Confessions of a Minister's Wife

“JUST the one to marry a minister ! ” So our friends said when the engagement was announced. What the moral and spiritual properties of a minister’s wife should be, as differentiated from other men’s wives, I have never been able to discover, but this I can truly say: I was satisfied not only with my husband, but with his profession. How thankful was I that he had not chosen a literary career, as certain friends advised, or entered the law, where others prophesied success! Before we were installed in our first parish I had studied the church roll, and every name was at my tongue’s end, ready to be applied when the owner appeared. I looked at the congregation as a company of saints. I would not have exchanged that first parsonage for the office of the Secretary of State at Washington or for an appointment as ambassador to the Court of St. James.

Twenty years have passed. The enthusiasm of youth has been modified by the experiences of actual life. Time has furnished the test by which we form true judgment. My husband has occupied influential pulpits in both Western and Eastern cities. We have had delightful homes, a comfortable income, appreciative congregations, and social advantages greater than fall to the lot of the average minister. If I have learned that a parish is not composed exclusively of saints, I have likewise learned that the mistakes and weaknesses of parishioners are necessary incidents in the process of spiritual development, and their more serious faults I have come to regard as simply evolutionary growing-pains. I am still satisfied with my husband, still glad that he is a minister; yet I secretly rejoice that our son shows no predilection for a theological seminary; I might even be tempted to maternal tactics in order to frustrate a clerical alliance for our daughter. I believe that men of the greatest genius and highest culture may find in this profession a worthy sphere of activity, and that, as knowledge increases, religious organizations will become associations for spiritual uplifting and practical helpfulness.

But I must confess that at the present day no profession is attended with more subtle temptations. We are far from the realization of the ideal, if indeed we are advancing toward it. From the first, loyalty to my husband made me extremely sensitive to slurs upon his profession. I was offended by the characterizations of literature in which the typical clergyman is an erudite gentleman, quite ignorant of worldly affairs, and abjectly fawning before wealth and power. The clergyman’s wife, an amiable creature, adoring her husband, is quite unsophisticated and ill at ease in the presence of the cultured parishioner. The drama, which probes human defects to the quick, represents the priest as a sleek, well - fed personage, using the lamb’s wool of his office for divers chicaneries. Public sentiment evidently regards the minister as a paid attorney, whose living is little better than a gratuity, and whose character lacks the qualities of virile manhood. By degrees the conviction has come to me that, among the learned professions, the one which is nominally the most beneficent is most frequently ridiculed.

The common judgment is never without foundation. Evidently, some essential element of confidence is lacking. We to whom the profession is dear ought to look at the case courageously and dispassionately. This I have sought to do, and have become convinced that, however much individual ministers may be at fault, the evil lies primarily with our ecclesiastical machinery. It is as difficult for a pastor to carry out his ideals, in our highly organized religious systems, as for a right-minded mayor to realize the ideals of municipal government, hampered by the city charter and the demands of his political party.

A condition so common as to be almost a constant problem is financial stringency. Every one behind the scenes is conscious of general poverty. Churches are not only poor, but very generally encumbered with debt. A wealthy congregation does not alter the fact of chronic poverty. It is what the congregation gives, not the bank account of individual members, which constitutes ecclesiastical opulence. In our parish, a poor shoemaker gives much more, proportionately, than the millionaire pewholder. The church is the first to suffer from a business panic, and the last to feel the returning wave of prosperity. When retrenchment is necessary, economy finds its first expression in the contribution plate. Indeed, I sometimes query how those families which cannot afford a pew in church can yet afford a box at the opera. In many cities and rapidly growing towns, the older churches suffer from the shifting of residence, a once desirable location having given place to shops and tenements. The usual cause of bankruptcy, however, is luxurious trappings and reckless expense. New economic needs have developed, in our generation, a taste for easy and pleasant ways of doing things. The demand for sumptuous buildings, costly organs, Tiffany windows, and elaborate decoration exceeds the cash on hand. There is a constant strain to make income keep pace with outgo. Many churches are in the condition of the poor serving woman who flaunts her feathers and lace while destitute of woolens and overshoes. I have known many elaborately housed congregations without suitable hymn books and looking for a “ cheap minister.” The revenues of the church are derived from pew rentals and offertories. The preacher must be so “ attractive” as to fill vacant seats, until the income covers current expenses. His eloquence must foot the coal bills, pay the sexton, the organist, the choir, the interest on the mortgage, and, last of all, his own salary.

