OUR CENTENNIAL FORWARD MOVEMENT.
Our historical journey has now brought us to the last quarter of our first century?1900 to 1925.
The student of these pages has noticed that the principal growth of our work has been in a westerly direction, between the place of its beginning in eastern Pennsylvania and the Missouri river, and that it has been confined chiefly to the same latitude as that of the state in which it started. This fact is explained by the statement, already made, that our church extension followed the emigration of our people from Pennsylvania and Maryland, by far the greater number of whom settled in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa. Here, then, the most substantial church work was established. Missionary zeal and effort advanced the cause to the north and the south of this latitude, and also beyond the Mississippi to the west and the southwest, but not to the same extent, nor with the same substantial elements of permanency.
To the first years of this period belong the difficulties growing out of the inauguration of our foreign missionary operations and the lack of harmony in the homeland in the management and support of this great enterprise. This created a situation which naturally militated against aggressive and successful work along other lines of endeavor. And this was felt most in the older and stronger Elderships just mentioned, for it was here that most of the missionary workers and supporters were to be found.
However, these years were by no means barren of results. Along with the missionary difficulties came the world-wide missionary vision and the more abundant church life which such a vision always produces. For the first time we were assuming, albeit in a very small measure, a share of responsibility for the world's evangelization, and the reaction was stimulating. It gave a new tone to preaching and a fresh vigor to church activities. The results were witnessed in gracious revivals in many places. These were a spiritual blessing to the membership of the churches and the souls saved and fellowship increased our numerical strength. Some churches were organized in new places, particularly on the frontier, and church building projects were carried out to a limited extent, both on the older and the newer fields of labor.
But there was a growing feeling of anxious unrest among the brotherhood?a feeling that something more than the ordinary routine of church work ought to be done. This feeling was prompted by the manifest fact that our accomplishments were not measuring up to the standard of a reasonable expectation. The end of our first century was drawing near. Our history contained pages of heroism and self-sacrificing devotion than which no brighter record can be found anywhere. This was gratifying and inspiring. But the visible results, when measured by the space of almost a hundred years, were less heartening. We must double our diligence, was the feeling, toward a more prosperous climax in these closing years.
It so happened that at this time a similar feeling prevailed in many other religious bodies?a sentiment in favor of attempting something above the ordinary. This sentiment was being crystallized into the idea of a forward movement, whether under this particular name or some other, and a few such movements had already been started when, in 1917, our General Eldership met at Wharton, Ohio. This helped to determine the method by which we should endeavor to do what it was felt ought to be done. Only eight years of the century remained, so that the official plans adopted by the General Eldership were put into operation under the name of our "Centennial Forward Movement." This movement was to continue during the eight years and close with a centennial celebration in Harrisburg, the place where our work had its beginning in 1825.
The following committee, selected by the General Eldership, had charge of this Movement during the entire eight years: W. N. Yates, D. D., Chairman; S. G. Yahn, D. D., Secretary; W. H. Guyer, D. D., Charles T. Fox, Ph.D., L. A. Luckenbill and Mrs. George W. Stoner.
This committee prepared and the General Eldership adopted a program for the Centennial Forward Movement. That this program might become familiar for general use, it was epitomized so as to be embraced in the following principal points:
"Eight years of spiritual and material advancement.
"Closer consecration to Christ and deeper devotion to his work.
"An increase in the membership of the churches according to the New Testament plan of every member finding his brother and bringing him to Christ.
"An increase of one-third in the membership of our Sunday-schools and Christian Endeavor societies.
"The local church the unit of missionary organization and activity.
"Adding five hundred new names each year to the subscription list of The Church Advocate.
"Putting our literature into every Church of God Sunday-school.
"Raising an average of $35,000 a year for eight years for missionary, educational and publishing interests.
"Adoption of budget system, Duplex Envelope, and every member canvass by local churches."
Rev. J. L. Updegraph, then pastor of the church of God at Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania, was selected as Field Secretary, to devote his whole time to this Forward Movement. He located at Findlay, Ohio, and entered upon the duties of his responsible and laborious position. He carried the spirit of the Forward Movement to all parts of the General Eldership territory, and explained its meaning to the people. He came in touch with all pastors and helped them with wise counsel. His tactful messages awakened a new sense of responsibility in the churches and provided helpful suggestions for improvement in their methods of work. Eldership sessions and conventions also profited by his presence and leadership.
