My pastorate may be divided into two distinct periods of nearly equal length. The first period I described sufficiently in the last chapter. The second begins with the dedication of our new church edifice in its fine, central location, our change of name to the Central Baptist Church, our removal to our new house of worship in the early weeks of 1884, making a great change in our church life, and some improvement in my preaching.
The planning, construction, and financing of the new structure, while no part of my duty as pastor, did necessarily absorb a great amount of time and energy. I could not resist the pull of my intense interest in every detail of it. The building was constructed with entire fidelity by one of our own members, a contracting carpenter, and with extraordinary economy. The building was tasteful and not without dignity. The audience room in the amphitheatrical form, with descending floor and concentric aisles, seated about five hundred, and there were pleasant parlors, a Sunday school and prayer meeting room, and a suitable pastor’s study. The church was modern in all its appointments. I took special delight in the interior decoration, which was very rich and unique. The stained-glass windows were extremely beautiful. These and the decorations were designed by a firm of thoroughly competent Boston artists, the same that had designed the decoration of the East Room of the White House. The church was built without extravagance and, when dedicated, the subscriptions covered the entire cost. Our membership and congregation contributed most generously, all of them more than once, and often far beyond their means. Our friends in the First Church and other churches helped us not a little, and many of the wealthy citizens of Minneapolis, irrespective of church relationship, gave us generous contributions.
The traditional result of a fine new church edifice is a fine new pastor to fill it. Some of my minister friends were predicting this fate for me. But I escaped it. For I had come now, after four years’ experience in the pastorate, to feel at home in the ministry. I had been a closely observant and severe critic of my work and my spirit in the pulpit and out of it. I was correcting my more obvious faults, and my preaching became progressively more acceptable, I am sure, as the months and years went by. I took great pains with my pulpit preparations, rewriting my sermons, at least once and often twice, with a third extemporaneous revision, enlargement, and improvement under the excitement of delivery, and the inspiration of the audience of upturned faces. I had learned to be sympathetic with my people and they recognized the sincerity and fidelity with which from the beginning I had tried to serve them. With the new location, our congregations greatly increased, many new members were added both by letter and baptism, and all the activities of the church were multiplied. No pastor ever had a more considerate, loyal, responsive, generous people than I had in the Central Baptist Church of Minneapolis. And they were not only considerate and appreciative in their relations with me, but also devoted to their church work. In their individual and organized Christian work for the community, the state, and the world, they formed a nearly ideal working church. I have had opportunities for pretty wide observation; but for generosity in giving, willing personal service, unstinted devotion to good-doing at home and abroad, I have never seen a church that would in all respects bear favorable comparison with the people which it was my fortunate lot to serve. I cannot claim the credit of this as pastor, though I have learned since that they have been accustomed with fond partiality to accord me something of it. They disclosed the same graces under other pastors in equal degree after I had left them. A score or two of very choice families working together for common high ends in utmost harmony, without envy, self-seeking or jealousy, created and guided the public spirit of the whole body.
I have sufficiently described my pastorate. Four years more of it remained after we entered the new church building. They were years of hard work and uninterrupted prosperity. There were the usual revivals, additions, and activities, but no striking or memorable incidents to require record here.
So, we may now turn from my pulpit and local field to my work in the wider interests of the state and the Baptist denomination at large. From the very first the Baptists of Minnesota had given a cordial welcome. By way of courteous introduction, I was often assigned a part on the program of the denomination meetings, and after a little while I was placed on various influential boards and committees where it was believed I might be of some service. Full of vitality and of interest in everything, I was no doubt more or less irrepressible. Certainly, I became an active worker on all my committees and boards. In state missions I had some special qualifications, and this had been, and then was, my father’s work in Kansas. I mastered in minute detail the history and present condition of every mission field in Minnesota, and constructed a big map marking the location of each. This map became an efficient aid in effective public presentation of the cause in our state conventions as well as in our own church. State missions in Minnesota were under the management of half a dozen leading laymen of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and I thus came at length into intimate association with these experienced and capable business men. They became my first friends and were not without influence, as will be seen, on my afterlife. Among these business men was the Honorable George A. Pillsbury, the head at the time of the great Pillsbury Flour interests. He was Mayor of Minneapolis for a term or two in my pastorate, but his family membership was with the First Church. He was then a man of more than three score years and ten. We shall see more of him as my narrative proceeds.
