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Douglas’s Open Letters to the Shut-Ins

by Ronald R Johnson (

During his first pastorate at Zion Lutheran Church in North Manchester, Indiana (USA), Lloyd Douglas published a weekly newsletter. One of the notable features of the paper was a weekly editorial addressed specifically to the homebound members of his congregation. These open letters are fascinating because they are so tender, thoughtful, wise, and compassionate, while at the same time being pretentious, pompous, condescending, and preachy (coming as they do from a young man just out of seminary talking to people two or three times his age).

The article I am about to share with you is from The Church and Sunday-School, Published by Zion Lutheran Congregation, North Manchester, Indiana, Vol. 1, No. 2, September 11, 1903, p. 3. It’s in Douglas’s earliest scrapbook, p. 15, Box 5 of the Lloyd C Douglas Papers at the Bentley Historical Library.)

Do not think, dear brother or sister, that because you are afflicted, we have forgotten you. Our prayers ascend for you very often, and our hearts yearn for the time when you can be with us again. If some of us are so busy with toils and cares that we do not come to see you, do not take that to mean that we are not inquiring about you often and wishing best possible things for you. The church is doing splendidly; all the departments are taking on new life. Really, you would not recognize some of our auxiliaries, they have changed so. The prayer-meeting is becoming in favor with a great many people. The Sunday-school is witnessing an ingathering of some who had outgrown it years ago and are just now getting back. We are anxious to have you with us, but until you can come, will you do us the service of praying for the church and her work? On Wednesday evening, for instance, ask God to speak to those who are not housed up as you are, and tell them to go to His House and receive strength for better service.

The next week (Vol. 1, No. 3, September 18, 1903), he wrote this on pp. 3-4:

Dear afflicted one—we are still missing you. You wish that you might come to our services, and we wish, too, that you might. You will be happy when we tell you that we are on the high road to prosperity. Do you remember the little handful of people who used to come to Prayer-meeting? Well, we have doubled, and trebled our number. Just at present we are having Bible Readings. Look up the topic for Wednesday Evening in the Calendar, and find all the Scripture references you can on that subject—just so you will feel that you are having a part in our work. Know how to do that? Here is an example: Next Wednesday evening the topic is ‘Baptism.’ Find some verse relating to Baptism—John 3:5. In the verse you will find a letter that refers you to a marginal reference. Find this letter in the margin and it will refer you to Mark 16:16. Read that verse and discover a clue to other verses on the subject. This is systematic Bible study. You will be greatly helped by it. Do not forget to pray for others in affliction. No matter how distressed you are, you will always find someone who is worse off than yourself. Let your prayer for your own happiness be made in humble submission. Ask God to remove your affliction, if it is His Will, and if not His Will, to give you Divine Grace for your trials, that you may bear them.

In Vol. 1, No. 6, October 9, 1903, p. 3, he said,

Dear Friend: We are confident that you were thinking very seriously last Sunday morning while your brothers and sisters in the church were gathering about the altar to receive the ‘Broken Body’ and ‘Shed Blood’ of the Savior. We wished you, too, might have been with us, and we prayed for you, that the Savior would manifest Himself to you in the Spirit of the Comforter while this sacrament was being ministered. There are few burdens so heavy that might not be still heavier. Be thankful for the blessings you have, and pray for grace to sustain you in your trials.

Sometimes he just filled them in on what was happening at the church. But these words excerpted from a longer communication in Vol. 1, No. 5, October 2, 1903, pp. 2-3, are especially touching:

Dear Afflicted One: The Autumn days are fast approaching, bringing with them the knowledge to you that your possibilities for getting to church are more meagre than they were in the summer. However, you can hold sweet communion with your Saviour wherever you are. Time was when men thought the only way to worship God was in His Temple; that adoration and praise were only to be rendered in the House of Prayer. Those were the days of burnt offerings, and as such offerings were made through the media of the priests, the Temple was the only place where such worship might be rendered. But now conditions are changed. ‘The Sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.’ Since Christ is our Great High Priest, we may worship God through Him, and since He is a Spirit, it is not necessary that we should defer our prayers until the time we may go into a church set apart for sacred homage to the King.

After some newsy items, he concluded with this (and it could serve as a benediction for us all):

May the compassionate Christ be very dear to you in your afflictions. ‘No pathway so thorn-strewn that He cannot guide securely; no night so long and dark that He, the Bright and Morning Star, does not bring the dawn; no burden so heavy that He, the burden-bearer, does not beg to share it; no trial so sore, no temptation so threatening, no sorrow so sad, that He, the compassionate, does not say in tenderness: ‘Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’

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

A New Dispensation

by Ronald R Johnson (

When Lloyd Douglas took over as pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in North Manchester, Indiana (USA) in the spring of 1903, he did not consider it business-as-usual. He may have been in a little town, but he intended to shake things up. Just months after he arrived, he began publishing a four-page weekly newsletter. It is typical (now, at least) for congregations to have newsletters, but this was on high-quality paper and had a photograph – not just a drawing – on the front cover. In 1903, it was unusual even for local newspapers to include photographs. (The image below is from Douglas’s earliest scrapbook, p. 15, in Box 5 of the Lloyd C Douglas Papers at the Bentley Historical Library.)

“This paper is to herald the arrival of the ‘new dispensation,'” he wrote. “It has been advisable to issue it [the newsletter] at this time because many of us feel that we have begun a new epoch in the life of the church. We have decided to work harder, to pray more.” [Underlined in the original, and “pray more” is double underlined.]

Later in this same issue, he shamelessly borrowed Admiral Horatio Nelson’s message to the British fleet before the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805: “Remember that we are starting in on a ‘New Dispensation,’ and we must say as was said to Britain’s sons: ‘England (The Church) expects every man to do his duty.’”

No doubt his enthusiasm was contagious, but he could also get carried away, issuing orders to “the troops,” forgetting that most of them were older – indeed, far older – than he was.

The following week, he wrote: “Those of our readers who attended last Sunday’s services need not be told that there is a ‘great awakening’ in our work. It was manifest in many ways. There were visitors attending who have not been in our church for months; there were members with eyes open to the comfort of the stranger; there was soulful singing and a spirit of deep devotion to be noticed. These are elements of success, and as they continue to be practiced we will observe an increasing attendance at church services. The work is now but fairly started…” Nor did he intend to see it slack off.

“Where, indeed, shall we begin to tell of the transformation at work in the Sunday-school?” he asked later in that issue. “The Bible Class has suddenly grown to a size which warrants a division…. There were people in Sunday-school last Sunday who had thought long ago that they had outgrown it completely, but they say they are coming again.”

Douglas’s arrival in the sleepy little town of North Manchester was about as abrupt as that of a tsunami. He had lots of energy and an endless supply of ideas. But there was only so much he could do in such a small town, especially in a place where everybody knew him as a youngster; so his ministry didn’t really take off until he left for his next pastorate in 1905. But we can see signs of his later genius even here. The newsletter is an example. He wrote each article of each issue himself, and he did it in an intimate voice as if he were speaking to you, the reader. When his parishioners died, he himself wrote the obituaries for the newspaper, and he did it with all the passion and eloquence of a novelist. On at least two occasions he preached a sermon series on weeknights, as if he were a big-name evangelist. He seemed surprised when the young people of his congregation did not flock to his new Sunday afternoon catechism class.

But he wasn’t “all work and no play.” While he was in North Manchester, he pulled some strings to help get Dr. F. M. Porch of Louisville, Kentucky, the position of pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in nearby Columbia City, then wooed and won his daughter – Bessie Io Porch – and made her his wife. He also wrote a book. It was a busy two years!

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