September 23, 1956

Chicago: Methodist Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam of Washington, D.C., has been elected president of the Council on World Service and Finance of the Methodist Church. He succeeds Bishop Clare Purcell of Birmingham, Alabama. The council administers all general and benevolence funds of the Methodist denomination.


Greenwich, Connecticut: A Catholic and a Protestant clergyman in Greenwich have joined in a traffic safety campaign based on the Fifth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” The group, representing 16 churches, adopted as its campaign slogan, “Drive as though God was sitting beside you.” The crusade will get under way in Greenwich on September 30 and if successful will be expanded on a nationwide basis.


Hong Kong, China: A Catholic mission bulletin in Hong Kong says the church still has 52 seminaries in operation in Red China in spite of major persecution by communist authorities. The report mentioned seminaries in Hupen, Hunan, and Kansu provinces.


Castel Gandolfo, Italy: Pope Pius has urged the world’s scientists to press ahead with a peaceful conquest of the universe. The pope, addressing 400 delegates to the Seventh International Astronautical Congress, told them that God did not intend to place a limit to mankind’s effort of conquest when he said “Conquer the Earth.” The pontiff went on, “It is the whole of creation which God entrusted to mankind and which he offers to the human spirit, in order that he should penetrate it and may thus understand ever more fully the infinite grandeur of his Creator.” The delegates were received by the pontiff in a special audience at the pope’s summer residence.


Assisi, Italy: A leading Jesuit theologian has appealed to the Roman Catholic Church to cut down on the use of Latin and give modern language a growing place in Church ritual. Father Joseph A Jungmann, a theology professor at Innsbruck, Austria, said reforms by Pope Pius have started breaking down the armor which surrounded liturgy. The pope has permitted a number of nations to use modern languages instead of Latin in certain ceremonies, but the church remains steadfast against replacing Latin with modern languages in reciting the Mass.


Des Moines, Iowa: The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled that a divorce decree may not stipulate the religion under which a child must be reared. The decision reverses a lower court ruling which had cited Mrs. Gladys M. Lynch, of Clarion, Iowa, for contempt of court. Her divorce decree had specified that she should rear her 9-year-old son as a Catholic. Instead, she permitted him to attend the Congregational Church. When her ex-husband secured the contempt action, she appealed.


The 2,500 or so persons living in the little taconite mining community of Silver Bay, Minnesota, are setting a unique pattern for Protestant unity. What these people of a dozen different denominations are doing may ultimately have other communities pause to reflect whether their religious needs require several competing churches. Silver Bay sprang into being about three years ago when the taconite iron mining industry was started. Situated in the wilderness on Lake Superior’s north shore, Silver Bay now has 650 homes with about 70 more planned or under construction. All will be owned by employees of the taconite project which the Reserve Mining Company operates. At the outset, planners of the community decided to allocate sites for only three churches – Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and another Protestant church. In 1953, the Minnesota Council of Churches sent a chaplain, the Rev. Cecil Mankins, to the community. In time, persons attending the council-sponsored churches were asked to select the denomination they wished to develop a church for them. However, they expressed a preference for an interdenominational church, not one of a single denomination. The next step found Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Baptists, and members of other affiliations drawing up a covenant proclaiming the founding of the United Protestant Church. Among other things, the covenant said, “We believe that we can, with God’s help, unite in one church for the advancement of God’s kingdom in the world.” Their new church was partially completed late in July. It seats 180, and can accommodate an overflow of 60. The Rev. Mr. Hankins serves as moderator of the congregation. According to the 55-year-old Baptist clergyman who spent most of his ministry with the Ohio Council of Churches, the worship service itself has enough elements of a liturgical church to make people with that background feel perfectly at home. He points out that parishioners run nearly the entire gamut of theological background. Members are from both labor and management, and, as he explains, “cut across nearly every line of social structure.” Financing, construction, and a number of other aspects have at times complicated the program. But many obstacles have been circumvented or worked out and folks at Silver Bay are undaunted. It is hard to say how many churches Silver Bay will eventually require, but none, to be sure, will be more unusual than the United Protestant Church.


Ten prominent church leaders were asked within the past week for their views on the role of a clergyman in the field of politics. The question long has been a controversial one in Protestant circles. This being an election year, it has special significance. The survey was conducted by the information service of the National Council of Churches’ Research and Survey Bureau. The ten leaders were generally agreed that as a private citizen, the minister has a duty to consider all issues and take sides. They were also agreed that he should not use his pulpit for partisan purposes. However, it was decided to leave it to the minister’s own good sense and judgment as to how and where he expresses his political views away from his pulpit. There were widely varying views, moreover, on the nature, extent, and vigor of a clergyman’s political action. Some said he should separate his political life from his spiritual role, but others insisted that this was clearly impossible.