On one side, the minister sees the decline of the church-going habit. Pleasure, materialism, and intellectual liberty are pitted against the pulpit. On the other side, he is under the surveillance of his own trustees, and, back of the trustees, the hierarchy of the denomination. Can a man do his best work under pressure of a depleted treasury ? A tambourine and a poke bonnet gather a crowd. The minister, covertly, beats his tom-tom. His spiritual wares are advertised as systematically as the Parisian novelties of the thrifty merchant. Curious themes fill empty pews; Double Bowknots and how to Untie Them, by One who has Tied Them ; The Women Men Love ; Brimstone Corner, or the Modern Idea of Hell; Jehoiakim and his Penknife ; Pancakes. An enterprising evangelist had the audacity to advertise a single word, Hen ; the text being taken from that pathetic scene on the hilltops of Jerusalem, when Jesus cried out in compassion, “ How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! ” A series of sermons is announced to different professions, to Young Men, to Young Women, to Business Men, to Old Maids. City officials are invited to a special service, and the Fire Department sit in reserved seats. The Police Department and military organizations attend in “ full uniform.” Lectures on various literary themes, reviews of new books, sacred concerts, stereopticon illustrations, sunrise prayer meetings, floral decorations, greengrocery exhibits, enrichment of service, are ingenious methods of attracting. A well-known metropolitan church, discouraged by the empty pews on Sunday evenings, appointed young lady ushers ; announcing through the daily press the names of the damsels and the gowns they would don. Other city churches, with a laudable view of enlisting young men, issue invitations to a smoker in the church parlors. Is the minister reprehensible ? Yes, doubtless, but his capital is the power to please. The market is regulated by the law of supply and demand, and this clerical caterer furnishes that which the consumer will take. Husbands and wives do not always stimulate each other toward the noblest ideals. Secretly, I like to have the sermons sufficiently garnished to satisfy the popular craving for garlic and condiments.

Aside from running expenses, the modern church has a long list of benevolences. As philanthropic interests have increased, the church has become sponsor for a multitude of worthy objects. The pledges are met with great difficulty, through the unflagging zeal of the brave souls devoted to these special causes. Altogether, the financial straits of the church affect the pew as well as the pulpit. That “ blessed tie ” which binds the hearts of the saints is more frequently financial than spiritual. Church work, about which we talk piously, resolves itself usually into some scheme of moneygetting. Festivals, fairs, concerts, suppers, distract attention and usurp higher interests. It is hardly necessary to state that when both minister and people are in mad search for dollars a truly devotional spirit cannot exist.

Another insidious foe of the church is the curious custom of estimating results by numerical showing. Every denomination has a system of bookkeeping, by which the statistics of the local churches are tabulated. The minister of each parish reports annually the net result of his work, — the number of baptisms, accessions in membership, losses by death or removal, contributions to the benevolences under the patronage of the denomination. The returns are published in book form, and the gain or loss is expressed arithmetically. In order to assist in the mechanical part of parish work, it has been my self-imposed task to look after the church records ; and, in the capacity of secretary, I became conscious of the constant pressure to keep up and augment membership. In decadent communities it is difficult to make gains cover losses. Perhaps this accounts for inaccuracy in ecclesiastical posting. Old names are allowed to remain on the list long after the individuals bearing them have removed from the parish or have been gathered to their fathers. When the records are thoroughly “ purged,” the figures show a large shrinkage. A church accredited with a membership of one thousand may easily shrink to eight hundred, and the minister who eliminates the dead wood must bear the odium of the clearing. When progress is estimated by numbers, the minister and his wife, perforce, must prospect for converts. “ Work up your mission chapel ” was the advice of a scheming prelate, when my husband assumed the care of an institutional church: “that’s where you’ll make your counts.” Perhaps, also, it encourages elasticity in the test of membership. Thus a noted infidel of our acquaintance was urged by a distinguished clergyman to be confirmed. “ I ’ll make it easy for you,” he argued obligingly.

The pressure for numerical growth is shared by the congregation. When a communion season arrives, and no candidates are propounded, the brethren and sisters are dispirited. The test of organic strength is in the length of the roll call, and not in the quantity and quality of spiritual life. Joy reigns when a goodly number gather for the first time about the altar, especially if there are boys and men in the group. New members are reported, not as souls, but as “ male ” and “ female.” The latter are so much in excess that males are considered great trophies.

The minister is under the same pressure to keep the benevolences of his church up to the high-water mark. Parochial gifts are scrutinized by the denominational fathers as the campaign fund is watched by political bosses. Here is a dilemma of divided sympathy. On one side the minister finds a group who are jealous of denominational honor. They implore him to quicken the sentiment for sectarian pledges. They deplore contributions which will not be credited in the annual report. They are offended when an “outside” cause is presented. On the other is a group who discredit sectarian propagandism. They demand that the pulpit address itself to the practical philanthropies close at hand. How shall the minister retain prestige in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, crushed between the millstones of denominational and local demands ?

But by far the greatest obstacle in the path of the minister, and hence a constant perplexity to the minister’s wife, is our highly organized systems of ecclesiastical government, and the emphasis placed upon philosophical thought. Each sect has a centralized system of government, and is conducted in the interest of special tenets. At the beginning of our married life, I did not realize the alternatives which modern scholarship places before the religious teacher. We are in that transition period when old dogmas are disputed, and essential truths are not yet established. The young minister soon finds himself facing two masters : a sectarian system demands that he lend himself to the idiosyncrasies of its creed ; intellectual liberty cries imperatively,

“ Prove all things ; hold fast that which is good.” Personal advantage requires him to stand by the machine, just as it requires the British army officer to stand by the royal family. Promotion and honor lie in this direction. His portrait appears in the denominational paper. His little successes are lauded and emphasized. Powerful churches make overtures for the pastorate. If, on the other hand, this minister fails in sectarian loyalty, the strength of the powerful machine is arrayed against him ; that which was a savor of life unto life becomes a savor of death unto death. He who resists traditional theology becomes, in technical language, a “suspect,” dangerous to the harmony of the church. Every parish is divided into factions, representing the “ stationary class ” and the “ party of movement.” The former dominates through the use of the machine. The pastor sought by religious bodies is, not the man of open vision, but he who preaches the prevailing theology. No persecution is so bitter, so brazen, so heartless, as that occasioned by religious prejudice. That the persecutors belong to the stationary class is confirmed by history. Were not the inquisitional fires kindled for the preservation of the established order ? The party of movement in the church to-day is timid and halfhearted. It keeps silence in the hope of peace, or because its members have private interests to conserve. Thus it comes about that the minister who has chosen to be honest, and is loyal to the deepest convictions, must walk alone. So intense is factional prejudice that anathemas are hurled not only against the defenseless victim, but against his family. In a somewhat extended acquaintance among the liberal fraternity, I have learned that the wife of a suspect receives stony salutations from former friends ; she is “ cut dead ” in a chance shopping rencounter, is sedulously avoided at the social function.

As a result of the attitude of the church, various types appear in her priesthood. There is the conformist, who resolutely stuffs his ears against the siren of progress. He is, in this transition period, the only man who can be happy in the clerical profession. It is possible to so nurse our prejudices that reason becomes inoperative. This type of minister uses all the stereotyped phraseology ; the mind of the hearer is confused by mazes of speculative theology. Yet the conformist has a large following. Many are satisfied because accustomed to the conventional forms of expression. People in general do not want to have thought challenged in religious service, and “ blind faith ” is easy. The congregation expects neither intellectual nor spiritual help of the minister. The more serious endure in silence or remain at home. Peace and harmony prevail throughout the parochial borders. It is the peace and harmony of an autocracy, where people are too superstitious or too indifferent to rebel. Such priests bring discredit on the profession. True it is that some souls have found abiding peace through, or in spite of, dogmatic theology. Others have been driven into infidelity. The believe-what-you-cannotunderstand preacher is held in just contempt by the more intelligent. I know a minister of this sort who asked a mother, in anguish over the death of a sixyear-old son, “ Did he understand the plan of salvation ?”

Another type is the middle-of-theroad minister. He has tasted of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but he wants to stay comfortably in his Garden of Eden. He adopts the worldly policy, “ Have no opinions until you are on the safe side of the dollar question.” His tones are stentorian in proportion as they are insincere. In popular phraseology his oratorical efforts are denominated “ cant; ” in Scripture they are “ sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.” All the woes of Christ were uttered against the hypocrite. For him no gracious “ Go in peace; thy sins are forgiven.” The congregation may be deceived, but what of the man who makes a business of kneeling to false gods ?

