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The Story of the Union Congregational Church by Steven Byington
When the constitution of the United States was being ratified there was added to it one of its most statesmanlike parts, the first ten amendments. The first words of the first amendment are "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." This seems to us now like a matter of course. It was not so then. Not far from that date an eminent man said that a constitution of civil government without an established church is "a chimara of which history affords no example."
It may be doubtful whether in the tiny governments of the Pilgrim Fathers and Rhode Island there was any established church to begin with, But in the larger colony of Massachusetts Bay- there certainly was. The organization of a pioneer Massachusetts town was primarily church and secondarily civic. Then Hooker and his friends went out from Massachusetts to found Connecticut, one of the differences was that in Connecticut a man who was not a church member could vote in town meeting; in Massachusetts he could not. Quite naturally the minister's salary was paid out of the town taxes, and the church had nothing to do with money matters.
But soon there began to be settlers who said that the town's church was not their church and they objected to paying taxes to support it. Exemptions from taxation multiplied until the churches found themselves drifting back to the old practice of the Congregational churches before they came to Massachusetts) that the church should be supported by voluntary contributions. Yet they had grown so much into the habit of feeling that the church was not to handle money matters, that there arose the peculiar New England institution by which in any locality there were normally a pair of twin organizations: the Church which held the religious services and the Society which owned the church building, paid the minister) etc. When a new minister was needed, the Ballard Vale custom (which was typical of general usage) was that a committee chosen half by the church and half by the society should look about for a good man and when one seemed to have been found, the church should "call'' him and the society should "concur" in the action of the church. Normally they would meet separately; it was quite possible however, to hold the church meeting to vote the call and the society meeting to vote the concurrence in the same room on the same evenings one after the other, but in that case care had to be taken that those who were members of the society but not of the church should not vote in the society meeting.
It was not customary to form a church without calling a council of the churches in the neighborhood to see that everything was all right; but the society, though practically important, had no existence in the theoretical scheme of either church or town, so that anybody who chose could form a society without any red tape. Hence it is not surprising that the first Congregational organization, in Ballard Vale was "the Ballard Vale Union Society for the Support of Public Worship," organized March I8, 1850. But this organization though not tangled in red tape, was plentifully tangled in circumstances,.
Today interdenominational friendship and cooperation is a ruling principle in all leading Protestant denominations. This was not always so, For instance, those whose memories go back fifty years can remember when Andover Theological Seminary was moved away from its place on the Phillips Academy campus to get nearer to Boston, and can remember the lawsuits that followed, Much of the endowment money had been given at the beginning of the nineteenth century on condition that the professors whose salaries it was to pay should say that they believed with all their heart in certain things; and part of these things were such as hardly anybody at the end of the nineteenth century believed in. The lawsuits were over the question whether, by uniting the seminary with another institution, the seminary could keep the money and yet let its professors believe what in fact they did believe. One of the points was that under the old charter the professors must promise to fight as hard as they could against the Methodists. It was argued with much force that today nobody who was fit to teach Congregational theological students would declare himself an uncompromising opponent of the Methodists. (Those lawsuits ended in what looks like a compromise: Andover Seminary was forbidden to unite with Harvard but was not forbidden to unite with Newton, and it is today Andover-Newton Theological Seminary. I do not think the professors now vow to fight the Methodists.)
Things were not so bad in the middle of the nineteenth century as they had been when the century began, but there was still a great deal of rivalry. For a few years before 1850 the Methodists had been trying to start a Methodist church in the strongly Congregational village of Andover; that would not be thought right today. The Methodist church in Andover, village did not live, but the new village of Ballard Vale seemed to be a possible Methodist field. On the other hand, the new village seemed to the Congregationalists to be Congregational ground, to be worked by Andover's churches and by the students of Andover Seminary. Both denominations worked here, and there was not then any interdenominational organization to decide which party should give way and leave the field to the others. The Methodists organized their Ballard Vale churchy, very small at first, on February 21, 1850. The organization of the Congregational society one month later was obviously meant as a counterstroke to take Ballard Vale for the Congregationalists,
The new Society was preached to by students of the Seminary for six months, but then it obtained a regular preacher, the Reverend Henry S. Greene, whose wife was an Andover girl, an Abbott. In 1854, having apparently a supply of new converts on hand, the Society called a council to organize a church. The council met on Sunday, December 31, 1854, and voted favorably. The church was organized with eleven members who came by letters certifying their membership in other churches-nine of then from the South Church in Andover. The next Sunday, January 7, was communion Sunday, and the church received on confession of faith enough new members to give the newcomers at once a majority of more than two to one over the charter members,
Thus the church began its life with a ready-made feud with the Methodist church. Everybody agreed that there ought to be only one church in Ballard Vale, but each church thought that it had been there first and had the best right, and the others had broken in and robbed the henhouse. It was not till the old original members of both churches were dead and then a while longer, that the old hard feelings died down.
