Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Faith Works 6-11

Faith Works 6-11-11

Jeff Gill


Headline News, 109 Years Ago



A friend who is scanning through early 1900s newspapers for some historical info found an article that wasn't his target, but sounded like I might appreciate, so he sent it to me by e-mail. Thanks, Peter!


Not only did I enjoy it, but I think some of you will, as well. Copyright having surely lapsed, I will reproduce it in full . . . it isn't long.


The headline is "Popular Preacher," and the subhead reads "Removes Coat During Services."


Dateline "Newark, O., July 9." The article reads "Rev. H.N. Miller, pastor of the Fourth Street Church of Christ, appeared in the pulpit of his church Sunday night in a shirt waist (i.e., shirtsleeves). Mr. Miller, before preaching a scholarly sermon, spoke of the intensely hot night and invited the men in the audience to remove their coats."


Before I give you the second paragraph, which is also the last line of the article, let me set the scene for any of you who are unsure what's being described.


This is in the congregation which is today known as Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), now up at 587 Mt. Vernon Rd. a bit north of downtown.


In 1902, they were in the spot on Newark's Fourth St. which is a gap today, between the Masonic Temple and the Telephone Building. They were thriving, since being founded in 1884 and building their own structure in 1895, which would add a full-size sanctuary just two years later in 1904 . . . which would burn entirely to the ground in 1946, leading to the "new" building they now occupy up Mt. Vernon Rd.


So in 1902 it's July, a hot July across the state, and the Fourth St. Church of Christ still has a morning Sunday service, and an evening service, which is usually more of a Bible lecture than a sermon as we think of them, or a "scholarly sermon."


The hall is not terribly large, maybe 40 feet by 60, and of course there is no air conditioning, or even electric fans. It is well-filled with worshipers, and the heat of the day, even with the sun low in the west, is still radiating through the brick walls.


For the preacher to suggest, even at the sultry end of a steaming day, in a tightly packed, almost airless sanctuary, that the men might remove their coats as he had just done: it made statewide wire service headlines. My friend didn't find this in the Newark paper, but in the Stark City Democrat. It clearly got around the next day.


It closes: "There was a general response and Mr. Miller is being complimented for introducing the custom in Newark."


Do not underestimate the courage it took for Pastor Miller to take this, to our eyes, logical step. I started preaching in the 1980s, and vividly recall some conversations behind the platform, in un-air-conditioned churches, where the relative merits of "coats" or "no coats" were discussed with no little nervousness. Even then, there were feathers and fur that could be ruffled by deciding to dispense with the suit jacket.


After all, what's next? Not preaching with a tie on?


Now we have A/C in nearly every congregation, and often no one has a coat . . . or a tie. And I read this article, salute my distinguished forbearer Rev. H.N. Miller, and wonder: what did the women in starched dresses, complex foundation garments, and heavy hats think as the men took of their coats?


I suspect I know part of why it took another 80 years for this to no longer be a newsworthy story.


Next week: sound systems . . .


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story for a summer day at or follow Knapsack @Twitter.

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