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The People in the Pews at Ann Arbor

by Ronald R Johnson (

In the series of lectures Lloyd Douglas delivered at various universities as a representative of the YMCA, and in his “Sermonettes” in the Daily Illini (the student paper at the University of Illinois), we can glimpse Douglas’s emerging theology. There wasn’t a lot of meat to it yet, but one principle came through quite clearly: he believed that the new state universities were engaged in a day-to-day discovery of the truth.

Therefore, when he went back into active ministry in April/May 1915, it’s no coincidence that he accepted a call to be the Senior Minister at the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor, adjacent to the University of Michigan. And what an opportunity this was! Many of his parishioners were members of either the faculty or the administration of the university. The list below is from a booklet Douglas published for university students in the fall of 1916. It’s available online; you can view it by clicking the following link: L.C. Douglas, Congregationalism at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor: Michigan Congregational Conference/First Congregational Church, 1916).

Here are the members who were in some way connected to the university:

The booklet then went on to list the students who were members of the congregation, from sophomores through seniors, as well as graduate students. There were several hundred names.

I look at it this way: Lloyd Douglas did his best thinking at the typewriter. He always typed out his sermons, even though (by all reports) he delivered them extemporaneously rather than just reading them. As he typed, he was keenly aware of his audience. When he rehearsed his sermons, usually on Saturday afternoons, he must have crafted them with these people in mind: the faculty and administrators I’ve listed above, as well as the hundreds of students in the balcony. From his daughters’ testimony we know that, after the service on Sunday mornings, he and his wife and daughters would walk home without speaking, but as soon as they got home, he debriefed, telling his wife Besse the specific reactions he saw on his parishioners’ faces to this or that part of the sermon. (His daughters give us a vivid description of this in the opening chapter of their book, The Shape of Sunday: An Intimate Biography of Lloyd C Douglas (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1952).)

We also know that he was willing to change his mind, sometimes on very important matters, and that he usually did it by reflecting on something he himself had preached or published earlier. The progression followed this pattern: he would make a strong statement in a sermon or magazine article and then, on a later date, would disagree with that statement, sometimes even quoting what he had said on the earlier occasion, although he never told his audience that the person he was refuting was himself. He did this at a few key moments in his life, and (in my estimation) his later views were an improvement.

During his years at Ann Arbor, however, I believe we see this happening on a smaller, subtler scale. The years 1915-1921 were the core of Douglas’s education. He did some important thinking during this period, and he did it in full view of the faculty and administration of one of the Midwest’s most influential state universities. As he typed out his beliefs, he did so with this audience in mind, and when he delivered the message to them on Sunday morning, he was very tuned-in to their reactions, self-correcting as needed. The reactions of this audience were especially pertinent because he wasn’t just preaching the old, old gospel in the old, old way. He was trying to communicate the message of Jesus Christ to people on the cutting edge of twentieth century scholarship (both the sciences and the humanities) and bring it to bear on the lives they were actually living on weekdays. Although he was always trying to reach students, he now began to focus his energies especially on the faculty. They were the ones most on his mind as he prepared his sermons. (He told us this in his “Third Commandment” in an article called, “Ten Commandments for the College Church.” Click the link to see the article in full.) And by preaching to the faculty, he became more mature as a thinker and a representative of Jesus Christ to the modern world.

But he also knew he had a responsibility to reach the townspeople not involved with the university, and he did that, as well. I’ll tell you more in the next post.

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

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:

Ten Commandments for the “College” Church

by Ronald R Johnson (

Photo of University of Illinois campus from Jack A. Scanlan Scrapbook, 1907-1911, University of Illinois, Archives Research Center, RS 41/20/39. This is how the campus looked when Lloyd Douglas arrived in 1911.

Reprinted below is a humorous article by Lloyd C. Douglas published in the magazine, The Intercollegian, April 1919. During ten of his years as a minister, Douglas was on a university campus, first as the religious director of the YMCA at the University of Illinois (1911-1915), then as Senior Minister of the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor, adjacent to the University of Michigan (1915-1921).

Of particular note is the Tenth Commandment. Douglas had obviously run out of numbers, so he crammed several commandments into the last one. I especially like how he warns against asking big-name faculty members to teach Sunday School if their “spiritual thermostat” is below the freezing point.

The commandments are listed with Roman numerals:


I AM the Spirit of Christianity. Thou shalt have no other business but to promote me.

Thou shalt not squander thy time by offering dissertations upon Genesis as a text book on anthropology, biology, geology, astronomy, or any other ology or onomy appertaining to the heavens above or the earth beneath or the waters under the earth; thou shalt not bother thyself overmuch with philosophical explanations of strange matters concerning which thou knowest nothing; for I, the Spirit of Christianity, am now exercised more about other things; notably, the character of thy summons in behalf of lofty ideals and worthy living.


Thou shalt not specialize upon indictments of Organized Christianity because of its ancient mistakes, for they are amply able to speak for themselves without thy help, and thy task is to remedy such blunders rather than commemorate them.


Remember the Faculty and keep its respect. Students come and go, and their opinions are easily modified; but the Faculty Man stays, and likewise do his convictions. Let him once give thee a black eye, and thou shalt be thus adorned for some time. In him thou shalt invest much of thy time and thought, that his good opinion of thy motives and methods may be won, lest he consider thee out of harmony with Truth and intolerant of truth-seekers, whereupon he hooteth at thee in his lecture-hall, after the which thou mayest as well lock thy door and throw away the key thereof.


Honor the student traditions of thy university, however silly they may seem to thee, that thy days may be longer in the academic community wherein thou hast chosen to live thy life and perform thy work.


Thou shalt not scold.


Thou shalt not commit sectarianism.


Thou shalt not bawl out the fraternities.


Thou shalt not cause thy most loyal students to flunk their courses by spending too much time scouring thy pots and pans, engineering thy pop-corn festivals, lest they evermore think of thee as one doth regard the tailor who built him the ill-fitting pants.


Thou shalt not covet university credits for thy courses in religion.


Thou shalt not covet the instructor’s right to consider it unprofessional to be interesting; thou shalt not toady to the professor who knifeth thee in the back after thou hast caused him to be made toastmaster of a student banquet within thy gates, nor ask them to teach thy classes in Bible study who, though they have large names and many letters affixed thereunto, register less than 32 degrees on their spiritual thermostat; thou shalt not covet the student’s slang, airs, dress, indifference, cold-bloodedness, or any other thing that undignifies thee and nullifies thy usefulness and causeth him to thrust his tongue in his cheek when he passeth thee by.

[These “commandments” may be of interest also – and profit – to Association Secretaries and other Christian workers in academic communities. – Edit.]

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