Then we have the minister of profound insight and open vision. He is loyal to his deepest convictions, and gives the truth without reservation. He espouses unpopular reforms; his dress is that of a man among men; he is never seen in public places with a limp-covered Bible under his arm. His manner is unostentatious, his language simple and direct, his eloquence that of genuine purpose. Business men respect him. Men and women say to him : “I never before knew what it is to be a Christian. You have made the religious life practical and genuine.” Yet, strange to say, things do not go well in the parish. Some old lady misses the traditional phraseology; the deacons fear the influence of practical teaching on the young ; factional prejudices are roused ; pews are given up, the salary is cut down; heresy trials threaten. At last this honest man cries out in bitterness, “ With a great price obtained I this liberty! ” and sometimes, in loneliness of heart, he exclaims, “ My God, hast thou forsaken me ? ” Let the advocates of an open pulpit and an open college inaugurate a bread-and-butter fund for the maintenance of untrammeled preachers and professors!

Another temptation to insincerity meets both the minister and his wife on the social side. They must be friends of each member of the little flock. Now friendship is not made to order ; it is the spontaneous result of affinity. The candidates for parochial love may not always be lovable. They may be vulgar, superstitious, ignorant, depraved, or even hostile. The temptation is to assume an interest which would not exist under other circumstances. An acquaintance, for many years a popular clergyman’s wife, has shown, since the death of her husband, the prevalence of manufactured interest. “ Count me out now,” she says, very frankly. “ I am not going to church unless I feel like it. I am not going to visit people whom I do not care to know.”

Passing from these general subjects, let me speak of those which more intimately concern the minister’s wife. During these twenty years, the sense of insecurity of position has been a constant undertone of anxiety and an unfailing shadow in the background of endeavor. The only parallel is the politician’s tenure of office. The economic principles which dominate the conduct of other men are, with the minister, entirely reversed. Any apparent effort to better his condition is sure defeat. Money cannot buy a pastorate; ability cannot secure one. The church gives to its pastor quite as much as the pastor gives to his people. The minister of a prominent congregation occupies a position of dignity quite beyond and independent of personal merit. A minister without charge is distrusted. He is Jean Valjean with his yellow convict passport. Hence the clerical rule, “ Never take up your foot until you know where you are going to put it down.” A minister often endures untold indignities and remains, when both he and the congregation are secretly praying for deliverance. The minister without charge may be more desirable than he of the parish. Personal selfishness induces one to remain where his service is not desired. Chivalrous feeling and self-respect cause the other to retire. Moreover, the parish is quite as often at fault as the minister.

The process of gaining a new field is often fraught with ignominy and humiliation. Some one has well said, “ If there be anything contingent in the Divine Mind, it is what a church will do when looking for a pastor.” The first step is to appoint a committee, whose business is to scour the country for the right man. All churches are self-complacent, and, however difficult the work, however meagre the stipend, demand a first - class preacher and pastor. The committee of minister-tasters require months, and sometimes years, of experimenting before a nominee can be agreed upon. Then his record is looked up, and a tentative overture is made. The overture is carefully guarded, and the chairman discreetly intimates that he has only the authority of an advisory agent. A church does not commit itself, however, without some assurance of success. It is as if a youth said to his maiden : “ It is possible I may wish to marry you. If I so decide, will your answer be affirmative ? ” His affirmation having been secured, the minister may be jilted without even a courteous explanation. “ Candidating ” is now disclaimed by churches of reputation. Whatever the course adopted, whether the candidate appears openly in the vacant pulpit or covertly preaches in a neighboring church, or the congregation act on the advice of the committee, the case must be brought before the people for final vote. Every detail concerning this unhappy man is openly discussed in the parish meeting, — his health, his age, his personal appearance, the quality of his voice, his theological and political opinions, his skill as an organizer, his social gifts. His wife, also, must be a discreet and godly person ; always wisely helpful, but never officious. The one essential, spiritual power and practical righteousness, does not so much concern these census takers. All the offensive details of the parish meeting are talked of in the streets and the corner grocery. They are allowed to go into the hands of the enterprising reporter, and, with proper editorial embellishments, are served to the general public. Doubtless the law of causality operates in calling a minister, but the effect is so remote, so untraceable, that the outcome seems more like fatalism. The range of criticism extends from Alpha to Omega. “ Too damn pious ! ” was the actual verdict of an important member of an important congregation upon my husband. A minister has been deposed for no greater offense than subscribing to the Outlook. A gifted preacher lost a prominent church because one man, of mechanical mind and fat pocketbook, objected to a single sentence in the evening sermon. The public, says Thackeray, is a jackass. The average congregation, to speak more civilly, is sadly lacking in discrimination. Perhaps fifteen out of one hundred catch the real thought of the speaker. Defective hearing is the cause of constant misapprehension and misquotation. In other callings, contracts are made between peers who have equal advantage in the decision. In this profession, the vote of a miss in her teens, a timid old woman, a blundering drayman, an unreasoning bigot, is as powerful as that of the intelligent and fair-minded. When factional passions have been roused, the most objectionable methods may be introduced into a parish meeting; and all this time the minister in question is absolutely defenseless. He has nothing of value in the world except his character. This he may see traduced, his motives impugned, misconceptions unexplained, yet he must remain silent.

The question of ways and means is always serious in the minister’s family. Since the average salary is eight hundred dollars, it follows that life with average pastors is both frugal and strenuous. Most of them live from hand to mouth, and are denied not only comforts, but the equipment which is necessary for intelligent work. The minister’s tools are not simply pen and ink bottle, but a library and current literature. Their children are educated with great difficulty, and for the “ rainy day ” they must depend upon charitably disposed neighbors or the fund for disabled ministers. The average lawyer has not only a more generous income and less demand for gratuitous service, but a longer period of productive activity. This time limit is the bête noire of the ministerial profession. After seven years of specialized training, the theological graduate must serve a period of apprenticeship in some obscure or indigent church, where his latent possibilities are tested. He makes the real start of life at the age of thirty or over; at forty-five the shadows of coming dissolution stealthily approach. The minister’s period of effective service is therefore within the radius of fifteen or twenty years. “ The old minister,” says Ian Maclaren, “ought to be shot,” and the dead line is fixed at fifty. In law, in medicine, in civil government, society demands men of wisdom and experience. The church only gives preference to striplings.

A business man said recently to my husband, “ I suppose that your fees are a very considerable item in the annual budget.” “ How much,” he replied, “ do you imagine I receive from this source ?” “ Well, from eight hundred to one thousand dollars per year.” “ That amount,” said my husband, “ would cover the fees of my entire ministry.” Perquisites are confined almost entirely to the wedding fee. Marriages are rare events in parish history, and optional gratuity is meagre. A five-dollar bill expresses the happiness of the average bridegroom, and fifteen dollars implies exuberance of joy. Twice in our experience of twenty years the bridegroom has reached the hundred mark. Occasionally compensation is offered for attendance upon funerals : no right-minded man, however, accepts a fee for service in the house of mourning. The frequent imputation that ministers have no sense of honor in financial matters has led me to close observation of their actual record. We have always paid our bills like other people, and so do our ministerial friends, even those living on starvation salaries. Rebates are extremely rare. Indeed, I have learned to avoid the milkman and coal dealer of our own congregation, because the ordinary protests against blue milk and light weight are impossible. Clerical half fares and “ reductions to the cloth ” are unusual, and are more than balanced by gratuitous service to the community.

I have often been commiserated upon the peculiar and irksome duties of a pastor’s wife. The impression prevails that the parsonage is an open house, where chance guests appear at inopportune moments, and that the minister’s wife is an unsalaried assistant, a victim to female prayer meetings and Dorcas Societies. Never having met with injustices of this kind in my own experience, I have been for some years in search of the abused clergyman’s wife, in both city and country parishes. I have come to the conclusion that she is a myth. But I will speak only for myself. Neither the parish nor the public have presumed upon our hospitality. Our house is an open house only as we make it so. Instead of asking me to take up parish drudgeries, our people have always shielded me from them. Often they say, “ You must not do this, because you are the minister’s wife.” So far as my observation goes, the church makes no demand upon the minister’s wife ; what she does, or refrains from doing, is at her own volition. I have no sympathy with those women who say, “ The church engaged my husband, not me.” The clergyman’s wife has the same interest in the church that every loyal member feels, plus the interest that every loyal wife has in her husband’s life work.

