Review of Unitarian Church Expansion in the South

The Southern Field

THE COURTESY OF THE EDITOR of THE CHRISTIAN REGISTER permits me to set before the readers of THE REGISTER in a series of brief articles some of the needs and opportunities of our Unitarian work in this year of reconstruction and new advance. I shall hope to take up in succession the different fields of service in which the Unitarian churches operate through their representative organization, the American Unitarian Association. Let me begin with some observations upon the work of the Department of Church Extension, now under the able and alert guidance of Rev. Minot Simons. I devote this article to a consideration of our plans and hopes in the Southern field.

Before the Civil War there were a number of fairly prosperous Unitarian churches in the Southern States. The members of these churches were, however, generally anti-slavery in their sympathies, and only the churches in Louisville, Ky., Charleston, S.C., and New Orleans, La., survived the war.

No efforts toward church extension were made in the South for nearly twenty years. Then the Association commissioned Rev. George L. Chaney as its superintendent in the Southern States. The church in Atlanta was planted in 1883, Chattanooga followed in 1889, Richmond and San Antonio in 1893, Dallas in 1899, and so on.

In 1916 four new societies were organized, but they are as yet without depth or strength of root. There are now some twenty-seven organized Unitarian churches in the Southern States, but only four of them, those at Louisville, Ky., New Orleans, La., Dallas, Tex., and Chattanooga, Tenn., are entirely self-reliant. The beautiful old church in Charleston, S.C., is also self-supporting, but it enjoys the income of a considerable endowment. All the other churches are more or less dependent on the aid of the sister churches through the American Unitarian Association.

Six of these aided churches are small but very interesting enterprises in the country circuits in Eastern North Carolina and in Western Florida where ministers are maintained by the joint support of the Association and The Alliance. The churches in Richmond and Highland Springs, Va., Atlanta, Jacksonville and Orlando, Fla., Oklahoma, Ok., have church plants varying from the bountiful church at Atlanta, the appropriate and convenient. buildings at Jacksonville and Orlando, Richmond, and Highland Springs, to the little brick octagon at Oklahoma City. The society in Houston, Tex., has a made over dwelling house for a church plant, but the society in San Antonio has to meet in a hotel parlor, that in Memphis in a movie-theatre, and that in Nashville in a lodge room. All are cramped and limited in their enterprises by poverty.

The self-supporting churches all have good plants varying again from the noble building at Louisville and the lovely church at Charleston to the rather ugly but adequate buildings at Dallas and Chattanooga.

All, too, have able and vigorous ministers: Akin at Louisville, Gray at Charleston, Kent at New Orleans, Taylor at Chattanooga, Gilmour at Dallas.

In the aided churches, Atlanta enjoys the leadership of a well-tried veteran, Dr. Keirn. Richmond and Highland Springs rejoice in the service of Rev. Frank Wright Pratt. San Antonio is enthusiastically led by Rev. Arthur Schocnfeldt. Birmingham is in charge of Rev. Thomas P. Byrnes, who may, however, soon be transferred to Houston. Rev. George II. Badger is doing admirable work at Orlando, Rev. George R. Spurr at Nashville, and Rev. V. E. Clark at Memphis. Rev. J. H. Seaton faithfully serves the little group at Roanoke, Va.

Arrangements are now in progress for the adequate supply during the winter of the church in Jacksonville, but Oklahoma, Okla., Lynchburg and Norfolk, Va., Charleston, W. Va., and Austin, Tex., are without ministers. Little Rock, Ark., Knoxville, Tenn., and Tampa, Fla. are waiting fields ready for the seed-sower. The list of waiting opportunities might, indeed, be indefinitely prolonged, but in each of these places the preliminary work has been done and the ground broken.

I. The first duty of Unitarians is to give loyal and generous support to the ministers that are now or soon will be bravely at work at Atlanta, at Jacksonville and Orlando, at Memphis and Nashville, at San Antonio and Houston, and in the country circuits. The Association has pledged sums which in the current fiscal year amount to some $6,000 for the support of these causes, and this must be regarded as the first and imperative obligation of our churches.

II. Next should come the dispatch of adequate leaders to the waiting fields. Charleston, W. Va., Oklahoma, Okla., Austin, Tx., and Little Rock, Ark., are state capitals and the centres of life of growing commonwealths. Norfolk, Va., is the chief port of the Southern Atlantic Seaboard. Lynchburg, Va., is a bustling industrial and manufacturing city. Little Rock, Ark., Austin, Tex., and Knoxville, Tenn., arc the seats of state universities. Those are surely inviting and compelling centres of influence. The}? need the presence and the leadership of ministers of insight and foresight. A minister cannot live and do his work freely on a salary less than $2,000. Something must also be supplied for travel expense and for the necessary publicity work. In each of the eight places mentioned above the local societies can do something, but the Unitarian fellowship must provide at least $10,000 for the salaries and expenses of the ministers at these important centres. It may be that the Department of Church Extension cannot at once discover competent men for those missionary adventures. Let us, therefore, say in the present fiscal year that $8,000 is needed.

III. Next comes the provision of adequate church plants. Meeting in picture-theatres or in hotel parlors will do for a time, but cannot be regarded as permanently desirable. The building of churches in these large cities is obviously expensive, but the situation is urgent. How much do the Unitarians of the North believe in their cause? Who will come forward to help build attractive and convenient churches in such centres as Nashville and San Antonio, and later modest chapels at Lynchburg and Charleston, W. Va.? At San Antonio the Association has acquired an admirable lot of land; $20,000 will build the needed church. A campaign for raising the necessary fund is already started at San Antonio, but the local resources cannot suffice. Nashville is a still larger venture. It can hardly be expected that a lot can be bought and a church built for less than from $40,000 to $50,000. Nashville is the capital of a great State and an educational centre of great importance. At Lynchburg and at Charleston the Association already owns well-situated lots, and as soon as ministers can be provided for these cities our churches-at-large ought to provide $10,000 for the building of chapels wherein these ministers can hold their services and do their work.

IV. Next should come the provision of decent living quarters for the ministers. Just at present the housing conditions are exceedingly serious, and always a church is strengthened by having a parsonage. There is room on the lot at Jacksonville for the building of a good dwelling-house and it can be done for some Shasta). The cause at Orlando would be very much stabilized if a parsonage could be built or bought for say $8,000.

V. Finally, provision should be made for constant supervision and frequent visits from leaders of our cause. The Southern field is now divided into three superintendencies, each cared for by one of the settled ministers, who adds to his home duties the general responsibility for the churches and missions in his fir-ld. Mr. Gray of Charleston cares for the Southeastern Southern States. Mr. Spurr of Nashville for the Central Southern States, and Mr. Schoenfeldt of San Antonio for the Southwestern district. It ought to be possible to supplement the exertions of these ministers by visits of Northern ministers. This can be done during the coming year at an expense not to exceed $1,000.

Summarizing, then, our cause in the South needs prompt financial support as follows:

For the support of the ministers now on the field: $6,000
Immediate and urgent.
For the employment of five additional ministers: $10,000
For church buildings at San Antonio and Nashville: $60,000
For parsonages at Jacksonville and Orlando: $18,000
For the expense of traveling ministers: $1,000

For these sums the Directors of the Association must look to the people of the Unitarian churches who have the discernment to know that the diffusion of the Unitarian habit of mind and the preaching of the gospel of a free, rational, and reverent religion is the very best contribution they can make to the welfare of the country.

Samuel A. Eliot

Source: The Christian Register found in Google Books, Vol. 98, Nov. 1, 1919, Page: 7 – 8 (1087 – 1088)