The Rev. Thomas Burgess (1880-1955) was secretary of the Foreign-Born Americans Division of the National Council of the Protestant Episcopal Church from 1919 until his death. A prolific author on matters related to immigration, Burgess was a graduate of Brown University and the General Theological Seminary. Dr. Burgess served as rector of All Hallows Church, Wyncote, Pennsylvania, from 1930 to 1937.
“No More Foreigners”
By Thomas Burgess
From The Living Church (Jan. 19, 1929), pp. 405-06.
BY THE guidance of the Holy Spirit a wonderful thing has happened in the Church. The people of forty-four different races other than old American stock, red, black, and white, are being ministered to by our Church in a normal, ordinary way. If the law of averages holds good, from about 2,000 reports I estimate nearly one-half of our parishes throughout the country are doing this.
The policy of the National Council, adopted nine years ago, has, through the Foreign-born Americans Division, been spread quietly and persistently. That policy is simply this — “No More Foreigners.” I am quoting these words “No More Foreigners,” but I am not quoting them from a restrictionist Congressional speech, nor yet from a pronouncement of the Ku Klux Klan. No, they come from a purely Christian source, which has nothing to do with keeping immigrants out or foreigners down. St. Paul wrote them: “Ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God.” Our Church has solved the immigrant problem simply by abolishing it. The problem was not these newer Americans; the problem was ourselves. Our own Church people are fast being converted to the practice of Christian love toward their neighbors of all nationalities, on the level.
“We try to treat them exactly as those of American birth,” writes the rector of St. Paul’s, Burlington, Vermont. “They are simply members of the congregation like anybody else,” reports Christ Church, Nashville, Tennessee. And the vicar of St. Luke’s Chapel, New York City, says, “Everything is done to forget that anybody is anything but just a child of God.” He is writing of an ordinary city parish made up largely of Germans, Irish, British, Swedish, Jews, Italians, Japanese, Alsatians, French, Austrians, Spanish, and Russians.
In the past few months we have received reports, half of which are like these, from about two thousand parishes. I am going to quote a few typical examples of what the ordinary parish is doing in the ordinary way. Please get that word “ordinary” fixed in your mind. It is a slogan.
Before I detail, however, some of these typical “ordinaries,” let me list a few important “extraordinaries” of which there is no time to tell: the new lease on life of the Scandinavian work, especially in the dioceses of Marquette, Duluth, and Chicago; the appointment of Archdeacon Junker, formerly Presbyterian moderator over 149 churches in South Dakota, to reach the un-churched Germans and others; the remarkable growth of the Japanese missions in Olympia, Los Angeles, and Western Nebraska; the start of work for Mexicans on the border with a beautiful and complete new building in El Paso; the help given to the persecuted Russian Church in America, especially the making over for them of a new cathedral by Trinity parish, New York, at a cost of $30,000; the welcome and help to the Russian exiles of the upper classes in New York and Los Angeles; the follow-up system for new Anglican immigrants from the British Isles; the far-reaching work of the committee on Ecclesiastical Relations; the new type of missions across the Atlantic, which was the result of winning the confidence of Eastern Churchmen here, viz.: the educational Chaplaincies in Jerusalem and on the banks of the Tigris, supported far too meagerly by the Good Friday offering; the bi-lingual Daily Prayers and Prayers for the Sick in twelve different languages, the familiar prayers of each race with the English translation used by our clergy in various parts of the country, including the New York institutions and hospitals, the Mayo brothers’ clinic in Minnesota, and San Quentin prison in California.
SO much for what we have not time to mention. Now for the main point — the ordinary work and ordinary ministrations in ordinary parishes among the ordinary neighbors of forty-four different racial stocks. I will select and give from the latest parish reports a number of examples typical of hundreds of others, and I will purposely jump all over the country.
For further examples, with pictures, I refer you to the booklet, Friends—Not Foreigners.
First, in the great cities. From Chicago, Church of the Redeemer, comes this: “We have in our communicant membership Swiss, Irish, German, Chinese, Japanese, several Swedish, Belgian, Austrian.” St. Chrysostom’s writes: “We have a great many foreign-born Greek, Italian, and Rumanian, reached by the Church, Church school, and community center.” Similar reports from All Saints’, Advent, Ascension, and Epiphany.
Now New York: Old Trinity at the head of Wall street, New York, has only six children with what we usually term American names in its Sunday school. It has a mothers’ club of over one hundred, all foreign-born, many of them scrubwomen of the skyscrapers. St. Michael’s reports: “All nations, languages, colors, and races are represented, including even a goodly number of native American stock.” St. Mary’s, Manhattanville, writes: “Irish, German, Swedish, Russian, Greek, Armenian, Italian, Scotch, English, Persian, Japanese, and some from the West Indies. We do not treat foreign-born any different from anybody else, any more than we would red-haired or blue-eyed.” And so I might go on to tell of All Saints’ in the heart of the East side, Grace and Incarnation Chapels, and others.
