Church Cooperation in Community Life
By PAUL L. VOGT
THE ABINGDON PRESS NEW YORK CINCINNATI
Copyright, 1921, by PAUL L. VOGT
Printed in the United States of America
MY FATHER AND MOTHER
WHOSE PUBLIC-SPIRITED AND LIFELONG LOYALTY TO RELIGIOUS WORK IN A COUNTRY COMMUNITY HAS BEEN A CONSTANT INSPIRATION TO CHRISTIAN SERVICE
I. SOME PRELIMINARY DEFINITIONS 9
II. THE BASIS FOR COMMUNITY SERVICE 26
III. THE ECONOMIC CHALLENGE TO THE CHURCH 44
IV. THE SOCIAL CHALLENGE TO THE CHURCH 69
V. BUILDING FOR COMMUNITY SERVICE 84
VI. THE CHURCH AND RURAL PUBLIC THOUGHT 94
VII. ADJUSTING THE LOCAL CHURCH TO THE COMMUNITY 104
VIII. INTERDENOMINATIONAL READJUSTMENT 124
IX. THE CHURCH AND OTHER RURAL AGENCIES 142
X. MISSIONARY PROGRAMS AND RURAL COMMUNITY SERVICE 152
XI. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION 169
Many books have been written during the past few years on the rural church. Some of these have given excellent concrete illustrations of methods that are proving successful in solving local problems. Others have discussed the general rural church situation. The rural life movement, however, has been so rapid that it is believed that a brief restatement of the place of the church in the rural life movement is desirable at the present time.
It has been the task and privilege of the writer for the past four years to be almost constantly in the field traveling from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from Canadian border to the limits of Florida and getting so far as possible first-hand impressions of rural church and community conditions. It is the purpose of the present essay to discuss some of the general problems in rural life presenting themselves to the religious forces of America, and to note some conclusions as to the next steps to be taken if these forces are to render the service in rural advance that it is believed is theirs to render. Suggestions as to local programs will be made only as evidence that when the church undertakes in an adequate manner the solution of problems whose solution is demanded of it, it receives both the moral and the financial support of the people served. The chapters on phases of the local program are intended only to help in preparing the way for the larger service contemplated.
As with individuals, so it is with institutions. It is difficult to discuss the place of different organizations in the rural life movement without arousing the antagonism of leaders in the respective organizations. It is hoped that the point of view held will be accepted as one of sympathy for the efforts of all organizations concerned and that the purpose of the discussion is to point the way toward a larger cooperation resulting from a better understanding of the work that may be expected of each.
PAUL L. VOGT.
SOME PRELIMINARY DEFINITIONS
When one begins to discuss a subject it helps very much if his readers know what he has in mind in the terms used. In the title selected for this text there are at least three words that need definition. Probably no reader will agree fully with any of the definitions given, but an attempt to define should at least help the reader to understand better in what sense the terms are used by the writer.
The term "community" has come into such common use that it might be assumed that definition is unnecessary. And yet when learned bodies get together to discuss community problems a large part of the time is usually taken up in attempting to define what the different speakers are talking about.
When the writer lived in the open country several years ago he went to Mifflin Center school and attended Wesley Chapel church. The schoolhouse and the church were located at the same crossroads, and these two institutions drew for their constituency from an area of about four square miles for the school and a somewhat larger area for the church. Brownstown school, to the south, Hendrickson's to the east, and Whetstone to the west made up other school communities. Pleasant Grove church, Salem, and Brownstown, with a different territory covered by each, made up church areas that did not coincide with the school areas bounding Mifflin Center school territory. In like manner, when trading was to be done, Upper Sandusky and Kirby, five and six miles away, were the centers to which everybody went, generally on Saturday afternoon, when friends from other sections of the county might be found on the streets. The boundaries of the trade center were thus much larger than those of either the school or the church. In politics, the center of interest of the particular township with which the writer was concerned was the old schoolhouse turned into a township house at Mifflin Center, the location of the church and school. The local political interests of the other communities mentioned were at the appointed places in the respective townships. The seat of justice was for some time in the parlor of the writer's father's residence, or in the front yard, to which court was occasionally adjourned when weather conditions permitted. In a larger way county courts were held at the county seat, as were other of the larger political activities.
One could go on indefinitely illustrating the boundaries of interests of various kinds. Some of them centered in the State House; others in the national Capitol; and many a wordy political battle was fought in the little country section over the question as to whether the protective tariff or the Democratic party was responsible for the hard times the farmers and others were suffering. There were even world interests involved, as during the Spanish-American War or the Venezuelan difficulty during Cleveland's administration.
This concrete illustration both raises the question, Which of these is the "community?" and also points the way to the answer. None of the groupings mentioned can be considered "the community." Yet each is "a community." A "community" is a psychical and not a physical thing. It can only approximately be bounded by physical lines. In the last analysis the true "community" is nothing more nor less than that group of two or more individuals who are bound together by a single interest. Thus two people living within sight of one another may be members of the same religious community and at the same time be absolutely separated from one another in their political affiliations. Also one person can at the same time belong to many "communities."
But this definition, if adhered to strictly, would lead to confusion of thought perhaps more serious than a less accurate use of the term. Careful investigation of the relation of the different psychic communities to one another reveals the fact that geographically the areas of individual community interest overlap one another; and that in the better organized regions the centers of interests coincide and it is only the boundaries of the several interests that are not coterminous. The Mifflin Center illustration given above is good in that it had the religious, educational and political interests centered at one physical spot. The social and recreational life of a large part of this local area also was centered here. In the other local groups mentioned there was a division of interest much more marked. A more practical definition, then, of a "community" would be "That aggregation of population which is bound together by a predominating proportion of its local interests."
If this definition is accepted, then an inspection of almost any local aggregation, in the open country at least, will lead to the conclusion that there are few groups of people who have any large number of local interests in common. Perhaps the most powerful force to be considered in determining what is an open country community is that of the social life. People in a given section habitually seek those with whom they are best acquainted when they get together for social affairs of interest outside the family circle; and it is only occasionally that the mass will go out of these habitual associations in seeking social relaxation. This social life may be sought at one time in the school, at another in the church, again at a picnic, or in the home of some one in the "neighborhood." But the dominating factor is acquaintanceship rather than religion or education or business.
Villages are more easily defined as to the number of interests holding the group together.
One principal objective in the modern local community organization movement seems to be to bring together at some central point the focal points of as many local interests as possible, thus strengthening the community bonds and increasing the community consciousness. As this end is achieved the necessity for the strict definition given above disappears and the "community" becomes that aggregation of people the majority of whose local interests have a common center. This is the sense in which the term will be used in this discussion.
The term "rural" likewise conveys a different thought to different people. Indeed, so likely has the term been to mislead that in a recent national survey of religious conditions, the term was abandoned and "town and country" substituted. The simpler plan is to arrive at a definition of the word "rural" which will include what the latter term connotes. To confuse "rural" with "agricultural" is to ignore both the past and the present in movements of population and in organization of interests. To an increasing degree the interests of the open country are centering in the village, or even larger centers. So that in discussing the problems of the agricultural population it is often necessary to make the center of discussion the organization of the village with an agricultural environment. The better plan is to definitely discuss the problems of the open country under the term "agricultural" and retain the other term for all interests of groups of population in smaller communities, whether in the open country or in the villages. In general, the division of the United States Census will be observed and the term "rural" regularly applied to all groups of under two thousand five hundred population.
