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John Haynes Holmes

The Relevant Reverend, by Rev. Dr. Herbert F. Vetter

John Haynes Holmes

John Haynes Holmes, was the founder of the Community Church in New York open to all faiths, races, classes, and creeds. If you ever heard Holmes preach, you are apt to know why Rabbi Stephen Wise said: “If I had to single out a single man who represents power, moving and overwhelming, without ever descending to the sensational, I should name the preacher of the Community Church, John Haynes Holmes.”

At the time of his death in 1964 at the age of 84, The New York Times’ editorial honored him as “a militant fighter for peace, for religious and racial tolerance, and for clean politics.” Praising as most significant for New York his chairmanship of the City Affairs Committee that led to the forced resignation of the Tammany machine’s Mayor James J. Walker, the Times concluded: “He was a courageous and dedicated man, in the tradition of the great spiritual leaders who, refusing to confine themselves to pious expressions from the pulpit, are willing to come down into the marketplace to fight the good fight with all the force at their command.”

In his fighting, Dr. Holmes was a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the League for Industrial Democracy, the India League of America, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the American Civil Liberties Union (of which he was a director for 40 years and chairman of the board for 10). Holmes said his chief joy came from writing liberal religious hymns. Nothing gave him more satisfaction than being the author of the hymn:

Your voice, O God is calling
It summons unto all;
As once You spoke in Zion,
So now we Hear You call;
Whom shall I send to succor
My people in their need?
Whom shall I send to loosen
The bonds of shame and greed?

I hear my people crying
In cot and mine and slum;
No field or mart is silent,
No city street is dumb.
I see my people falling In darkness and despair.
Whom shall I send to shatter
The fetters which they bear?

We heed O God, Your summons,
And answer: Here are we!
Send us upon Your errand!
Let us Your servants be!
Our strength is dust and ashes,
Our years a passing hour;
But You can use our weakness
To magnify our power.

From ease and plenty save us,
From pride of place absolve;
Purge us of low desire,
Lift us to high resolve.
Teach us and make us holy,
Teach us Your will and way;
Speak and behold we answer!
Command, and we obey!

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