“Why the People Do Not Go to Church” The American Sentinel 4, 14, pp. 105, 106.

April 24, 1889

SOME time ago there was a large conference of the principal clergymen of New York City to consider the question of why the people do not go to church. The great object of the Sunday laws that are so much demanded is that the people may be able to go to church. It is claimed that without a Sunday law people are compelled to work, and so have no chance to go to church, and, therefore, Sunday laws are sought, to stop all work on Sunday; and that then the churches will be filled. The New York conference continued three days, and the preachers discussed the subject quite largely. While they were theorizing about the matter, the New York World sent out reporters to the people themselves, to find out why they did not go to church; and in its issue of Sunday, December 9, the World devotes four columns of space to the replies made by all classes of people to the question put to them by the reporters. The answers of seventy-five different persons are given, and only six out of the seventy-five gave answers which by any proper construction make it appear that being compelled to work on Sunday keeps them from church.

One said if they would give him permission to talk back to the preacher he would like to go; when the preacher had all the say he would rather stay at home. Another said if he should go there was danger of the church falling on him, and so he would stay away. Another said his conscience would not allow him go, because he did not take any stock in the things the preachers were preaching about, and he would be more interested in looking at the girls in the other pews, and that would not be right. He said it is all well enough for the rich people who have time for that sort of thing, but for a poor fellow like him—well he “did not need it.” Another one declared he did not go to church because he did not believe what the preachers teach. Another said the preachers did not preach sensibly, and he would not go to church till they did. Another said he did not go to church because the one to which he belonged was about two or three miles from home, and besides that it was good enough to interest the old men and women, but for him it was about as entertaining as a funeral. A young lady said she did not believe in churches, but yet she was not willing to say she was an unbeliever, but she was not satisfied with the way a good many of the ministers act. Another said he was not dressed well enough. Another, that she was poor, and when she did go she was always received with such a patronizing air—was given to under stand that a great sacrifice was being made for such as she, and that she ought to feel thankful for the efforts that were made to save the poor—that she did not feel as though she was welcome. Another one said she did go, but she was poor and poorly dressed, and the usher stared at her and told her she would find a seat in the gallery; she went up there and into a pew, and those who were there drew away from her, because their clothes were nicer than hers; and she chose to stay at home after that. Another one said it would not put fine clothes on his back, nor money in his pocket. Another one said he had gone to church many years, and was not entirely out of the habit, yet he was afraid he would soon be, because of the monotonous humdrum order of the service and sermons. Another one said the preacher was too far away from the common people, and liked the society of fashionable and rich people too much to welcome the common people.

A number of persons who were Catholics were asked why they did not go to church, and the answers were much of the same sort. Four did not like the priests; another had no belief in religion; one had taken a vow that he would never enter church again; two found more pleasure in going to other places than to church; another said he was asked ten cents at the door every time, and he stopped going; another said he was asked five cents a head every Sunday for himself and family, and he could not afford it.

One of the reporters met another gentleman in the city, who was working in the same line, to solve the problem as to why people do not go to church. He was working especially among the laboring classes, and he gave six reasons of all he had found amongst the working people as to why they did not go to church: First, was need of recreation after the hard work of the week, so they would take that rather than go to church; second, secret societies helped them [106] more than the church did; third, they were unable to pay for church privileges—seats, pews, etc.; fourth, lack of confidence in the preachers; fifth, poor clothes; sixth, the great power of capitalists in the church. He had found that Catholic workingmen are found to be the best church-goers amongst the laboring classes.

The whole list of cases given by the World, with the exception of the sixth referred to, is of the same order as embodied in this classification. And the report was gathered from interviews with all classes of the people except the extremely wealthy, embracing firemen, cabinet makers, brokers, factory girls, hotel employes, men of all work, lawyers, theatrical people, street-car conductors, merchants, saleswomen, bar tenders, and even tramps. One of the saleswomen said she did not go to church because her employer did, and that when a man who treated his employes as her employer treated his, was honored by the church, she considered it an honor to herself not to go there. Of the six who gave Sunday work as a reason why they could not at-tend church, one was a bar tender, who said he was “so busy on Sunday watching the side door and handing the stuff over the bar” that he did not have time to go to church; one was a gatekeeper at the Staten Island ferry; another was a ticket seller on an elevated railroad station; one was a conductor on a Broadway car; and one was a druggist.

By this account it is seen that not one in a dozen of the people who do not go to church are kept away by work. Therefore, when the Sunday-law workers get the law which they seek, stopping work on Sunday in order for the people to go to church, they will have to follow it up with some other kind of a law by which they can persuade people to go to church, or else the purpose of the Sunday law will not be effected.

Further; the reasons given by those who were interviewed show that something more is needed to get these people to go to church than merely the adoption of a civil statute. These reasons show that the difficulty is deeper seated than can be cured by any such remedies as that; and not the least of these difficulties is the lack of real Christian effort and Christian principle on the part of those who do go to church, who do make a profession of Christianity, and even those who preach it; and the whole account published by the World shows conclusively that there is no remedy that can ever reach the case but the genuine preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If those ministers, instead of agitating for Sunday laws, would step down from their $$,000 or $10,000 pulpits; take off their gold rings; go amongst the people; swing wide open their church doors; make their pews free; strip off the gold, silks, and satins, and the grand finery of the millionaires who sit in the pews; show by genuine kindness and Christian ministration that they have a real interest for the working classes and the masses who do not attend church, and a living interest for the salvation of their souls—then the gospel of Christ might reach the working classes and find a response in their hearts. If half of the Sunday-law preachers would do this, they could do ten thousand times more than can all of them together by their agitation for Sunday laws. The common people heard Christ gladly, and so will they always hear those who preach him.

A. T. J.

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