Unlike the other religious denominations, Baptists had no college in Minnesota. The question had been often mooted but had never received effective action. We had a feeble academy located at Owatonna, Minnesota, and were content with that in its feebleness and inefficiency—too content, indeed, I then thought. Minnesota Baptists had very little interest in denominational gatherings. Into these education talks I put such life as I could, and they were not ill received. It seems that my active work with him on the state mission board, of which he was chairman, and my educational addresses, possibly also some executive energy shown in the erection under difficulties of our new edifice, had attracted Mr. Pillsbury’s eye. So, one day in the early spring of 1888 there came a knock at my study door. I opened it and to my amazement there stood the venerable and imposing figure of the Honorable George A. Pillsbury. The conference that followed proved to be a turning point in my life.
But before we invite Mr. Pillsbury in, I must acquaint you with my situation at that moment and what had been secretly revolving in my mind for some months. I had now been pastor of a single church for eight years. It was a first pastorate, and it had been a very hard one. My field, overshadowed as it was by the powerful and attractive First Baptist Church, had been an extremely difficult and discouraging one. I had been obliged to create my congregation. Without sufficient funds I had passed through the trying ordeal of building and financing a new church edifice in a new location, giving the church a new name. The membership as well was almost a new creation. I had occasionally accepted outside public duties of a taxing and responsible nature, and in it all I had passed through the waters of deep affliction. My pastoral work with the enlargement of my congregation was constantly increasing, as were also the demands of my study for the preparation of sermons. These eight years of hard work, supplementing as they did the taxing college and seminary years, had now begun to tell on my constitution, naturally strong and vigorous as it was. I began to have the chronic indigestion from which I have never since been wholly free. I was emaciated. Like an overworked and underfed dray horse, I was literally reduced to skin and bones. I was nervous and low-spirited. All this tended not only to rob me of the pleasure of my work, but to further unfit me for doing it. I was caught in a vicious circle.
We had been advised by our instructors in the seminary not to prolong our first pastorate beyond five years. It was pointed out that by that time we would probably have uttered in public and to the same people about all that was in us to say. We could then move on, we were told, with a barrel of several hundred sermons. We could turn over the barrel and repeat these in a new field, as occasion required. The leisure thus gained would afford us the needed time and opportunity to read more widely, to study the Bible, and to replenish our stock of ideas. I had been with the same church already three years beyond the allotted time. My stock of ideas was getting low, I saw myself falling into ruts of thought, and tending to repetition. And so, when Mr. Pillsbury knocked at my door I was not only in real and great need of a change, but I was conscious of that fact. For months a change of pastorate had occupied my secret thoughts, and I was awaiting only a suitable opportunity to make it.
In previous years I had declined several overtures from other churches, initiated, I had reason to think, by my Rochester professors. These had come, however, when I knew I ought not to leave my church.
I had also received several serious invitations to enter the field of education. Dr. Northrup, President of the Morgan Park Theological Seminary, invited me to take the Chair of Homiletics and Pastoral Theology in that institution. Dr. Anderson could never quite forget that Nature had destined me to be a teacher, and it seemed that some of my Western friends had independently come to the same conclusion, and these, when consulted by institutions of learning, had mentioned my name. But I had been apparently useful in my pastorate, and I had no notion at all of quitting the ministry. But now at length I had persuaded myself that I could change my pastorate without imperiling any vital interest of my people. The membership had reached several hundred, all well organized, harmonious, and at work. They could pay a new pastor a good salary, the field was one of the most attractive in the country, and I believed they could now command their choice of men. A new voice, said I within myself, a new personality, new methods of presenting truth—these will now invite, no doubt, many that I am not temperamentally able to reach, and will be a refreshment to all. Not only can I be spared, but there is good promise that the change, if followed by a wise choice of a successor, will be for the enlargement and prosperity of the church. When, therefore, Mr. Pillsbury’s knock came to my door, it was heard by a man with mind made up after the most careful consideration, to avail himself of the first suitable opportunity for a change of pastorate. I say, “suitable opportunity for a change,” for I must have not only reasons privately convincing to myself, but also other convincing reasons that could be publicly stated. For there were no visible reasons why I should resign. So far as known to me, no member of the church or community had thought of it. There must be for the church’s sake a public manifest call of duty elsewhere. For this only I was waiting. Mr. Pillsbury’s knock brought that call.
Minnesota Baptists and Pillsbury Academy