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Nine months after the Sixth Wisconsin Light Artillery had gone to the front in 1861, a group of new recruits was called for. Among them was a boy too young to go out when the battery was first mustered. It had been his hope after finishing at the Spring Green Academy to go to the youthful college forty miles away. But war prevented. One day in August 1862 he dropped the oat bundles he was binding and enlisted. For three days this boy soldier slept and drilled at Camp Randall, then a pleasant pasture, now the athletic stadium of the University of Wisconsin. That was as near that great university as Private Jenk Jones ever got until forty-seven years later when the university honored itself and him by conferring upon him its highest degree.
As the soldier boy marched across the embryo metropolis of the West to take his train for the battlefields, the wonder of Chicago played upon his imaginative mind. Through three years of war that picture of a growing city focused into the resolve that some day he would be a preacher there.
Twenty years before this preacher-minded boy faced his first battle in the marshlands of Mississippi, two middle-aged Welshmen might have been seen of a summer evening smoking their pipes before the door of a stone cottage on the rounded pastured hills at Blaencatla in Cardiganshire. These two brothers, Richard Lloyd Jones, the father of the soldier-preacher, and his bachelor brother, Jenkin, for whom the boy was named, talked often, long and late about the larger land of opportunity. Richard and Jenkin were religious liberals in an atmosphere so thick with Presbyterian orthodoxy that “you could cut it out of the air in square chunks with a knife.” It was less of a risk for the unburdened brother to move than for the father of a growing family. So first “Uncle Jenkin” came as pathfinder to America. One year later, with their six children, Richard and Mary Lloyd Jones came, the baby one year old on November 14, 1844, the day they landed at Castle Garden. America was Jenkin Lloyd Jones’ first birthday present.
A Hudson River steamboat carried the immigrant group to Albany. On the chill November ride up river, the Welsh peasant mother huddled her brood of six close to the side of the smokestack on deck, the warmest place she could find. Three times a uniformed officer of the boat took the bewildered little woman back to what was to her a cabin too gorgeous for humble hill folk. She could not realize that the circling staircases, paneled mirrors, carpets and cushioned seats symbolized America.
On Christmas Day near Utica they laid away in the new-found land the little three-year sister Nannie, who had sickened of diphtheria, and then went on westward. Near the little town of Ixonia, Wisconsin, the pilot brother Jenkin died. There was no preacher of their liberal faith to speak at the bier of this simple pioneer. In the clearing of a virgin forest brother Richard raised his voice in reverent hymn and bowed his head in prayer.
Farther west the family pressed and finally settled on the banks of the Wisconsin River. It was near there that the preacher–minded boy taught country school before he went to war. In that war, fighting for what seemed to him a holy cause, he was engaged in eleven battles of first rank, including the Siege of Vicksburg, Corinth, Holly Springs, Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. At the last he received the injury that caused him always to carry a cane. It was during his three years’ soldiery, a service that was a never-ending source of inspiration to him, that he became a great Lincoln lover, finding in the spirit of the martyred President the tender strength and the breadth of sympathy that to him were righteousness.
Returning from war, he again made the march from station to station through the streets of growing Chicago. It was then he riveted down the resolve of three years before. At Madison the battery was drawn up at parade rest in front of the little station from which was soon to depart the train that was to carry them the last lap of their return. These returning soldiers were waiting for their discharge papers. There was delay. The train waited—an hour, two hours—and still the papers did not come. The conductor decided he could hold the train no longer, eager though he was to accommodate the boys in blue. He shouted, “All aboard.” The whistle blew. There was no command. That train was going home. Instinctively the boys broke ranks and ran for the cars. The captain saw his well-drilled battery break in disorder. Then he too swung onto the last platform of the departing train. Some two weeks later they went back to the capital to be mustered out. But the boys got home on the evening of the third of July. Next day, Jenkin Lloyd Jones made his first public appearance, reading the Declaration of Independence at a Fourth of July celebration. During his three years at war he had received $604.97 in army pay. Of this, he had sent home $445. A little over a hundred dollars in cash he brought with him. Also during his years of service this boy did the unusual thing of keeping in his knapsack a diary in which, with almost unfailing regularity, he wrote daily. Years later the Wisconsin Historical Society issued in book form this remarkable and simple war record of a private.