The clerk of our church has Mr. Greene's old memorandum book, in which, among personal business accounts, drafts of sermons, and so on, are the records of the council meeting (authenticated as original record by the signature, in different handwriting, of an officer of the council) and of the next Sunday. After this, the records apperar (sic) to be lost until 1893. During the First World War, when certain people had reason for wanting certificates of their baptism in this church, the church was unable to certify them. I think that those records were probably lost during that period; the people in whose hands the records lay after 1895 were people that would not have lost them. In 1904 the church celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, and the new pastor, A. H. Fuller delivered a historical address which was printed in the Andover Townsman, and of which a copy, clipped from the Townsman, is pasted into our record book. Mr. Fuller was so accurate a man in such matters that I do not hesitate to regard this address of his as equally authoritative with the original records.
From this I learn that Mr. Greene was installed as pastor in April, and remained pastor till his death June 11, 1880. In 1875 he donated the lot of land on which the church building was erected in that year. At his death he bequeathed his home on Marland Street as parsonage. After him came a succession of short-term pastors: J. W. Savage, 1881-1882; Samuel Bowker, 1884-1888; G. S. Butler, 1888-1891; Emil Bary, 1891-1892; J. C. C. Evans, 1893-1896-his call is the second entry in what was then the new book of church records with which the now preserved records begin to run steadily; Arthur Golden 1896-1898; Edwin Smith. 1899-1903.
The parsonage on Marland Street occupied an excellent site for a Middle-aged minister with a houseful of children; but the church found that it was employing either very young ministers who had not yet filled their houses with children, or old men whose housefuls of children had grown up and gone away, and for these men a parsonage close to the church would be more convenient. So in 1899 the state legislature passed a short special law authorizing the Ballard Vale Union Society to sell its parsonage and apply the money thus obtained to the construction of a new one; and the new parsonage was built on the unoccupied part of the lot on which the church stood. In Mr. Smith's pastorate, too, by his energy and by the efficient business help of William Shaw, the church acquired its organ.
I said that the second entry in the new book of records was the call of Mr. Evans as pastor. The first entry in that book was the receiving of ten new members, of whom the tenth, by, letter from the Phillips Church in Boston, was William Shaw. Within less than a year he was elected clerk of the church, and soon became its foremost member, its leader in everything. Before he came into our membership he was already nationally prominent as treasurer of the United Society of Christian Endeavor, and upon the formation of the World's Christian Endeavor Union he became, as secretary of that organization, the world's most active leader in the Christian Endeavor movement throughout its time of greatest prominence. He was always ready to do everything; great and small, for the church. Of course he was superintendent of the Sunday school. In the Society, which was still the business organization of the church, he held the laborious though not glorious place of collector; that is, he took home the money collected at the services, kept the accounts of all the pledges, and handed the money over to the treasurer. For many years Mr. Shaw made the church.
No human being is perfect, and Mr. Shaw made some mistakes. In the first place, Mr. Shaw's willingness to do everything gave the church the bad habit of leaving everything to Mr. Shaw to do; he might have built up a better working church if he had made other people do more of the work. In the next place, his enthusiasm for the Christian Endeavor organization led him to abandon the od idea of the Young People's Society of Christian Endeavor as an organization especially for young people, and to try to get advantage of its useful features; the result was that the church was left without a young people's organization, and when Mr. Shaw moved to California the Christian Endeavor organization in Ballard Vale dropped out of existence with surprising suddenness. In the third place, he believed In the Catholic tradition that the first thing to do is to get people into the church because when they are in the church you have the best opportunity to train them; so he was always encouraging young people to join the church without first making sure that they meant anything serious by it, and the result was to fill the church roll with a great deal of what is called dead wood. But the fact remains that William Shaw was a grand church leader.
Mr. Smith's death left the church without a pastor in 1903; early in 1904 Augustus H. Fuller became our pastor. He continued for twenty-two years, and was much loved. The record of the fiftieth anniversary celebration ended the service of the small volume in which the church records had been kept since 1893, and Mrs. Shaw bought the 360 page black-sided book that is our biggest record-book thus far. In it I read that on May 11, 1905, the church voted to have individual Communion cups and no longer drink out of a common cup; and on February 1, 1906 thanks were voted to Mr. Charles Greene for his efficient work in securing the new bell for the church. The date 1906 reminds me that in August of that year I came to Ballard Vale, so that my personal memory now begins to help out the record book.
Our pulpit Bible was getting worn out. I do not know how long it had served; but Mr. Fuller had the bad habit of leaving in the Bible sheets of manuscript not lying at the outer edge of the page but clear back at the inner edge where they would do most harm, and letting them accumulate till they added an eighth of an inch or more to the thickness of the book; when the book was shut with all these at its back edge, it made such a bursting force as would break the back of any stiff-covered book. On December 27, 1906, was reported the gift of a new pulpit Bible, the one that is now in use.
In 1907 we began to use the duplex collection envelopes with a black side and a red side. On February 4, 1909, a committee was appointed to revise the church roll and get rid of dead wood; but for some years the committee took no action. In February, 1909, Mr. Reuben Smith .was employed as evangelist to assist the pastor in a week of evangelistic services and in March twenty new members were received into the church. Nine more were received in May, and an additional tray of communion cups was bought. In 1910 it was voted that each child baptized in this Church be given a Bible on coming to the age of seven years. In 1912 there was voted a form of admission to the church, including eight articles of faith and a church covenant, and this was printed as a part of an eight-page church manual. In 1913 1 was elected to succeed Mr. Shaw as church clerk; the records since 1901 had been kept by the pastor as acting clerk. I had succeeded Mr. Shaw in 1909, seemingly, as the Society's collector. In 1916 a committee of church and society was appointed to report next year on "the advisability or inadvisability of changing our organization so that the church shall do in its own name the business that the society now does", and next year it reported that "the proposed simplification is sound in principle; entirely practicable, and will be desirable at some time", but that action is not now advisable. This was the first gun of a campaign which, with long intermissions, was to last twenty years.
Mr. Fuller had been a rather old man when he came as pastor, and at the time we have now reached he had served us a dozen years. It may have been about this time or a few years later that something happened which was not mentioned in the record book. A few of the churches youthful members, say one young man and a few followers, seemingly regarding themselves as representing the general opinion of the church, undertook to call a church meeting for the purpose of declaring that the old minister was not sufficiently in touch with the young people and that we needed a more satisfactory man. This move was squelched by pointing out that the call for the meeting was not valid in form. But it had one deplorable effect. The minister took alarm, and thenceforth did not venture to do anything positive for fear of offending somebody and being put out of his pastorate. It was true that his weak point was that with advancing age he was losing vigor; and now this scare had suddenly robbed him of the vigor that he had.
In 1919 the form for admission of new members was amended, substituting a three-line avowal of Christian faith for the former declaration of acceptance of a creed of eight clauses. Voted to have 250 copies printed in a form suitable for pasting into the hymn-books,
The annual meeting for 1920 was held in the worst snowstorm within twenty-five years, and no ice cream was available for the church supper owing to stoppage of the railroads.
On May 1, 1921, thirty-five new members were received at one time, of whom one soon became one of our deacons and another later became for several years our Sunday -school superintendent.
On February 22, 1922, in view of the fact that Mr. Shaw was moving to California, the church amended the by-laws to establish the office of honorary deacon. In 1923 the rule was adopted that the communion service in September every year be on the second Sunday in September not the first Sunday.
In 1924 the society's collector reported that the contributions pledged for the year amounted to just 4 cents less than $2000. After the meeting one of the persons present gave the 4 cents to complete the amount.
In 1926 Mr. Fuller resigned his pastorate to take effect the first day of June; and Mr. Wesley G. Nicholson, theological student at Harvard, was called to become our pastor beginning the first day of September.
Mr. Nicholson was not half through his theological courses I think, but his beliefs were very positive and very radical. He most zealously insisted that his views were the only right ones, and we must give up our views and accept his; but if anybody who was opposed to him professed to have the only right views, he considered that a sign of bigotry and intolerance. He held that our foreign missionaries had no business trying to make the heathen change their religious beliefs, but he was all the time trying to make us change ours. When he went before the Andover ministers' association to get a license to preach in our church, his report afterward was that he said Jesus was a good man who brought God's message, but it was likely there might sometime come a better man to rank higher than Jesus, and that the ministers in the association meeting applauded his view; but I don't believe it, because he was a very poor hand at understanding another person's point of view or reporting another person's attitude. A little before he left us I had been reading a book by Professor Bacon of Yale, whose preface said that whatever a preacher's ideas are, the main topic of his preaching is always the forgiveness of sins. I quoted this to Mr. Nicholson and said I did not remember hearing him preach on that topic; he answered no, he hadn't much use for forgiveness of sins.
When Mr. Nicholson was new in our church he declared that he could not honestly receive members into our church under our form of admission which said "that all men need a divine salvation from sin, and that in order to provide this salvation God appeared on earth in the person of Jesus Christ"; so he had us vote that during his pastorate he might use a form of words drawn up by him, and might print copies of the form and paste them in the hymn-books. Just before he left our pastorate he told somebody that anyhow he had accomplished one thing at Ballard Vale, we would never again use the same old form of admission, because he had got his form pasted into the books. He did not realize that the church had voted only to let him use his new form while he was pastor, and that by the vote 1919 we had printed 250 copies, which left plenty on hand to be pasted over his form everywhere as soon as he was gone. But when he left us at the and of one year to take the pastorate of a small Unitarian church in the part of Cambridge near to Harvard, much more convenient for his studies, the church was able to testify honestly that we had found him not only a good church worker who had done our work much good, but a man of very devout spirit. A man can be devout without being orthodox.
Then we immediately took as his successor Mr. Herman Van Lunen, born in the north part of the Netherlands. He was not yet ordained, but had finished the regular course of theological study and was taking extra study in the Philosophy of Religion. He may have been the least bit highbrow, and his principles of propriety led him to refuse to baptize an illegitimate child, but we found him a good minister. He stayed three years, and was ordained immediately after leaving us in 1930, In his last year, apparently, was first started the joint Vacation Bible School of the Congregational and Methodist churches of Ballard Vale, and annual work in which Ballard Vale became a leader. A motion to appoint a committee to consider the matter of incorporating the church was postponed indefinitely.
So in 1930 we had to find a new minister again. At this point there is occasion to mention a certain XYZ (that is not his real name) who was not a member of the church, but who felt that he ought to have a great deal to say because he was one of the largest contributors of money. I was chairman of the committee on pastoral supply and was elected moderator of the business meeting of the church when such a meeting was held. In July it was proposed that after our two young men we should again have a man of mature years, Mr. Fogg. The meeting to vote on calling was twice postponed to get a large enough attendance, and then voted on motion of XYZ that we hear other candidates. Mr. XYZ liked the idea of having several candidates on the string to choose from; the moderator objected that this would be bad policy in the opinion of national experts on church business and that such postponement of a candidate was practically a rejection of that candidate. Mr. XYZ had no respect for such an opinion; and it must have been at this meeting, though the gentleman who acted as clerk pro tem for that meeting did not put it in the minutes, that it was voted on motion of XYZ, again contarary (sic) to the judgment of national experts as reported by the moderator, to advertise for a minister. XYZ did not foresee what he was going to get by advertising. The meeting ended with a vote to take no more action till September.
However, the committee on pastoral supply continued to look for candidates, and brought forward as such a young man named Jackman. Also, after taking enough time to get into print, our advertisement was printed. There was a hustling young Methodist named Phelps who had just completed a Methodist course of training as a Sunday-school specialist not as a minister, but had made up his mind that he meant to be a Congregational minister; upon his graduation he had married a classmate. He got a look at the national organ of the Congregational churches before it was in the mails, and was at my desk in Boston before the day was out. As a natural result of our vote to advertise, he also was heard as a candidate
The church met September 22. Moved by XYZ that we hear other candidates before deciding on any one. Motion lost. XYZ's temper began to get hot. Moved on behalf of the Committee that we call Mr. Jackman. XYZ wanted not to call him, in order that we still might hear others before deciding. The moderator said that a vote not to call him was a vote not to have him at all, in the first place because good manners required that such a vote be so understood; and in the second place because Mr. Jackman's object was to find a place at the opening of his fall term of study, and if we did not take him he would immediately place himself elsewhere. XYZ objected that the moderator was arguing in the meeting, and this was contrary to parliamentary law; the moderator said he was simply explaining the effect of the motion before the meeting, which was moderator's right. XYZ's temper got much hotter, but his motion was carried. Moved, again on behalf of the committee, that we call Mr. Phelps. Whether because Mr. Phelps was so much liked or because the meeting was tired of clashes, this motion was carried. What happened next was that Mr. XYZ no longer paid his weekly pledge to the support of the church, evidently forgetting that if he wanted to keep his standing as a business man with good credit, he ought to have given notice to cancel his pledge when he stopped payment. Also he went around the village saying that Mr. Phelps was not qualified to be a minister at all. But the vote of the meeting stood, and a precedent was established for the principle that contributions of money do not entitle a man to boss the church,
Mr. Phelps's first name was Marion, spelled with an o; his wife's was Marian, with an a. Both when they were students and after they entered the ministry it was judged that she was the abler minister of the two, but they worked together beautifully and were a strong team. Mrs. Phelps became superintendent of the Sunday School, which had grievously fallen off in Mr. Fuller's later years after Mr. Shaw's departure and had never properly recovered; the two Phelpses together, both trained as specialists in Sunday school work, built it up into an especially strong feature of our church work; which it has continued to be to this day. When the Phelpses left, they looked after the Sunday School by engaging Miss Doris A. Shaw to take the office of superintendent; she continued in that office for years, -with much efficiency and general satisfaction, until she married and moved away from the Vale. The Phelpses also played a main part in establishing the precedent that the vaction (sic) Bible school should be a strong feature of Ballard Vale church life.
Mr. Phelps was a man of business methods. He kept a card index of the pastoral calls he made, and when a man who was not a member of the church complained that the minister did not call often enough at his house, Mr. Phelps brought out his record and made the man confess that he had called at that house oftener than was that house's proportionate share. It is a well-known experience of ministers generally that people everywhere complain of being neglected in the pastoral calls. Finding that he could not be regularly ordained as a Congregational minister unless he took a theological seminary course of training for the ministry, Mr. Phelps began such a course after he came here, and consequently continued as our pastor slightly more than seven years, longer than our other pastors after Mr. Fuller's resignation.
The idea of consolidating the church and society into one body, for which it was presumed that the first step would be to have the church become a legal corporation, was supposed to concern both church and society. In or about 1930 a committee on the subject was appointed by the society. Its chairman was a business man who seemed to feel that for the purpose of deciding what ought to be done, other people were superfluous. Instead of calling his committee together to get their collective opinions he made personal inquiries, and then reported it as the committee's finding that this was impracticable for our church because, because, according to experience elsewhere, the expenses for lawyer's work and otherwise would be prohibitively large, The society received this report in 1931 and at once passed it on to the church. No action was taken, except, as clearing the way toward future incorporation, to adopt a by-law that members less than twenty-one years old should not vote on matters of spending money or making contracts to spend it.
But there were those in the church who felt that we ought to incorporate, the sooner the better, and that is was more useful to go ahead and do it than to discover reasons why it could not be done. Particularly there were Mr. William D. McIntyre and I. We recognized that after the recent report from the society's committee, the society could not be expected to cooperate. But we observed that the incorporating of the church was a matter in which the society was not involved. The church did not need to ask the society's leave to incorporate. So at the annual meeting in 1933 a committee was appointed with a broad and wordy commission to see what could be done. It reported in 1934 'that such reorganization is desirable in principle if it can be accomplished without undue expense", and immediately a new committee was chosen "to draft specific recommendations for action toward incorporation". Mr. McIntyre and I were both on it. He and I sometimes represented opposite views on some questions of church policy, but we agreed perfectly on the desirability of putting the incorporation right through. We had looked up published advice to churches that desire to incorporate, but it did not carry us far. We decided that the thing to do was to read the Massachusetts statute providing for the incorporation of churches and do just what the statute said. Our committee was able in 1935 to report that we had a plan ready; the committee was continued for the purpose of bringing the plan forward in due form. A committee was also appointed at that time to consider the question of a revised form of creed.
The first step toward incorporation according to the law was to draft bylaws for the proposed corporation. Mr. McIntyre and I did most of the drafting but the other members of the committee were not negligent. Meanwhile the creed committee also sat. The pastor was chairman, but as far as I remember I drafted the creed. It had some unusual features. It divided our beliefs into two classes: first, "these which we regard as belonging to the essence of our religion, so that If one does not believe these, though we may be friendly with him and may associate ourselves with him for religious or other purposes, yet we cannot say that his religion is the same as ours," and secondly "these things which we hold to be both true and important but as to which we admit that one can believe otherwise and still be of the same religion with us."
Belief in a future life was put into this second class on the ground of a precedent. Two or three years earlier, a young lady had applied to be received as a member in this church. She did not conceal the fact that her motive for asking for membership was that she wanted to take a course of training as a nurse, and the hospital where she intended to train would not take as trainees any but church members. But she declared, under cross-examination, her faith in the main doctrines of Christianity; only she said squarely that she did not believe in a future life. I thought this was a testimony to her honesty. If her professed faith in other points of Christian doctrine had been a hypocritical pretense, there would have been no reason why she should not have pretended belief in a future life also; but she disavowed this without having been questioned on this point. So I concluded that her general belief was sincere. And I reflected that the Old Testament saints, at least most of them, believed either in absolutely no future life or in such an inadequate future life as had no likeness to what we look forward to; yet we believe that the Old Testament saints had good religious faith. So I recommended the Pastoral Committee to accept her and the committee reported favorably on her, and the church received her. I considered that the church had thereby committed itself to the position that one who does not believe in a future life can be one of us. As for the young lady, it turned out that she took training as a nurse because that was the first step toward becoming an airplane hostess. She became an airplane hostess, and I never knew why she did not remain longer in that occupation.
The subject of church unity fell into the second division of the creed, in these words: "We hold that that unity of the church for which Christ prayed exists in all churches which fully and freely unite with each other in worship when opportunity offers, interchange memberships without discrimination, and cooperate on terms of equality in all Christian work as suitable occasions appear; and we hold those Christian churches to be schismatic, and only those, which do not recognize all other Christian churches, their members and clergy, as of equal standing with their own. We hold that existing separate churches should be united, or existing united bodies divided into new independent churches, whenever such union or division will be favorable to the spread of the gospel, the promotion of worship, and the greatest activity and efficiency in work for the good of men, and in no other cases."
