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The Musical Side of Lloyd C Douglas

by Ronald R Johnson (

Lloyd Douglas was not only a minister and writer but also a musician. While he was in college and divinity school, he earned money through a number of part-time jobs, one of them being church organist. And when he was a student pastor in Des Moines, Iowa, during his last year of seminary, this notice was printed in the local paper:

“A pleasant surprise was experienced by many of the members of St. John’s Lutheran church yesterday morning, when on entering the sanctuary they found themselves confronted by a large chorus choir, whose organization has been quietly under way for some time. When Rev. L. C. Douglass, [sic] assistant pastor of the church, came to the city this spring it was hinted that inasmuch as he was a trained musician the musical end of the religious services would in the future be greatly strengthened. Those who expected this have not been disappointed. The new choir as organized by Mr. Douglass has fifteen voices and more are being added.”

During his first year of his first pastorate, in North Manchester, Indiana, the church newsletter ran this piece:

“We need a dozen good singers to lead the music in Sunday-school. We also need some violins, cornets, and clarinets, to give strength and vigor to our songs. Speak to your musical friend about it.”

Note that this was just for the Sunday School; not for the service. He was even more serious about the music for the service. A few weeks later, this was included in the church newsletter:

“You may have noticed that no announcements have been made from the pulpit for several weeks. We are happy that our conditions are such now that permit us to worship through the whole service without a single issue proposing itself to distract our minds from our devotion. On the first page of this paper may be found the announcement of every service for the week. By looking over this ‘Calendar’ occasionally, you will be able to note all the coming meetings of the church auxiliaries, and remember them more distinctly than if they had been read on Sunday from the pulpit.”

This was a practice that Douglas would insist upon throughout his ministerial career: no announcements during the worship service. The reason for this was his belief that, once people stepped inside the sanctuary, the architecture, the music, and everything that was said from the pulpit should draw their spirits upward. Nothing should be allowed to bring them crashing down abruptly – certainly nothing as trifling as an announcement about the upcoming Bake Sale.

Of all the places he ministered, the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor was the one in which he most nearly achieved his ideal.

First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor

He was able to secure the services of Earl V Moore, the University of Michigan’s Organist-in-Residence, as the Music Director of First Congregational Church, and together they created a service of worship that people called “symphonic.” He tried to describe it in the book version of Wanted: A Congregation (Chicago: Christian Century Press, 1920). Here is just a brief passage in which he talks about the opening of the service (pp. 206-207):

“That organ prelude… should be one of the most significant events of the service. People come in from the racket of traffic on the streets. They have been shouted at, and assaulted with all manner of raucous and discordant noises, all the week. They should be given a chance to relax and consult their own souls. Not only should they be given this opportunity, but they should be furnished with an incentive! They ought not be overpowered with a great noise – a thunderous blare of metallic clamor. This organ selection should begin with an impassioned tug at the heart-strings. By easy stages, it should woo the spirit up on higher ground, growing in volume, almost imperceptibly, until, near its close, it seems to be building up toward some definite action. The people must be filled with a desire to express themselves.

“Without a pause… the organist will modulate into the score of the opening hymn. Just think of the effect of it… the organ piling harmony upon harmony, higher, richer, fuller, until in one great, triumphant chord, it peals out the majestic measures of ‘O God, the Rock of Ages’ or ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ or ‘Our God Our Help in Ages Past.’ And the choir comes to its feet, and the congregation rises as one man – and then they sing!”

He had much more to say on this subject, but this is enough for tonight. No wonder the faculty and staff – and even the students – filled his Ann Arbor church to capacity. I know I’d wait in line to get into a service like that.

For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below:

Having Reserves on Hand

by Ronald R Johnson (

At the beginning of Douglas’s first career scrapbook is a newspaper clipping about the earliest sermon I can find. It’s undated, but it was sometime during 1902, when he was serving as Assistant Pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Des Moines, Iowa, during his last year of seminary.

Already at this stage in his preparation for ministry, he is drawing on examples from the technology of the time to make commonsense observations about both spiritual life and psychology. This sermon also demonstrates his powerful use of language and his ability to recognize objections that people might have about the text, and to answer them well.

His subject was the Parable of the Virgins, and his text was Matthew 25:4, “But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.”

The newspaper clipping states that he “showed how the parable ends in a dissatisfying way to those who do not read what precedes and what follows. The apparent selfishness of the five who entered into the wedding feast allowing their less fortunate sisters to stand outside vanishes when the lesson is applied which the Teacher wished to present.”