A parish, large or small, demands not only the gift of tongues, but that of a pastor and an administrator. The wife coöperates in these various functions. She secures the study from interruption, keeps in touch with theological literature, suggests references bearing on the theme of the discourse, supplying, consciously or unconsciously, the feminine thought element. “ Do you ever criticise your husband ? ” I am sometimes asked. Yes, from invocation to benediction, if there is aught to criticise. The pastor is responsible for the movement and efficiency of the entire organization. His wife, as far as possible, should share that responsibility. Never a baptismal service that I do not casually ascertain if the sexton has filled the font. The feminine mind instinctively keeps track of the sick, the disheartened, the malcontent.

Pastoral calls, which formerly partook of a religious nature, are now more purely social, and the tendency is to abandon them entirely. Yet, in the world of affairs, great stress is laid upon the social instinct. A very indifferent preacher may build up a strong congregation through friendly visitations. A woman, through her quick intuition, her tact and native instinct, recognizes the social needs of the parish, quickening and reinforcing the slower methods of the masculine mind. “ Where shall I call to-day?” is a frequent question. The wise wife is ready with a carefully selected list, and the battle is half fought. At first I made calls with my husband. I soon observed that our people always preferred to talk with the minister. So I learned to bid him Godspeed without resentment or self-depreciation. Often there are perplexities, doubts, sorrows, and even joys, which can be better expressed to him in confidence. When I call alone, I am received with undivided cordiality. The minister’s wife has personal interest in all the members of the congregation, adapting herself to their various needs, and helping each to the best. The more courage, the more sympathy, the more wisdom, the more spiritual illumination, the greater her ministry. As I recall my comrades among all denominations, the one who fills my ideal of a pastor’s wife is a dear Methodist sister, of sainted memory. She wore a broché shawl, a rusty black gown, and an antiquated bonnet. But she had the grace of God in her heart; high and low, rich and poor, lettered and unlettered, sat at her feet.

General interest in the members of the congregation is no bar to special and congenial friendship either within or outside the parish. The only restraint I ever feel is in relation to ethical and sociological questions. When the trustees and representative pewholders are engaged in business trusts and combines, the minister’s wife, at the Woman’s Club, often with a lurking sense of moral cowardice, is wary of topics touching on private monopolies and strenuous reform. When the prevailing sentiment is conservative, she is too judicious to appear at a suffrage convention. However, the wife of the lawyer, the physician, the editor, is under similar bondage to a professional clientage.

While the church stands preëminently as a religious institution, it has a manysided life, — social, educational, philanthropic. Ostensibly democratic, it yet reflects the social aspirations of its members. Thus we have an “ aristocratic congregation” and a “people’s church.” In the aristocratic church, the Sunday school is composed chiefly of mission scholars. In this church, a reception is a bore, the prayer meeting languishes, and the congregation is “ cold ” toward strangers. A healthy congregation is composed largely of “ plain people,” who are the working bees of the religious hive. The commingling of all sorts and conditions is desirable, because they unconsciously modify each other. The social life of a church is dominated by women. How large a factor it has become is indicated by ecclesiastical architecture : a kitchen and a parlor are as necessary as the audience room. Many families have no acquaintance outside their parish. A sewing society, a fair, a reception, is a social function ; even the midweek meeting is a rallying point. The character and number of social activities depend largely upon the taste and organizing instinct of the pastor. The love of music, art, and literature is stimulated by well-planned lecture courses. Social functions, however, are usually combined with financial schemes. A fair has the double purpose of raising money and bringing the congregation together. An “ active church ” is one in which meetings of various kinds are so continuous that the saints can boast that the fire never goes out on the altar.

Naturally, more or less of the caste spirit prevails in religious organizations. Superior learning, superior wealth, foster the exclusive spirit and excite jealousy. There is always a class who complain that they are not “ noticed ” as often as a Lady Bountiful with arm’slength patronage. I have much sympathy with the unnoticed set, having seen, in the vicissitudes of parish history, how the obscure may become popular, and the popular may be in turn relegated to obscurity. For many years one of these unobserved members was constantly on my heart. Through legal technicalities she had lost her property, and, in a humble way, she worked out her own salvation. Whenever this brave soul appeared in the prayer meeting, I tried, gently, to jog the memory of former acquaintances. Not even our good deacons could remember her from week to week. But when this unobserved sister finally married a wealthy banker, and took a seat in the middle aisle, my duties as mentor came to a perpetual end.

