The Church League


From a type-written manuscript that may have been edited into final copy for THE WITNESS and included in Bill Sr’s original notes for A BLIND MAN’S GROPING.


Bill Sr:

The efforts of the Rev. Byron-Curtiss, and the few who stuck with him, to keep the Church Socialist League alive was short lived. Curtiss had published the SOCIAL PREPARATION from time to time, carting them to Church gatherings where he would buttonhole people to subscribe and with the meagre funds pay the printer and perhaps have a bit left to carry on the work. The General Convention was to meet in the fall of 1919 in Detroit and I was assigned the task of gathering materials for the magazine to be distributed there. I have searched through libraries for a copy of that number without success…I am still curious about who contributed articles. 1 I know that I went after big shots and as I recall it, got them. One I know responded, since I still have his letter stuck away in a strong box. The address is 10 Adelphi Terrace, london, W.C. 2; the date, 4th August 1919, and the signature, in very tiny script for such a bold man, G. Bernard Shaw:

“Your invitation to me to address an Encyclical to the Protestant Episcopal Church of America would, if I complied with it, expose us to the retort that you are not the Primate and I am not the Pope.

“Besides, if the blood of millions of their fellow creatures did not move the Protestant Churches to protest,nor the Catholic Churches to proclaim that in the kingdom of heaven there are no frontiers, can you suppose that a few drops from my ink bottle would have any effect on them? I am duly flattered by your assumption that the man who would not listen to Christ would listen to Bernard Shaw; but the Churches have come out of this war so badly that if they did listen to me now, I should ask, like the Greek orator, ‘What foolish thing have I said?’

“All the men and women in America to whom anything I could say would be likely to appeal seem to be in prison, where my words cannot reach them. If any of the few who were faithful to a religion which I, being only a connoisseur and not a devotee, do not profess, are still at large, I can only congratulate them. I can hardly congratulate the Churches on having missed a supreme opportunity; for I am afraid that supreme opportunity may have been their last.

“As I am by family tradition and baptism an Irish Protestant, perhaps I had better add that of all the ecclesiastics in our pseudo-Christendom, the Pope and the late Roman Catholic Bishop of Limerick set an example which only a few British and American Bishops had the grace to follow.

“G. Bernard Shaw”

Besides distributing this number of “Social Preparation,” the last ever published, the C.S.L. conducted a forum at the Convention led by the Rev. Irvin St. John Tucker, Socialist party member of Chicago, who had been tried for his anti-war stand during World War One and had been convicted, along with Victor Berger. But it had not been easy for the government to lock up these men for every time they tried, Berger would embarrass the authorities by again being elected to Congress by his Milwaukee constituency. Tucker was a master at running meetings so that these affairs in Detroit were exciting and attracted large crowds.

But it was a swan-song. There was no money whatever to carry on, so finally the few remaining C.S.L. members decided to give up and join the new Church League for Industrial Democracy, of which that great soul and social pioneer, Bishop Charles Williams (Michigan) was the president.

It was not long afterward that Richard Hogue resigned as executive secretary –forced out really because of marital difficulties which would have been embarrassing for an organization working within the Episcopal Church with its rigid canons on divorce and remarriage. The Rev. Francis Barnett was made acting secretary and he carried on for a time from a church center in New Hope, Pa., where the Rev. Samuel Booth, later bishop of Vermont, and my old friend, Charles Collett, had charge of a number of rural missions, attempting to do in the rural field what we had originally planned for Chicago — earn their living as farmers while running the churches on the side.

Bill Jr.:

Charlie Collett was on of the ‘Berkeley Four’ of class of 1917. The fact that he was doing non-stipendiary church work was also significant and that he and Samuel Booth were trying it in then rural New Hope indicates that, perhaps, there may have been a bit of influence on the Roanridge and regional training programs of the National Town-Country Institute under P.B. Henry Knox Sherrill and his town-country executive, the Rev. Clifford L. Samuelson. The latter was always a member of CLID, together with his wife, Elizabeth, one of the daughters of the Bp. of Idaho, Frank ‘Pat’ Rhea.

Bill Sr.:

The executive committee of the League also appointed the Rev. Farr of New Jersey as field secretary for the east and asked me to fill the same position in the mid-west. A large part of my time was spent preaching sermons, giving courses at summer conferences, and, indeed, working myself in wherever I could in an effort to tell as many as possible what the League stood for and enroll them as members.

Bill Jr. 