One day of that homecoming summer Jenk threw down his rake in the field, walked in to the humble farm home and told his mother that he had been corresponding with a school in Meadville, Pennsylvania. He was going there to learn to be a preacher. The pioneer farmer was too encumbered with the bread and butter problem of a family of ten children to be able to promise any financial help, but the returned soldier reminded them of his hundred dollar war savings. It would take him to Meadville and start him. There he’d find a way.
And he found the way. He became janitor of the school building. He waited on table. He split wood and was the cook’s assistant. He set for himself a rigid schedule. Nothing ever broke it. So he went through four years. The school made a good job of it. It turned out a preacher. It was at Meadville, too, that he met Susan Barber, who was the private secretary of Professor Frederic Huidekoper. They were married the day after he graduated and they spent their honeymoon at their first Unitarian conference.
Already he had attracted the attention of substantial churches and had received three calls. One was a church in the suburbs of Boston, one at Keokuk, Iowa, and one from Winnetka, the lake shore suburb north of Chicago. That was the least in parish enrollment and much the least in salary. But it was near the city of the soldier’s dream. Chicago was his goal. To Winnetka he went, but within a year a call came from All Souls Church at Janesville, Wisconsin. Janesville was just over the Illinois state line, so it was not too far from Chicago, and it was nearer the fading mother and the spirit of the stalwart father on the Wisconsin farm. It was in Janesville that the trained hand of the Meadville girl who had been schooled in an atmosphere of culture began to show in his work. She was more than a painstaking mother and homemaker. She was the efficient parish assistant and the wisest counselor he ever had. She was a good carpenter. She built his first desk. She remade and made over again her dresses. Every dollar that could be saved went into books. She read many of the books for him. She was his amanuensis. She made his sermon manuscripts from his dictation. In Janesville and in later years in Chicago she sometimes occupied his pulpit, preaching her own sermons.
There were changes in Unitarian pulpits in Chicago during the nine years, but the Janesville preacher had not been called there. The soldier resolution was strong—so strong, he did only what a fool or a man who knows not how to fail would do. ‘Mid a tearful farewell, his friends saw him take his little family with scarcely money enough for railroad fare and a month’s board, and move to Chicago, determined to strike out for himself. He said to the wife who was overflowing with faith and faithfulness, “We will build a church here in Chicago.” And they did! They picked their vicinity—on the south side of the city—and on a November Sunday in 1882 he hired a little hall over some stores at the intersection of 35th street and Cottage Grove Avenue. Not counting his own family, he had a congregation of just twelve the first Sunday. Before the benediction was spoken he announced that he would preach in the same place the next Sunday. He hoped those present would come again and bring their friends.
The next Sunday his congregation numbered thirty-three. The next Sunday he had sixty-six. It was that Sunday that he preached his famous sermon, “All Souls Are Mine.” That sermon was his prophecy and his program. To the sixty-six he said, “With your help and cooperation, we will start here a new church, to be the Church of All Souls. I shall ask no church subscriptions of you until the worth of the church shall be proved to you. I shall invite you to give as your impulse directs to the Sunday collection basket. Out of that I shall pay all the church bills, and if there be money left I shall accept it as my salary.” On that basis he made a go of it, and when he died he was the oldest settled minister of any denomination in Chicago. Pioneering a liberal faith, Jenkin Lloyd Jones became not only one of the great pulpit orators of Chicago, joining in interdenominational fellowship with Robert Collyer, David Swing, Rabbi Hirsh, Hiram W. Thomas and Dr. Gunsaulus, but he became the outstanding prophet of liberal religion in the north Mississippi valley. For eleven years he served as Secretary of the Western Unitarian Conference, and the office at 175 Dearborn Street was a lyceum bureau, dispensing preachers to platforms where eager audiences waited. It was a publication office. The Unity Publishing Company was issuing Unity with Jones as editor, and publishing and distributing sermons and tracts and leaflet literature relating to liberal religious activities. It was beginning to publish an increasingly pretentious list of books. It was in those days that Jones, in collaboration with his friend, Gannett, got the Western Unitarian Conference to accept the principle that there should be no doctrinal test of Unitarian fellowship. No matter how liberal might be its phraseology, there should be no semblance of a creed. Western Unitarianism should stand for Freedom, Fellowship and Character in Religion and should welcome into its fold all who wished to join it to help establish Truth, Righteousness and Love Among Men.
In Chicago the Vincennes Hall movement soon moved to a nearby skating rink. In two years more it found its home in the unique architectural conception that placed church and parsonage in an edifice that resembled a clubhouse more than a cathedral. A flagstaff took the place of spire. It was a seven-day church. It was a church home, a school, a club and a shrine. It was a strong church because it was a church of courage and conviction.
All Souls Church was a home. The first words that faced you as you entered were, “Here Let No Man Be Stranger.” Jones was a great fellow for church socials and church suppers. He loved the get-togethers. Every November brought a great Thanksgiving dinner for all who were homeless. Many of the people gave up their own dinners to be part of the great church home dinner. After the feast there was festival. All Souls Church danced. It was waltz and two-step until close to eleven o’clock which was the uncompromising closing time. Then came the Virginia reel because that was “the only dance that Mr. Jones could do.”
All Souls Church was a school. In the basement of that church building where every square inch was utilized, there were boys’ classes in drawing and manual training and girls’ classes in domestic arts. In the auditorium there were Friday afternoon lectures which filled the church to capacity with the children of the neighborhood. David Starr Jordan came to tell how he climbed the Matterhorn. Men of national note who could talk well to adults on philosophy or sociology simplified their messages but never lessened the inspiration for the young. Among these courses the minister gave six talks on “The Story of a Private.” It was so popular the children spread reports of it, and he was called upon to repeat it in other sections of the city. Five nights in the week, school was in session. Mr. Jones led the classes in philosophy and literature, studying Emerson, Darwin, Spencer and interpreting the other master minds in sociology and literature and science. Then there were the great novels and poets to be read and discussed. Browning was too full of interpretive lines for an evening class alone. The day class came as an overflow. The University of Chicago made him lecturer on English literature.
In spite of all these multiplied activities and expended energies, all the interruptions of out-of-town lecture dates and the annual March lecture tour in the South, Jenkin Lloyd Jones loved and had his recreation. Every afternoon, rain or shine, he kept his five-o’clock appointment with his horse. Saddled at the stable a block away it would canter, riderless, to the study door, stand as if hitched until mounted. And despite the ankle broken at Missionary Ridge and which was never rightly mended, the artilleryman was again on the gallop for a round of the park, invariably taking the hurdles along the bridle path. His love for the saddle led to long vacation cross-country rides that ripened into his wayside sermon books, Jess and A Dinner of Herbs.
Jenkin Lloyd Jones could not be the lover of good literature, the student of dramatic poetry and not be susceptible to good dramatic reading and the actor’s art. Great players were his friends. He loved a good comedy. He enjoyed jokes. He laughed heartily. Just as he was moved by mirth, so was he moved by tenderness. Deep sympathies laid hold on his heart. His strong preaching was always filled with sentiment but never with sentimentalism. He was dynamic. It was nothing uncommon for his congregation to break out in applause. More than once the people were moved to a standing cheer while his hands would be raised in protest. Except in most unseasonable weather, through many years his church was filled to standing room only and at times hundreds had to turn away.
He was a civic leader no less than a pulpit power. At municipal mass meetings at the auditorium and at old Battery D armory there would be noisy demonstrations just because “the lion-headed preacher” stepped onto the platform. A group of leading Chicagoans once rented Central Music Hall for a series of Sunday nights, that Jenkin Lloyd Jones might bring a message to the downtown citizens and the transients who do not get out Sunday morning into the residence sections. Those sermons were published under the title, Practical Piety. His Word of the Spirit, a book of sermons on the citizen’s duty to church, state and nation was like a bugle call to duty.