At a recent meeting of country ministers an attempt was made to define what is the problem of the rural church. The definition as framed is herewith presented: "The rural task of the church is the nurture and development of all phases of human welfare in those communities where the general life and thinking of the people are related to matters which pertain to material natural resources."
This definition is inadequate from the administrative point of view in that it would exclude the small manufacturing community, the educational center, the summer and winter resort communities, and similar specialized groups where population is small. The problems of these small communities not directly related to material natural resources have many characteristics in common with those included in the above definition. Size of community has much to do with the type of problem presented; and the one who understands the problems of the agricultural village is probably better able to deal with the problems of the villages of the type mentioned than is the one trained for service in a metropolitan center.
The term "church" is here used in the sense of including all religious forces in rural life. The Sunday School Association, the Christian Associations, Church Federations, and other groups allied to the church are included in the general term.
THE MANIFOLD FUNCTIONS OF THE CHURCH
The church is the only agency in existence that is concerned with man in all his relationships. It is concerned with keeping alive in human consciousness the existence of a Divine Being and of man's relationship to that Being. It is the only agency that proceeds on the theory of the immortality of the human soul and that has a program of preparing the soul for a life after death. In common with other agencies the church is concerned with the individual life of man on this earth and endeavors to lead human beings to that course of life which will result in the maximum of personal spiritual welfare. And in common with other agencies it is concerned with man in his relations to others and to his material environment because these relationships have a vital effect on his spiritual life.
A full analysis of the functions of the church would include a discussion of those features of church work which have to do with man's relation to God and to an immortal existence. But in a discussion of the church in relation to the community it is not necessary to consider man's relation to God nor to a future life except in so far as beliefs in such relationships influence his personal welfare on this earth or his relationships to his fellow man. Thus this discussion falls in the field of sociology rather than in the field of theology or psychology. A casual observation of the forces at work in human relationships, especially in the smaller communities, leads quickly to the conclusion that beliefs both with reference to God and to a future life have a vital effect on social conduct. But it is the effect instead of the truth of beliefs that is the subject matter to be considered.
Having thus defined the field of our discussion both as to subject matter and as to the phase of the interests of the church to be considered, it is next in order to note the size of the task.
According to the census of 1920, 50,866,899 people in the United States lived in rural territory, that is, in communities of less than 2,500 population. This was 48.1 per cent of the total. For the first time in the history of the country the records showed a larger proportion of the total population living in urban centers than in villages or in the open country. The population in incorporated villages of less than 2,500 population was 9,864,196, or 9.3 per cent of the total, while that in unincorporated or open country communities was 41,002,703 or 38.8 per cent, as compared with 8.8 per cent and 44.8 per cent respectively in 1910.
The total rural population increase was but 1,518,986, or 3.1 per cent. Incorporated village increase was 1,745,371, or 21.5 per cent, while the unincorporated community population actually decreased 227,355, or .6 per cent.
These figures indicate two conclusions of importance to our discussion. The first is that the villages of less than 2,500 inhabitants are sharing with the large centers in the general increase in population. Their increase proportionately is not so marked as is that of the extremely large centers, but it is sufficiently marked to indicate that they offer opportunities that attract more than does the open country. This village growth must be reckoned with in determining policies of location of church buildings and the type of local church program for community service.
The second conclusion is that the open country is still at a disadvantage so far as its possibilities of supporting a large population are concerned. Actual depopulation of the open country, the enlargement of the size of farms, the abandonment of acreage once under cultivation, which preliminary figures issued by the Census Bureau indicate, show that not yet is the demand for agricultural products such as to make a much larger open country population possible. This fact also points the direction for readjustment of rural community life.
The data from the religious census of the United States, taken in 1916, while not classified as rural and urban, give hopeful figures as to the progress of religious institutions in this country. While the total population of the United States increased during the decade 1910-20, 14.9 per cent, the church membership from 1906-1916 increased 19.6 per cent. The total church membership increase, 6,858,796, was 50.2 per cent of 13,710,842, the increase in total population. These figures of church membership increase, covering a period before the European war began to affect this country seriously, indicate that the general rising ethical standards of American life have had their reflection in the larger personal as well as financial support of the religious forces.
While data are not available as to the proportion of rural and urban population belonging to church, the census gives figures as to the church membership in communities of over 25,000 population. According to census estimates, 32.7 per cent of the population lived in cities of over that population in 1916. The religious census shows that 36.5 per cent of the church membership lived in communities of that size. Contrary to popular impression, the larger centers actually have a larger proportionate church membership than do the smaller communities. The facts show that the problem of advance of the Christian Church is more of a small-community problem than it is of the larger centers.
While the proportion of the total population belonging to church increased from 38.1 per cent in 1906 as compared with the 1910 population to 39.6 per cent in 1916 as compared with the 1920 population, the magnitude of the unfinished task is still almost staggering. If the proportion for rural America were the same as for the country as a whole, there would be 20,143,292 people not belonging to church. Church membership, of course, is not the only criterion of the influence of the church; nor would all denominations admit that all the people should belong to church, since some would not accept children not yet having reached the age of accountability. But in any case Christian America is not Christian even in church membership. This does not take into account matters of social and economic relationships which the spirit of Christianity has not yet penetrated and by which church members as well as nonmembers are bound.
More than 50,000,000 rural folk rising to a consciousness of their inherent solidarity and community of interest, and more than 20,000,000 of these not affiliated with any religious organization, present a challenge for trained leadership unequaled in the history of the world. Urban interests have grown powerful. Urban life has rapidly advanced for at least the more favored groups until it has far outstripped conditions in rural communities that go to make up the best in modern civilization and culture. Germs have been found in the "Old Oaken Bucket" in the country, while the scourge of typhoid has been banished from the city, and the "Church in the Dell" has crumbled in decay, while the metropolitan pulpit has taken the best leadership for its own. The country has been unable to compete with the urban centers for educational, religious, or social leadership because wealth has accumulated in the cities. Rural population has declined because the prizes in wealth accumulation were in the cities and because it was easier to secure those things there that people have learned to value as most worth while, in good housing, medical attendance, education, and recreation. While city poets have sung the praises of country life, many people who have lived in the country and endured the long hours and little pay from husbandry have, like the Arab, folded their tents and slipped away; and when once they have tasted the advantages of urban life, have not returned.
No civilization can be wholesome or permanent so long as any one great group is permanently handicapped in its struggle for economic or social welfare. So long as any group is evidently at a disadvantage the shift of population from the less-favored to the better-favored groups will continue; that is, unless castes are formed which compel people to remain permanently in one group or the other. And this does not happen in modern democratic society. And so long as there is a continuous shift of population in one direction or another we have evidence that conditions are such as to induce the shift.
It is the existence of conditions such as these that makes the challenge for a trained loyal service on the part of those selected to attend to matters concerned with rural public welfare.