The two committees having finished their drafting, the proposed by-laws and creed were mimeographed and sent to all members for consideration. Then, as the law required, we posted a special call for a meeting to vote on incorporation. We took the utmost care to conform to all the specifications of the statute in the calling and conduct of the meeting. The by-laws were considered one at time, and the meeting made amendments to three of them. Of course this made a long and careful meeting, and the people began to get tired. I wanted to have the creed similarly considered a clause at a time, and for that purpose to have the creed considered at a later meeting because the meeting was tired, but Mr. McIntyre wanted to get everything cleared up at once, and had the creed adopted in a lump. The necessary officers for the new corporation having been elected, the meeting adjourned at 9:45 p.m. February 13, 1946. (Editors note: probably should be February 13, 1936)
I carried down to the office of the Commissioner of Corporations the paper that was posted to call the meeting, with the nail-holes in it, and one of the mimeographed copies of the by-laws, and the minutes of the meeting. All were duly inspected and handed back to me. Our charter of incorporation is dated March 2, but expressly declares that our corporate existence begins with February 13. Our only expense was the fee of five dollars prescribed by the statute for issuing a charter of incorporation to a church.
Mr. McIntyre took the first convenient occasion to propose to a meeting of the society that the society should transfer the society should cease to exist. The society so voted. No doubt there was the expense of the usual fee for recording a deed of real estate. And so the church was incorporated and the society ended. The by-laws provided that those who at the time were members of the society but not of the church should be entitled to enroll in the church as associate members, with full right to vote on all such matters as the society used to deal with. But none of them chose to enroll.
I had assumed that the drafted creed would come before the church for esamination (sic) point by point, and that the church would have the opportunity to amend any points that were not felt to represent the church's actual belief. I was, of course, ready to defend each part of It; but I never felt that a creed should be adopted without careful attention to each of its details by those who vote on it. I do not think any creed ought to be adopted in a lump as a ready-made package; least of all a creed which contains any innovations great or small. I still think it would be one of the best things the church could do if it were to hold a series of meetings to consider the creed clause by clause. But of course that would not do much good unless the members of the church would come out to those meetings. At the annual meeting April 7, 1937, Thanks were voted to Mr. Stone for legal services given without charge in connection with the transfer from the Society to the incorporated church" say the minutes. In October, 1937, Mr. Phelps resigned his pastorate. The resignation took effect November 15. Thus began the next main event in our history.
For the young people of the Methodist church, under the influence of their young pastor as It was understood, had been making up their minds in favor of union with the Congregational church; and on October 31 "an invitation from the Ballard Vale Methodist Episcopal Church to appoint a committee to meet with a like committee from that church to consider the question of some form of union of forces of the two churches was read," and such a committee was appointed. But there were those who did not like the idea of union, and they did not let the grass grow under their feet. Thus on the next Sunday, November 7, it was voted by a majority of 9 against 7 "that during the negotiations we do not worship with the Methodists but keep up our separate Services."
The combined committees of the two churches called a representative of thee (sic) state Congregational organization and a representative of the state Methodist organization to address successive joint meetings of the two churches. Both men recommended that until further notice the union should take the form of a federated church; that is, each church should continue its organized existence, but they should act as one in all practical activities. Nobody showed any sign of objecting to this idea, and the joint committee went to trying to draft the details of such a plan. They produced a draft which may not have been of first-class wisdom, but was not so black as it was painted. The plan was to be voted on by the two churches meeting separately on December 14. At our meeting it became apparent that there was irreconcilable opposition to any union other than a mere swallowing of the Methodist church by the Congregational, and that this opposition had plenty of votes. The opposition manifested itself particularly as opposition to the "federated" character of the plan. Of the two most striking speeches against it, one was such as was altogether legitimate for an argument on that side; the other, if it could have been brought before a court of justice, could have been proved to be false in its assumed facts and unworthy in spirit of a Christian meeting. It could not but have been offensive to the Methodists when gossip reported it afterward. The vote was by ballot, 2 yes, 55 no, 2 blank.
It being decided that we were not to unite, we had to find a new pastor. We had been having week-to-week supplies for some time. One of these, a white-haired doctor of divinity named Claude A. Butterfield, had given such satisfaction that on January 20, 1938, we voted to hear him again, this time as candidate. On February 3 it was voted to call him as pastor. He accepted.
The hymn-books in which Mr. Nicholson had pasted his form of admission and had thought it a permanent reform about a third of a century old if not more. At this time an official hymn-book board was bringing out the new edition of the Pilgrim Hymnal. Dr. Butterfield went to a meeting of the State Conference at which the new book was used, found that at the close of the Conference the hymn-books which had for a few days been used there were to be had very cheap, and brought home enough of them to make a rather scanty supply for the whole church. The church accepted the new books enthusiastically, and before long bought additional copies. (The copies from the meeting of the, State Conference have white edges; those bought later green edges.) But there already begins to appear some doubt of the permanent satisfactoriness of this hymnal. The words of its hymns represented the latest style of that moment; and the latest style of any moment Is apt to be a thing that goes out of date very soon. I do not know how many of our members agree with me that as to its words it is not up to the standard; but our latest minister Mr. Wilbur, said just about what I thought. And the more obviously Mr. Wilbur is a young man, the more likely it looks that he represents the rising tide of the new generation.
Dr. Butterfield was an old man, very likely set in his ways, and apparently accustomed to having his own way in church matters. Some of our members had ideas of their own, and Dr. Butterfield felt that there was disloyalty in opposing his ideas. One man in particular seemed to have rubbed the Doctor's fur the wrong way. The Doctor made up his mind that there was much opposition to him in the church, with this man at its head. So he resigned the pastorate after holding it for only a year and a half. When the next year's church pledges were taken, that man cut his pledge down to less than half what it had been while we had Dr. Butterfield; which did not look as if he had hated Dr. Butterfield so much as the Doctor thought. We noted also that while he was minister the attendance at our services increased.
So we again had to find a new minister, and called David I. Segerstrom in November 1939. His wife was a secretary in the office of the State Congregational Conference in Boston, and got a larger salary than we paid to her husband. With the two salaries, and the rent of a dwelling-house that they owned in Somerville the Segerstroms were more comfortable financially than some of our pastors, and they made generous gifts to the church from time to time. Personally Mr. Segerstrom was a very pleasing man. There were different ideas about his delivery in the pulpit; some had much difficulty in understanding his words because of his Swedish accent, while others, who found some other speakers difficult, and who had nothing Scandinavian about them, found his voice uncommonly clear and easy to understand.
After Mr. Segerstrom's first full year he had so much business for the annual meeting that its session lasted four hours, the longest church business meeting within memory. Five weeks later the business of revising the roll to weed out those whose membership was merely nominal was at last brought to a focus, on the basis of the report of a committee headed by Mrs. Stott, by transferring thirty-two names to a retired list; and the by-law by which the Pastoral Committee is to recommend candidates for admission to the church was amended by omitting the requirement that the committee should personally meet the candidates. This practically left the recommendation of candidates to the pastor, or at most to the pastor and some of the staff of the Sunday-school, abandoning all pretense of the old Congregational principle that the membership of the church should decide on the worthiness of candidates; but in fact the oversight of the membership, or even of the Pastoral Committee, had from time immemorial ceased to have any practical meaning.
Seven months later the United States was brought into the Second World War. Mr. Sagerstrom promptly volunteered for service as chaplain, but was rejected because he needed stronger eyeglasses (sic) than army regulations permitted. The war went on; the army found that it was getting fewer chaplains than it needed, and became liss choosy, deciding to accept men who needed strong glasses but could see well with them. Mr. Segerstrom volunteered again and was accepted; and on March 21, 1943 he was dismissed from our pastorate to enter the chaplaincy.
In May the committee on pastoral supply recommended that we call Arnold M. Kenseth as pastor. It was unofficially said that our committee had been told that in consequence of the war-time emergency we should not be able to get any minister at all if we did not take him. Mr. Kenseth was recommended to us as a good church worker, and our members thought his trial sermon not at all bad. It was voted to call him. Mr. Kenseth was a unique pastor. He was a student, and regarded it as his business to keep his mind open on a great many questions till he had given them more study. There were lots of things on which he had not yet made up his mind. When he came to be ordained somebody in the council said, after he was out of the room, that it was strange anybody should want to preach without having more fully decided -what gospel he wanted to preach. Perhaps one thing Mr. Kenseth wanted to preach was the gospel of thinking things out. He was not sure whether he was a pacifist or not, but in the draft he had registered as a conscientious objector. That was probably the reason why our church was able to get a man with such an uncommonly high reputation for brains, because his action in in (sic) the draft cut him off from serving as a chaplain and made many churches not want him. But after all there were many things that he had made up his mind on. And nobody doubted his sincerity any more than they doubted his ability.
He was a post, of the most modern kind there is. He was fond of using violent-sounding words in his poems and in his pulpit prayers. His sermons were sometimes highbrow, sometimes foggy, but always brainy.
He was a diligent church worker, and worked hard to push the members to working along the lines for which a church exists. This did something toward making him unpopular, because too many of the members did not want to do any work for the church except to raise money for it. But Mr. Kenseth did not feel so much afraid of unpopularity, because he knew perfectly well that if he was put out of this church he could immediately get a church that would pay him a bigger salary than this did. He actually did receive offers of employment at a higher salary elsewhere if he would leave this church, but he wanted to make a good job of his work here.
Since it was evident that the annual meeting of 1946 would be the last annual meeting for which there would be room in the record-book started by William Shaw forty years earlier, and since I was almost eighty and it seemed well that the new record-book should be the choice of the new clerk who would have to use it, I ended my service as clerk with this meeting.
Not only our church but the Methodist church found that young ministers were hard to get in war times. So the Methodist church, which had commonly had student pastors, was ministered to during most of the war by Mr. Crawford, a white-haired man, and very well liked. The relevance of this to the history of our church is that young Methodist ministers usually like the idea of uniting the two chuches, (sic) but aged Methodists have the old habit of wanting to keep the Methodist church a separate organization; and in a Methodist church the minister's Influence is very strong. In the fall of 1946 our church voted to have a committee for the purpose of ascertaining feeling among our members toward the idea of a union, and to invite the Methodist church to have a similar committee; but we got an answer that the Methodists were not ready to consider the matter at this time.
