It is true that I am here tonight as your friend and neighbor, but I have never thought of myself as a preacher. Perhaps the real cause of my presence is that once upon a time I was designated as the Official Historian of the Town of Hyde Park and, as such, know probably almost as much about the history of the Methodist Episcopal Church as the congregation itself does.
A few years ago I had the privilege of working with your pastor in compiling the records of this church and of the other churches in our Township. That kind of compilation was made necessary for the reason that in the old days, when our churches were founded, the only statistics relating to births and marriages and deaths were to be found in the registers of the several churches.
Unfortunately, of course, although our own Township dates back for nearly two hundred and fifty years, the religious life of this particular community did not begin in an organized way until after the Revolution. Before that time there wasn't any Hyde Park. There was a district of the County of Dutchess that was known as the Krum Elbow Precinct and across Krum Elbow Creek there was a country place that belonged to Dr. John Bard that was known as Hyde Park. But this community, until after the Revolution, went by various names, among others as De Cantillon's Landing and Stoutensburg's Store, and various other appellations.
In the pre-Revolutionary days, as far as the record shows, there was no religious life in this community, although it had been settled far back in the year 1698; that is to say, there was no religious life except for an occasional wandering Quaker preacher who came hither from Millbrook or Pine Plains and held a meeting perhaps once every three months or so over on what you and I know today as Quaker Lane. It was not until 1789 that the people in this community who belonged to various churches got together and decided that they ought to have a Meeting House; and thus in 1789 there was organized the Stoutensburg Religious Society, an association of men and women who wanted a place in which to worship. As a result, there was put up the first church and what afterwards became Hyde Park Building. I suppose it was a very tiny structure because it seated only forty-eight persons; but the interesting thing about that church in 1789 was that at the meeting of the people who organized it, a resolution was passed which said that the church shall be open to every good and well-recommended preacher and to every Christian society. In other words, it was a church for all of the divisions of the Protestant faith. There were not many Baptists here in those days, they tell us, but there were Methodists, there were Dutch Reform followers, there were Presbyterians and Protestant Episcopalians and, for a number of years, in fact for a whole generation, this entire community worshipped in this house of the Religious Society.
A generation later, in 1811, the Protestant Episcopal Church was organized; and then there came the Methodist Episcopal Church for which, as I remember the date, the first meeting was held in 1832.
As a result of that first meeting Mr. Albertson, for whom Albertson Street has been named--that was somewhat before I was born--gave the lot of land on which the first church building was erected in 1833. But even then they did not have the funds or the congregation was insufficient to have one preacher, as they called them in those days, and so they got what we call today a lay leader, whose name was Slack, Alonzo S. Slack. Before he became a pastor he came to the original church and conducted services every other Sunday. A little later on, when he had become a member of the Ministry, Mr. Slack came here as the first pastor of the church and he has been succeeded, as you and I know, by a long line of noble and unselfish men down to the present day.
My own association with this church goes back to a very, very early period, in the early eighties.
I remember one day, on my way home, I passed a little house that was occupied by that splendid old couple, Mr. and Mrs. John Clay, and Mrs. John Clay invited me in to give me a piece of gingerbread; and that was when I discovered that there was another church in the village besides my own. So Mrs. Clay was responsible for my first association with Methodism, and it was done with a piece of gingerbread.
Through all these years I have seen this church grow in health and strength because, after all, back there in the eighties it was not nearly so important a factor in the life of the community as it is today.
I like to think also of the advent of other Churches in this Village from time to time- the Dutch Reform Church growing out of that original old Religious Society that was organized in 1789; this church; the Protestant Episcopal Church; the Baptist Church; and the Catholic Church. I like also to go back to the origins of religion in this community. Religion in those days, a hundred and fifty years ago, was a community affair; I am inclined to think that during the intervening time religion, to a large extent, ceased to be a community affair. When I was a boy, let us be quite frank, there was not the same association, the same teamwork, the same cooperation between churches in this community or of any other community that you and I find today.
It is not only the spirit of these times, but it seems to me that it is fundamentally a matter of common sense, that in our religious worship we should work together instead of flying off on different tangents and different angles, pulling apart instead of pulling together as a unified whole. During these latter years there has been a splendid change for the better in this regard. We find today the ministers of the different churches sitting amicably side by side on the same platform. More than that, we find them meeting with each other from time to time to try to help solve the community problems together.
Last spring, when I went to Washington, there were many people who came forward with the thought, verbally expressed, that the Government should take over all the troubles of the country, that we could, well, as we used to say in the old days, "Let George do it," and I began to think sometimes that my first name was George. After all, that is not exactly the American way of doing things. Some countries in the world may find it more convenient to put all their burdens on one person, but we do not. So I took the position then, and I think the country has understood the reasons for it, that the Government of the Nation has a responsibility, yes, but a responsibility which should be exercised only if the smaller units of the country have done everything that they possibly could and if that everything has proved insufficient.
Therefore, when we come, for example, to the question of relief, before extending Federal assistance to States or to communities, we ask the question: Have the people in this community done their share? Mind you, there are many ways in which a community can do its share. They can do it through their taxing powers. They can do it through their constituted authorities, the officials of the village or township. But also, they can do an enormous amount of work for the relief of suffering humanity through their churches. So the first question we ask, quite frankly, in every case, is whether the community has done its share through its officials and its churches. Then we ask the next question, if what the community has done was not enough, and if there is still unrelieved suffering. We ask whether the State has done its share as well. If the answer is in the affirmative and there is still help needed, then it becomes the duty of the Federal Government to see that nobody starves. That has been the principle which we are trying to extend to all the work of our Government, to see to it that every man and woman and, I might add, child has done his share toward the common good.
The churches are doing their share; and the men and women and children who make up the congregations of the churches have shown a splendid spirit in these days. It is an interesting fact that although the national income from 1929 down to the summer of this year fell off by a very large percentage, nevertheless the receipts of the churches of the American communities fell off by a much smaller percentage. In other words, we have faith in our churches and our churches have faith in us.
I am very happy to take part in the one hundredth anniversary of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Hyde Park. I, with you, am proud not only of its history, but of the splendid work that it has done in this community during the full century. I am happy in the thought that during the one hundred years that lie ahead of us, it is going to continue to do splendid work for the community, and that it is going to do that hand in hand with the other churches of the community. That is the kind of American spirit that is going to bring us over the top.
In closing, may I say one word: The problems which we all face -- the problems of so-called economics, the problems that are called monetary problems, the problems of unemployment, the problems of industry and agriculture--we shall not succeed in solving unless the people of this country hold the spiritual values of the country just as high as they do the economic values.
I am very sure
that the spirit in which we are approaching those difficult tasks and the
splendid cooperation which has been shown, are going to be exemplified in
the lives of all the people calling themselves Christians who believe in
God and uphold the works of the Church.