Commonplace Book #171

I met a wonderful parson in the little village of ______. I went there to speak at a high school commencement. His church seemed to be an ordinary village church, but he was undeniably the real leader of the community. Broad sympathies had made it possible for him to transcend the usual denominational divisions which reduce most ministers to impotence in small communities, at least as far as wider community leadership is concerned. There were a few other churches in town, but he had developed so many types of cooperation between them that they were almost a unit in their enterprise.

He had built a small church which was a hive of activity throughout the week. He conducted his own weekday school of religion, spending three afternoons at the job. His influence upon the young people was evidently a fruit of this close contact with them. He was so happy in his work that he did not look upon big city churches as the natural goal of his ambition. His wife and he and two little kiddies live very modestly in a little parsonage, and the mistress of the manse seems to find time to mother the neighborhood as well as her children.

Perhaps I am inclined to romanticize about village life. Sometimes it is very petty and mean, I know. But the absence of great class distinctions makes for a higher type of fellowship in church and community than is achieved in the metropolis, and the preacher is not tempted to placate the powerful. The modest stipend which the small church can afford makes for simple living and the absence of social pride. If more young fellows would be willing to go into churches like that and not suffer from inferiority complexes because they had not landed one of the “big pulpits,” we might put new power into the church.

Reinhold Niebuhr, Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic, 40.