Dad seemed to have used the chair of the Executive Committee, Vida Dutton Scudder, as his ‘supervisor’. There are several letters from him enthusiastically telling of his trips to Wisconsin, through Illinois, up into Minnesota, etc., speaking and seeking. And, then, he would get frustrated and depressed, particularly with the lack of concern of the rectors of large churches. If he bumped into someone sincerely interested in the labor-cause in the Episcopal Church, he would send her that person’s name and exclaim that they might be candidates for the national committee of CLID. One of these persons was the socially concerned Dr. William S. Keller of Cincinnati who, not too much later, would found the program that became the Graduate School of Applied Religion. Reading these letters as his son, I can only wonder once again what the young Dorothy was doing in their apartment in Chicago, with two young children.

Bill Sr. 

The Executive Committee, with the departure of Mr. Hogue, tried hard to convince the young scholar and embryonic professor at E.T.S., Norman Burdette Nash, to become executive secretary of the CLID. He, according to a four page letter he wrote to Mr. Wm. Cochran of Baltimore, considered it long and hard. He then decided that his field was academia. One wonders whether the seminary professor would have turned into the headmaster of St. Paul’s School, Concord, or Bishop of Massachusetts, if he had accepted. At any rate, the lot then fell on the young editor of THE WITNESS, who was getting the magazine out weekly and, at the start, presumably also running St. George’s Church.

The small Church organization, with a membership which varied with the times from 1,000 to 2,500 sought to convince the followers of Christ that Bishops of the Episcopal Church were right when they declared in a Pastoral of 1922: “that an outstanding and ;pressing duty of the Church is to convince its members of the necessity of nothing less than a fundamental change in the spirit and working of our economic life.” Or to quote a later pastoral letter of the bishops (1933): “The Master’s concern for the under-privileged and neglected folk was repeatedly manifested in his habit and teaching. That millions of our people are denied the common necessities of life, that approximately one-third of our population is beloe the poverty level, that there is widespread want in a land that is abundantly productive make evident the lamentable inadequacy of existing economic systems. With these conditions the Church is immediately and vitally concerned. If our present Christian civilization produces these ills then obviously it has departed from the right principles enunciated by Christ.”

Bill Jr.

The 1933 pastoral, written as the New Deal was struggling with the amelioration of the so-called Great Depression sounds very close to what contemporary theologians, liberation type or otherwise, call “God and Christ’s option for the poor”. The CLID seemed to always function in this manner theologically, sociologically and purposefully. It is why it sent Dad into the strike situations in the textile and coal industries.

Bill Sr.  

So we talked and we wrote; we taught and we lectured. One of the big opportunities which we always grasped was at the General Conventions, where the leaders of the Church gathered every three years. We always ran a forum, insisting upon our right, along with other unofficial organizations of the Church, to a p;lace for meetings int he conventin hall and a listing of our meetings in the official program. This was generally opposed by the bigwigs but we always managed to win out. The hottest fight was over the meetings held at the Cincinnati convention in 1937.

Six weeks before the Convention was to open, William T. Manning, sometime rector of Trinity Church and bishop of New York, the largest and wealthiest congregation and diocese in the Church, wrote letters to the four Church weeklies protesting the League’s meetings. ‘There is widespread dissatisfaction,’ he declared, ‘and among many of our people a stronger feeling than that. In view of its militantly partisan and radical character many are questioning both the propriety and the fairness of giving such special prominence at our Convention to this organization with its daily meeting which, it is announced, are to be held in the Mayfair Theater located in the Convention Hall.’

His letter was printed in three of the weeklies and, had that been all, the controversy doubtless would have been a brief battle of words within the Episcopal Church, soon simmering to nothing. But Bishop Manning, gifted in the ways of publicity, prior to mailing his letter to the Church papers, called in reporters of New York dailies and handed it to them. It was for this reason that Guy Emery Shipler, editor of THE CHURCHMAN, refused to print it, writing Bp. Manning: ‘It is not accepted journalistic practice to print letters addressed to the editor which have already appeared int he news columns of other journals. In the case of your own letter I had already read it in full in the daily press before it was received at the CHURCHMAN office.’

The New York papers all printed the bishop’s letter. It was picked up by the wire services and sent all over the United States. So for the weeks immediately before Convention not only the Church press, but newspaspers and secular weeklies were giving front page to this hot scrap in the sedate Episcopal Church.

