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“People and Minister” By Edward Everett Hale

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“People and Minister”


by Edward Everett Hale

Edward Everett Hale
Edward Everett Hale
Courtesy of Harvard University Archives

Edward Everett Hale (1822 -1909) served long (1856 – 99) as minister of South Congregational Church in Boston. He was a noted author and lecturer attaining a fame far beyond Unitarianism.

Hale’s sermon finds inclusion because it suggests a division of labor between congregants and minister. Of particular note is the short shrift Hale gives to organization in the church.

  • Does Hale’s separation of duties seem correct for the time he wrote?
  • What major changes in power distribution have taken place since Hale wrote?

Page numbers in the text below refer to the original numbers in Peter Raible’s compilation.


[***Page ? / 000715 starts]





South Congregational Church Boston,

January 9, 1870. 




[***Page 3 / 000716 starts]



“Eight years old.” 2 Kings xxii. 1.


It is eight years yesterday since we dedicated this church. A congregation which crowded these walls devoted it, with united voice, to “the glory of God our Father, to the gospel and memory of his Son, and to the communion and fellowship of his Spirit.”

The corner-stone had been laid on the 6th of June of the previous summer, in the midst of the first outbreak of the civil war, not two months after the first bloodshed at Baltimore. As I look back on that summer, it is always with new admiration for the courage and constancy with which, this congregation went forward in its determination. In those first months of the amazed excitement of patriotic energy, it devoted itself none the less to this consecrated offering, which it had resolved upon for its worship. We laid the cornerstone of the church, singing national hymns as lit hymns of consecration. And the same impulse and resolution, which, in Union Park above us, set up the mainmast of the last slaver — the schooner “Wanderer”— as a flag-staff for the stars and stripes, [***Page 4 / 000717 starts] built this church here to the honor of the God to whom our patriotic services were rendered. I remember that some of our friends proposed that this new church in Union-Park-Street should take the fit name of the “Union Church.” The proposal was not unnatural, so closely united was every thought of the summer which built it with the sacred determination which carried over for these American States the Saviour’s prayer, “That they may be one, as we are one.”

I am accustomed to use the anniversary for a new service of ordination for us all; to give anew a charge to the people of this church, and a charge to their minister, on their mutual duties: and I propose to devote this morning to that service.

I. You know I accept, through and through, the full Protestant statement, that all Christian men and women are priests ordained, and kings consecrated, so far as they are Christian men and women. All are in the ministry of God, of Christ, and of humanity. The minister, so called, has no rights in his function but those he shares with and derives from the people, acting in this sacred ministry. When, then, we speak of a “charge” to the people, and a “charge” to their minister, we speak of the mutual division between them of the duties of the church, and the way in which each can best help the other to fulfil those duties.

II. Let us remember that Christ has left to us, minister and people, to the united church, the completion of the work which he indicated and began. He has not left it to the Pope or the Patriarch; nor [***Page 5 / 000718 starts] to any little pope or little patriarch. He has left it to the church universal. And there still remains a great deal of it to do. There remains ten million times as much to do as has yet been done. Every child who dies where death was not a necessity; every man or woman who grows up in ignorance or in folly; worse yet every child, man, or woman, who grows up under blight of evil, rather than under the blessedness of God, — is one more witness that Christ’s work is only begun, and is not completed.

III. This work of Christ’s may be detailed in a thousand ways. With us the church throws a great deal of it on the civil government; as we make the city and State attended the large hospitals, the quarantines, the drainage, and the schools. The church would have to attend to the sewers, to the health regulation, to the Latin and the Greek, if it did not make the State attend to them. In America we do make the State attend to them; and, doubtless, that is the best way.

IV. None the less has the church, as church — namely, the whole congregation of men, women, and children —immense duty yet to perform. In a city like ours, this duty classifies itself familiarly under the heads of Hospitality, Education, Charity, and Worship.

Of each of these I am to say a word.