Commenting on the phrase, “He shall come like a thief in the night,” Douglas said, “Like the swift agony of fire in a sleeping city. Like the spring of a wild thing as you walk through the quiet glades of a forest. Like all great trials, now and forever, exactly when you least expect them. Then [Christ] foresees how there will be a division of them that spring up to meet the demands of the new day. How some of them will have the reserves of light and life – and the power to hold right on to the end; while others, not having these reserves, will be obliged to give up and lose their place – to submit to the loss and stand outside. . . .  We must have something to fall back on when the trial comes or we can never spring forward to any great purpose.”

He continued: “The physician insists that the best thing possible is to keep on hand a supply of reserve power to assist when he comes to help you through your battle between life and death. Here then is the first meaning of oil in my vessel with my lamp. It lies in my very life.” But Douglas said that the oil can also represent reserves of character.

“Character, like the flywheel to the engine, by its sheer weight carries its possessor through otherwise impossible strains. It may be heavy. In the initial revolutions of this great life cycle, it may seem like an impediment, but when the pulleys of adversity and trouble are coupled on by the belts which lie waiting to bind them to the motor of every human life, then character, the flywheel, carries the reserve power within itself necessary to withstand the strain.

“I wonder if there are not many of us here who have neglected this matter of attaching a flywheel to the engine we strive to keep running. The adversities to which we are coupled – the sorrows we are obliged to have belted to us, the temptations that seem so heavy – all grind the very bearings out of our lives, because we have not made provision for them. There is no great wheel, by whose giant weight the heavy, dragging machinery of human events may be kept in motion. The power required comes direct from the primal force: no assistance, no reserve.”

“Faith, hope and love,” Douglas said, “are the most powerful allies to employ in this reservation, this conservation of force.” Those without faith, he said, cannot be given it when needed, any more than the wise virgins could give their reserves of oil to the foolish ones. But: “Millions have met the same troubles, but have risen through their reserves into the very light and life of God.

“No disaster has overcome them utterly; no trial broken them clear down; no matter that the heavens were black as midnight, except for the pain of it, the reserves were there, and they drew on them till the last and went in to the joy of the Lord.

“Now is the time to store away reserve power! Not when the herald announces the coming of the bridegroom; not after the shopkeepers have closed their stores and gone home to bed; not when the storms of adversity have concentrated their forces for a sudden attack, and come sweeping along the cold and barren crag of an empty life, leaving grief and desolation in their wake; not when the sands of life have run to their last grain, and the blinds are drawn to prepare for death—now is the accepted time.

“Oh, for some new added function of the conscience which could strike the hours as do the clocks, warning us that time is drawing shorter and urging the necessity of preparation.

“Oh! for some indicator attached to the soul that would point to burning figures of fire and show how low or how high was the reserve force. Reserve power! And then, when it is yours to go, when the trials of life have been passed successfully, when the adversities to which men are subject no longer claim you for their victim, then only one more earthly act remains for you, and that, the glorious pilgrimage out of this world and into the Courts on High you will go with lamp trimmed and burning.

“And it will abide! As it lighted your pathway here; as it was the lode star in the firmament of your life; so it will illumine your voyage across the Dark Stream, shining brighter and brighter until it is eclipsed by the glorious rays of the Sun of Righteousness.”

For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below:

Praying from the Pulpit As If Ordering Pork Chops from the Butcher

by Ronald R Johnson (

In the summer and fall of 1920, Lloyd Douglas published a series of articles in Christian Century magazine called, “Wanted – A Congregation.” The series was aimed at ministers who were discouraged because they had low attendance at their church services. Throughout his life, Douglas was blessed with well-attended churches. In fact, while he was at the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor, the congregation voted to build a new structure because there was not enough room for the crowds that wanted to hear him. He published this series during his tenure at that church.

The passage quoted below is from the 5th article in the series: “Wanted – A Congregation, Fifth Phase – Making Worship Worshipful,” published in the Christian Century on September 9, 1920:

“We preachers have become dreadfully poor psychologists. There is an instinctive heart-hunger for the mystical in worship that we have been unable to satisfy with our crude, bungling attempts at ritual and the rasping dissonances of the alleged music rendered by our untrained choirs. There has been entirely too much extemporaneous and ill-considered matter introduced into our ‘services of worship.’ Our ‘free’ pulpit prayers, for example, have been so very free that they jar unpleasantly on the sensitive ear of the naturally devout. Indeed, our public prayers are filled with impertinences that are only saved from being blasphemous by the fact that we know not what we do. We pick up disgusting tricks of addressing The Absolute in terms of a contemptuous familiarity. How often one hears preachers mouthing that raucous phrase whose vogue the reverential fail to comprehend, ‘Now, Lord, just send us’ – whatever-it-is – in the same inflection one uses when telephoning the butcher, ‘Now, Sam, just send us a few lean pork-chops, this time, can’t you? No; no sausage, today, thank you. Yes – that will be all, Sam. Thanks – very much!’

