Archivist Note: This article is the fourth in a series of articles Rev. Chaney published weekly in The Christian Register in starting December 5, 1918. The articles cover the history of the Hollis Street Church in Boston. This article covers the Rev. Chaney’s ministry at the church.
Story of Famous Church
The author’s ministry is here recited and the crossing of the congregation into the Promised Land
George L. Chaney
BESIDES and beyond the maintenance of all the customary ministries and the persistent holding of the church to its ancient ground, Hollis Street made good its calling to the unchurched by labors for their welfare. The Associated Charities had its anticipation and pattern set up, in the renewal, so far as possible, of the parish system of charitable relief in the chapel of the Hollis Street Church ; that is, the actual adoption and provision for it was made there. Industrial education—or, as we learned later to call it, manual training or integral education, or the parallel development of body, mind and soul—got its local start there. “The Whittling School” in Hollis Street Chapel, as it was derisively called, was the beginning of that co-ordination of hand and brain training which is now the proud accomplishment of your public school system. The Industrial School Association, largely composed of members of that church, held all its meetings there.
From the same soil the Flower Mission (of fragrant memory, and I hope still blooming) sprang and budded. Hospital Sunday, uniting all denominations in simultaneous contribution to freely serving institutions of mercy, healed the wounds of sectarian strife no less than those of disease and accident.
In unconscious prophecy of what would one day come on a larger scale to the church itself, the chapel—which itself was built by the church of this later period— dramatized and put on its stage wholesome stories, and offered penny readings to the street Arabs of the day and night—especially the night.
And so I might go on celebrating the doings of the Hollis Street Church, if I could escape the uncomfortable feeling that in doing so I am saying a good word for myself.
But I am not. It is the church I am praising. For in all the not-unprofitable years of the Hollis Street Church in my day, it was the ready, able, and harmonious assistant of every good and needy cause which applied to it. In my every recollection of it I am filled with a grateful sense of its patient suffering of ministerial rawness and insufficiency.
A minister’s first parish is his real school of preparation for the ministry. Only a church hardened or softened to the work by years of experience can stand the wear and tear of it. For fifteen years, minister and people colleagued in services to the city and country which I love to recall. It was a liberal education in the ways of social uplift, adequate education, and sensible charity, to live in Boston during those eventful years, and it made possible and congenial the work of moral and spiritual reconstruction at the South, upon which I afterward entered.
The story of that work does not enter into this story in any other sense than that the one was the Alma Mater of the other. All the local agencies for the world-wide service in which Boston then busied itself had their ally in this church of the ready hand, the charitable heart, and the generous gift and ample thought. Its old-fashioned local attachment led it to hold to its idolized bricks and mortar long after the living stones of its sanctuary had gone into the building up of more modern churches to the South and Southwest.
It was this determination of the stable old society, to hold its fort after the approaches had been taken by the enemy, which led me in 1877, after fifteen years of service on the spot where my sanguine and magnetic predecessor had pronounced it unwise to remain another year, to withdraw from its ministry. All the churches of the Unitarian Way to the north of us, excepting King’s Chapel, had yielded to the lure of the Promised Land and already crossed the Jordan, if that is not too poetical a figure for that torrent of railways which pours unceasingly between the South and West Ends. Hollis Street was soon to follow. The talented Bernard Carpenter, of brilliant if transient memory, who succeeded me, was the Joshua of this ecclesiastical removal; and later on the old society was merged with the South Congregational Society, under Edward Everett Hale. To this millennial conclusion—at least to the lion-and—lamb portion of it—are we come at last.
All which, being ancient history now, I trust will be received for its antiquity, if not for its special interest or merit.
One word of justification for this departure from the one theme of the present cycle.
The church, more than any other congregation of men, is the epitome of human life and character. It is the unit of the mighty army of mankind. Nothing human is indifferent to it. It not only holds the mirror up to man and nature, but it enters into that which is behind the veil and gives hope an anchorage there. It is God’s best gift to man, or man’s best gift to God, as you may choose to phrase it; and it is not going to die or to cease to act with telling power upon the development and history of the world. The Spirit which made it will remake it, if it is cast down. Tell me, if you must, of the dying out of churches here and there, for reasons inherent in themselves or in their surroundings, but do not tell me of the diminishing power of the Church— the body and servant of the spirit in man to which the Spirit of Wisdom giveth understanding—unless you are ready to sign the death-warrant of the immortal part of man and to cry with the Jews of old: “Barabbas! Barabbas!” in the judgment of Jesus Christ.
People who will not or do not pursue good positively for the love of it must be made to seek it negatively for the hate they have of evil. The reaction from sin is the spur to virtue. This, I suppose, is the providence of evil in a God – ordained and – governed world; this is what we have to face and reckon with today, and this reaction is what the Church makes its business. Thus it maintains its right to speak in these days of speechless agony and groanings which cannot be uttered, and thus this story of one church’s life – a church so humanly real and so divinely aspiring, a church which walked shoulder to shoulder with the country in two great wars, the church of Holley, Pierpont, and King – commends itself to the attention and study of the living, dying, reconstructive age in which we live. It is time appealing to eternity; life rebuking the threat and frightfulness of premature death; love supplanting hate; pity matching and mating manly courage and fidelity to trust. That is the church which does the Church’s work.
We who have lived long enough to see a war of deliverance from slavery and national inconsistency justified by the peace which is the fruit of righteousness may not doubt that a war unsought of us and waged on our part with unselfish devotion to the rights, comforts, and happiness of other nations than our own, will in due time [*] find its reward in the peace which passeth our present understanding.
[*] This was written in May, 1918.
Source: The Christian Register found in Google Books, Vol. 97, No. 51, Dec 19, 1918, Pages: 11 – 12 (1215 – 1216)