First, of Hospitality. We cannot enough remember, that the curse of a great city is always loneliness; and that the curse of Boston, for half a century, has been an unsocial disposition. This latter does not easily reveal itself to us who were born here, and grew up [***Page 6 / 000719 starts] here at these schools, and belonging to these established coteries and families; but it affects in a thousand ways the hundred and fifty thousand people — three-fourths of the population, — who were not born here who are strangers here in some sort, and yet want to be at home. Be not forgetful to entertain such strangers: there is not man or woman of you, who has tried the experiment, but has “entertained angels unawares.” And here I do not speak of the welcome to be given to one class of strangers, or another. I have seen the same loneliness in the home of the very rich, brought here from abroad, as in the squalid tenements of the very poor. Not, speaking now of separate duty, it is very clear that a congregation, as a united-body, has immense powers of welcoming all new comers. It has vastly greater power as an organization than the mere sum of such power as exercised by all its several members. By the right use of your spacious rooms here; by free and courteous welcome to strangers who come to your worship on Sunday; by vigorous and well-directed care of the poor, the sick, the lonely of the district which is assigned to you, — you, as a Christian congregation, can do more, in certain forms of welcome, than the sum of all the separate efforts of individuals. Take care that you do both. Take care, that, as individuals, you open your homes to strangers whom you can cheer. Take care, as a congregation, that you welcome those who are most ready to accept that welcome.

We advance from step to step in such matters. A Christian Union for women is to be opened this week in Boston, in the hope of affording “pleasant even-[***Page 7 / 000720 starts]ings ” and true society for working-girls and other women who are lonely and lost in their-lodging-houses. I pray to God it may succeed. But, churchman as I am, I should have much more hope for success if we here were strong enough to do this: if we could fit up our two ante-rooms down Stairs as pretty parlors, storing them, as well as we store our homes, with books and magazines and pictures; if they were open to all comers every evening; if, Monday evening, a circle of this parish met there to read English literature, and to invite and welcome lonely man or lonely woman; if, Tuesday evening, another such company met there, say to carry on such a meeting as our young people sustained last winter, and to welcome and invite all strangers; if, on Wednesday, there were a company studying Scripture; if, on Thursday, there were a social gathering of the elders, in all cases welcoming all who choose to come; if, Friday evening, there were a company interested in the charities of the church; and, Saturday evening, a company of people who liked to sing together; — in all cases, not looking askance or shyly at an accidental visitor, but meeting him half way, and more than half way, and making him feel at home. I believe it is in some such way as that, the church will work out the problem of the loneliness of large cities. We cannot do this now, because we are not strong enough in that direction. But I think we shall be some day. It is, you see, one of the forms of ministry in which a clergyman is literally nothing. He is powerless in these directions. Such an effort would depend purely on the trained energy and long habit of co-operation of a religious, devoted, disinterested people. [***Page 8 / 000721 starts]

2. The second head of the duty of the church is Education. The Roman-Catholic Church, in Roman-Catholic countries, takes all the schools into its charge, and is trying to do so here. The English Church, in a feeble way, sighs after the same autocracy. The American Church, with great wisdom, has transferred public-school education to the civil charge; and, as I believe, will see that it remains there, let all other ecclesiastical organizations sue never so sweetly for the office. But there is left, in a city like this, to the oversight of the congregation, no small part of the education of the people. Such part of that service as falls to the pulpit you intrust to me; and I will speak of that in a few moments. Such experiments in secular training as a little foresight must try, we have a chance for in our Christian-Unity Class-rooms. I am not dissatisfied by our results there. Our admirable high-school classes there, of last winter, in drawing, French, German, and book-keeping, led the way directly to the city’s establishment of its evening high school this year; an enterprise, which, not fifteen years ago, we were told by the law-authorities was unconstitutional and impossible. Much more important, neither experimental nor transitory, is the parish Sunday school, where forty picked persons, gentlemen and ladies of your own number, instruct two hundred children for an hour every Sunday, in the elements of religion, and in their development. About a hundred and fifty of these children belong to the congregation, and about fifty to families not regularly connected with the congregation. 1 must not now speak in detail of the work of this school. Enough to [***Page 9 / 000722 starts] say that the teachers do their part thoroughly; that those of us whose children go there have our duty perfectly distinct before us, in seeing that those children are fitly prepared for the service of the school; and that no education is given anywhere by anybody which compares with the personal influence which is possible when a devoted teacher gives his life, his best attainment, and his best resolve to a class of pupils interested and ready. The theme, the nearness of the relation, the absence of formality and constraint, might all unite to give to such training life and eternal power possible in scarcely any other instruction.