In addition to the work of the Field Secretary, several special days were observed by the churches each year and a large amount of promotional literature was sent out to aid the pastors and their people in carrying out the Forward Movement program.
Financially, the success of the Forward Movement was highly gratifying. Starting with an annual goal of $35,000, the amount raised averaged more than $50,000 a year for the eight years.
The goal of five hundred new subscriptions for The Church Advocate was reached and passed every year, so that instead of the four thousand subscriptions asked for, more than five thousand six hundred were secured.
There was an encouraging growth in Sunday-school and Christian Endeavor work, and in the introduction of Sunday-school literature, but not much substantial increase in church membership.
In other respects the results cannot be estimated, for the goals were of a spiritual character.
On the whole, the conclusion is justified that our Forward Movement was a marked success, not only in the results attained in striving for fixed goals, but also in the fine spirit which these efforts cultivated. It was the spirit which causes a body of people to avoid wasting time on little things by giving them a vision of bigger and better things to engross their thoughts and efforts.
The facts and figures gathered by the Statistical Secretary during the eight years of our Forward Movement were naturally of more than ordinary interest. And it seems proper that a few of these should be recorded here as showing our statistical standing at the end of our first century. The report for the year 1924, presented to the General Eldership of 1925, shows these items: ministers, 439; churches, 481; membership, 27,649; church-houses, 383, with an estimated value of $2,171,932; parsonages, 113, with an estimated value of $389,750; Sunday-schools, 398; membership, 40,821; Christian Endeavor societies (Senior, Intermediate and Junior) 242; membership, 8,849.
The Elderships raised $47,268.51 during the last year of the Forward Movement on the General Eldership budget, and the total amount raised by the Elderships during the same time for all purposes was $433,663.47. These amounts were exclusive of gifts made directly by individuals for educational and missionary purposes. The larger of these individual gifts were from Mr. D. M. Bare, a wealthy paper manufacturer of Roaring Spring, Pennsylvania, amounting, during the last year of the Forward Movement alone, to more than $60,000. These, with the smaller gifts from others of less resources gave much encouragement to the brotherhood and substantial support to the enterprises of the General Eldership. The total amount raised for general purposes during the last year of the Forward Movement, including special gifts, was $127,797.46. And the total amount for the eight years was $563,486.74.
It should be recalled that the session of the General Eldership of May 17th to 22nd, 1917, which inaugurated the Centennial Forward Movement, was coincident with our country's entrance into the World War, the official action for which had been taken by the Congress at Washington the first week in April. This war, the most stupendous in all history, had been going on for nearly three years, and continued for a year and a half longer. As usual, this period was marked by a raising of material standards and a lowering of spiritual ideals. On the one hand prices, wages and benevolent gifts were greatly increased. On the other hand, worldliness flourished, social restraints were ignored, and in the sorrows of war many tried to find surcease in sin. These are invariable effects of war, and help to explain why the material success of our Forward Movement was greater than its spiritual growth.
The General Eldership met in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, from May 21st to 26th, 1925, for its regular quadrennial session and to celebrate the Centennial of the Churches of God in North America. This marked the end, officially, of our Forward Movement, and also of our first century as a religious body. The great changes wrought by the passing years of the century were in evidence in the city. They were seen in its population of more than eighty-two thousand people; in its railroad and electric lines; its numerous industrial establishments; its splendid school system; its charitable institutions; and its nearly one hundred churches, six of them being churches of God. It is a fine illustration of the century's progress, for this capital city of a great state is none other than the developed country town of 1825, with less than four thousand people, with neither railroad nor canal, and with only four churches. And the changes here are typical of the changes everywhere which show the marvelous scientific progress of the century, to say nothing about the achievements in literature and art. To speak of the automobile and the airplane, of X-rays and radium, of wireless telegraphy and the radio is but to begin a long list of inventions and discoveries which were not even dreamt of a hundred years ago.
This session of the General Eldership was held in the bethel of the historic First Church, which, as we have seen in chapter six, changed its location from Mulberry street to Fourth street in 1854. The business was transacted with efficiency and all of the deliberations were characterized by a blessed spirit of Christian fellowship. There was no indication of a lessening of effort or a weakening of determination. On the contrary, the General Eldership unanimously adopted the final report of the Centennial Committee, which contained plans for a New Century Movement, that the good work of the preceding eight years might go on without interruption.
The Centennial celebration was conducted in connection with the General Eldership session, the Sunday and evenings being set apart for that purpose. The opening sermon was preached on Wednesday evening by Rev. J. L. Updegraph, the Field Secretary and retiring Speaker of the General Eldership. Rev. C. H. Grove, D. D., Editor of Sunday School literature, delivered an address Thursday evening on Church Literature, followed by an address on Missions by Mrs. J. L. Updegraph. On Friday evening Rev. W. H. Guyer, D. D., President of Findlay College, spoke on Education and Mrs. Geo. W. Stoner delivered an address on Temperance. Rev. F. W. McGuire preached the Doctrinal Sermon on Saturday evening. Christian Endeavor and Sunday Schools were the subjects for Monday evening, the addresses being delivered, respectively, by Revs. C. W. Crisman and W. T. Turpin.
This important epoch in our history and the plans for its proper observance had been well advertised through our periodicals and the local press, and the wide-spread interest thus created resulted in a large attendance. More than a thousand persons registered on the week days. They came from as far west as Minnesota and Oklahoma and from Florida in the South. And this was but the beginning of the still larger attendance at the services on the Sabbath.
Saturday afternoon was devoted to a sight-seeing tour, under the efficient direction of Brother C. G. Miller, Treasurer of the General Eldership, when several hundred people in automobiles visited places in and around Harrisburg of historic interest to the Churches of God.
Chestnut Street Auditorium, the largest meeting-place in the city, was secured for the forenoon and afternoon services on Sunday, May 24th. It was filled to its capacity and many were not able to gain admittance. The Centennial Sermon was preached in the forenoon, by Rev. S. G. Yahn, D. D., from Philippians 2:17?subject, "A Century of Sacrificial Service." Revs. M. D. Kidwell, A. B., C. F. Rogers, J. W. Whisler, A. M., and J. E. McColley assisted in this service. The afternoon meeting was in charge of Dr. W. N. Yates, assisted by Rev. W. E. Turner and Rev. J. R. Bucher, Th. M. The principal address was by Dr. Martin G. Brumbaugh, a former Governor of Pennsylvania. The other addresses of the afternoon were by Mayor George A. Hoverter, Rev. L. A. Luckenbill of Indiana, and Rev. Samuel McCrea Cavert of New York. The latter represented the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America.
While the Chestnut Street Auditorium was selected for the main services of the celebration solely because of its size, the selection completed a coincidence of sentimental value. This Auditorium stands beside the Salem Reformed Church, mentioned in an earlier chapter. Thus it came to pass that the end of our first century of history was celebrated at the exact place of its beginning. The hundreds of our people who came to the Centennial celebration stood at the exact spot from which Winebrenner and his followers, a hundred years before, had turned from the closed doors of the sanctuary to hold their Sunday morning service at the river side?two squares distant.
The solemn and impressive communion service of Sunday evening was held in the bethel of the historic First Church, in charge of the pastor, Rev. Thomas M. Funk, A. M. The scriptural address was given by Dr. Charles T. Fox, Dean of Findlay College, after which the ordinances of God's house were observed by those who, though from widely separated parts of the country, were close together in the fellowship of a common faith. It was a fitting close of a blessed day, a day made all the more precious by the realization that many thousands of the brotherhood who could not come to Harrisburg were carrying out their part of the general program by observing this great anniversary in their home churches.
Thus we crossed the dividing line between the centuries, praising God for the heritage of the past, and rededicating ourselves to the unfinished tasks and the unlimited opportunities of His church.
Following the sudden death of President William Harris Guyer, of Findlay College, as noted on page ninety-four, Professor H. L. Allen, M. A., M. Pd., of Guthrie, Oklahoma, was elected as his successor. Professor Allen assumed the responsibilities of the presidential office with a spirit of courage and devotion which at once commanded the confidence of the brotherhood, and the college is having one of the most successful years of its history.
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