SIXTY-SIXTH ANNIVERSARY Of THE
AMERICAN UNITARIAN ASSOCIATION.
The Sixty-seventh Annual Meeting of the American Unitarian Association 1892.
Report of Rev. George Leonard Chaney, Southern Superintendent, 1891-92.
To strengthen the churches that remained at the South, and so far as possible, to form new churches, this in brief, was the business set before us at the beginning of the year 1891. This commission, interpreted in the light of the avowed purpose of the Association, to is to promote the diffusion of pure Christianity is a broad one. I have so interpreted it.
The churches that remained in the South were the old societies of Charleston and New Orleans, and the newer churches of Atlanta and Chattanooga. Charleston was provided with an acceptable minister, Rev. Whitman. It needed no help from us. At the recent meeting of the Southern Conference held in that city, April 27 and 28, we found this church in excellent keeping. The venerable edifice never seemed so beautiful as it now looks in its perfect restoration; the society is united and satisfied; the Sunday-school is full, and flourishing under the able superintendence of Mr. Arthur I. Jones, and the charitable associations of the church are active and successful.
This Conference showed a marked advance in our cause since the meeting in Charleston, seven years ago. In that time the churches had doubled in number; new missions had been started in Florida and Texas; a system of ministry of a Post-Office Mission had carried our literature to four hundred towns and cities in all the Southern States; the women’s societies of our various churches had been reorganized and united in Branch Alliances, and the needed preparation is now made for a forward movement of our cause in the South. If our society in Charleston had, in addition to its perfect church edifice, a parish house, where the active work and social ministry of the modern church could be carried on, we believe that it would more than equal, in the future, its honorable service in the past.
New Orleans had been without a settled resident minister for more than two years when we visited it a year ago. Its needs seemed to be the most urgent, and our earliest efforts were directed toward its relief. The larger part of three months was given to the care of this church. To find the right minister for this society, and to secure his settlement with them, has been the most difficult undertaking of the year. In the summer months lay services were held. From October to December, Rev. D. M. Wilson, of Quincy, Mass., preached most helpfully in New Orleans, I supplied his pulpit in his absence. Since then Rev. Charles T. Sempers, Rev. George H. Badger, Rev. Frederic Preston, and Rev. Charles H. Russell have supplied the pulpit. Early in the coming fall, by the united action of the church and the Association, a suitable minister will be settled there.
Atlanta. — The church here has safely passed the test year of its life. If it is hard for an old church in New England to thrive without a settled minister, it is doubly hard for a young church in Georgia. All that could reasonably be expected of this church has been done by it during the past year. They have at last secured the services of Rev. W. R. Cole, a recent graduate of the Cambridge Divinity School. He is already trusted and beloved by them, and is happy and hopeful in his work. He was ordained to the ministry and installed as minister of the Church of Our Father on the evening of December 16. Mr. C. T. Sempers and Mr. Frederic Preston were ordained at the same time and place. It was a memorable occasion, full of significance and promise for our Southern work.
Chattanooga. — The church in Chattanooga has occupied its new church buildings only a year, but already has a number of helpful agencies at home and at work there.
The society is thoroughly united in its attachment to Mr. Towle and his family. All its activities are in good working condition. Mr. Towle feels that he is not physically equal to the demands of the place, but with such aids as we have been able to give him, and which we hope to continue, it is believed that he will be able to extend his ministry here. During our care of his church, while he was recuperating his health in Asheville, we found so much unity of spirit amidst a diversity of gifts and character, and so much willing ability of many kinds among his interesting people, that we are more than ever impressed with the value of this church to our cause.
Fort Worth. — There is material for a church here. Rev. W. Schultz has labored devotedly in Fort Worth for two or three years. But since he has given himself to the work of an evangelist in Middle and Northern Texas, it will be necessary to place another minister in Fort Worth. Some of the most responsible people in that city assure me that they can support a minister, if the Association will maintain him for the first six months.
Dallas. — I found earnest friends of our church in Dallas, where I preached one Sunday. I believe that a minister of ability and experience could succeed in building up a Unitarian church there.
Austin. — Austin is the capital of Texas, and the seat of the State University. I found Rev. E. M. Wheelock living there. He and his wife were obliged to leave Spokane two years ago because the climate was too severe for them. The success of his work in Spokane commends him to our confidence. At our request he began Sunday services in Austin on January 3, in the Board of Trade hall. He had an attendance of seventy people. Mr. Wheelock believes that the work he has begun will prove “satisfactory and permanent.
