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Douglas: A.M. Degree Means ‘Amused Myself’

by Ronald R Johnson (

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.”

He continues:

“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.

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

What Do You Want for Christmas?

woman with christmas gifts beside decorated fir tree
Photo by Laura James on

by Ronald R Johnson (

Quotable Quotes from Lloyd C. Douglas

From a sermon entitled, “What Do You Want for Christmas?” preached at the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor, Michigan, on Sunday, December 14, 1919:

How would a wish like this strike you? To wish for some added grace of character that would make people love you, not for anything you had on, or for the house you happened to live in, or the material possessions you were known to command, but just because you are you.

So that, if the clothes go out of style, or the moth eats them up, or the house burns down, or panic upsets business, and rust corrodes your machinery – you will still be possessed of a grace of character that will make people respect you, and have confidence in you, and be glad when you come into the room where they are, and sorry when you leave.

The ability to wake up every morning with a smile and go to sleep every night with peace of mind and satisfaction of heart.

How would you like a gift that would ensure your happiness, in all kinds of weather; that would hold you independent of the inroads of little disappointments – a sort of perpetual guarantee against despair and dissatisfaction?

Somehow, I believe that if we might today choose, for a Christmas gift, absolutely anything we really wanted, to last us for life, this gift that I have been talking about would meet the demand.

Well, you may have it! Take it, and welcome.

Lloyd C Douglas, “What Do You Want for Christmas?” in Lloyd C. Douglas Papers, Sermons [4], Box 3, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

Seems like an abrupt ending, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t he have invited his listeners to come to Christ in that moment? But that was never his way. Douglas was always careful not to “stampede” people (his word) into making a commitment while under the emotional influence of the architecture, the music, and (yes) his own God-given eloquence. He wanted his listeners to continue thinking about it after the service was over, and to hear his question ringing in their ears above the noise of traffic as they headed home. If they truly didn’t know the next step, then he hoped they’d make an appointment with him to discuss it. But he trusted his material (the sermon he had been given) to continue doing its work after it was over.

So here it is, a hundred years later, still doing its work. What do you want for Christmas?

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