It is the purpose of the following pages to outline briefly some of the conditions to which the church must give attention if it is to meet the demand now made upon it by modern rural life. It is not intended to be a treatise on practical theology in the sense ordinarily accepted in courses on that subject. Very little attention will be given to matters of organization or administration of the local church. It is believed that if only ministers of the gospel can once attain an adequate grasp of the purposes of religious service, the matter of method of accomplishing results may be left largely to the pastors themselves. On the other hand, emphasis upon method, which seems to be demanded by many ministers instead of knowledge of ends to be attained, is more than likely to lead to overorganization, or organization not adapted to objectives. One of the essentials in all leadership is that of having definite objectives toward which to work, and it is the purpose of this text to call the attention to objectives and to organization, both local and general, adapted to the attainment of objectives rather than the methods of attaining them.
THE BASIS FOR COMMUNITY SERVICE
The past few years have witnessed a marked widening of the concept of the functioning of the church. But there is still considerable question concerning the basis for the program of church work that now bids fair to become conventional. Not long ago the writer attended a convention of a state social welfare association. Over three hundred and fifty persons were in attendance representing the leading agencies for the advance of social welfare in the entire commonwealth, both urban and rural. Careful inquiry revealed the fact that but one minister had registered, and he was on the program. On the other hand, it is the rare occurrence for those professionally interested in social service to be present at a convention of representatives of religious orders. In practice there is still a clean-cut dividing line between those interested in social progress and those engaged in so-called religious work. The social workers are not irreligious; many of them believe their service to be of the highest type of religious expression. The representatives of the church are welcomed by social workers into their councils, but it is feared that often these representatives are not taken seriously because for so long they have had a program that affected social welfare in but an indirect way. The time has come when representatives of the church should accept their rightful position as leaders in all movements that tend to make human existence more Christ-like and to make the kingdom of heaven on earth more of a reality.
The reason for the attitude of both ministers and people toward the church has been the emphasis placed upon individual regeneration as the sole and all-important method of advancing the Kingdom. The "conversion" of the individual would lead him into right conduct. When all individuals were converted then the kingdom of heaven would indeed be at hand.
But the advance of social science has made clear the fact that the individual is very largely the expression of the group in which he lives. Custom, convention, fashion, public opinion, and other group influences go far to determine what individual thought and action will be in any given group. The Tennessee mountaineer has a different standard of what constitutes true religion from that of the New England Unitarian. The code of race relationships in Mississippi is not the same as that in Wisconsin. The standards of the boy's "gang" determine largely the dress, the ideals, and habits not only of youth but of the coming man. Even in the life of the individual different standards exist suitable to the several groups in which he carries on his habitual activities. The capitalist who corrupts Legislatures with impunity in business or who prevents child-labor legislation may be a model Christian gentleman in his home and church life.
It is admitted that in the last analysis the group mind can have its existence only in the individual minds that compose it. But it is also true that when we consider the minds of individuals working in groups with the consciousness of what the reactions of others are, the results are different from what they are when the individual acts alone. Moreover, individuals as a class react in much the same way to stimuli that affect all of the members of the group at a given time. If the price of milk is raised so that there is suspicion of profiteering, common resentment appears. If the leadership of a political party is threatened, the politician, even though he loses leadership, rarely bolts his group. Instead he finds some excuse for standing by the party organization. It is not necessary to alter the minds of all individuals by "conversion" in the conventional manner either to change public opinion, alter physical conditions, or change the form of social organization. When these changes are effected in the minds of the controlling elements of the group, then the entire public mind and social organization are altered and the social process goes on stimulated in newer and, it is hoped, better directions.
One or two illustrations should make this point clearer. Several years ago it was the custom to use common drinking cups on railways. When first legislation was passed to prevent such use, considerable public opinion opposed it as foolish. Now, it is difficult to get any one to touch a common drinking cup even in the home. Before the elimination of the saloon powerful and sometimes very respectable forces were lined up in favor of its continuance. But as soon as the fight against the saloon had been carried to the point of its legal elimination many of those who once supported the barroom because of the profit to them became its opponents. Formerly the saloon was a center for the corruption of many if not most of the youth in the community. Now, most communities are bringing up a far higher grade of young people morally than they once were because it is no longer necessary to fight against this center of immoral infection.
The lesson these illustrations should teach is this: that the conventional method used by the churches during the past half century of depending almost entirely upon individual regeneration through personal appeal as a means of salvation of the race has handicapped the church and limited its effectiveness. When it is once understood that the mind and the character of the individual can be influenced in as many ways as there are social contacts, and when the means of approach through all these contacts is understood, then the effectiveness of the church will be immeasurably increased. Social life must be saved not only through individual regeneration but also through the establishment of a right attitude on the part of the individual and as many individuals as possible. On the other hand, individual attitudes can be established in large part by bringing about, through means now fairly well understood, good economic conditions and social organization.
The sad part about the traditional limited method of approach to improvement of group life has been that in probably the majority of cases impulses were aroused by personal appeal to do good and then through ignorance of objectives in group advance those impulses were allowed to die. The "backslider" is an excellent illustration of the results of periodic renewal of impulse to right living. In most other cases the impulses thus aroused have found their expression in a hypersensitiveness in regard to certain phases of personal conduct. Emphasis upon personal moral conduct to the exclusion of effective interest in social progress characterized much of the product of the personal evangelistic campaigns carried on periodically during the past two or three generations, while the real work of making the world better has been directed by men and women not particularly subject to these periodical waves of religious impulses but imbued with a steady abiding faith in the worth of social action. They have had the good impulses, but these impulses have been steadied and rendered permanently valuable because faith based on knowledge of objectives was available.
If the serious errors of the past are to be avoided it will be necessary for those intrusted with responsibilities of church leadership to vastly increase their knowledge of problems of group life and of methods of control of group life. The following pages are designed to aid the prospective religious leader, either professional or lay, as far as possible in understanding some of the problems that must be dealt with in making human life what Christianity hopes for. Results already have been achieved sufficient to place beyond question the principle that the church must approach life from every possible angle. The effort to produce right attitudes in the individual must be continued, but the methods used must be varied and multiplied.
Furthermore, before the sound point of view with reference to the method of approach to the problems of the church can be obtained it will be necessary to have a clear understanding as to the place of the child in the moral order. Those who derive their theology by reading and interpreting isolated passages of the Scriptures sometimes arrive at unexpected, and, from the point of view of rational living, eccentric and positively harmful conclusions. Some devoted readers find in the writings of Paul something about "Whereas in Adam all die, in Christ all are made alive"; and in Christ's words the utterance to Nicodemus, "Except a man be born again he shall not enter the kingdom of heaven." They have drawn from these doctrines that all men are born with sin inherent in their natures and that there is no good in the soul until "conversion" has taken place. So long as these doctrines find a place in the preaching and practice of churches the method of world salvation will be radically different from that for which the writer is contending.
In brief, if the words of Christ are taken at their face value when he said "Suffer little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven," we have an entirely different basis of approach to our problem than if we assume that all are lost except those upon whom the mystical influence of "conversion" in the traditional sense has operated. If the assumption that children are born good is accepted, then we are brought to the question, "How may these innocents be kept so?" The answer is, By training them to control their natural impulses, good in themselves but likely to lead into wrong if not properly directed; and by cultivating the natural tendencies to good that find expression in every normal child. They must also be brought to an understanding of what Christ means to them as their Saviour and Guide. Then this must be supplemented as rapidly as possible by the organization of group life, in such a way that evil influences will be eliminated.
The saloon was not many years ago the center of corruption of thousands—yes, millions—of the growing youth of this country. The elimination of the saloon has made possible the development of millions of young people free from the particular type of sinfulness for which the saloon was responsible. In like manner, the elimination of commercialized vice has rendered our cities incomparably safer for our young men and women than they once were. The substitution of wholesome amusement for young folks in good environment for the unregulated commercialized amusements once the sole source of recreation has exerted a moral influence too far-reaching to be estimated. The introduction of cooperation in industry has eliminated the sin accompanying the fights between capital and labor in those industries where it has been introduced. These illustrations show how it is possible, by continuing the improvement of social and economic conditions to create such an environment as will destroy the sources of individual corruption and degeneration and will make the growth of the child a continuous succession of stages of spiritual improvement and growth. "Conversion" can thus conceivably become a conscious personal acceptance of Christ and of the principles of Christianity as the normal basis for right living without a noticeable break in the course or direction of life rather than the intense emotional cataclysm that so often characterized the change in hardened sinners.
When children good by nature are brought up in an environment physical and spiritual that has been brought into harmony with the laws of God, then the problems of evil will be reduced to those arising out of natural causes over which man has not achieved control; and children will be looked upon as the natural and rightful members of the church instead of being kept out of the church until they reach the age of accountability. The burden of getting out of the church should be put on the child instead of the usual responsibility of deciding to come into it.
It is customary for leaders of the church to assume credit for practically all the good things going on in the direction of human improvement by assuming that, though the church does not have a large membership, comparatively speaking, its influence has inspired the good work being done in social progress. It is well to face frankly the fact that, whatever may have been the situation in the past, at the present it is questionable whether the church has been the source of even the larger portion of this inspiration. The public schools, including the higher institutions of learning, have been socializing the future leaders in social progress so that their inspiration has been drawn from a concrete knowledge of social problems and from the belief that humanity can, by proper effort, control conditions of living. Then pragmatic results have furthered this belief until inspiration has come from the achievement of results themselves rather than from any recognition of Christian influence in social life. The Christian religion is doubtless responsible for those things most worth while in modern life, but other sources of inspiration have developed for which Christianity does not get the credit.
The conclusion of the whole matter is that in the past two or three generations two marked divisions have grown up, the one a section or wing inside the church which has placed sole emphasis upon individual regeneration as the method of social progress; the other largely outside the church, with emphasis upon social reform as the method of advance. What is needed is a widening of the field so that the methods of social improvement proved to be of value by social workers will be adopted as valid methods of bringing about the kingdom of God. On the other hand, social workers must give more attention to the regeneration of the individual. When each of these groups recognizes the value of the program of the other, then it will be difficult to distinguish longer between churchmen and social workers. The two groups will, in fact, join hands, and by unifying and coordinating efforts will work more effectively in attaining a common aim. The basis, then, for the program for the church which will touch all phases of human interest in a vital way is that every human interest has its effect on the welfare of the soul. And a program that fails to take into account every approach to the individual can at least be but partial.
Again, it will be necessary to revise popular impression as to just what is spiritual. The farmer who after having a most unusual "spiritual experience" at a revival service angrily opposed a local movement for consolidation of schools because such a move would increase taxes had an idea of religion that was strictly personal—and anti-social. The church leader who feared that the encouragement of social-center activities by the church would ultimately result in a condition in which the social activities of the church would overshadow the "spiritual," had in mind a distinction that must be met and understood if the church is to broaden its program without losing its identity as a religious institution. The minister who, while praising a community-club movement which had brought to the community many improvements and a better moral condition, stated that it was injuring the "church," either saw a real conflict between "spiritual" and "social" welfare or had a misconception as to what is spiritual.
The problem seems to arise out of a tendency which has crept into theological thought to limit "spiritual" things to mystical personal experiences. With this definition of spiritual things there seems to have come a tendency to look upon any type of activity that was of a practical nature, such as providing for the recreational needs of the community, organizing a campaign for better reading facilities for country people, or for better farming, as not spiritual, and consequently be sedulously avoided by the church. Perhaps there is no thought in American rural life to-day that causes more trouble to the aggressive rural minister of the modern type than this. His young men and women want to broaden the scope of the church, but the trustees, and those whose word counts toward the selection of pastors and their removal, often oppose anything being done by the church which is not customary and accordingly, as they think, not spiritual.
Christ said "I am come that ye might have life, and have it more abundantly." If this statement is accepted at its face value, then we have the foundation for judging every activity in which the church may partake. Does the activity tend to increase the material and spiritual welfare of the community, so that the influences that tend to the extermination of the group are less? If so, then it conforms to the purposes of the coming of the Christ. On the other hand, if the activity does positively lessen the resistance of the community, reducing it ultimately to a lower scale of living characterized by those things that are recognized as harmful, then it is not a legitimate part of church work. It also follows that if such harmful conditions exist in the community without a protest on the part of the church or without some definite effort to eliminate them, then the church is not living up to the high calling expected of it by the Master. The term "spiritual" is, accordingly, much more inclusive than has been popularly supposed, and one of the great contributions of social science during the past few decades has been to bring to the public mind the knowledge that man and his spirituality cannot be dealt with individually but must be included in all those relationships that affect the soul of the individual.
While the succeeding pages have to do with the social aspects of the spiritual life of man, it must never be forgotten that the regeneration or the quickening of the individual is at least half of the task in community progress. The life of the honest, upright man, whose soul has been set on fire by contact with the flame of divine love, whose heart has been brought into harmony with the divine will of God, becomes in itself a point for the radiation of impulses for right living. And when these impulses are directed into useful channels through a broadened understanding of sound objectives in social progress, then real advance is possible.
There are many other phases of thought that act as a hindrance to the advance of the spiritual kingdom in rural America, but these illustrations will be sufficient to show what must be cleared away before the broad program of the modern rural church can be whole-heartedly accepted. In fairness to the writer it should be kept in mind, as stated in the definitions given at the opening, that this text has nothing to do with those vital elements of religious organization and service which are intended to keep alive man's belief in a divinity and in immortality except in so far as these beliefs affect community relationships. The discussion of these subjects falls, rather, into the realm of theology. It is hoped that at least the principles underlying the movement toward broadening the program of the rural church have been clearly, if briefly, stated, and that the movement toward a larger concept of the religious forces as a factor in rural progress will continue to spread at an accelerating speed.
THE ECONOMIC CHALLENGE TO THE CHURCH
As one travels through the rural districts of America and observes differences in the standards of living he is convinced that human welfare depends very largely on economic conditions. The broad, well-tilled fields of Iowa, surrounding large, well-built houses, big red barns and other outbuildings, form a marked contrast with the patches of corn in irregular fields cleared from the brush and scrub trees on hillsides in Tennessee or Kentucky, and the hovels and rundown farm buildings which go under the name of homes for the hill people. Healthy, well-dressed, happy children attending good schools of the most modern type in the corn belt undoubtedly have the advantage of the boys and girls in the hills who often do not learn to read and write before they are ten years old, if at all, and when they do go to school must be taught by poorly trained teachers for short terms, ending before the holidays, and in one-room schools often attended by nearly a hundred children. Religious service and leadership in the one section under the direction of college and theological seminary men can hardly be put in the same class with the highly emotional expression of religious impulses of the mountain section led by once-a-month absentee pastors with no education, or, worse still, by wandering so-called evangelists of doubtful morality. One could go through the whole list of contrasts between the economically well-favored sections of the country and the less favored agricultural sections and in no way would the advantage be on the side of the latter.
