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Briefly Presbyterian

by Ronald R Johnson (

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.

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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: