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THE PLIGHT OF THE COUNTRY MINISTER
BY THE REV. A. A. MACKENZIE
HAT the country minister and his church have had a hard time of it for many years has not been concealed from the most careless observer. The man who has gained first-hand knowledge by an investigation of the actual conditions is aware of the hopeless outlook in many quarters. One who has condescended to let us into the secret of the "making of the country minister" assures us that he who is to deliver the country church and the country minister out of all their troubles will be the country minister himself. But this is not the country minister who is, but the country minister who shall be. He is going to "lead the farmers into the new rural civilization." He will "energize their homes." He will be "a prophet of the Lord in the pulpit; out of it he will be a theological professor, a lecturer on sociology, a political reformer." Such creatures as grafters had better keep out of close range, for he will "detect political trickery a mile away." Lovers of short sermons may well take alarm, for his church will be open "not for a mere miserable four hours per week," but will make its call for convocations during every active hour that the people are awake. And this is no idle threat, for we are told that he must lecture "on every phase of country life, on travel, history, biography, science, village improvement, sanitation, public health, public education, granges, etc." We are solemnly warned that "outdoor playgrounds, waterside parks, and libraries are to be a part of his dreams." What he will not do is the problem. There was no need of reminding us that a minister "just out of the seminary is no minister at all," for it may safely be said that no seminary could "make" a minister, according to the words of this prophecy.
On the question of remuneration to such an extraordinary being, the prophet is wisely silent; for it would be a hard matter to forecast what salary ought to be given to one who would have to be Colonel Roosevelt, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Mayor of Milwaukee, Professor Briggs, and General Booth of the Salvation Army, "all rolled into one."
This will never do. The new minister who will make good is going to adapt himself to the new conditions and difficulties of the rural parishes, as his successful predecessor did to his environment, but he will not win his way by pretended skill or thaumaturgy. He will be an all-round man, of course, living in the present, with an open heart and an open mind; intelligent, patient, hopeful, self-sacrificing. He will not have all the learning of the Egyptians, although he will prove himself a true leader to his flock. He will take advantage of such courses as are given in the agricultural colleges for the rural clergy, although he may not feel himself able to give instruction in practical farming any more than the town minister displays skill in running banks or making shoes. "It is not the business of the church to do everything," an intelligent artisan said the other day, in answer to a question regarding the minister's mission of service to the working-man. If the minister is to vindicate. his raison d'être, he will not be a fussy meddler with what his parishioners are doing and know how to do much better than he possibly can.
Every year it is becoming increasingly difficult to induce young men of even ordinary ability to study for the ministry, and it would be vain to expect those who have gained first rank at the universities to look forward to a country pastorate with any
degree of complacency. It is true that the "Students Volunteer Movement" has given honor-men of Oxford and Cambridge to the work of evangelizing India and China; but to compare the country minister's lot with that of his brother in the foreign field, is to lay bare a state of affairs that is almost tragic. That he contrives to provide for his family and himself on his pittance of a salary, displays him in the character of a master of finance. An unmarried country minister has to get on with $200 a year; one with a wife and three or four children, may get $400 or $500, and if by reason of the financial strength of his church he gets $600, still is his life one of labor and sorrow. He cannot afford to give his wife a holiday; he cannot take one himself. He cannot afford to educate his children; he cannot lay up money for an emergency. The Michigan papers have lately reported the case of a country minister who had to beg for money to bury his boy.
Take the following record of work which was kept up for three years by a minister in a western State, and consider the "hire" given to the laborer. On Sunday morning he drove sixteen miles and preached at eleven o'clock; early in the afternoon he drove back ten miles and preached at two o'clock; he then drove seven miles and preached at seven o'clock; after which he had to drive six miles to get home. He visited his widely scattered field most assiduously, and did not give up until health had begun to give way. His salary was $600. Out of this he had to pay $7 a month for house-rent, and buy a buggy, sleigh, robes, and harness. What remained for living expenses and for clothing his wife, four children, and himself could not have been more than $380 as an average salary for the three years. buy books was out of the question.
Consider some of the things that cause the country church to dwindle and die. The families are often miles apart, and, as a consequence, it is difficult to maintain congregational unity and warmth. The minister is frequently a raw youth trying his 'prentice-hand at sermon-making; or, more unhappily, one who has made a failure of a town pastorate. The rivalry between the different sects makes the congregations thin and the salaries small. The frequent changes in the pastorate have a
demoralizing effect on all concerned. The farmers are sometimes close-fisted. Last year one who has property worth, at the lowest figure, $7000, gave $5 to his minister, who preached a sermon every Sunday in a church a short distance from his door, and who, moreover, had to drive six miles to deliver the sermon, barely making sufficient to pay for horse-hire. Progressive farmers are generally more interested in grangers' and gleaners' meetings than they are in preaching, and soon get tired of paying money to a man in whose work they took only a mild interest from the start. The minister soon has to take to the road, and the country church has another dreary vacancy, and a year or two in which to die. Church buildings go to decay, the love of many waxes cold, and the traveler through the rural district is forced to ask how it is all to end.
The suggestions which follow are offered as a contribution toward a solution of the problem. As regards the scornful turning away from the churches, which, it is claimed, is becoming almost universal among enlightened people, it is surely nothing but a passing mood of the public mind. It cannot be that the permanent attitude of humanity toward Christianity will be one of contemptuous indifference. It is the duty of the church, however, as it never was before, to present its message in such terms as will appeal to what is highest and best in man.
1. The country minister should have a house and a fixed salary of not less than $1000 a year.
2. Our rich men, instead of giving the whole of their surplus wealth for the endowment of universities and the establishing of libraries, all of which go to cities and towns, should divert a portion of it to the endowment of the country churches of their own denominations. James Baird, the Scottish mine-owner, gave half a million pounds sterling to endow the smaller parishes of the Church of Scotland, and, largely as a result of this munificence, almost every Scottish village or country district, no matter how weak financially, has well-established religious services. American millionaires may well come to the rescue of the American country church, for if Christianity shall cease to be a power in the lives of our farmers, there is a serious outlook for the nation. Were a church
that pays $500 a year to be endowed so that another $500 would be available, a capable pastor could be secured-one who could afford to stay.
3. Should our rich men fail to do so great a work, let every denomination raise a sustentation fund for its country churches, such as was raised by Dr. Chalmers when the Free Church of Scotland left the Established Church.
The objection to the last two suggestions is that where there are two or three rival churches in a small community, it would be a waste of money to provide an endowment for them all, or to support them all from sustentation funds.
4. The different boards in charge of the country churches should come together and make a combined effort to put an end to the divisions which are the prime cause of the miserable condition of so many of the country communities.
5. The country churches should be managed by a central board representative of the various denominations. The filling of vacancies should not be left to local officials. The "voluntary principle," dear to so many in other lands, has proved a failure so far as our rural work is concerned. A pastor should be sent to the country church for a certain number of years, as is done by the Roman Catholics and Methodists, who have no vacant churches in the country.
It would be impossible, of course, to get all the country churches to unite; but there are some, such as the Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Congregationalist, that might well make up their differences at once. If a Baptist preacher differs from a Methodist, what makes him differ? In nine cases out of ten it is not the peculiarities of his creed, but his own-his mental habits, his reading, his general make-up. Wherever there is diversity of gifts there is diversity of teaching; but such diversity is no excuse for division. The waste of money to keep up rival churches, to collect which such pitiful efforts have to be made; the miserable poverty of many ministers and their frequent bickerings, all of which are perplexing to the man of the worldthese things are the crying wrong and disgrace of home mission work. Were our country schools managed in this fatuous way, the young people would not only be illiterate, but would be on the high road
to barbarism. We are holding tenaciously to the things of which we ought to be ashamed, while our adherents and even our members look on in dismay. At the present hour, in a single county of a northern State, one denomination has seventeen churches and only two settled pastors. Another has eleven pastorless churches out of the twenty it has in three counties. In a little village there are two churches within a few yards of each other, neither of which has services; both are hastening to decay, for they stand for division and not for Christianity.
Such a state of things as the following ought not to continue. There is a church at a point which I shall call A; three miles away there is another at B; three miles from B, and about five miles and a half from A, there is a church at C, and nine miles from A and six from C there is a church at D. The same creed and catechism are taught in the four. Two churches centrally situated and one minister would give a sermon every Sunday and pastoral supervision to every one connected with them all. Now the churches at B, C, and D have had long pastorless periods. But that is not the whole tale. Within a few miles are a number of other churches in which a slightly divergent creed is taught; and as a matter of fact, the young people of all the denominations, without any regard to the magnified difference of creed, attend the nearest church; that is, whenever there is a pastor to preach in it.
Is there any wonder that our converts in China and Japan have given us fair warning that they will not perpetuate our divisions among themselves? They have already learned that it is next to madness to face their problems with a divided front. Every country church that has earned a reputation for chronic uselessness should be closed. In every country community one church should be kept open, and only one. Any form of Christianity, any church, is better than none. The larger union will come later. Would it not be a glorious consummation if that feeling after unity, which is stirring, almost throbbing, in the hearts of Christians the world over, should first realize its end and fruition not among the Japanese or Chinese, but in the farming communities of our own beloved land?
THE VAUNT OF MAN
BY WILLIAM ELLERY LEONARD
HEN I shall make my vaunt before the Lord,
But I shall boast my cunning in Romance:
And knew thy need with manhood's swiftest glance-
The wound thy hand was hiding in thy breast.
Nor when I speak my boast before the King,
Nor forest hymns upon my mountain height,
But I shall boast how once, O Child of Earth,
I, passing that way with flowers and wine and bread,
Of those blue eyes, and kissed thee on the mouth,