And, lastly, among the methods of education in which, as a church, you are engaged, are the enterprises of the “Young Folks’ Club.” I have no idea that they knew themselves, last winter, how profitable these were to them; far less that anybody in the congregation except myself knew. They propose to renew their meetings this winter. They, too, will need — as the Sunday school and as the Christian Unity needs — your co-operation and your sympathy, expressed by your presence. There ought never to be one of their regular meetings without the attendance of fifty or a hundred of their parents and other older friends.

In one or other of these four departments of education, 1 think we have quite methods enough for the activity of this congregation. What we need here is to select our special duties, and be sure that to these methods we give faith, life, and energy.

3. Of the duties and arrangements of this church [***Page 10 / 000723 starts] in what is popularly called Charity, I have spoken so lately that I need not repeat the detail. In general, this is to be said: that we are singularly fortunate in our position. While every family here is above immediate want, we live in a large city, where there is just want enough to keep us from laziness in the matter of relief. We have not that queer trouble of some of the country churches in prosperous farming towns, where nobody was ever hungry, who write down to Boston, sometimes, to know what would be a good charity for them to take charge of. We live right round our meeting-house here; yet the charity district assigned to us is also close at our doors. There is a sort of personal and sympathetic connection, therefore, with the poor we try to take care of, of just the simplest and most natural kind. If any one likes to see more of the methods of such relief, he can easily do so by coming on any Thursday, at noon, to the regular meeting of the representatives of the different charity-committees of the parish. No church is any sort a successor of the Saviour, which has not this duty, in some way, well in hand.

4. Hospitality, education, charity, in the life of a church-or in the life of a man, are all subordinate to Worship. What is called in our time “Social Science” is a well-meant and generally superficial effort to carry on education and popular improvement without personal consecration and surrender of the life of the individual to God. You might as well carry on a kaleidoscope without light; or the organ yonder without air; or a steam-engine without steam. When I came to this church fourteen years ago, 1 found it a [***Page 11 / 000724 starts] highly organized and earnestly faithful body, — somewhat singular, perhaps, in its organization among Unitarian churches, because my predecessor, the present Bishop of Central New York, had been a man of singular power fur organization. We have tried to retain such organization ever since, not injured, if not improved; and so the reputation remains with us, in some little circles, of being a parish of successful methods of church-life. And it happens to me, therefore, as your minister, that one or other of the young men who are studying for the ministry comes to me every few months, and asks me, “What is your method about this, and what is your method about that, in the South Congregational Church?” To whom I always say something like this: “My dear friend, it makes no difference what our methods are: you cannot copy the method of one church in another. The effort to do that is the ruin of the Roman Church, and of other churches which need not be named. It is the letter that killeth, but only the spirit giveth life. Go to your new parish; consecrate yourself to its service and to God’s service; teach, work, and pray, in the hope and in the determination that that people shall consecrate themselves to God’s service and to man’s service. There is the fountain of the whole; and, unless that fountain flows, you are not to look for green turf, or spring flowers, or summer fruitage in your garden. If that fountain flows, and while it flows, there is no turf so green, no flower so fresh, no fruit so rich, but that you may expect it in it. But do not trouble yourself,” I say, “about the methods of their culture. .Such questions of method are only questions [***Page 12 / 000725 starts] for Scribes and Pharisees. Encourage the true spirit, and tho method will take care of itself. If anybody comes to you with a Christian plan for teaching ragged boys their letters, say ‘Yes.’ If anybody else has a plan for teaching girls to sew on their hall-holidays, and encouraging them to their new efforts with warm gingerbread, say ‘Yes.’ If anybody wants to make a branch of the Sanitary Association, say ‘Yes.’ If anybody wants to make a class in mechanical drawing, say ‘Yes.’ The people who are to act are the best judges of the methods; and they will act much better in their methods than in yours.”

What we are to seek for, what we are to pray for, is, that divine self-surrender which shall make us eager indeed to find out and to work out the right methods for the help of our fellow-men. And thus it is that the worship of a Christian congregation, its united effort to draw nearer to God, the communion with God which comes from its mutual communion, and the mutual communion which comes from its communion with God,— these are the centre and life of all its external activities; and as these are true or as these are formal, does that congregation truly live or truly die,

In these offices of worship, in the ordinances of baptism and of communion which make a part of them, minister and people are united together.

V. My review of church duties began with those that the congregation only can discharge. We have passed on to those where they are united. Lastly, let me speak of the duties of the pastor alone, and that briefly; as he can study for himself, and alone, the detail, at other seasons. [***Page 13 / 000726 starts]

It is, of course, my place, as the minister of this church, to watch every separate part of the various agencies which I have described; to advise, to assist to keep them in operation, if my aid will serve. To you they are duties shared with other duties. To you they are “avocations” separate from your “vocations.”[1] They make my vocation. To attend to them, am I set apart, or ordained. You will understand me, then, when I say, that, if I am to serve you fairly, 1 am to devote myself, not to such of these offices as I like best, or can do best, but to all of them, and to enter into them as well as I can. That is what I am for. I am to give most care to the most important, the least to the least important: but I am to give some care to all; and it is for me, and for no one else, to decide how 1 shall divide this care and responsibility.

In this division, I regard the public service of this place as by Far the most important, because by far the largest number of persons comes under its influence. It is important, also, that it shall be varied to the utmost, to provide for them all. I am not to preach doctrine only, or morals only, or history only, or criticism only, or on personal piety only. Nor am I to select what I preach on most easily, or what I preach on best. I am to vary my instructions, and preach in turn on every theme; and 1 am to unite with you in the ordinances of baptism, of communion, and to meet your inquiry and interest in these services, as a part of the great central interest of worship. [***Page 14 / 000727 starts]

Second to this necessity, and only second to it, I must place my duty in the instruction of the children. But, because there I have the assistance of forty chosen persons, that duty requires far less time, thought, and care, — not less interest, for it is, of course, the most fascinating line of any.

Third, and most difficult, because system is impossible, is the supervision of the charities of the church. Here, also, you give me the admirable help of Mr. Williams; his conscientious and self-forgetful assiduity; his curious knowledge of the people and their wants, and the cheerful spirit which commands success. You give me, also, all the help of the Ladies’ Society, and of the several visitors. But still, the work of charity is, and I hope it always will be, perplexing. It ought never to be done by routine. Every sufferer is a separate human being; and his case is for itself to be determined. You and I believe that the Christian church holds the real solvent, for the difficulties; and I do not mean to shrink from those difficulties in the cases of the poor around us, nor do you mean to have me.

Next in importance, — or, if you please, as a department of this service,— 1 am to welcome strangers; to attend to the services of hospitality. I speak of these last, because there are a thousand of you, who can share them with me. You attend to them better than I do; and, if I fail, there is less loss than in the duties 1 have named.

These form, in our view of the province of the church, the duties which you and 1 have to discharge together. [***Page 15 / 000728 starts]

You will easily see, my friends, how eager such duties make me to fulfil, far better than I ever have done, the duties which are all my own; to cultivate a closer personal friendship with the members of four hundred families who are my parishioners. A minister’s impossible duty becomes light, though impossible, when he feels that he discharges it in the presence of personal friends, who arc more at ease with him, perhaps, than with any one beside in the world. But, at the same time, you see how, in the restrictions of this Boston life of ours, it is literally impossible to bring about such intimacy in the simpler methods of our fathers’ lives, or as we would be glad to do today. It happens, in a hundred cases, that I do not enter one of your houses for two years, it may be for three or four. The loss, indeed, is mine, as I very well know. 1 think you see as plainly as I do how hard it is for me to change that order.

For four months of the year, the summer journeying and residence break up our united lives. There are, then, two hundred and fifty days left in which only I can find you in your homes. Of these two hundred and fifty days, I have found, in practice, that the days I could lightly devote to making visits are almost all absorbed among the sick or the bereaved, who, as you know and as I know, should be the first, objects of my care. Eight and ten visits in a day, in such homes of care, sorrow, and sickness, make no infrequent circle of one’s daily calls. Other days are consecrated by those most serious as most sad of offices, when we look our last on those that we have loved. You do not wonder, that, after a funeral ser-[***Page 16 / 000729 starts] vice, no man wants to pass at once into the relaxations of every-day society or, perhaps, of any society whatever.

I early, therefore, determined that I should come to know my parish, most intimately, not so much in the round of my visits, as in the relations of this house itself, if we could wisely and tenderly cultivate them. With the members of the several classes, with the attendants at the charity-meetings, with the teachers and scholars in the Sunday schools; with the several boards of administration, I find, that, under this roof, really, I form intimate personal relationships. To maintain those relationships I have thought the wisest first decision. I am, therefore, present here under this roof almost daily, — frequently two or three times a day through the week. I meet here, beside the Sunday school, a class every Wednesday, the several committees of the church, the Ladies’ Society, and the Friday meeting of the communicants. Thus do I form the acquaintance — I have a right to say, the somewhat confidential acquaintance — of rather more than one-half my parish.

For the rest, I am much more eager to know them well, than they can be to know me. Shall I say the people always know a minister better than he knows them? He tells them his best thoughts nearly a hundred times a year from the pulpit. Think how few other people in the world ever do that for you! I am most grateful that new arrangements of my home and of my public duties — arrangements which I largely owe to your kindness—will give me more time than ever this winter to see you in your homes. I have been [***Page 17 / 000730 starts] relieved by my friends at the Unitarian Association from all public speaking away from Boston, such as I have, for two years past, felt it a duty to do in their service, but from which I have now begged to be discharged. Still, I think I have shown to you that you must meet me much more than half way. If you want to see me, come and see me. Come to my office; come to my new house; come to the classes; come to the lectures; come to our parish parties; come to the committee-meetings; come to church. If I do not know anybody by sight in the street, let him stop me and tell me, and I shall know him another time. Work with me in this church; help me do the duty which shall make this church a living power in Christ’s fold and in his service: and we shall not be strangers long.

I must not close without a word of cordial thanks for the steady kindness and the perfect confidence which make my position what it is; which make my home so happy; make my life so cheerful. Some one asked me, the other day, if I was not working too hard. But a wiser friend said, “No his work is not hard, but easy.” That is so; and it is .so because I am surrounded and sustained by such wealth of Christian friends. [***Page 18 / 000731 starts]


Of the monthly calendar of the Church for the winter of 1869-70, may be convenient to members of the parish.

First Week of Month.

Sunday. — Service at 10.30, A.M., Baptism, Communion. — Vesper Service, 3, P.M.

Wednesday. 3.45, P.M., Mr. Hale’s class, studying the History of the Church.

Thursday. — 10, A.M., distribution of sewing; 12, M., Charity Committee’s weekly meeting; 3, P.M., South Friendly Society; parish party in the evening.

Friday. — 7.30, P.M., singing and conversation in the Ladies’ Room.

Saturday. — Sewing-school, 2, P.M, at the Unity Parlor, 209 Harrison Avenue.


Second Week.

Sunday. — Morning Service at 10.30; Afternoon Service, specially for the children, at 3, P.M.

Wednesday.— 7.30, P.M., Teachers’ Bible-Class. The Life of Christ.

Thursday. — 10, A.M., South Friendly Society for sewing and distribution of work; 12, M., Charity Committee’s weekly meeting.

Friday and Saturday, as above.


Third Week.

Sunday. — Morning Service at 10.30; Vesper Service, 3, P.M.

Wednesday. — 3.45, P.M.,  Mr. Hale’s class in History.

Thursday. — 10, A.M., South Friendly Society meet for sewing and distribution of work; 12, M., Charity Committee’s weekly meeting.

Friday and Saturday, as above.


Fourth Week.

Sunday. — Morning Service at 10.30; Afternoon Service, 3, P.M.

Tuesday. — 7.30, P.M., Young Folks’ Club.

Wednesday. — 7.30, P.M., Teachers’ Bible-Class. The Life of Christ.

Friday — (preceding the Communion). — 7.30, Communion Lecture.

Saturday, as above.


The Young Folks’ Club has instituted evening classes in English, in French, in German, and in. Botany, — which meet every week, on evenings determined by the members.

[1] “Besides his vocation, every man needs an avocation.” – Dr. Andrew P. Peabody to the Alumni of the Cambridge Divinity School.