“Now, this will not do! Some of us have been wondering what is the matter with our churches; and some of us have been berating the generation for its godlessness. Many of us may find, upon investigation, that we have disgusted our potential constituency with our unwitting want of reverence. Many a sensitive man would greatly prefer to take a book of essays with him to a shady bend in the river, on Sunday morning, than attend our church; whereas his whole soul cries out for a much closer contact with the divine than he can achieve by his communion with nature. But – it is a great deal better for that man’s spiritual welfare that he should go out, Sunday morning, and watch the river, than to go to some church where the music is so ugly it positively frightens one, and the preacher talks to the Great Unseen as if he were chaffing with his next-door neighbor over the back fence. Let it be repeated – this will not do! We who have been committing these serious blunders must mend our ways!”

From “Wanted – A Congregation, Fifth Phase – Making Worship Worshipful,” Christian Century, September 9, 1920, Volume 37, Number 37, pp. 14-17.

For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below:

A Prayer for Insight

by Ronald R Johnson (

Lloyd Douglas wrote out the prayers he uttered in worship, because he did not want to make them up on the spur of the moment. They were meant to be thought-provoking, as well as to lead the congregation in prayer. Here is one of them, reprinted in The Living Faith, p. 299:

We beseech Thee to make known to us more and more clearly each day the duties we are expected to perform if we are to fulfill our destiny. We plead for that serenity of spirit which trusts confidently that Thy will may and must and can be done on earth as it is done in heaven.

For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below:

Instead of Counting Sheep

by Ronald R Johnson (

This is from a sermon entitled, “Cross Country with a New Idea,” preached in Montreal on January 26, 1930. You can find it in The Living Faith, pp. 134-143:

Sometimes, late in the night, when sleep is tardy, instead of counting imaginary sheep jumping over a fence – which, for some reason, never did me any good, no matter how many sheep kept coming – I close my eyes and permit myself to be dizzied by great crowds of hurrying people.

Now I am standing on a corner in Munich – near the Rathaus – crowds – I can see them hurrying to the day’s work. Now I am standing on a corner in Naples – more crowds.

I skip about in fancy, from city to city – letting the rushing crowds bewilder me.

Now I am at the edge of the sweeping current of humanity on Champs Elysees – now on the Strand – now on Fifth Avenue – now on Michigan Boulevard – now on St. Catherine –

Now I am letting myself be milled about in great stations – Paddington, St. Lazare, Grand Central, Windsor –

Oh these highways!

What a diversity of interests travel over them! What an ocean of major and minor tragedies sweep over them! Not just once in awhile; but ever and always – by day and by night. . . .

For the Life of the Spirit has a hard struggle on the highways – in the congested cities – where, for so many, many thousands, there is all too little chance for quiet moments – for undisturbed attention to the still, small voice; where the rasp of steel flange against steel rails, and the rat-a-tat-tat of rivet hammers, and the grind of gears hurl the weight of their raucous racket against us until, for sheer self-preservation, we erect neural defenses against them – and literally wall ourselves in.

How many thousands of people these days have just been tramped on and walked over and ridden over – and over – by the crushing loads of economic burdens and an assortment of little tragedies – until the Great Idea can’t get through to where they are. High time we Christians prayed:

Oh Master – from the mountain-side,

Make haste to heal these hearts of pain;

Among these restless throngs abide;

O tread the city’s streets again.

For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below:

The Church Could Lead the Way to Serenity… But Won’t

by Ronald R Johnson (

Quotable Quotes from Lloyd C. Douglas

From “Nonconformity,” Atlantic Monthly, March 1928, pp. 306-317:

Beyond question, the greatest need in contemporary American life is for the recovery of a lost serenity. The churches have the capacity, but not the disposition, to meet that demand. No other institution has either the disposition or the capacity. . . .

In its unadulterated form, Christianity is as quiet as yeast. Its energy is that of catalysis. No distinction could have accrued to Jesus had he shouted, ‘Join me, and we will go to war!’ He set his cultus apart from every other inspirational appeal when he said, ‘Come unto me… and I will give you rest.’ This is an alluring promise; never more so than now. It is strange that the churches, possessed of an inducement so intriguing to the human imagination, and maintained in their exclusive keeping, should have it stowed away, preferring to fill their windows with poor imitations of such gaudy delectables as other institutions are infinitely better equipped to display and distribute. It is an incomprehensible state of mind that leads our churches to conceal the one benefit of which they have an undisputed and enviable monopoly.

For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below: