REPORT OF THE SOUTHERN CONFERENCE.
BY REV. GEORGE L. CHANEY, OF ATLANTA.
This Conference was formed in Atlanta, Ga., April 24, 1884. It is not yet six months old. The infant is doing as well as could be expected. Its report might stop here, were it not for its hope and promise of future usefulness and the good record which the churches composing it have made for themselves during the last two years.
Rev. E. C. L. Browne, Rev. C. A. Allen, and Rev. G. L. Chaney, the ministers respectively of the Unitarian churches in Charleston, S. C, New Orleans, La., and Atlanta, Ga., organized the Conference; and Rev. R. R. Shippen, of Washington, D. C, and Rev. George A. Thayer, of Cincinnati, Ohio, also gave their aid and counsel at the meeting in which the Conference began.
The preamble of this Conference expresses its purpose. It is as follows: —
“To promote acquaintance and co-operation between the Unitarian churches already existing at the South; to extend toward other Christian churches our brotherly sympathy; to devise means for the friendly correspondence and, so far as possible, for the religious conference and comfort of our scattered fellow believers; and to prepare ourselves for such opportunities for united religious service as shall be opened to us in the future development of this portion of our common country, we unite to form the Southern Conference of Unitarian and other Christian Churches.”
The following named persons were chosen as officers: President, A. B. Rose, M. D., of Charleston, S. C. Vice-Presidents: J. M. Gould, of New Orleans; F. G. Bromberg, of Mobile; J. A. Burns, of Atlanta. Secretary and Treasurer, J. Russell Hodge, of Atlanta. Directors: Alvah Gage, Mrs. M. E. Mills, and Rev. E. C. L. Browne, of Charleston, S. C; W. H. Snowden, Mrs. A. V. Gude, and Rev. G. L. Chaney, of Atlanta; W. Palfray, Mrs. C. Holloway, and Rev. C. A. Allen, of New Orleans.
1. At a public meeting held the same evening, addresses of rare ability, discrimination, and sober eloquence, were given by the visiting clergymen; and a most favorable impression of the personnel of our ministry was made in Atlanta. The formation of this Conference in Atlanta has already given to the young church there a feeling that it is not alone in the work it has undertaken. When similar meetings are held at Charleston and New Orleans, as the Conference proposes during the coming year, we believe an equal benefit will be conferred upon the churches in those cities. Charleston is almost as far from New Orleans as it is from Boston. Their common geographical position in the South did not practically bring them into social relations. But with a church at Atlanta, halfway between them, and a Conference to bring their representatives together, we may hope for a deepened sense, a community of interest, and an oneness of calling between them.
Since the last meeting of the National Conference, and largely in consequence of its generous action, the church in New Orleans has been freed from its debt of over $15,000, and is now clear of all obligations, save to love one another and the friends who have so freely aided it. The church in Charleston has resolutely held its own, in spite of the bereavements of death and the hesitating return of its old-time prosperity. The church in Atlanta has become an accomplished fact, has built and dedicated a comely chapel free from debt, and stands ready to serve the denomination as a distributing centre for its literature, its men, and its missions.
The preservation of the historic churches of Charleston and New Orleans, alike from the fires of war and the waters of flood, is a source of worthy satisfaction to the Unitarian Church at large; and too much praise is not likely to be given to those faithful laymen and devoted ministers who have made this preservation the ground of good hopes for the future.
It seems little to ask from those who have already shown themselves generous that they will give these lonely workmen the comfort of their presence and sympathy in worship, whenever, as often happens in these travelling days, they find themselves near either of our Southern churches on Sunday. And if, on further inquiry and acquaintance with their methods of work, the impulse to lend a hand becomes natural, let it have its way. Churches and charities that speed on wheels at the North limp on crutches at the South for want of money. Grievous as is the sense of dependence to a high-spirited people, — and the Southern people are high-spirited, — our churches there are more burdened by the sight of unrelieved miseries, unredeemed wrongs, ignorance and mischief running at large, and native talents running to waste than by their own necessities.
If our friends at the North still care to educate the poorer classes at the South, and co-operate with the Southern people in their brave struggle for redemption from present darkness and sin, they will find our churches already waiting and longing to be the agents of their humane means and energies. We shall best commend our church by letting her works praise her in the gates.