Efficient social and religious institutions cannot be built on poor economic foundations. So long as a section of the country cannot afford to pay more than five hundred dollars per year for teachers or preachers, it cannot hope to have the leadership possible to another section where ministers to rural people can easily secure eighteen hundred to three thousand dollars per year. Good buildings cannot be erected, nor can any of the material comforts which go to make up the foundation of civilized life be enjoyed.
For the sake of the church, as well as the people, the church must attend to the economic foundations of rural life. It is unfortunate for many parts of the United States that the ministry has become so separated from real life by the mystical trend in religion that it has rendered practically no service in laying the foundations for the continuance of the communities themselves.
The shift of population from rural to urban centers which the census records show has continued, if anything, at an accelerated speed, indicates the seriousness of the problem. A part of the shift is doubtless due to improvements made in methods of production. So far as this is the cause there is no reason to be disturbed over the tendency, as it is useless to try to keep young men and women in an occupation that does not offer opportunity for earning a living. Part of the shift may be due to the living conditions in the country. This is but an indication of the task of the church on the social side and can be changed as economic welfare permits. But the fact that rural population has been leaving the farms and that agricultural lands have been abandoned by thousands of acres, indicates that urban opportunities have far outbid the rural in financial returns, variety of openings, and in working conditions. The farmer's income must be increased as compared with other groups before there can be a well-balanced relatively stable American life. Until this is achieved those who are trying to build up rural institutions as strong as those in urban centers will be engaged in a hopeless task.
Eminent, conscientious Christian gentlemen, leaders in religious thought, and occasionally country ministers, have accused those who maintain that the church should have a vital active interest in improving economic welfare of trying to make hog-cholera experts out of preachers, thus taking them away from their real tasks. It is believed that knowledge of hog cholera and of the agencies that can help the farmer to prevent it will not injure the standing of any rural minister. It is maintained with reference to care for economic welfare that it is the business of the church to encourage economic improvement so far as possible (1) by giving advice and assisting in demonstration work when no other organized agency is in a position to render this service, and (2) by opening the way to other organized agencies to perform this service. This is the prime business of the agricultural colleges through their extension service. But it has been the experience of agricultural colleges that they have the greatest difficulty in establishing relationships in those agricultural sections where their service is needed the most. The minister of the gospel, being one of the two or three paid leaders in a local community, enjoying a measure of the confidence of the people, and having a large part of his time available for pastoral duties, has the opportunity and the obligation to tactfully bring to the community the assistance of these other agencies now provided by the State. When he has done this he can rest assured that he has accomplished something that will become the foundation for a far higher, more satisfying rural life.
Although ultimately the problem of production in agriculture will probably be a most serious one, because of influences such as soil-mining, deforestation, and depletion of soil through erosion, the immediate problems are, rather, the adjustment of production to demand so that the farmer will be on a more equitable income basis with other elements in the population. When there is newspaper talk of again burning corn for fuel, when wool is a drug on the market, and when farmers' organizations are urging the decrease in the acreage of cotton, it is idle to talk of agricultural welfare being synonymous with ability to increase crop acreage or production per acre. Agricultural colleges and other State agencies have devoted the large part of their efforts to study of problems of production. The results of their services to date have been to so improve production as to hasten the population movement from the farms to the cities. This tendency to aid production to the point of exceeding equitable demand has been of economic value to the great centers but it has not encouraged the continuance on the farm of a large population, nor has it enabled the farmer to compete with the townsman in maintaining a satisfactory standard of living. It would seem that the producing ability of the farmer has been his misfortune, and that his friends who have taught him to produce more have been his worst enemies.
When a manufacturing plant closes down because it cannot sell its goods at a given price, or when a retailer refuses to handle goods below a price believed by many to be excessive, little is said. But when the farmer tries to adjust his production to demand by limiting production there is widespread criticism of his conduct. There should be continuance of efforts to retain the fertility of the soil, to improve methods of cultivation, and to prevent destruction of wide areas through erosion. The patrimony of the nation must be preserved through wise policies of reforestation and reclamation of waste lands. But the great immediate task is that of adjusting production to demand so that the rural population may advance in material welfare along with other groups. In a competitive organization of industry the farmers success is gauged by his net income rather than by the number of bushels of corn or bales of cotton he produces.
A sinister tendency in the higher-priced general agricultural sections is that of increase in the number of farms operated by farm tenants. Certain writers have attempted to prove that this tendency is taken too seriously. But the evidence of the United States Census from decade to decade indicates that the danger is real; and that the sooner a policy of control is adopted the better.
The handicaps to agriculture through this increase are manifold. In a large proportion of cases, as shown by studies in typical areas, the landowner does not live on a neighboring farm, nor is he a retired parent or other relative of the tenant farmer. He lives in the neighboring city. Consequently, the rental from the farm goes to help build up the material welfare of the urban center. The contributions of the absentee landlord to church work go to supplement the salary of a city pastor on a scale far beyond the competing ability of the rural church where his land is located. His contributions to benevolences are paid for out of the income from his four-hundred-acre farm but are credited to the city church of which he is a member instead of to the rural church in the community where his land is located. Because of the transient nature of his residence the tenant, who remains on the farm on the average less than two years, has but little permanent interest in the life of the community and lacks the stability to become a valuable factor in building up strong rural institutions. The landlord, as previously suggested, has been known to oppose measures for consolidation of rural schools because such consolidation might increase taxes, and has been known to threaten tenants with dispossession if they should vote for consolidation. The constant moving of the tenant has handicapped the children in getting a good common-school education because of the breaks in their training resulting from this constant changing of residence.
The tenant house, with all its implications of class-distinction, has come to the country side in increasing numbers. And slowly but gradually a landed aristocracy is growing up in rural America as marked as the landed aristocracy based on the purchase of a few acres of Manhattan Island several generations ago. And with the tenant has come the farm laborer, alien to the community, transient, and as much a member of the proletariat as if he were working in a great factory in the city. The I. W. W. movement in the wheat fields and lumber camps of the Northwest is but the beginning of the wage-earning consciousness as it spreads out from urban centers.
The short term of tenant operation is lowering the standards of agriculture. Instead of farming on a long-time schedule, expecting returns on a system of husbandry reaching through the years, the tenant is inclined to produce such crops as can be disposed of at the close of the year, regardless of the effect of such a form of agriculture upon the fertility of the soil. Tenant contracts as yet offer little inducement for the tenant to remain permanently on a given farm or to keep up needed improvements.
The tenant for the time being may even make larger profits as a tenant than as an owner. But the tendency everywhere for rents to rise, and the consequent increase in the value of the land, will ultimately bring the tenant to the position of securing from his labor on the farm an income not much in excess of what he would receive from working as a day laborer. The result in the long run will be that the best agricultural sections of the country will be occupied by a population lower in ability than in a landowning section and constantly kept down by poverty. This prediction may be deemed fanciful by some, but the writer believes that it is worthy of the most careful consideration and study.