In the summer of 1947 Mr. Kenseth's notable pastorate came to an end. He soon found a place as pastor in Amherst, where, it was believed, his qualities would be specially adapted to the work among students. He is still there.
As far as I now remember, Mr. Kenseth was the first of our ministers who was a smoker. His smoke was a pipe. Doctors say that if you must smoke, a pipe is the least harmful form of smoking.
In September, 1947, Philip M. Kelsey became our pastor. He held that the street-corner aspect of the church did not look enough like a church; so he had us put up the outdoor bulletin-board there, and change the factory-like flat door at that corner to a new door that would look more like a church entrance. A third improvement made as a part of the same program was the partitioning of a part of the parsonage basement into a small room for Sundy-school (sic) classes. The work was done by members of the church, especially such as had young children in Sundy-school (sic). Mr. Kelsey held also, like Mr. Kenseth, that the members of the church ought to work at something else than raising money. He found so much recalcitrance along this line that he felt that the church was not loyally backing him, and after one year's experience he tendered his resignation. The church thought it had a good man, and unanimously refused to accept his resignation and gave him a vote of confidence.
In the spring of 1949 we tried a different approach to the problem of union with the Methodist church. We had a committee take a poll of all our members with regard to three questions: whether union of the two churches in desirable, whether it is better to undertake it now than later, and whether a federation or a total union of the two churches into one new one Is preferable. Our membership voted, by majorities ranging from four fifths to five sixths, that we ought to have a union, and the sooner the better, and that a new single church was desirable, We then sent the Methodist church a suggestion that they should take a similar poll of their membership. They replied (Mr. Crawford being still pastor) that owing to a technicality of Methodist church lae (sic) they could undertake no move toward union that year. Our judgment was that the alleged technicality of their church law would have been of no force to stop then if they had wanted to act, but that it was an unanswerable excuse for doing nothing if they did not want to act. But from that time on it has been considered that our church is fully committed to the desire to unite at once.
In 1949 Mr. Kelsey again resigned, sending his resignation by his wife during his absence from town so that we could not again negotiate with him and get his consent to a further stay before we acted on his resignation. So we accepted it. Then we looked for another man and found Reverend Mr. Paul E. Callahan, a fully trained minister, duly ordained to the ministry by the Disciples of Christ, now taking additional studies in the Chinese language and literature to fit himself for missionary work among the Chinese. In the following spring Miss Doris Shaw's highly valued service as superintendent of our Sunday-school came to an end.
We had been entirely familiar with young men who were not ordained when they came to us but were ordained during their pastorate here. Mr. Callahan's case was different. No one doubted the validity of his ordination by the Disciples of Christ; but it appeared that that denomination, owing to their standing as the Andover Association of Congregational Ministers wanted to receive as a basis for taking him into membership. It was therefore agreed by all parties that the easiest way to cut this red tape was to have him ordained again by the Congregationalists, with the understanding that this did not imply any doubt of the validity of his previous ordination. And it was so done.
InIn (sic) 1952 he resigned his pastorate, and, China under its present government being closed to missionaries, went to Japan to begin his work for the Chinese who are now exiled from China, and to be near the spot to watch for future possibilities.
Before he left we had appointed a committee to prepare an up-to-date code of our by-laws with the entention (sic) of having the by-laws printed. The committee acted, and the church accepted its code, duly amending such as the committee found to need amendment; but no printing of them has yet been done.
In 1952 we called as pastor another young man, Raymond B. Wilbur. Having been duly ordained, he resigned in 1954.
Meanwhile the Methodist church had for some time been having young ministers again, and the question of union had been simmering in that church. Some canvass of opinion had been made, and it had been reported that their membership was nearly equally divided on the question. It is generally agreed that a church union should not be entered into unless the majority in its favor is very strong. More recently it had been reported that some of their members had changed their minds so that perhaps there might be a sufficient majority for union. So open (sic) Mr. Wilbur's departure formal discussions between a Methodist committee and a Congregational committee were resumed. We learned that the ecclesiastical specialists have devised a new form of union called a dual membership, in which the new united church can be only one church but continue to be in full standing as a Methodist church and at the same time in full standing as a Congregational church. It lookid (sic) as if this might be our way to union; but the summer came upon us before the discussions had come to the point of action, and in the fall they were not resumed.
During these discussions the matter of a new pastor was in abeyance; but the pulpit was supplied except in August. An elderly man, Reverend Roland D. Seger, whose home is in another town, gave such good satisfaction that he is being continued as supply, and is now doing much of the work of a regular pastor, but has not yet been called to the pastorate.
Thus I have brought my record down to within about a month of the anniversary day. The church approaches its hundredth anniversary standing betwixt and between, but hopeful and healthy.
Steven T. Byington.
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