It is possible now, as it has not been before since the war, to secure the co-operation of one’s neighbors of every sect in the organization and management of benevolent institutions. Whatever can be spared from the foremost duty of carrying our churches to the South will be best expended in such mutual benefactions between the people of our churches and their neighbors. In Atlanta, an Industrial Cottage has been opened, where the poorer white children are taught the domestic economies and housekeeping arts; an accomplished colored graduate of the Boston School of Cooking has begun her delectable mission to her colored sisters; a Technical School has been projected, and only awaits the better time coming in the commercial world to be realized; a free lending library of twelve hundred volumes has been established in connection with the church, and a system inaugurated by which small-sized, well-selected libraries may be placed in centres of population throughout the South. This is a field of usefulness never entered upon by any of our predecessors; and it is exactly in accordance with our faith in liberal culture, our large share in such culture, and the great need of such culture at the South. This library mission, and the handy education which we have already strongly advocated and partly secured, we place at the head of our practical benefactions. Meantime, the Post-ofiice Mission, which, we were prompt to learn from our friends at Cincinnati, is bringing letters almost daily from every part of Georgia, asking for books and papers explaining the faith and purpose of Unitarianism.
2. Besides these inquirers there are Unitarians in various portions of the South who have no church of their kind near at hand. It will be the endeavor of this Conference to discover such people, ascertain their religious needs, and as far as possible supply them. Already, we are in correspondence with some of them; and, through these, we shall become acquainted with others. In time, churches will arise from the coming together of these fellow-believers; and we shall encourage the formation of Unitarian societies as fast as they promise to be useful and self-supporting. In small towns like Marietta, Ga., where several Unitarian families reside, and where they illustrate their catholicity by attending the churches already existing there, it will be enough if we can visit them occasionally and keep alive the love and the memories of their home Church. That is, we do not propose to multiply Unitarian churches without regard to the local condition of their support. In all the larger cities of the South there will be a Unitarian church soon or late, because in all such cities there will be enough worshippers of that faith to form and sustain Unitarian societies. Richmond, Wilmington in North Carolina, Savannah, Jacksonville, Augusta, Mobile, Vicksburg, Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville should all be visited and judiciously entreated.
But the scattered sheep must put up with itinerant service; and, in their genial and hearty participation in the best religious society near them, they will be promoting free and spiritual Christianity where it most needs promotion, — in the heart of the Orthodox churches. Unitarianism, concentrated in the large cities, dispersed in the villages, will be the policy as well as the necessity of our ecclesiastical work at the South.
3. And, whatever may be said of the readiness or unreadiness of this peculiarly interesting portion of our country to welcome Unitarian Christianity, it is certain that many intelligent and humane people of every sect are earnestly alive to the value of those social, intellectual, and charitable enterprises with which Unitarians have always been actively associated. Social science, associated charities, prison reform, vital education, training in the handicrafts and household arts, the diffusion of knowledge by libraries and lectures, hospital care,—these interests, and others like them, afford a common meeting-ground for all who believe in human progress, whatever they may think of human nature. We propose to meet our friends at the South on this plane of a common humanity.
Already as individuals we have done what we could in our several places to promote integral education and practical benevolence. With some of us, this work in Southern fields began during the war and has continued to this day. We gratefully remember Richmond, Hampton, Wilmington, Charleston, Atlanta, Tuskegee, and other less conspicuous centres of education thus aided in their happy development and sustained in their present useful and honorable position. Our typical Unitarian churches have always accepted as their true church work whatever would elevate purity and enlighten mankind. Having nothing to gain from the ignorance of men, appealing ever to their enlightened mind and conscience, Unitarianism counts general education as its near ally. In the voluntary mission of Mr. Mayo in the cause, we find a way of helping education at the South which is peculiarly congenial with our unsectarian methods and spirit. In four years, he has visited thirteen of the Southern States, carrying the precise knowledge of the American public school system which was most needed in these States, and giving them valuable encouragement and suggestions in their adoption of it. In accordance with our recommendation, the Association has assumed the larger part of the salary of Mr. Mayo for the coming year; and we believe that what he is doing for education at the South will prove a direct service to the cause of truth and righteousness in religion, which is our cause.
For the accomplishment of the purposes thus set before them, the Southern Conference will rely, first, upon its own resources, which are chiefly interest in our church and zeal for its cause; and, second, upon the sympathy and aid of the Unitarian Church at large, in whose service we are engaged. The absence of a strong Unitarian constituency at the South makes it necessary that every new church planted there should depend, for a longer or shorter period, upon the resources of some missionary body. While these resources are limited, the work of multiplying these churches must go on slowly; but we believe that it can be accomplished in any large city where it is attempted, if the means, the man, and the right method are employed.
Grateful for the confidence and generosity already shown them, the churches of the South would reward their friends by giving them new and larger opportunities for the propagation of their faith.
Source: Official Report of the Proceedings of the Eleventh Meeting of the National Conference of Unitarian and other Christian Churches found in Google Books, Sep 22-26, 1884, Held in Saratoga, NY Page 36 – 39