There is not time to detail other great cities. I will mention just two. A like report comes from the Advent, Boston, and from the Advent, San Francisco, “I should say that almost all of the principal European nations are represented on our parish roll.”
Next let us take a few examples from smaller places: Trinity, Pawtucket, Rhode Island, has English, Scotch, Welsh, Irish, German, Swedish, Italian, French, French Canadian, Spanish, and Portuguese. In Trinity, Portland, Connecticut, Swedish, Italian, German, and Polish are part of the congregation. “Both young and old are welcomed into all organizations and no distinction is made. The old welcome the new heartily.” In both Palmerton and Farrell, Pennsylvania, the Slovak National Church congregations sold their church and became an ordinary part of our regular parishes. In St. John’s, Cambridge, Southern Ohio, six families of Syrians, two Greeks, two Rumanians, and one Slav. They come to the services. The men are members of the men’s club and they like it. The women are members of the guild. They are treated the same as the American stock: they are canvassed and contribute and pay what they subscribe.” Christ Church, Lead, South Dakota, reaches 17 nationalities. The mission in Hartville, Wyoming, is made up largely of people of Greek and Italian parentage and some Mexicans. Calvary, Roslyn, Spokane, has 24 nationalities. And little St. Simon’s, San Fernando, near Los Angeles, 15 nationalities. So it goes in all parts of the United States.
There are also several reports which tell of rural sections where our priests have group services in farm houses for lonely foreign-born of different races.
We all know of the large numbers of Scandinavians in our parishes. You did not realize nor did I the numbers of Italians. The reports show Italians ministered to in several hundred ordinary parishes. Also it is encouraging to find a number of parishes reporting Chinese and Japanese.
ESPECIALLY striking in the reports is the fact of our cooperation with or ministry to the people of the Eastern Orthodox and Apostolic Churches, Greek, Syrian, Russian, Ukrainian, Rumanian, Serb, Armenian, Bulgarian, and Albanian. There are, as you know, over two million of these people in this country, more than ourselves, but they have only about six hundred churches. For example, famous old St. Paul’s, Richmond, Virginia, has a Greek curate, educated at the Alexandria Seminary. There is a Greek church, St. Constantine’s, in Richmond, and association between our parish and that is very close, and our curate is a great help to the Greek rector. The Greek priest himself has his office in our parish house. Also visiting Armenian clergy hold services at St. Paul’s itself. When the Greek Cathedral in Chicago burned a couple of years ago, St. Paul’s Church was given over to the Greek bishop for his Holy Week and Easter services. The Greek bishop, by the way, studied at Nashotah. At Fresno, California, the Armenian Church school pays an annual visit to our Cathedral school, and there are regular conferences with the Armenian Church in regard to the religious education of their youth.
In a number of instances our parishes are loaning their churches, chapels, or parish houses regularly to such congregations. The Cathedral in Phoenix, Arizona, houses a parish of Syrians. At St. John’s, Detroit, the chapel is used regularly by congregations of Armenians, Assyrians, and Bulgarians. In fact it is the new headquarters of the Bulgarian Church in America. Old St. John the Evangelist’s in Philadelphia is given over to the Rumanians, and a deaconess supplied to help them. The Ascension, Atlantic City, N. J., houses regular congregations of Greeks, Albanians, Syrians, and Armenians.
There are a number of instances where we have thus housed a congregation for a while until they were strong enough to buy a church of their own. Some of these are St. Mark’s, San Antonio; St. Luke’s Cathedral, Portland, Maine; Shreveport, Louisiana, where now the new Greek parish is said to be the most flourishing of any denomination; Epiphany, Chicago; St. Andrew’s, New York; Trinity, Syracuse; South Bend, Indiana; St. Luke’s, Racine; and the Ascension, Washington. This last lent their parish house or church to Syrians, Greeks, and Rumanians, all of whom now have churches of their own.
Nevertheless in the far greater number of our parishes, I reckon about one thousand, the Greek and Syrians, and less commonly other Orthodox, come to our churches like anybody else because they have none of their own. In most instances, however, an Orthodox priest visits once or oftener a year, and asks our priest to care for his people the rest of the time. This is especially so throughout the South. For example, our Church at High Point, North Carolina, has about sixty Greeks; Alexandria, Virginia, a dozen Greek children; Pascagoula, Mississippi, six Greeks and seventeen Syrians. In Wichita, Kansas, the Syrians, largely men, averaged twenty-five in attendance at our services last Lent. And so I could go on into nearly every diocese. There are a Syrian assistant Sunday school superintendent in Texas, a Girls’ Friendly parish branch president in Missouri, a Slovak diocesan president of the Young People’s Fellowship in Erie, two Greek vestrymen in South Florida, two in Kentucky, an Armenian vestryman in Western Michigan, and a Syrian warden in South Dakota.
I have given you some typical examples. I think there are enough to show how our Church has abolished the immigrant problem, exploded the Nordic myth, made friends instead of foreigners, learned to practise Christian love. Our Church has been thus successful simply because this ordinary way is Christ’s way.
Richard Mammana is the Archivist of the Living Church Foundation.