Since the organization of the great combinations in the oil and sugar industries during the 70's and 80's of the past century the movement toward close industrial organization has proceeded with little interruption. Legislation has been passed designed to break up industrial combinations and from time to time various industries have been disintegrated. But the layman has not been able to discover that such disintegrations by court order have had any marked influence on the progress of the fundamental tendencies toward industrial consolidation. The farmers have been the last to get into the organization field on any extensive scale. The Grange and the Farmers' Alliance, and later the Farmers' Union, have made attempts and, although many failures are recorded, their work paved the way for a far larger movement toward farm organization now under way. The tendency toward close organization of industrial groups may also be seen in the labor movement, the American Federation of Labor and the Industrial Workers of the World in this country, and the syndicalist movement in Europe; and in the organization of employers' associations and the National Chamber of Commerce on the part of business men. Whatever may be thought of the unfortunate phases of this movement toward closely organized group consciousness, however Bolshevistic it may be said to be, it must be recognized that class consciousness has come to stay. The old-type citizen who voted as a Republican or a Democrat and as an individual regardless of his industrial affiliations is passing away, and to-day the business men as a class, the wage-earners as a class, the farmers as a class, approach the leaders of both traditional parties with their ultimatums as to what they will do if certain policies are not recorded in their respective platforms. And the best-organized groups, those that can swing the most votes or can produce the largest financial inducements, are the ones that get most consideration. This may be Bolshevism, but if it is, it is a fact in American life, and we may as well adjust ourselves to handling the situation wisely instead of lamenting the passing of the system of individual representation which was the basis on which American government was founded.
The farmer cannot be accused of leadership in this change in the American State. Business men and wage-earners began it, and the farmer has been forced to follow their example. The old type individualism of the landowning-operating farmer has long handicapped the farmer in his relations with other industrial groups. And it is with many mistakes and setbacks that he is now endeavoring to follow the example so ably set by the multimillionaires of the other groups. Better organization, not for exploitation but for protection and maintenance of a safe balance of influence in economic affairs, is fully justified, and the minister of the gospel is serving the farmer best when he encourages right and efficient organization.
The American Farm Bureau Federation, begun a few years ago through the encouragement of county agricultural agents in order to give them a point of contact with groups of farmers and to give local support of the county agent's work, has now taken into its own hands the task of farmer organization. And now, with resources far beyond what could have been dreamed of a few years ago, this organization is embarking on programs of farmers' business organization almost too staggering in their size to be comprehended. If rightly managed, and if farmers can prove loyal to their own organization, this movement is destined to solve many of the problems of intergroup relationships confronting the farmers during the past few decades.
As a part of the modern farmer organization movement, and holding within itself the largest promise of social values, is the encouragement of cooperation. Since the days in 1844, when a little group of wage-earners in England, out of work and gathered round a fire in a tavern, decided to go into business for themselves on a basis of one-man one vote, and distribution of profits on business done with the concern instead of stock held, the movement has continued to spread all over the world until to-day it holds a very important place in many lines of industry in leading countries.
In this country cooperation has been an agricultural rather than an urban development, primarily because economic conditions have made it more necessary in agriculture than elsewhere. Farmers' elevators, live-stock shipping associations, insurance companies, fruit-and produce-marketing organizations have all gained a sound footing and each year shows an increase in their numbers. The movement has been consistently fought by competitive profit-seeking interests but without avail further than to delay the movement. In the early days discrimination in furnishing cars, underbidding, misrepresentation, adverse legislation all had to be overcome, in addition to the fact that ignorance of business principles often led to failure. Even now, within the past five years, agricultural colleges have been prevented from adding advisers on cooperative organization to their extension staffs, retail merchants' associations have prevented cooperative organization legislation, and insidious attempts have been made to prevent popular education with reference to the movement.
The cooperative movement offers the greatest opportunity for the country minister for definite service in the farmers' economic progress. The principle underlying the movement is "Each for all, and all for each." Instead of the capitalist and laborer being in opposite camps under the necessity for bargaining, and each doing as little as possible and getting as much as possible for their respective shares of the product of the industry, the cooperative movement brings them into harmony for production of goods, in the belief that all are to share fairly in what is produced. The storekeeper and the buyer no longer haggle over the price because both will share in the returns of the business done. The cooperative movement bids fair to solve many of the problems of open and closed shop, collective bargaining, labor organization, and of relations between producer and consumer. Its steady growth is bringing about industrial peace and since it represents the true spirit of Christianity the minister is justified in encouraging its development wherever he may be.
What is the challenge to the church of the economic conditions and tendencies outlined above? First and foremost, the minister must in season and out of season preach honesty in business relations. One of the most important discoveries in the study of problems of the farmer's business relations is that his success or failure depends largely upon the moral principles of the farmer as a group. The farmer who puts poor apples or potatoes in the middle of the barrel, who uses false weights and measures, who fails to produce the best of which he is capable, lowers the price of all farm products. The dealer who must throw out a certain proportion of bad eggs in his miscellaneous purchases makes the buying price low enough to protect himself. The consumer's demand is gauged very largely by the quality or reliability of the goods he purchases. So dishonesty in farm business hurts the farmer more than it does anyone else. The minister can render a service when he imbues his people with the highest ideals of business morality.
Moreover, he can help in eliminating the loss to the farmer through attempted sale of ungraded, miscellaneous products by encouraging standardization and guarantee of quality. This requires organization; and while it should be the pastor's aim to encourage the formation of agencies independent of the church to attend to this and to establish contacts between his community and State and independent organizations that will assist in this work he should not hesitate so far as his time will permit to organize such standardization work and organization for guaranteeing products until other agencies can take the work over. His obligation as community leader extends to the encouragement of every phase of life that makes the country more livable in the way demanded at the particular stage of development in which he finds the community.
As stated before, his primary task in encouraging production is now that of establishing contacts with State agencies and encouraging the support of their work. In some sections of the country, as among the colored people, for example, a country preacher might well be a trained farmer capable of doing in a local community what a county agent tries to do on a larger scale. But the State has now progressed in most sections to the point where, if opportunity is offered, it can assist in this work and relieve the pastor for other duties.
The rural pastor should be a leader in community economic organization. It is accepted now that economic organizations along cooperative lines should be independent of either educational, religious, or social groups. After such organizations are well established the pastor has met in this respect the challenge to the church and to the pastor as community leader.
The church as a whole should have some form of organization whereby it can register its influence in favor of State legislation making safe the development of the cooperative movement, the better organization of marketing, the proper control of land ownership, taxation, and other business relations affecting the farmer. Many of these problems cannot be solved by a minister working alone in a local community. He can preach honesty, stability, loyalty to community organization with all the fervor and liberty of a prophet, but so long as the tenant contract remains an inducement to transient tenant population; so long as class distinctions continue to become more marked; so long as discontent over high rents, high prices of land, and other conditions continues, he will not get far toward the establishing of the kingdom of heaven in agricultural life. These problems must be attacked by the church as a whole as the obligation of the general church to the minister who is on the firing line of the great world-wide struggle for the establishment of industrial peace.