Mr. Schultz is especially suited to a ministry-at-large. He has already organized circles for religious study in ten places, and made beginnings in sixteen others. These circles are put into communication with Branch Alliances, for the advantage of both. As this work progresses, men of similar gifts and consecration will be found to carry it over all the Southern States. Mr. J. C. Gibson is doing the same work in Middle Florida. Mr. Frederic Preston, who desires to devote himself to the work of church-extension at the South, having first visited Chattanooga, and later New Orleans, where he has done useful service at a time when a minister was much needed there, has since visited Galveston and its neighborhood. He is now at Houston. He believes that a Unitarian church can be established in either or both of these places.
Highlands, N. C. — The little company of Unitarian believers living at Highlands are still constant to their faith and regular in their study and worship. Mr. Horbison teaches and labors with them as before.
Asheville, N. C. — When we have established our church at Asheville, a convenient center of helpfulness and sympathy for the surrounding country will be taken. Scattered believers in the Unitarian way live in many of the towns and villages of Western North Carolina. Asheville will be their convenient centre. I am happy to report the satisfactory condition and prospects of the new society here. The congregation is regular, interested, and devoted. Once supplied with a church building or a chapel, they would stand securely among our best and most helpful churches. Rev. Charles T. Sempers, a recent graduate of the Cambridge Divinity School, had charge of this church from October to February, when he was obliged to suspend his labors on account of ill-health. Since then the pulpit has been supplied by Mr. Towle, of Chattanooga, and myself. On one Sunday Rev. Theodore C. Williams, of New York, preached.
The value of Asheville as a place for a Unitarian church consists in its central location in the mountain region of Western North Carolina and East Tennessee, its remarkable growth, its nucleus of resident Unitarian families, and its unique opportunity to reach representative people from every section of the Union. Many thousand visitors from the East, West, and South go there every year. Among these visitors are members of Unitarian families, and they often need the ministrations of their church at a time when sickness and death are either present or impending. A permanent minister is expected here early in July. Meantime I shall hold services here, and do what I can to strengthen and establish the society. A church building is now the foremost need.
On reviewing the work of your Southern Superintendent
for the year, I should say that the business on which he set out — namely, “to strengthen the churches that remained at the South, and so far as possible, to form new ones ” — had been done as well as his limited command of men and means would allow.
The Southern work is in better shape than it was a year ago. A system of mission work, which seeks and finds our individual fellow believers or probable converts wherever they maybe, and gives them the sense of brotherly affiliation and care, while it provides for the planting of churches wherever such organizations are likely to become useful and self-supporting, meets the need of the present situation. The yearly conference of the churches has created a bond of union before unknown among our churches at the South.
The dedication of one new church and the formation of another society; the visiting and encouragement of those already existing; the preparation for further church extension in Dallas, Austin, Birmingham, Pensacola, Brunswick, Fort Worth, and Tampa; the formation of circles for neighborhood worship and study, and their useful connection with friendly alliances at the North; the dedication of three young men to the ministry of oar Church in the South, and the application of several others to enter our Church service ; and best of all, the new interest in our Southern work which has been awakened in the denomination at large, — may be included in the results of this first year of the trial of a special superintendent of your Southern work. The continuance of this way of promoting our cause in this large and increasingly important portion of the Union should give us, before the close of the century, a central Unitarian church in each of the Southern States, and connected with such churches, a network of neighborhood circles for religious study and nurture which would cover the entire South. Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia, and Virginia are the only Southern States in which there is no organized Unitarian movement. But we have earnest and interested correspondents in each of these States, and before the year closes we expect to report new societies in important centers in two of these States; namely, Birmingham, Ala., and Richmond, Va.
I regret that the needful limits of a report allow me no opportunity for a description of the Southern field in its peculiar and interesting details. The most difficult of all our fields for church extension, it is also the most attractive. Its difficulty is its attraction. Its opportunity to throw light where light is most needed is the sufficient reason and reward for our work here. We confidently believe that in the South there is more to do and less to get, and therefore a better field for a Liberal religion, than exists anywhere else. Men who like these terms are invited to come South. No others need apply.
George L. Chaney,