by Ronald R Johnson (www.ronaldrjohnson.com)
By the Fall of 1914, Douglas had already stayed longer at the University of Illinois than his original contract had stipulated. He had agreed to give them three years (from Fall 1911 to Spring 1914). He ended up staying through the 1914 calendar year but left to be a pastor again in the early months of 1915.
In the months leading up to that move, he spoke to students at the University of Michigan a couple of times: first at a YWCA gathering (Y events were still segregated by gender) and then at a meeting sponsored by the university’s Student Christian Association (the SCA). The SCA event took place at the Majestic Theater in Ann Arbor. Although he was invited to speak to students, the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor had a pastoral vacancy and was interested in him – and he was interested in them. The bio he sent to the event organizers is fascinating in light of that situation. He wasn’t just aiming at students; he knew this bio would be his self-introduction to the search committee at the Congregational Church and, to some extent, also to the larger community.
His bio began as follows:
“Lloyd C. Douglas, age 37, able-bodied but not husky. Ran 100 yards in college but never went to Olympic games in consequence. Member Phi Gamma Delta – worked harder on that than on calculus. Also manager of Glee Club, which took much time which might otherwise have been squandered on logic. Also managing editor of college paper, during which administration it was thought to be a humorous sheet – typographically, at all events. Managed to corral a degree of A.M., meaning, in this case, ‘Amused Myself.'”
This first paragraph shows how much Douglas changed while at the University of Illinois. When he introduced himself to the Washington, DC press corps, he wisely portrayed himself as a fellow journalist in order to win their acceptance and get them to stop focusing on the scandal he had inherited at the church. But now he was much more relaxed. His bio was written for students, of course, but it’s also consistent with the new style of writing he had developed, first as the anonymous author of the “Zom” ads in the Daily Illini, then as the creator of the “Weekly Sermonettes” in the Illini, and then as the writer (again anonymously) of the “Pen Portraits of Prominent People” in the Siren. He wasn’t just amusing himself; lots of others found him amusing as well.
But the bio continues. After disarming his audience with humor, then he gets more serious:
“Was minister eight years, after two years’ experience as police reporter on two Ohio dailies. Also lectured sometimes at Chautaquas (does yet when hard up). Also wrote some magazine stuff of an ethico-homileticallian character.” Sermons, in other words.
He’s still tongue-in-cheek, but he’s also touting his resume. He’s vying for the job and being nonchalant at the same time. There’s more:
“Last church held was in Washington, D.C., within three blocks of White House, attended by several people identified by other characteristics than such attendance. Has personal acquaintance with two or three men whose names have appeared in newspapers from time to time. Was member of the National Press Club.”
He’s got an impressive record for one so young, and he’s not afraid to show it. But he’s still got that “no big deal” tone of voice. When he mentions the “two or three men whose names have appeared in newspapers from time to time,” he’s talking about Champ Clark, the Speaker of the House, and Charles Hillis, who was President William Howard Taft’s Special Assistant. He may also be throwing in Gifford Pinchot, the conservationist, who sent Douglas a letter of thanks after he said kind words about Pinchot in a sermon. At any rate, Douglas was letting the people of Ann Arbor know that he was well-connected, but that it was “no big deal.”
“Came to Illinois as religious work director in 1911 at the instance of John R. Mott.” In other words, the top man in the YMCA personally invited him.
“At the expiration of three years for which he had contracted, the local board asked him to stay as general secretary plus R. W. D. [Religious Work Director] This association is thought to have the largest paid membership of any student YMCA in the world.
“Has participated in evangelistic campaigns at universities of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Iowa Ag., Penn State, and Michigan, besides many colleges.”
This bio appeared in the Michigan Daily, the student newspaper of the University of Michigan. Yes, he wrote it for students; but he also made sure he laid out his substantial credentials for anyone else who might be listening. The headline says it all: “SCA SPEAKER HIS OWN PRESS AGENT/L. C. Douglas Who Addresses Sunday’s Meeting Writes Own Publicity.”
He got the job. During his six years as pastor of the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor (1915 to 1921), students packed the balcony, but professors and administrators were attracted to him, too. In fact, the church wasn’t big enough. They had to enlarge it.
I’ll tell you more about this very interesting congregation in my next post.
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