaching. He is administrator, organizer, clean-cut, efficient, kindly, strong. Always and everywhere he is witness for God to children, to youth, and to adults, who, without the God-sense, lack unity and direction. As far as lies within his power, it is his duty to apply the principles of Jesus to that one of our human institutions for whose conduct he has primary responsibility, namely, the church.
As men of the world, ministers need open minds, alertness to capture each new breath blowing across the thought of our time. They need to be readers not only of the authors with whom they are in agreement, but of those with whom they differ. Yet it is not
what they read that matters so much, as how. They must be thinkers, bringing to bear upon each new question brought to them their own best judgment, content when no immediate answer is forthcoming to wait for riper wisdom. And, above all, they must be friends, eager to believe the best in everyone they touch. Wider vision should give them great sympathy, even when that sympathy leads to critical judgment. Ministers are men of prayer, humble, patient, reverent, but, withal, courageous, joyful, carrying into every situation the tonic of an unconquerable faith.
The ministry is the most important calling in the world. Of this fact a ministermust be absolutely certain. Over the years, his associations will bring to him contacts with young people of ability and promise. With wise insight and utmost care, he will encourage and guide certain of these young lives into the calling which means so much to him.
The function of the minister with regard to proper and effective financing of the church should be that of counsellor, not director. Through him the ethics of money-raising, the spiritual values upon which successful financing rests, should be kept before the Board, the finance and every-member canvass committees, co-ordinating specific commitments made by allied organizations of the church. His creative leadership must inspire a program of outreach in service to others, thus fulfilling one of the major missions of a church.
The minister may not know as much about law as does the local attorney who serves as trustee of the church, or as much about banking as the banker; but he, ought to know more about the business of the church than lawyer, banker, farmer, or anyone else. His advice, therefore, should be sought and heeded. If his advice is worthless, it is time to make a change of ministers. In all its departments, the church is his business and his responsibility. He should know it thoroughly and attend to it assiduously. No outside interest should be permitted to infringe upon his duty to the church, except so far as the church (and he as its representative) may serve the community. This done, he must have many co-workers if the church is to succeed. But his own success is bound up irretrievably with that of his church. If the church fails, he fails. Therefore, his counsul and his aggressive leadership are rightly expected and properly heeded.
The Universalist minister is in the line of Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther, James Relly, John Murray, Hosea Ballou, — a minister of the gospel. “Gospel” is a modern form for the Anglo-Saxon “God’s spel” or “good spell” (God and good being anciently synonymous). Literally, it means good news, glad tidings.
These are days of great and meaningful events, but no event — be it economic, political or military — is more replete with ultimate meaning for any brave new world such as is to rise from the ashes of the recent holocaust than that of which a minister leading his people in worship is a symbol. The problems of this world are not so much economic and political and military as they are moral-spiritual. If physical strength were all that is needed, the dinosauria would still be roaming the hills of Wisconsin. Religion, and religion alone, is authoritative in the moral-spiritual realm. No other factor is more vital in the preservation of the democratic process and in the upbuilding of civilization than religion and religion’s essential instrument, the church.
Today’s preaching cannot be opportunist. Unfortunately, too much of it is. Half the futility of half the preachers is due to misdirection. The French have a word for it — “echouer”, which they use technically for ships which run aground. More generally, it means to miscarry, as ships do which set out bravely under full sail and end up on a reef; which is as often true of tall sermons as tall ships, although sermons are more likely to fetch up on a sand bar than on a reef. We have listened to some sermons (not all our own) so beautiful one wouldn’t think they could become nothing so completely or so soon.
Now is the time for purposeful preaching. All the distresses of the world are saying “good morning” in the headlines and “good night” over the radio. People, like unlighted ships feeling for unlighted harbors, are frustrated and discouraged. Life is swift and noisy and cruel; men and women are lonely; young people are desperate; millions are reaping the whirlwind of a world which has been at war. Fatalism is rampant. Preaching is the most telling agent in sight by which man’s deepest needs can be met. It is not the only agent, to be sure, but it is the elect agent. Religion holds a place which can be filled by nothing else.
