The following is part of a series of articles on the condition of the United States of America for working class Scottish immigrants. One of the core tenants of The People’s Journal was to encourage self-improvement for the working classes. For these reason the paper would regularly promote emigration and provide news and publish correspondence from the major destination of Scots in the period (the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). Here the discussion focuses on churches and observance of the Sabbath.
Churches and Sabbath Observance.
Taking up a Yankee newspaper, I read a paragraph commenting on Dundee having a population of 142,000 souls, and on a given Sunday only 30,000 church attenders. After reading this I thought I could not do worse than give you a short resume of Sabbath observance in America. In the first place, I think that if we had the Saturday half-holiday here it would tend in some measure towards the better observance of the Sabbath, for we find that human nature is human nature all over, and if a man works hard, as is generally the ease here, for sixty hours a week, and comes home on Saturday night after six o’clock, tired and weary, with no time for recreation or social enjoyment, are there not some extenuating excuse for him if he, instead of going to church, seeks some of the sociality which he is denied at any other time through the week? Can you blame him for going to our free hills and valleys and sniffing the [illegible] air, or in looking through nature up to nature’s God? But there are plenty of God-fearing, church-going people in America, as you have among yourselves, and, I suppose, many hypocrites as well. They sometimes, like some orthodox Scotchmen, profess more than they practice. According to the following advertisement, which appeared in one of our newspapers lately, there are some very pious people here. Said advertisement read thus:—“Wanted, a young man to take charge of a pair of horses of a religious turn of mind.” So that not only the people themselves, but even their horses are “unco guid.” It would be superfluous to tell your readers that there is no Church and State patronage in this country; but I can assure them that if disestablishment will cause the churches to be as attractive as they are here the sooner they join the disestablishment crusade the better. The churches of all denominations in this country are very elaborately and comfortably fitted up. The pulpits, or rather platforms, are elegantly set out with easy chairs and desks. They are seldom above two or three feet from the ground, and are ascended by two or three steps at each side. All the passages, aisles, and floors are laid with carpets. The bottoms and backs of the seats are soft lined; footstools covered with thick cloth and small [illegible] or drawers for holding books are in every pew. In winter stoves are placed in different parts of the buildings, which keep it nice and warm. In summer all the ladies and a few of the gentlemen use fans with great vigour, which keeps a soft breeze (having a perfume of confectionery) buzzing all over the church. I went into a church in Pittsburgh once on a hot summer’s evening, which happened to be the Sunday for the dispensation of the Sacrament. A clergyman [illegible] distance preached the sermon, and the minister of the congregation had a large fan, which he used with a power equal to steam in fanning the preacher. But this fanning system is of great benefit to churchgoers, for while the clergyman is administering balm to your spirit, the ladies look after your bodily comforts. There is a great deal more freedom used here between pastors and their flocks than there is at home—there not being nearly so much straitlacedness or stiff-neckedness among clergymen here. For instance, during the time the congregation are assembling for worship the pastor goes up and down the aisles shaking hands and asking after his flock’s social as well as spiritual welfare. If there are any pic-nics, concerts, social meetings, or any pleasure parties held in any way connected with the members of the churches, the pastors almost invariably give them their countenance and presence. I think this commingling of social matters between preachers and hearers is of great mutual benefit, and tends to foment a brotherliness between parties, instead of blind idol worship, as I have seen at home, where some people are more in awe of their earthly pastor than they are of their heavenly Master. As a rule, there are only two diets of worship in Presbyterian Churches on Sabbaths—one in the forenoon, the other in the evening, with Sunday schools and Bible classes between. The evening services do not begin until half-past seven, which is, I think, a mistake, as it is often nine before one can get home, which to us Scotch people is rather late for a Sunday evening. I have before me a Rochester newspaper in which is a large advertisement headed thus:—“Grand Sacred Concert, Sunday, February 5th, at Genesse Falls Park,” then follows the programme, with selections from “Billee Taylor,” followed by songs, solos, polka, quadrille, and other sacred music. One Sunday evening we went to the Free Methodist Church, and the first objects which met our gaze on entering the edifice were large placards hung round the walls on which was painted in letters of enormous size the following:—“The congregation is expected to remain until the close of the service.” Another ran thus:—“Do not spit on the floor.” The first and principal part of the evening’s proceedings was the taking up of the collection. I may say that I have never seen any plates at the church doors here, but they have the barefaced, old-fashioned plan of thrusting the wooden ladle under your nose. All denominations are kind to strangers. Two ushers generally stand at the end of the aisles to lead you to a seat and find a book for you. In fact, they are as kind as a Reform Street draper after you have made a heavy purchase, for when you are retiring they bow and scrape and smirk and smile, and say—“Good evening, sir. Call again, sir. Be happy to see you, sir.” Continue reading “‘A Dundee Working Man on America — No. 13.’ by a Correspondent in New York (15 July, 1882)”