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Are You a Man? Then Read This

by Ronald R Johnson (

In January 1908, Lloyd Douglas began a series of Sunday afternoon lectures designed specifically for men. The Lancaster Eagle reported him saying that “there are many men in the city who have nowhere to go on Sunday afternoon, and who would be glad to avail themselves of the opportunity to spend an hour hearing good music and a sermon-lecture of a popular nature.” If this seems unlikely, bear in mind that most public places were closed on Sundays, and this was the dead of winter. The Gazette added Douglas’s suggestion that there were some men “who may find it more convenient to attend a church service on Sunday afternoon than at the regular hours of service, and who might be more inclined to attend a men’s meeting than one designed for a mixed audience.” The day before the first meeting, the Eagle said that there would be a large male chorus led by “Prof. E. R. Barrington, the noted baritone of Columbus.”

To help spread the word about these meetings, Douglas had the following cards printed, which were handed out to men on the street. The first page was really a half-page, and the man to whom it was handed was invited to flip open the page:

Although it’s hard to believe that anyone would take the time to do this, apparently some men did, perhaps because they were intrigued. They stopped “within” (probably the church) and were given a flyer describing the upcoming meetings:

Then they went outside and handed the “Are You a Man?” card to the next male who passed by.

(This was just the kind of thing Douglas loved, by the way: one person not affiliated with the church handing an invitation to someone equally a stranger to the church. He used something similar years later in his novel, Green Light, when Dean Harcourt of Trinity Cathedral would have a counseling session with a woman who was not a churchgoer, then, on her way out, ask her to introduce the next person who had come for counseling.)

This passing-of-the-cards technique, although interesting, was not the primary way that Douglas got the word out; he also prepared a number of press releases in the days leading up to the meetings, and the local papers ran them. He doesn’t seem to have run any paid advertisements; he didn’t need to. The articles raised enough interest on their own.

When the first meeting was held on Sunday, January 5, 1908, at 3:15 pm at the First English Lutheran Church in Lancaster, Ohio, the Eagle reported it as “the largest assemblage of men ever seen in a Lancaster church edifice… beyond all expectations, the seating capacity of the church auditorium being overtaxed, even the gallery of the church which has not been occupied for many months had to be thrown open and was well filled… It was an inspiring sight to see such a large audience of intellectual men and thrilling to hear the songs as they were rendered by that multitude of male voices.” Another paper (presumably the Gazette) declared the event “a great success” and counted “about four hundred men in attendance.”

Douglas told the story of Esau and his brother Jacob from a man’s perspective. He called Jacob “a mama’s boy.”

“To me,” he said, “one of the most unfortunate mistakes parents can make in their attitude toward their children is to single out one or two and to treat them as favorites.

“I have heard it said many a time, and so have you:

“‘Yes, Jimmy is mama’s boy. Johnny and Billy and Annie and Susie all run after their father but Jimmy is mama’s boy, ain’t you Jimmy?’

“And Jimmy replies truthfully and awkwardly that the allegation is correct.”

“I see a future for Jimmy that is neither bright nor dim – just a sweet twilight. People will say of Jimmy to their own sons:

“‘See here, Thomas, why don’t you keep clean, and play in the house, and say “Yes, ma’am,” and “If you please” like Jimmy does?’

“And so all the boys will come to hate Jimmy…”

Jacob’s brother Esau, on the other hand, “was a born sportsman. As a boy he wandered the fields with his bow and knife. No tent for him. He belonged to the sunshine, and he meant to live in it.”

And with this down-to-earth introduction, Douglas told the story of Jacob cheating his brother out of his birthright. I can’t say I’ve ever heard the story told the way Douglas told it, but it must’ve held the attention of the four hundred men sitting shoulder-to-shoulder that day, for the following week one of the papers said that the church “lacked seating capacity for the large audience that attended,” and another paper reported “one hundred more” in attendance than the previous week.

His messages continued to defy prediction. From the story of Judas Iscariot, for example, he extracted the unusual question, “What do you think about when you’re alone?… What are you thinking about when you take that long walk by yourself out into the country and sit down on some hilltop to survey the landscape?” In reply to his own question, he said, “Show me a stenographic report of five minutes’ meditation up there, and I believe I can tell you what kind of a man you are.”

From the New Testament story of Ananias and Sapphira, he ended up talking about what happens when you let your insurance policy lapse, and then he used that as a metaphor to explain why he thought deathbed confessions were useless.

The fourth and final Sunday he preached on “The Failure of a Loan and Trust Company,” which turned out to be about the Parable of the Talents.

As one of the local papers remarked, “Men of every church in the city have united heartily in these meetings and there have been many men in attendance who have no regular church homes. Perhaps it has been the stirring music, perhaps the peculiar nature of the addresses, perhaps the mere novelty of a service distinctly for men – that has brought forth all this enthusiasm, but whatever it is, the audiences are so large that it has become quite a problem to accommodate them in the church…”

Another unusual feature of the series was the fact that each sermon was printed in full, a day or two later, by one of the local papers.

After the fourth week, as the newspapers noted, Douglas stopped the afternoon meetings but promised to continue the series “at the regular Sunday evening services to which everybody is invited. During the month of February he will deliver sermon-lectures on the theme, ‘Mistakes of Great Men,’ and it is safe to predict that the church will be filled at each service.”

The newspapers reported that he was, indeed, “greeted with a full house” the next Sunday evening, and later in the month “the church was crowded to its utmost capacity” for the evening service – this despite the fact that the United Churchmen’s League of Lancaster, using the momentum caused by Douglas’s afternoon meetings, held a series of its own afternoon lectures for men in the city hall auditorium throughout the month of February. Speakers from around the region (Columbus, Dayton) were invited, and attendance was good at those events, too.

What’s significant about this is that Douglas’s afternoon lectures raised enough interest to sustain not only his own evening services but also a continuation of the men’s meetings, even in his absence. But no one forgot the role he played in getting the men’s meetings started, and when he was invited back to give another lecture at the United Churchmen’s League a few weeks later, the minister who introduced him called him “the godfather” of the afternoon men’s meetings. (This means something very different in our day, thanks to Francis Ford Coppola. They weren’t comparing Douglas to a mafia boss; they were recognizing his important role in getting the meetings started.)

The United Churchman’s League meetings quickly became focused on civic and moral (rather than religious) issues, and when Douglas addressed them a few weeks later, he used the opportunity to push for a more systematic board of charities for the city. The newspaper accounts say that he was interrupted numerous times by applause, and when he asked, at the conclusion, how many would support the board of charities, they gave him a standing ovation.

All of this shows how highly Douglas was regarded in Lancaster by Spring 1908, but there is one more subtle display of admiration that he did not fail to miss. While the “Are You a Man?” card is pasted into the inside front cover of his 1908-1909 scrapbook, he gave the scrapbook a wonderful symmetry by pasting this advertisement to the inside back cover. It was from a local shoe store:

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

Moving Up In the World

by Ronald R Johnson (

When the young Lloyd Douglas and his wife Besse moved from North Manchester, Indiana to Lancaster, Ohio in the summer of 1905, it seemed like they had stepped into a larger world. The towns were a little over 200 miles apart, but the life that Lancaster offered them had many more opportunities.

For one thing, the people in North Manchester had known Douglas as a boy; despite his drive and energy, it was hard for him to recreate himself. Lancaster gave him a fresh start, and he took advantage of it.

North Manchester was a town of 2,500 people; Lancaster had 10,000 residents, and it was a little less than 40 miles southeast of Columbus, the state capital. Although the map below shows how the area looks today, with highways that didn’t exist at the time, we can still see that it was a more populous area with many more social opportunities than Douglas had had in Indiana.

Speaking of social opportunities, when Douglas was installed as pastor at the First English Lutheran Church in Lancaster, the guest speaker was Frank Garland, Synod President and pastor of a large Lutheran Church in Dayton. Douglas did a fine job of networking while in Lancaster, but Garland himself ended up being an extremely helpful contact, as we will see later.

One family in particular formed lifelong bonds with Douglas: the Vorys Family. Arthur, the father, had an important position in state government, and his four sons learned a lot from Douglas in their catechism classes with him. Arthur went on to form a law firm with three other partners, and his son Webb Vorys took leadership of the firm a generation later. The firm is still active today.

During his time at Lancaster, Douglas was approached by Milton Valentine, the editor of the Lutheran Observer, to write articles for that paper. Douglas didn’t just honor the editor’s request; he wrote articles that stood out.

While in Lancaster, Besse gave birth to their two daughters, Betty and Virginia.

Douglas ramped up his public speaking, crisscrossing the region to give graduation addresses and other speeches. At his own church, he started an innovative Men’s Group that brought in a younger crowd. He spoke at the nearby YMCA (when it was still largely a religious institution) and became a favorite among the young men there. He was even instrumental in getting the city of Lancaster to create its first hospital.

It was just the kind of place that gave Douglas a chance to show what he could do. Over the next several posts, I’ll go into more detail about his accomplishments there.

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

Greatness Trying to Break Out

by Ronald R Johnson (

“Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”

That was the text of Lloyd Douglas’s sermon at Grace Lutheran Church in Muscatine, Iowa (USA), sometime in the spring or summer of 1905. They were considering calling him as pastor, and they ended up doing so; but he turned them down. He was on his way to bigger and better things than they could offer him in small-town Iowa.

His sermon topic, taken from John 1:46, says it all. He had spent the last two years as the pastor of another small-town church in North Manchester, Indiana, and he was ready for a break-out.

“Nazareth,” he said, “is for us whatever fetters and binds. It may be a town; it may be poverty; may be disease; may be the one black stain on the escutcheon of a family. Nazareth may be a long vista of years when education was denied; may be an occupation, hated and scorned.”

It was an odd choice of topic, for he was speaking to people in a little town in Iowa, and for Douglas, who had always hoped to make his mark on the larger society, this place was a backwater. It’s strange that he even accepted the invitation, knowing that it was for the purpose of calling him to be their pastor. But it’s even stranger that he stood before them and hinted that they were living in a modern-day Nazareth. He was always trying to reach young people, and it almost seems like he was saying to some imaginary boy or girl in the pews, “Don’t lose hope. I grew up like you, but I’m moving on… and so can you!” His sermon was not aimed at those who were complacent; it was meant for the restless ones in his audience – people just like himself.

For even though he did (for whatever reason) make the trip back to Iowa (he had served as a student pastor at a church in Des Moines in 1902), he was even at that moment being wooed by another congregation in Lancaster, Ohio. This, too, was a small-town church, but it was close to Columbus (a larger metropolitan area that was also the state capital), and it was growing. Douglas wanted to contribute to that growth. But until he got a solid offer from Lancaster, he felt he needed to keep the poor souls of Muscatine, Iowa, on the hook. And that is the only reason I can give for the fact that he was now, on this Friday evening, preaching to them about how boring it was to “come from Nazareth.”

But whatever his listeners thought the sermon meant, or however they might have applied his message to their own lives, it is clear how Douglas applied it to himself. He had been born and raised in Nazareth, but he was determined to get out of it, one way or another. And so this rather odd sermon was a sort of Declaration of Independence, even if nobody who heard it on that occasion knew what he really meant.

He concluded with a note of warning – whether to himself or to his hearers is not clear. He said, “There are responsibilities attached to any departure from Nazareth. The reconstruction of environment brings added capabilities and commensurate burdens. The road leading from Nazareth may pass the cross.”

Be that as it may, he was ready to go; and a short time later, he did, for he was offered the job in Lancaster and moved there in the summer of 1905. But the two years he had just spent in North Manchester were not wasted, for even though he was restless to leave such humble surroundings, his work in that little town had already shown signs of his future greatness.

[The sermon discussed above is described in an undated newspaper clipping on p. 31 of Scrapbook 1 in Box 5 of Douglas’s private papers at the Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan. The sermon was entitled, “Environment: Its Limitations and Possibilities.”]

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

The Early Years of Douglas’s Ministry

by Ronald R Johnson (

Lloyd Douglas attended seminary at Hamma Divinity School, Wittenberg College, in Springfield, Ohio (USA). During his final year of study (1902-1903), he was Associate Pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Des Moines, Iowa.

Before he graduated from seminary in Spring, 1903, he already had his first job lined up: in January, Zion Lutheran Church of North Manchester, Indiana, extended a call to him, asking him to begin his ministry with them in May. He had come to guest preach in October of the previous year. Here is a flyer about his upcoming visit, from his earliest scrapbook, p. 15, in the Lloyd C Douglas Papers, Box 5. A note in his handwriting says, “Found the town of N. Manchester full of these things when I came to apply once while in school.”

North Manchester was virtually home for Douglas. He was born in Columbia City, just 23 miles away, and his father and mother, Rev. and Mrs. A. J. Douglas, were currently living in Columbia City. A. J., who had been an educator and a judge before becoming a minister, was so well respected in that region that a section of the Columbia City Library was dedicated to him. This was not just a homecoming for Lloyd Douglas; he was coming back as a favored son.

The map below shows these two towns and their proximity to Fort Wayne:

While homecomings can be good, they can also be bad, especially for an ambitious young man like Douglas. He wanted to break loose from both his rural background and his upbringing, and he hoped to become known out in the world.

He was pastor at Zion Lutheran for two years, leaving in August, 1905, to serve the English Lutheran Church in Lancaster, Ohio. It was in Lancaster, over the next four years, that young Lloyd Douglas made a name for himself within his denomination.

He distinguished himself in three ways: as a pastor, as a speaker, and as a writer.

As a pastor: He spread his wings as a minister, building a following that extended beyond the doors of his church to the community at large.

As a speaker: Douglas traveled by train to other cities and established a reputation as an orator, especially popular with young people.

As a writer: He became a frequent contributor to The Lutheran Observer, submitting pieces that were relevant, provocative, and quotable.

His rise was so quick, in fact, that in the summer of 1909, after being a minister for only six years, he was offered the chance of a lifetime: the opportunity to be Senior Minister at Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington, DC.

Over the next several months, I will talk in more detail about the steps that led him so quickly to such an exalted position within his denomination. But I will begin with those first two years in a small town in Indiana.

Here is an interior shot of Zion Lutheran Church as it appeared in 1903, also from p. 15 of his first scrapbook. The upper left corner shows the church’s exterior:

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