One or two concrete illustrations will show the necessity of general church action on these matters if the rural church is to be saved from conditions now acute in the large centers. Wage-earners in the large centers who have no assurance of permanence of jobs are not inclined to give liberally toward providing adequate building and equipment for religious services. No wage-earner can be expected to give hundreds of dollars out of his income toward building a church when the next month may find him compelled to move to some distant city. In like manner it is difficult in large centers to get wage-earners even to maintain a church adequately. Consequently the church is to-day spending millions of dollars to provide church buildings for wage-earners in large cities. Yet it does not have any program for bringing about wage returns, permanency of employment, or interest in business that would make it possible or desirable for the wage-earner to finance his own church building. Neither does the church have a plan whereby the industries of a city make any adequate contribution to the housing of religious institutions for those connected with the industry. Although the wealth of America is centered in the great cities, the provision for religious service to city people is being made by people living in small towns and in the open country.
As in the city, so in the open country. It has become necessary for the general church to provide even pastoral maintenance in certain sections where land is worth three hundred dollars per acre. The transient tenant has no abiding interest in the community because he expects to move at the end of the year. This condition is gradually becoming worse; and unless the general church undertakes the solution of problems affecting the local church but over which the local church has no control, the future will bring either a decline in religious influence in rural sections or a continuous burden on national boards that should and would under proper conditions be cared for by local communities.
That the church can help in improving economic conditions to the advantage of all rural life has already been abundantly demonstrated. On the Brookhaven District, Mississippi Conference, Methodist Episcopal Church, the missionary board of that denomination made a contribution of three hundred dollars toward the support for the summer of a man and woman engaged in organizing community clubs. Twenty-one clubs were organized, and as a result of their efforts over fifty thousand pounds of fruit and truck were saved during the period of the war when food conservation was a necessity. As a result of this contribution, at last reports there were three colored county agricultural agents employed in counties of that district, all supported by the State, and no further contribution of missionary funds to continue the work was necessary. For years Bishop Thirkield, of the New Orleans area of the Methodist Episcopal Church, had been encouraging keeping of gardens by the pastors and land ownership among colored people. It is impossible to estimate accurately the results of his broad program, but one district superintendent reported for his own official boards that while at the opening of the year 25 per cent of his official board members on the district were in debt, at the close of the year not one of them was in debt. They had been taught how to save money and to pay their debts, and the members of the churches were encouraged to follow their example.
On a little charge in southeastern Ohio the pastor began to preach good roads. Before the end of the first year a township organization had been formed and a vote taken providing for the macadamizing of every road in the township.
Four years ago the missionary board of the Methodist Episcopal Church made a contribution of four hundred dollars toward the support of a pastor in a village in New York. He organized a community club, led in securing a community house, installed moving pictures, and provided for the recreational life of the community. To-day no contribution is being made by the Board for this work. Yet the membership of the club has increased from fifty-nine to two hundred and twenty-five. It has been responsible for the establishment of a national bank which had one hundred and seventy thousand dollars deposits in the first six months; it paved over five hundred feet of street; it provided for the consolidation of four rural schools with the village school. And plans were under way for opening a ferry across the Hudson that had not been run for thirty years and for the establishment of an important manufacturing plant. Thus a little stimulation has resulted in economic development that must result in better financial support of all community activities.
In conclusion it may be said that it is the business of the pastor to concern himself with all economic problems that affect the welfare of his people. The type of problem will vary with the community and its stage of development. As rapidly as possible the church should turn over to private or State agencies the task of economic development. But the church should encourage in every way every movement that is destined to bring about a higher stage of economic welfare; and the pastor cannot relinquish his obligations in this respect until he has succeeded in establishing other agencies that can effectively perform this task. His duty, then, is to encourage this form of development by educating the people as to its value and by giving it his moral support.
THE SOCIAL CHALLENGE TO THE CHURCH
The task of the minister is primarily to deal with man, either in his own personal life, his relations to his Maker, or to his fellow-man. Unlike the farmer, whose interest lies in the control of animal or plant growth, or the mechanic, who controls and molds the forces and conditions of inanimate nature, the minister has to do with that most delicate and elusive subject of all—the human soul. His business is to tune the individual soul instrument so that it will harmonize with the musical vibrations of the Infinite Will; and to bring about such a relationship between the different instruments in his little group that all together will produce a heavenly harmony.
The Christian religion, except when it has degenerated into formal Pharisaism, has been an ethical religion; and the ethical conduct of the individual has been a criterion of the depth of his religious experience. Ethics have primarily to do with the relation of man to man, so that the conclusion is logical that the church is vitally interested in the ethical problems of humanity and in anything that tends to lower or raise the moral standards of the individual or the community.
There is no other agency more vitally interested in moral problems than is the church. Business organizations may be interested, but their efforts have apparently not been to conserve moral standards, even in business. The school is interested, but its emphasis has been placed more on mental development without regard to moral implications, or on utilitarian objectives. The church has been preaching right living, and other objectives have been incidental. Since this is true the thesis is advanced as the basis for this chapter that it is the business of the church to provide building, equipment, and leadership for conserving the moral life of the community. Since the moral welfare of any community finds its expression largely in its social and recreational activities, such provision involves providing for the social and recreational interests. This is a function which is not to be encouraged and then turned over to other agencies, but is to be retained by the church itself as its legitimate service.
In view of the fact that the efforts of various agencies have not been in entire harmony with this point of view it deserves further consideration. For many years it has been argued that the schoolhouse should be so built that it could be made the community center for all types of activities. Without intending to limit the public schools in any laudable endeavor to enrich rural life it should be noted:
1. That so far as villages and open country schools are concerned it is not believed that the agitation for the wider use of the school plant has yet resulted in any marked nation-wide response to such agitation further than to provide room for physical training of upper-class students.
2. In general, the schoolhouse is so located that it is not suited for community service. It is usually located on the outskirts of the village, where plenty of ground may be had for outdoor school games. When people gather for social life and leisure they do not go away from the lights of the village street but move toward them. The well-lighted poolroom near the village store will attract more boys than the building on the village edge that must be reached through the dark. Villagers have their downtown as well as do the great urban centers.
3. The school teachers and principal are busy five days in the week in the classroom. The schools cannot assume charge of community center activities without danger either of overworking the teachers or of having to hire special assistance for this service. Many villages cannot afford to hire special workers for this purpose alone.
4. It has been argued that the school is the democratic institution since it is tax-supported, and thus every one may go there as a right. To this it may be replied that, as with the church, only those contribute who have resources from which to contribute. The only difference is that in the public school the majority decide that all those who are able must contribute to the support of public institutions, thus it falls short of complete democracy, which must, in the last analysis, be a purely voluntary association. In the church the only force compelling contribution is personal desire and public opinion. Thus it is as democratic, if not more so, than the school.
5. On the other hand, a large part of the time of the country minister is available for pastoral service. The establishment of community service activities under the auspices of the church bids fair to rescue pastoral calling and service from a routine of personal visitation by giving it a definite community service objective. Again, in the beginnings in the medium-sized and larger villages and probably continuously in the smaller places the pastor is the only salaried servant of the community with free time during the week for the organization and direction of community service.
6. The church building and parish house can be located conveniently at the center of the village, thus obviating the objection to the school building for this purpose.
7. True religion is a loyal supporter of everything that is safe in social and recreational life. It is subject to the control of the community in the same way as the school; excessive puritanism need not be feared under its auspices more than under the auspices of other agencies.