In the late eighties, two brother ministers joined him in a rash financial venture. They bought sixty scenic acres on the Wisconsin River that were worthless for cultivation. There they started a summer camp. Cottages were built, an Emerson pavilion or lecture hall was set up, and the Tower Hill Summer School was started. This camp was but three miles from the old homestead about which his brothers and sisters had taken up adjoining farms. In the old home valley Jones built a Unity Chapel which became a family home of worship. Through his planning the old homestead was converted into the Hillside Home School conducted by his two teacher sisters. Through his friends and influence this school came into prompt and full patronage and continued its good work until closed by the death of the sisters. The Tower Hill land, which the three preachers had bought, was, pursuant to their wishes, finally given to Wisconsin as a state park and is now so held.
Mr. Jones never lost interest in the Meadville Theological School. He kept in close touch with its students and graduates. His home might well have been called “Preachers’ Tavern,” for there were fed and bedded every aspirant to a liberal pulpit that wandered into town. More than that, it was the rendezvous of practically all the men and women of light and leading who came to Chicago.
In 1893 the World’s Fair brought to Chicago a gathering that gave a worldwide perspective to the Jenkin Lloyd Jones inclusive creed, “All Souls Are Mine.” A commission was appointed to actualize the dream of gathering into friendly conference the representatives not only of the clashing sects of Christianity but also of all great religions of the earth. Dr. Barrows, Chicago’s leading Presbyterian minister, was made president of this enterprise and Jenkin Lloyd Jones its general secretary, and—if the term were truly stated—its general manager. It was when this great enterprise, the Parliament of Religions, seemed on the verge of collapse and its promoters about ready to concede the undertaking too gigantic to realize, that Jenkin Lloyd Jones preached his famous seventeen sermons on the “Glory of the Parliament” and roused the religious people of Chicago to enthusiastic action. Large sums of money were raised by Chicago’s businessmen. Priests, preachers and apostles were brought from the far ends of the earth and were surprised to find how wide was their common ground. Jenkin Lloyd Jones compiled the great common denominator of that congress into book form, A Chorus of Faith, and that was followed by his Seven Great Religious Teachers, and his Seven Years Course in Religion.
Meanwhile, the institutional church so benignantly busy needed more elbow room. In 1905, across the street from “All Souls” of many rich memories, there was built a seven-story structure called Lincoln Center. In this civic centre All Souls Church found a new home.
The minister gloried in being a Lincoln soldier. It was the militant preacher who for years crowded his church beyond its seating capacity. It was the fighter for civic righteousness who brought great mass meetings in downtown halls to their feet at the mere sight of the preacher-prophet. But the Parliament of Religions, which had so fired his imagination and appealed to his heart, diverted his lines of study and thinking. More and more he became the research student seeking the ancient sources of religious inspiration, finding the common grounds and seeking to tear down the fences that divide. This took him away from his intimate contact with men and with the immediate civic problems. He became a student in the abstract rather than the concrete. When the World War came, he saw it from a religious rather than a practical point of view. He became an outspoken pacifist. Many of his oldest and most devoted parishioners felt impelled to part from the church. It was a heartbreaking separation. More and more he drew into the cloistered life of his study, and his life closed in many disappointments. He died on September 12, 1918.
Jenkin Lloyd Jones was a man of the Pauline type, great-hearted, tender, tolerant, a born helper of souls. His values were spiritual. For this reason he often ignored physical facts. He was human, sensitive to hurt, at times susceptible to designing flattery that defeated his better ends. He was sometimes too ready to trust. He was capable of mistake. But he always had the courage of his convictions. “We should be where the stones fly,” he used to say. He was always ready to take the risk of ridicule. He fought for FREEDOM. He was the spirit of FELLOWSHIP. He exemplified CHARACTER. His life was the RELIGION he professed.