Merwin K. Hart, president of the N.Y.State Economic Council, organized a new group for the sole purpose of fighting the CLID, his Church Layman’s Association. His letters too were printed in the papers and, of course, answered by us. And as bishops and delegates arrived in Cincinnati they were handed a document signed by Mr. Hart, called ‘WHAT ABOUT THE CHURCH LEAGUE FOR INDUSTRIAL DEMOCRACY AND THE RADICAL MOVEMENT IN THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH?” It declared that Edward Lambe Parsons, the bishop of Califronia and president of the League, was at least tainted with Communism since he was also vice-chairman of the American Civil Liberties Union. Mary van Kleeck, head of the industrial studies of the Russell Sage Foundation, and Vida D. Scudder, professor at Wellesley, vice-presidents of the League, likewise were branded dangerous persons. I was the worst of the lot since I was connected not only with the Civil Liberties Union but was also a member of the executive committee of the League Against War and Fascism and was chairman of the North American Committee for Spanish Democracy.

As for the speakers listed for our forums, according to Mr. Hart’s appraisal, each and every one of them were men who should not be listened to by Episcopalians since they had enough to do in dealing ‘with those eternal spiritual verities which neither shift nor change. This task of infusing greater spiritual life is a vast one.’

I arrived in Cincinnati the day the Convention opened to be met by a flock of reporters. They put us on the front pages and we stayed there. Samuel F. Houston, Philadelphia financier, introduced a resolution the first day to have the League thrown out of Convention. Bt the motion to bring the subject up for immediate discussion was defeated and went to committee. Meanwhile the House of Bishops, always more liberal on social and economic questions, defeated the resolution by a fantastic vote with but four bishops voting to support the position taken by Bishop Manning. So we had our forums, and we had them where they were scheduled to meet, in the Convention hall. The House of Bishops met on the top floor, reached by an elevator. After this vote, I came down on a crowded elevator with the Bishop of New York.

“Do you plan to attend our forum today, Bishop Manning,” I asked.

‘Do you think I could find a seat?’ he asked with a smile.

‘If you get there early. We are going to play to packed houses, thanks to you and Merwin Hart.”

Everyone laughed, including Bp. Manning. I had frequent tilts with him and I testify that he always fought on principle, hard but impersonally. The last time I saw him was in front of Wanamaker’s in New York where we chatted amiably for twenty minutes about our various squabbles.

As for our Cincinnati meetings, the speakers were Norman Thomas, head of the Socialist Party; Laurence Oxley, on the staff of the U.S. Dept. of Labor; Prof. Reinhold Niebuhr of Union Seminary, described by Mr. Hart, interestingly enough in light of later developments, as ‘one of the best known radicals in the United States. Like most of the others, he dis-believes in the American System –has spent a large part of his life in subversive activities.’

Also speaking were Howard Kester, a young minister who was at the time seeking to improve the life of southern tenant farmers by running a model farm in Mississippi sponsored by Sherwood Eddy and others; Roger N. Baldwin of the Civil Liberties Union (‘the worst communist of them all’ – Mr. Hart); A.J. Muste of the Fellowship of Reconciliation; Murray Lincoln, secretalry of the Farm Bureau Federation and Homer Martin, who came in for particular attack in those days since he was doing something about getting auto workers into at the time of the United Automobile Workers of America.

Chairman of the meetings were Bp. Benjamin Brewster of Maine, a vice-president of the League; Bp. Parson, president; Bp. Wm. Scarlett of Missouri; Bp. Henry Knox Sherrill of Massachusetts (and then Presiding Bishop); Mr. Charles P. Taft of Cincinnati who later served as president of the Federal Council of Churches; Mr. William F. Cochrane of Baltimore, treasurer of the League ; Bp. Charles K. Gilbert of New York, also a vice-president of the League and, as a suffragan bishop, subordinate to Bp. Manning but who nevertheless said from the forum platform that if there was any misunderstanding about the CLID meetings it was certainly not the fault of the organization. “The CLID,” he declared, “was only interested in underprivileged humanity, as Christ was, and is an organization to which I am ;proud to belong.”

This episode should not end without a word about the Matthews family of Cincinnati: Mrs. Mortimer Matthews, her daughter, Elizabeth, and son, Stanley. Months before the Convention CLID membership of that city had met to discuss what should be done about racial segregation at the time of the Convention. Elizabeth Matthews, at that time president of the national Womens’ Auxiliary of the Church, and Miss Mary Johnston, likewise and national figure of the Church, merely said: ‘We will take care of it.” How I never knew, but there was no segregation or discrimination in the hotels or restaurants of the city, at least during the Convention.