Now is the time for a great teaching ministry. The mind of the time is less sure about more things. Therefore, it is more teachable. Peoples of the earth, by and large, have not been taught to think. They have been urged to impetuous action through their feelings. Every agency which can play upon the chords of human emotion has emphasized the disintegrating rather than the creative, so that we now have fear, hate, prejudice, and the use of force, rather than courage, good will, tolerance, and emphasis upon the common good. In such a time there is dire need of voices, not echoes, — voices wise in interpretation, creative in message, and with power to substitute a regnant mind for hot moods. All the contact lines are open. Mussolini is said to have explained in one dramatic sentence his ascent to power: “Europe was full of empty thrones. I simply walked in and sat down on one.” The fact remains, however, that the most significant region in life now awaiting occupancy is the throne-room of the human spirit. The key to this room is inner unity. And our problem is the problem of the human soul where abides this inner unity. Above everything else the minister of today is meant to be and to do, he is meant to be the intelligent, the skilled, the devoted craftsman of the soul!
To be skilled in such a craft requires its price. It was in the silence of the Tekoan hills that Amos became a prophet. It was the loneliness of the night watches that made David a poet and Moses a seer. In our more crowded world, ministers need to remember the words of the poet-prophet: “Be still . . . and know that I am God.” The admonition of the Israelites to their leader, Moses, is a warning to all of us who wear the cloth: “Go thou near and hear all the Lord thy God shall speak unto thee, then come and speak unto us.”
A minister must handle with distinction his own private and domestic life. His pathway will not always lead through green valleys and beside still waters. Some perfectly obvious and visible calamity may befall him; but more likely there will be times when sackcloth and live coals are on his inner flesh. In any event, he can afford to reveal to the world only the royal purple of a cheerful countenance and an upright bearing. The successful minister of today, first and foremost, must be captain of his own soul.
And last, there are some things a true servant of God never stoops to. He will appreciate those things which are excellent. One of the best passages John Ruskin ever wrote contains these words: “The entire object of true education is to make people not merely do the right things, but enjoy the right things.” A minister’s work, to him at least, must be a thrilling business. If it is not, he will not go far or last long. He must develop a fine sense of the fitness of things. And he must go beyond all the “techniques” of his profession to that which illumines, inspires and elevates.
Prophet, priest, pastor — the most important, the most thrilling work in the world, a vocation whose perfection lies forever beyond those of us who would follow it, yet whose spell we are powerless to explain or to escape.
LETTER OF A LAYMAN TO HIS YOUNG MINISTER
“My dear young Friend:
“I wish to talk to you. I am the man in the pew. Life has been loaned me for some 50 years or more. Because of this, because the very existence of this church in which we worship together has depended upon me through the long years, and because life holds many things for me that you can never know, I hope you will listen.
“Do not misunderstand me if I hurt you a bit. You have made my soul and my exhausted nerves cringe several times. Yet I know you are earnest and sincere of intent, and I know that in many instances life will add to your understanding. Let me be specific.
“First, I do not like the note of denunciation which is so often present in your sermons. I know better than you that things are not as they should be. I know better than you that evil exists, because I come closer to it than you do. It touches me in my daily tasks.
“That alcohol is doing its dreadful work I also know; here again I am closer to it than you. That graft and dishonesty exist, that vice is forever present, these things I know, too, for to keep myself ‘unspotted from world’ is for me a daily battle. But, dear man, your vehement denunciations of these and other human frailties will hardly reach through my ears those who are guilty of the evils you denounce.
“Just a few hours ago, I closed my office door upon care, soul-trying struggle and anxiety — anxiety for those who have worked for me these many years, those to whom I have been able to give employment with its attendant blessings, those who have enabled me to render to my fellows, anxiety for those who have trusted me and have stretched business ethics almost to the limits of their patience; anxiety for my loved ones and their welfare, anxiety for myself. I have been ‘not slothful in business.’
“And now, for a few moments. I would rest my soul, shut out the thoughts of the struggle, be still and know that God reigns. In a few hours I must take up my burdens again and fight on, but right now I crave something that will strengthen my knowledge that God is interested in me.
“It just seems that I must somehow renew the strength of my spirit. In these trying days, when ‘just to exist is a triumph’, if somehow you can help to bring God and my soul a little closer together, you will help both God and me.
“You see I am just an ordinary person, a servant with few talents but steadfastly serving the Lord in the only ways I know how, — in my daily occupations. For the most part I am inarticulate, but let me confide in you humbly to this extent.
“God’s grace through the years has strengthened me in a Christian technique. I have no desire for the evils you denounce with such force. I had rather be the kind of man my Maker wants me to be than any other thing on earth. To that end have I pledged my effort these many years.
“Your sermons sometimes leave me cold. What you say is no doubt true. But it is so often not interesting and does not serve to strengthen me today.
“You can help me; surely you can. Yours is a wonderful privilege, my young friend. Do not pass it by. Yes; you can indeed help me, but you will have to talk to me, not to somebody out there who does not come to worship here. Your vagueness leaves me unmoved. Decry, denounce, argue against wickedness in high places if you are moved to do so, but weight down your message with something concrete as a remedy or an attempted remedy, else words, be they ever so forceful, are of little value.
“You say a great deal about corporate sin. You do rightly, but private virtue for the public good is still a marked need, — don’t you think? I take it for granted that my social vision must become the very necessary and logical fruition of my maturing process.To be sure, James tells us that pure religion is ‘to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction’, but I am sure the effectiveness of such practical Christianity depends upon the ï¬tness of the one who does the visiting.
“You, my friend, preside over the highest altar I know. You, by choice, training and, I believe, by divine call, are to me the vorce of God. Jesus, whom a friend of mine calls the Way Shower, is your Master. I ask you, won’t you be my ‘Way Shower’ by preaching to me? I shall be so grateful.
“Most sincerely, “A Layman”
YOU SHOULD CALL YOUR MINISTER*
*Quoted, with adaptations.
WHEN there is illness. Your minister holds himself ready, day and night, to help when his presence and counsel are needed. If you have to go to the hospital, let your minister know before you go. If you know of others in the church family who are ill, take the trouble to telephone the minister. He will appreciate your thoughtfulness. Remember, he cannot keep in close touch with all of his people every day.
WHEN death comes. Notify your minister as well as the funeral director. Your minister will come to you at any time to give counsel as to funeral arrangements and proper procedure. He should be consulted before the time of the funeral is decided.
WHEN a child is to be christened. He will advise you as to a suitable time.
WHEN someone decides to unite with the church. You minister will gladly give instructions on how to proceed. If you know of children who might be enrolled in the church school, or families who have recently moved into the community, let your minister know.
WHEN there is to be a wedding. The wedding date should be cleared with him before any announcement is made.
WHEN educational choices are to be made. It is wise to talk over plans with your minister before arranging your school or college course. Keep in touch with your minister while you are away at school, and consult him as questions arise.
WHEN planning your life work. Talk it over with your minister. The more viewpoints you can keep in your thinking, the better.
WHEN there are family, business or professional difficulties. As serious problems arise within your family circle, seek the friendly counsel of your minister. If he cannot help you, he will undoubtedly know where to direct you.
WHEN any crisis in living arises. Many ministers are careful students of human nature. They can help you with the spiritual factor, so vital in many life problems. Often friendly, impartial judgment of such a person as your minister may be all that is required to untangle some difficult problem.
RECRUITING FOR THE MINISTRY
ABLE MINISTERIAL LEADERSHIP is in demand. The Universalist Church of America, if it is to man its established churches and pioneer in new territory, is in immediate need of able, well-trained, energetic ministers. Hundreds of promising youths are associated with our churches. Among these are some who could be interested in and qualify for the Universalist ministry. It is the high privilege and sacred duty of our ordained clergy to encourage these young people in this greatest of all professions.
The ministry is an exacting profession, “the toughest job in the world”, as Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick calls it. It requires, therefore:
- A. Good health and physical stamina
- B. Excellent habits and sterling character
- C. Above the average scholastic ability
- D. Honest zeal
- E. Loyalty
The training (academic) period is seven years: four of college (liberal arts); three of theological work. Then follows one year as licensed preacher, at the end of which time one is eligible for ordination.
Salaries range from $1200 to $6000, the average being in excess of $2300.
Each ordained minister in his particular area is the person logically responsible for enlistment of qualified candidates: It cannot be done hurriedly or spasmodically, but must be a quiet, persistent study of possible candidates over a period of years. Such procedure will pay rich dividends in improving the quality of our ministry and in the strengthening of our church.
Candidates for the Universalist ministry may receive their training at the Canton Theological School, St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York; the School of Religion, Tufts College, Massachusetts; the Meadville Theological School, Chicago, Illinois; the Starr King School for the Ministry, Berkeley, California; or at any of the colleges and theological schools whose standards are recognized by The Universalist Church of America.
MEMBERSHIP IN THE CHURCH
IN THE MATTER of church membership Universalists need to go into action. Both ministers and lay-leaders must become convinced of its vital importance. Actual membership is the basis of stability in the organized church. When a person stands at the altar, seriously and in public, declaring his avowed allegiance to the church as the avenue through which he proposes to dedicate his talents, his time, his means of selfless service, he takes upon himself holy vows. Like birth, christening, marriage, parenthood and death, reception into Universalist Fellowship should be regarded as one of the truly significant steps in one’s development.
