Briefly Presbyterian

by Ronald R Johnson (www.ronaldrjohnson.com)

When Lloyd Douglas resigned as pastor of Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington, DC, he had already made up his mind to change denominations. A year later, he did so. In a handwritten note on one of the pages of his 1909-1915 scrapbook, he wrote:

“On September 18, 1912, in a telegram to… the president of the Maryland Synod [of the Lutheran Church in America], I formally severed my connection with that Body and was unanimously elected on that same day to membership in the Presbytery of Bloomington [Illinois]…”

There is also a printed report of meeting minutes, stating that Douglas was received into the fold.

But other than teaching a Sunday School class for university students at a Presbyterian congregation in Champaign, he never actually served in the Presbyterian Church.

As I survey his career, I believe it was his plan all along to be a Congregationalist. As early as 1909, when he was a Lutheran pastor in Lancaster, Ohio, he was invited to lunch with Dr. Washington Gladden, the esteemed pastor of the First Congregational Church of Columbus.

Dr. Washington Gladden

Rev. Gladden was one of the leading social gospel preachers of his day. We catch a glimpse of just how highly he was respected when we read the letter of invitation from E. Lee Howard (dated July 14, 1909). It says, in part:

“It is the custom of the little coterie of Congregational ministers to gather informally in Dr. Gladden’s study every Monday at 11:30 o’clock, for an hour of good fellowship, after which we go to luncheon together. The Doctor is home this month, although several of the fellows are away. The Doctor is exceedingly cordial in his greeting to young ministers, and he was interested in the account which I gave of you the Monday after your address at Kenton. You will enjoy an hour with him very much, and if you will meet me at the Neil House at 11:30, we will go from there to the study in the church.”

How formal! “The Doctor”! “You will enjoy it very much”! And yet this must have cheered young Douglas a great deal, to be invited into this highly-cultured group of men (“the fellows”) and accepted as one of them. The visit itself was undocumented. We don’t know what happened. But the event must have made an impression on him, for in his final months as a Lutheran pastor (late 1910-early 1911), when he was already planning his next career move, he sent two article submissions to The Congregationalist and Christian World, a bi-weekly magazine. Both were immediately published. In the second one, the editor inaccurately referred to Douglas as “a Washington (DC) Congregational minister.”

Years later, he said that his work at the University of Illinois put him in touch with Congregationalists, although it’s not clear what he meant by that, since the YMCA introduced him to leaders from a wide variety of denominations and he had already made connections with Congregationalists. While in Champaign-Urbana, he continued to send article submissions to The Congregationalist and Christian World, and at some point (I’ve been unable to determine exactly when) he became good friends with Dr. Carl Patton, who was pastor of the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor (adjacent to the University of Michigan) from 1900 to 1911.

Given all this, I’m not sure why he joined the Bloomington Presbytery. It did allow him to “sever” his relationship with the Lutheran Church while remaining a licensed minister, and perhaps he knew that Congregational search committees would accept a Presbyterian candidate. Especially since this happened at the same time that he taught Sunday School at the new McKinley Memorial Presbyterian Church – the erection of which was a pet project of Thomas Arkle Clark, who was one of the faculty representatives on the YMCA Governing Board – it was probably just a good opportunity to change his affiliation. At any rate, Lloyd Douglas was briefly (and inconsequentially) a Presbyterian. Just a little trivia for you.

Early in 1915, the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor (where Carl Patton had been pastor for 11 years) extended a call to Douglas, and he accepted it. He remained a Congregational minister for the rest of his life.

His self-introduction at Ann Arbor was interesting, though. At Washington, DC, he had introduced himself to the press corps as a former reporter. The way he introduced himself to the people of Ann Arbor was quite different. It shows how much his experience in Champaign-Urbana had loosened him up and made him more humorous and nonchalant. I’ll tell you about that in the next post.

To receive a free PDF of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C. Douglas, fill out the form below:

Author: Ronald R Johnson

I am a Christian author and philosophy professor who speaks and writes about everyday spirituality. I also write funny, suspenseful novels that aren't philosophical or religious... or are they? Learn more at www.ronaldrjohnson.com.

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