Stanley Mattews, an architect, spent many hours each day promoting the forums in various ways. As for Mrs. Mortimer Matthews, generally looked upon as the most influential Episcopalian in the diocese of Southern Ohio, when I arrived at the Convention Hall, she was in the basement with hammer and nails fixing up the CLID booth where, during the Convention, she and my daughter, Marcia, then a student at nearby Antioch College, sold and gave away what Mr. Hart considered ‘subversive literature’. While Mrs. Matthews was driving in a nail, Bp. Henry Hobson, host to the Convention, stopped to ask her to take the responsibility for some job or other. Her reply was; ‘This is more important. Run along now, Henry, and find someone else for that an let Bill and I attend to the CLID.’

Three years later, at Kansas City, the story was much the same. Again resolutions were introduced to have our meetings thrown out. The vote this time in the House of Deputies was a bit close but we nevertheless won, with a good many deputies being convinced by Dean Sidney Sweet of St. Louis who said: ‘What’s the use of doing this? Throw the League out of the convention hall and they will hire a larger one across the street–and pack it too.’

The speakers at that Convention were Roger Baldwin, with the host bishop of West Missouri as chair; Carey McWilliams of California with Bp. Gooden of Los Angeles, chair; Jack McMichael, president of the American Youth Congress, with Bp. Huston of Olympia, chair; Josephine Roche, coal o;perator of Colorado, with Bp. Malcolm Peabody of Central New York, chair; Max Yergen, president of the National Negro Congress, with Bp. Beverly Tucker of Ohio as ch.; Jack Foster, missionary to China, with Bp. Sherrill as chair. Our headliner was to have been John L. Lewis, then president of the C.I.O. I had gone to Washington to see him on appointment some months before to invite him. I was told by his office that he was in an important conference with several Senators, but that he was to be in New York shortly and would see me then.

Some time later I got a phone call: ‘This is John L. Lewis’ said the voice on the other end of the wire. Thinking that someone was pulling my leg, I replied: ‘Oh, yeah! This is Franklin Delano Roosevelt!’

But it was Lewis and I spent an hour with him in a suite of a New York hotel. He consented readily to speak at our forum in the fall, and we then went on to talk aout the status of the workers and what could be done to better their lot. An extremely gentle man, with tremendous concern for the underdog, was the impression I got of him.

But his meeting never came off –too bad, for it would have packed the largest hall in Kansas City. However, Lee Pressmasn of the C.I.O. called me the day before it was slcheduled to tell me that Mr. Lewis could not come but was sending a substitute who would read his prepared address. I knew that this would be a dud so declined and, instead, we kept Jack McMichael over for a second day.

It was not until I returned to New York that I found out why Lewis had been unable to come to Kansas City –our meeting was scheduled for the same evening that John L. Lewis made his famous nationwide broadcast backing Wendell Willkie for president of the United States.

Bill Jr:

Dad relished the memories of his disputes with Bp. Manning and, particularly, he rejoiced in the success of the CLID forums in Cincinnati. By the Kansas City gathering, three years later, the issues of the international crisis were dividing liberals as to whether they were pacifists or anti-fascist or what ‘color’ of leftists! Indeed, the John L. Lewis endorsement of Wendell Willkie had something to do with this, also, since Lewis, apparently, thought FDR was a supporter of ‘malefactors of great wealth’ and wasn’t truly helpful to the C.I.O., despite the fact that Willkie was a quintessential business man.

Also, among other things, Dad liked to put on meetings. One of his teachings to his son was that one always counted the reservations and estimated attendors before a meeting and, then, set up fewer chairs than the reservations. ‘It looks and feels better to have to bring in other chairs and tables,’ he said, ‘than to have to have to take some empty ones away.’

I have attended many General Conventions. The two most exciting I attended were in Seattle, just before I was elected a Bishop. I went as a deputy to the meeting of the Episcopal Church Women and my experience was similar to Dad’s in Cincinnati, i.e. in respect to the role of women. So, too, I am pleased that I have at least one historic first…i.e. I am the first ‘official delegate’ to the E.C.W.’s Triennial to be seated in the House of Bishops. Barbara Harris, of course, was the first woman there, but I was the first E.C.W. deputy! And the other was my first as Bishop of Eastern Oregon. It was a special convention called as a result of decisions made in Seattle having to do with conflicts over the G.C.S.P. (General Convention’s Special Program), and concerned with interracial issues of justice and equity. It was held on the campus of Notre Dame…it was cheap, it was conflictual, it was tough…it was for me, Pentecostal or Spirit-filled. Others, obviously, felt otherwise. I roomed with the young bishop of Okinawa and Guam, Ed Browning, who, in 1985, became Presiding Bishop.


  1. Bill Jr. In Dad’s office, and now in the national church archives, was one copy of that number with its most impressive list of contributors.

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