The Universalist type of religion has its correlative type of church membership. Universalism emphasizes not “safety religion” but “service religion”. Therefore the Universalist type of church membership is not a profession of excellence but an avowal of loyalty. Universalism is a living faith in certain basic principles, not simply assent to an official creed. Therefore the Universalist type of church membership means not creed subscription but a purpose to live as a child of God and a helper of men. The Universalist Church raises Jesus’ standard of discipleship: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he that doeth the will of the Father which is in Heaven”. Do you believe in that sort of church? It is a good thing to withhold allegiance from a religion and church in which you do not believe; it is a better thing to give avowed allegiance to the sort of religion and church in which you do believe. We ask nothing to which a free-minded, conscientious person can not subscribe. We do ask one to give to the church which commends itself to one’s reason and conscience the greatest gift in one’s power —
oneself. The primary condition of the largest usefulness and most pervasive influence of the Universalist Church is that it receives the personal avowal of loyalty of those who believe in it.
In but a few Universalist churches is there an organized, consistent plan by which new members are being continuously enlisted. There are many, many Universalists unknown or uncounted. Our total constituency has shown marked increase in recent years, but membership figures are low. This is due to several factors. People are transient today as never before. Many of our churches are in rural areas, unable to hold, their maturing young people. Many of these young people settle in communities where there are no Universalist churches. Unless the “home church” displays rare ability in maintaining contact with its non-resident constituency, or unless these isolated Universalists (of whom there are innumerable) place their membership in the Universalist National Memorial Church in Washington or on the roll of the Larger Fellowship at Universalist Headquarters in Boston, they are as though they did not exist as far as being counted is concerned. Every isolated Universalist should ask that its name and address (with full information concerning the family constituency) be recorded at Universalist Headquarters. Information relative to such families will be welcomed, so if one is in a position to supply names and addresses, please do so. Then, too, it is probable that the historic dual organization of church and parish is to a large extent responsible for small membership figures. There are many men and women active parish members, good Universalists by any standard of measurement, who would gladly become members of the church if the greater ideal were pointed out to them.
To secure new members there must be a workable plan. This plan must be worked. A church organized to function properly will provide for this important work a committee made up of qualified persons (people who themselves know the significance of membership in the church). Care must be taken in the selection of this committee’s personnel, since just the right type of person can be a tremendous factor in the enrollment of new recruits. And the minister should maintain the closest relationship, cooperating in his pulpit and parish work, supplementing and feeding the committee’s efforts by suggesting prospects and keeping before the congregation the vital importance of membership in the church.
The Committee may do well to:
- Compile a list of all persons in the parish who are not members of the church;
- Extend an invitation to each individual on this list to consider church membership (this communication to go by mail, telephone, or personal word); a
- Publicize available books, pamphlets and magazines which reveal the story of Universalism and its Church;
- Provide classes in Universalist history, beliefs and practices, present organization and program;
- Insist that the minister make clear to the people that our churches are strong in proportion to the number of men and women willing to stand up and be counted and to put behind the cause their own personalities;
- Set and publicize a series of dates when through the year (on the first Sunday of the month, Maundy Thursday, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day) new members may be received, thus making these occasions part-and-parcel of the thinking and planning of the entire church constituency;
- Direct a letter in advance of these special days indicating to potential members the procedure to be followed at the coming service (perhaps enclosing a bit of approriate literature to be had from denominational headquarters);
- Organize a "Confirmation Class" during the Lenten Season, when instruction is given by the minister in the meaning and value of church membership, in the faith of the Universalist Church (reception of such a class into membership, especially when the class contains several young people, can be made most impressive) ; and
- Arrange as soon as possible after their reception a fellowship dinner, at which time the new members should be helped to feel their importance in the work of the church, introduced to officers and members, and informed in matters of denominational organization, finances, and the many meanings, obligations and privileges which are now theirs.
Universalist Fellowship is non-creedal in character, that is, inclusive. Any exclusion from membership is self-exclusion. Theological fastidiousness is “out”. Obviously every person desiring to hold full membership should be willing to abide by the basic laws of government both of his local church and of The Universalist Church of America. The practice of having new members sign constitution and by-laws is a sound practice.
Casualness, indifference, a take-it-or-leave-it attitude do not build a home or a business. Nor will they build a church. Church membership is dedication to a way of living and not subscription to theological speculations. It is a pledge of responsibility.
No church in Universalist Fellowship has the right to set up requirements out of harmony with the church’s faith, such as cultural attainments, social position, racial background, or financial ability. It is either all-inclusive or it is not Universalist.