The general board of the National Council of Churches meets in Washington next Wednesday and Thursday to consider a heavy agenda of policy and other matters relating to the life of the churches. The items on which some action may be taken are the spiritual needs of the armed forces, Christian churches behind the Iron Curtain, Arab refugees, funding a new state-by-state study of church membership, and church relations between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.


Probably about everyone prays at times, or at least engages in prayer. It is not necessarily uttering words, and, indeed, the thoughts are not necessarily addressed to the deity. The people who call themselves atheists pray. Some pagan prayers have literary merit and show a remarkable kinship with nature. Medieval prayers were characterized by great passion, desperate faith, groveling humility, but with little or no social visions. The prayers of and following the Wesleyan revival in America were and sometimes still are frenzied, largely incoherent, noisy, lengthy, and sometimes crude. The typical prayers of American Protestantism are all too often of the “gimme” type. They imply that God is something of a Santa Claus and that every day is Christmas. Some prayers are complaints about the shortcomings of parishioners; some are a sort of report to God about planetary conditions. Others are largely advice to God on how to run things.

Probably few thinking people believe that prayer changes the facts of nature. God, the dominant phase of the universe, having ordained that a colt must be younger than its mother, cannot change that fact. Prayer will not deliver groceries to people marooned on a raft, or divert the course of a bullet, or cure the common cold. Prayer should be subjective, and while it may not change God or nature, it may change ourselves. Psychology of religion gives us a broader conception of prayer than was formerly held.

In one sense, prayer is something of a battleground of the spirit. Perhaps the head pulls one way and the heart another. A decision must be made. The problem is the old one of want to do this; ought to do that. The struggle is prayer. We take ourselves in hand and say, “This is rationalization. This is the wistful thinking. This is emotional drive, not reasoned thinking.” But still a decision must be reached. Thus, in this battleground of the spirit there are three steps: Decision (what is right or best); Resolution (to do what is right); and Execution (working to that end). In How Green Was My Valley, the minister says to the boy, “Don’t be afraid of prayer, lad, it is but another name for hard thinking.”

But prayer is also a process of self-analysis. Dr. Douglas Steere in a little book speaks of prayer as “a dip in acid.” He was talking about the kind of prayer that enables us to get away from ourselves and look critically at ourselves when we are praying. It is doubtful if any of us comes to know ourselves completely. But without prayer as self-analysis we live out our days as strangers to ourselves. Prayer that is self-analysis helps us discover in us trashy gossip, reckless criticism, hypocrisy, selfishness, hidden fears, and other defects. Hence, this kind of prayer is diagnostic. It is also therapeutic. It is this kind of prayer that sees the fault, provides resolutions to end such fault, and pushes for repairs. Not alien to this kind of prayer is gratitude for victory and aspiration for further victories.

But prayer is also a process through which we become acquainted with and often express our innermost desires. In this sense, it is a crisis process. Perhaps this is the most common form of prayer. The jockey trying to win a race, the poet struggling with rhyme and meter, the citizen facing a problem. Emerson said, “Be careful on what you set your heart. You are likely to achieve it.” Since all life is sacred, planning deliberate prayer as to our desires cleanses and motivates and makes us conscious that this life of ours is a trust…. It is well to give our ambitions an overhauling from time to time. To do so is prayer.

But prayer may also be a process of expressing thanks and appreciation. This kind of prayer need not necessarily be verbalized, and certainly there is no need to reduce it to gush. Some people see no beauty in the sea at first. The same is true of mountains, plains, deserts, music, painting, poetry, church, and people. Life is crowded with value, meaning, beauty, truth, and goodness.

To appreciate all these things, including people, we have to look for good in them, learn to appreciate them. As one renders thanks daily for the few things for which he is grateful, the list will grow until sometimes it is not inconceivable that he can embrace the whole world in his heart.

But, finally, prayer is also an adjustment to brute facts. Man’s environment is partially hostile, partially favorable and partially neutral. The things in nature and society that we cannot manipulate we call brute facts. We cannot do much about time, space, growing old, death, or the convulsions of nature. We can only partly control disease, poverty, births, floods, etc. To that which we cannot control we must adjust (as much as I dislike to use that word). The nicety and adequacy of a person’s adjustment to the inevitabilities of life is to some degree a measure of the soundness of his religion. When catastrophe comes, most people pray, though they have put off thinking about religion for years. They are likely to grab at any religion no matter how absurd. Wise people establish their religion before disaster comes. They identify brute facts and make adjustment to them before they are crushed by them.

With some, tragedy when piled on tragedy brings cynicism. He who has yielded to cynicism has failed, has permitted life to conquer him. There are certain tragic situations where all that is left are renunciation, resignation, perhaps hope, and a peace that passeth all understanding. Under certain tragic circumstances the words, “I accept” are the most beautiful of prayers, difficult though those words may be. There are times when action is not called for, but we must in quietness of spirit wait upon life.


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