If the principal work of each generation is the training of the next, the present-day Sunday school as an educational institution must be pronounced a failure. The great development of the pedagogical profession has not yet penetrated this department of ecclesiastics. While we cannot hope to have a satisfactory Sunday school until parents send their children with regularity and seriousness of purpose, neither can we expect parental coöperation until we offer instruction as intelligent as that of day schools. Sometimes I have rebelled against their futile if not pernicious influence. In our home, we have endeavored to surround our children with literature, music, and art, of unquestioned value. Schools and teachers have been carefully selected. In the Sunday school, the “lesson charts ” are crude in line and color, and grotesque in conception. When I have tried to introduce illustrations of acknowledged artistic merit, I have been baffled by the announcement of the Sunday-school publisher, “ It will not pay.” Our hymnody is doctrinal in bias, maudlin in sentiment, and cheap in melody.

Yet these are trivial factors compared with the religious concepts of the average teacher : perhaps a young miss, ignorant of the Bible and of ethical principles ; perhaps a veteran, who can quote Scripture from Genesis to Revelation, while quite devoid of spiritual insight. Often I have secretly rejoiced at the marching drills and mechanics of the infant department, because they leave little time for religious instruction. It has been a hard fight to undo the impressions made on our children by some of these well-meaning teachers: a God who dwells far away in the sky; a Heavenly Father who loves only good children; a book of remembrance in which are recorded every naughty word and thought. Here and there, indeed, I have found teachers of rare grace and intelligence, and these qualities are quickly recognized.

I have been connected with many Ladies’ Aids and Woman’s Guilds. Aside from the purpose of swelling the funds of the Lord’s treasury, it has seemed to me that these societies exist in order to hold meetings. Successful meetings are impossible without a genuine purpose. So the first care of the officers is to inaugurate finger occupation. It is a great boon when a destitute family must be sewed up, or a charitable institution appeals for pillowcases, or a missionary box is to be filled. But any effort to remove the causes of poverty and suffering,— like temperance work or sociological reform,—this kind of “ Ladies’ Aid ” I have never seen. The benevolences of the church are not yet conducted in the scientific spirit; their aim is palliative, not curative.

For many years I have been an officer on the Board of Missions, and everywhere I have found indifference. The aggregate of contributions to foreign missions amounts annually to millions of dollars. Yet I venture to say that if we knew the history of each individual dollar, very few would prove a loving, genuine gift. I myself have given chiefly because my position demanded it. These enormous contributions are not the spontaneous offerings of the church. They represent the intense interest of a few individuals. These individuals are always women. They spur on the minister, hector the rich, stimulate the poor, quicken the conscienceless. In a certain church which had failed to raise its apportionment, one lowly, earnest woman, at the eleventh hour, went from house to house and secured the quota. So far as I could discover, the contributors felt more compassion for the woman than interest in the cause ; or they were wearied by her importunity. The case is typical. The Woman’s Boards in all denominations are admirably organized societies, with frequent local meetings, annual and semiannual rallies. The officers have personal relations with the higher ecclesiastical functionaries, and are zealous in filling all pledges to the Board. A woman may hold office in a missionary society, and even speak at its public meetings, without danger of social ostracism, as in temperance work. Indeed, I often think that our officers enjoy their little arena. I am persuaded that our Woman’s Boards foster the denominational spirit; for if the majority of a congregation should reach that stage of spiritual development in which sectarian interest were lost in zeal for the kingdom of righteousness, the fealty of the Woman’s Board would prevent practical steps toward comity. Federation of the denominations at home is more likely to come at the instance of the missionary abroad. He sees the waste of money and the waste of spiritual power which spring from divided effort, while we at home have our eyes fastened upon the ledger books of our Missionary Boards.

Do I, then, not believe in missions ? Yes, in the development of the religious life which is found among all peoples.

Do I not love the church ? There is no choice. “ Wherever one hand reaches out to help another, there is the church of God.”

Do I depreciate creeds ? Yes, every creed which I may not restate in accordance with the demands of my growing spiritual nature.

Do I honor the Christian minister ? Yes, the prophet, but not the priest.

Am I a pessimist ? No. The pessimist has no future. His world is either stationary or retreating. My world is advancing and triumphing, as I grow into sympathy with the order and wisdom and goodness which impel the universe.