On Progress


I WONDER, now and then, as I watch the progress of humanity, just where we shall stop. In matters of church finance, for instance, how will our children’s children, a century hence, conduct themselves ? No one can question that we have made tremendous strides in this direction. Economy and thrift in the adjustment of religious affairs have become matters of course. Abel, it will be recalled, offered to the Lord the firstling of his flock, and the Lord looked with respect upon the offering of Abel. But with the offering of Cain he was distinctly displeased, if one may trust the record. I often wish there were, among modern inventions, some sort of spiritual phonograph by which one might judge the attitude of the Lord toward the present mode of sacrifice. With a little effort of the imagination, one can conceive such an instrument treasuring up for future generations the record, “ The United Church of Centreville offered to the Lord, last evening, a rummage sale ; and the Lord had respect unto the offering of Centreville.”

The ideal of the Puritan Fathers — which was essentially that of Abel, namely, to give to the Lord the best of the flock — has suffered many changes on its way to the rummage sale. But in each of them there has lurked a thrifty desire to get much and give little, a desire to win the respect of the Lord at a minimum expenditure. It has been reserved to the rummage sale, however, to achieve a degree of shrewdness before which the imagination is dumb. Think of the delight of the first woman to whom the idea presented itself. She was, doubtless, some level-headed matron of the church who had labored Iona: in the cause. She had baked cake for church fairs, and beans for church suppers, and made ice cream for festivals, and coffee for all three, till her soul was weary within her and her countenance reddened with fire. Then, in a flash, there came to her, some night, perhaps, when she laid her tired head upon her well-earned pillow and thought upon the future welfare of the church — there came to her a revelation of the possibilities of the attic. In her mind’s eye she saw, as in a dream, the roofs lifted from a hundred homes and the contents of a hundred attics exposed to view, — a harvest for the Lord, — old dresses and chairs and tables and hats, boots and shoes — too small or too big or too thick or too thin for the present owners, but sure to find a purchaser somewhere in the congregation. The stuff that everybody rejected should become the head of the corner. The idea flew like wildfire from mouth to mouth and from home to home. Old garments were routed out, cribs and baby carriages cherished by barren women, bags and baskets and lamp chimneys, rollingpins, stoves, and pie-tins, — church members appeared bearing them proudly in their hands, offerings to the Creator of the world.

The idea in its inception was a stroke of genius, — religious, commercial genius ; and its execution has been no less happy. It has grown, indeed, in the brief years of its existence, to magnificent proportions. When it was found that, although every church member was willing, and glad, to contribute things that he did not want himself, he was sometimes inconvenienced by the burden of carrying them to the church, the furniture van was introduced, and a postal was sent to each member of the congregation announcing its arrival on a fixed date. There was still left to the individual contributor the labor of climbing the attic stairs and the mental exercise of choosing from among cherished relics the least desirable ones. But this amount of sacrifice one renders cheerfully. One does not expect to get everything for nothing — even in church finance.

Certain features of the enterprise still remain to be adjusted. A perfect adaptation of means to ends has not yet been achieved. The sale, for instance, was at first held in some part of the church building, and the buyers were, for the most part, members of the congregation. But it soon became plain, even to the least enlightened type of mind, that more could be had for the money by enlarging the circle of buyers. A hall was hired outside the church and the public invited in. Then a curious sociological development took place. It was found that the chief buyers were old clothes dealers from the down-town district; and a second move was inevitable and natural. A room was taken in a part of the town more accessible to these buyers, notice was given from the pulpit that cast-off garments of every description would be especially acceptable for the prospective rummage sale, an advertisement of the date and place of the sale was put in the daily paper, and the circle was complete. Clothes that formerly filled the missionary box or went to clothe poor relatives were now thriftily sold and the money given to the Lord. What further reach of economy is to be achieved only the future can reveal. The “ manufacturer’s sale ” has possibilities that appeal to the imagination. When the manufacturer sends samples of his goods for nothing, and the ladies of the church sell them for something, the problem of church support has been reduced to a science. The ladies of the future, it may be, will have only to sit in stalls gay with bunting and inscribed, “ Eat Calkins’ Breakfast Food For Red Cheeks,” or “Ball’s Blacking Is Best. ’ The manufacturer’s sale is oidy a variety of rummage sale. Its career is of necessity limited. And what will our children do then, poor things ? It might almost seem that we have reached the limits of economy, and that a return to the ways of Abel is open to us for consideration.