The usual argument against serious consideration of the church as the center of community life is that religious agencies are so divided up by dogmatism that it is impossible for any one religious organization to assume leadership in this respect without incurring the opposition of other agencies. While this is true in many cases, it should be remembered that dogmatism does not have the influence in more highly developed communities that it once had. Moreover, considerable progress has already been made toward intergroup agreements, including the two great divisions of the Christian Church giving responsibility for community leadership to one denomination or another. In cases where local adjustments have not been made it may be necessary to depend on other agencies to conserve the social and recreational life. In these cases the church loses its rightful heritage.
8. The popular response to projects of building community churches and parish houses in small communities leads to the belief that the general public accepts as the correct one the principle that the church should provide these facilities. The Methodist Episcopal denomination alone, through the aid of its Church Extension Board, aided in 1920 in building or remodeling over four hundred church and parish houses equipped to provide for all or a part of a community service program; it is not known how many more made such advances without outside aid. The question of whether the church or some other agency than either the church or the school should provide community service facilities may be answered in much the same way. In some States local communities may levy a tax for the building and maintenance of community buildings. Where this is possible there seems to be no serious objection to such a course. But a community building without adequate supervision is likely to become a center of moral deterioration. On the other hand, such a public building can be located more strategically than can a schoolhouse. The objection to stock-company-owned community houses is much more serious. These are likely to become mere pleasure resorts, often of a very questionable nature.
The judgment of the American people seems to be rapidly determining that the safest plan is to look to the religious agencies for conserving the social and recreational life; and this judgment is in harmony with the thesis advanced at the opening of this chapter.
If the principle is accepted that it is the business of the church to conserve the social life of the community, then it is next in order to consider some of the problems of social life that are a challenge to the church at the present time.
The social organization of this country in its smaller communities as in the larger centers, such as it is, is the product of undirected uncoordinated efforts of special interest groups. A general classification of the types of rural organizations may be made, first, into political, including the incorporated village, towns, townships, counties, and political parties; economic, including special associations around specific interests such as farm bureaus, stock breeders' associations, potato-growers' associations, etc., and the increasing number of cooperative organizations, such as farmers' elevators, fruit-marketing organizations, live-stock, shipping associations; social, including the Grange, the various types of farmers' clubs for men and women that perform much the same function as the Grange, and the more or less permanent groupings for purely recreational purposes, such as dancing parties, card parties, etc.; and the conventional religious organizations as represented by the denominations and their many subsidiary groups for special purposes.
As was pointed out in the chapter on definitions, each of these various groups has a customary center for coming together. But owing to the fact that each interest has grown largely without reference to the others, their centers of activity have been determined largely by conditions of local convenience. Now, these centers may have been well adapted to the times when they were established, but as time has passed shifts of population have come, road improvements have been made, and new interests developed so that the traditional centers not only tend to lessen community solidarity but also tend to prevent its accomplishment. One of the first tasks of the community leader is to make a study of his proposed field of activity for the purpose of determining what are the present centers of group interests, what changes have taken place in rural life conditions which make reorganization and readjustment of centers desirable, and then, in consultation with representatives of the community, to organize a community plan toward ward which the entire community may work. City planning has long been an accepted principle for service in the more progressive larger centers. The time has come when plans for the most efficient organization of village and open country communities should be made. It is interesting to note that already in many sections of the United States the movement toward community planning has made considerable progress. It is now generally recognized that with rare exceptions the village rather than an open country point is the normal basis for such a plan. In accordance with this, movements are now under way to displace the traditional township boundaries created as political limits for government and to replace them by boundaries conforming as closely as possible with those limits that careful investigation indicates are now and probably will continue to be the most representative of what the future limits of rural communities will be. In like manner educational work is being reorganized to include the community territory instead of the political areas inherited from the methods of survey adopted under the ordinance of 1787. As this movement continues, doubtless farm bureaus, and even religious agencies, will try to adapt themselves as far as possible to the program of other agencies.
The breakdown of social life in the open country and the very questionable forms it often takes in the villages has long been the nightmare of the minister of the gospel who stands for a high ethical plane of social life. The church, with its Ladies' Aid, its young people's societies, its occasional men's clubs, fails to reach more than a very limited number of those living in the open country or in the village. The lack of a definite, well-organized social program results in all kinds of association often anti-social and lowering of the moral fiber of the entire group. It is unnecessary to go into the sordid details of moral conditions existing among both young and old in many village communities. The pastor with a program of absentee service consisting of an occasional sermon and holding a Sunday school finds his efforts continually nullified by more powerful social and recreational impulses expressing themselves in ways recognized as morally deteriorating. When a plan for ultimate centralization of wholesome and legitimate community interest has been made it is the minister's task to organize a plan for bringing to the community an abundance of wholesome recreational life. The traditional plan has been to preach against dancing and card playing. Such preaching has more often alienated the young people from the church than it has attracted them to religious life. The modern plan is to overcome evil with good; that is, to provide such a program of unquestioned recreation that the evil will die of itself.
That this actually happens has been demonstrated over and over again. The Rev. Matthew B. McNutt, on arriving at Du Page, Illinois, found a large building near the church turned into a dancing center. Without saying a word against dancing he began to organize his young people for singing. In a short time the dancing mania had ceased and did not return in the twelve years of his service on that charge. The Rev. L. P. Fagan found dancing all the rage when he went to a little town in Colorado. He began to develop a wholesome program of recreational life, and before long dancing had ceased and had not returned two years after he had left the charge. At a little town in New York State, the young men of the town were accustomed to gather at the fire house and indulge in cards with more than occasional playing for money. A recreation hall opened in the village broke up the card-playing and brought the young men into something more wholesome and which they preferred. A village in Southwestern Ohio had a gang of "Roughnecks," as they were called, who were accustomed to loaf in the poolrooms and find their amusement in neighboring cities. A room in the upstairs of the town hall was opened up and fitted for basketball. Leadership for clubs was provided by college students training for community service. The result was that this group of young men, of exceptionally good native qualities but spoiling morally for want of adequate provision for recreational life, came to the community center and for the time being avoided the lower forms of social and recreational activity.
These illustrations prove three things: first, the need of such equipment; second, the fact that young people prefer and choose the better when it is provided for them; and, third, that the church can solve many of its most serious problems most readily by attacking the source of corruption of the morals of young people through caring for recreational interests. The minister who neglects this powerful force in attempting to build a Christian civilization is failing to take advantage of one of the greatest instruments God has placed in his hands. Yet it is the sad fact that in too many instances ministers are failing to take advantage of the forces at hand, and that even those who have caught the vision of the possibilities of these other forces are not trained to use them safely.
The number of village communities that have organized social and recreational life is still so small that when such movements are discovered they receive widespread comment in the public press. One can drop into almost any village in America and make inquiries as to what is being done for conserving the recreational life by the church or any other community agency, and the answer will be that nothing is done either in providing leadership or buildings and equipment. Much good work has been done for specific groups by the Christian Associations, and now the American Playground Association, the Red Cross, and other organizations are applying themselves to the task of bringing about a better condition in smaller communities. But the work accomplished by all of them is still, as compared with the task in hand, scarcely more than a beginning. The church with a paid community leader in each community offers the solution for most rapid and permanent progress; and the outlook for rapid development under religious auspices is most hopeful.