Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Tempted London : Young men, [Anon.], [c1889] - Chapter 15 - What the Churches are Doing (continued)

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CHAPTER XV.

WHAT THE CHURCHES ARE DOING (continued)

THE Weslyan Methodists have so far recognized their responsibility towards the young men of their own body in the city as to a appoint the junior minister of the City Road Circuit to attend to their spiritual interests. But beyond giving him this commission they have done little. Certainly they could not have designated any one more fitted to fulfil this duty than the Rev. W. J. Dawson, who has effectually gained the ear of the London public as a preacher and lecturer in the chapels of his own denomination and in such popular resorts as the City Temple. But to preach to a large congregation of city youths on a Sunday evening is a very small part of a pastor's duty, and no one recognizes this fact more fully than Mr. Dawson. Yet what are his opportunities of doing more? In Aldersgate Street a small house, named after the founder of Methodism, was started some few years ago as a city home for Wesleyan young men. IT did not answer the expectations formed of it, There was but one common room-dining-room, drawing-room, and writing-room combined - and upstairs the ac-[-263-]commodation consisted of tiny cubicles, across the end of which a curtain might be drawn to secure whatever privacy was desired. To enjoy a smoke one had to seek the hospitality of the pavement outside. There need be little wonder that it was a difficult task to make the place pay at a weekly charge of one guinea a head for board and lodging. It was maintained chiefly by those whose loyalty to Methodism was greater than their regard for personal comfort.
    On the other side of the street a gas-lamp over an entry informs the passer-by of the existence of a Wesleyan Young Men's Christian Association. Its quarters form the ground floor of a pile of warehouses, and the high rent that is paid for them is drawn from the purchase-money received from the sale of the old Jewin Street Chapel. It is not a popular resort with the young men for whom it is provided, although it is used on Sundays for the purposes of a flourishing Sunday-school. We arc informed that it is shortly to be given up for less expensive premises.
    It is evident, therefore, that Mr. Dawson has to work amidst great difficulties, as every step he takes for the benefit of his flock must be done on his own responsibility and at his own expense, in the hope that it may be refunded to him in the future.
    Once upon each Sunday he is expected to occupy the pulpit of what every Wesleyan looks upon as the cathedral of Methodism, and although the numbers of his hearers unaccountably vary, as they do in most non-residential neighbourhoods, he has [-264-] every reason to be gratified with the audiences he commands. But he feels the common difficulty of getting into personal contact with them. Hurry out of the pulpit as fast as he can, in order to get an exchange of greetings with his departing hearers, he cannot be in time to catch all, and so far his invitations to the vestry for personal interviews have not met with much response. He has no premises where he can find a common meeting-place, although in his heart be cherishes the hope of covering the vacant plot of so-called garden-ground, or forecourt, with a building for a young men's club. But that is a question for the trustees.
    In the debating-class connected with the Wesleyan Young Men's Christian Association, the question of clubs was lately discussed ; and as an instance of what the city young men require, it noted that all but an insignifcant minority declared that a club, to command the confidence of those whom it would seek to attract and benefit, must permit billiard and card-playing and the free sale of beer on its premises. The youth of London object to moral coddling, and it is the existence or the suspicion of it that hampers the noble exertions made on their behalf by some of the great institutions of the metropolis.
    Mr. Dawson greatly favoured the idea of a residential club for young men, where for a small weekly sum a bed, breakfast, and evening recreation could be had. In order, however, to reach those chiefly in need of it, the terms would have to be very low. He was constantly being asked to find lodgings for youths in receipt of from 50 to 70 a year, who [-265-] could not afford to find more than 5s. to 7s. a week for their bed and breakfast. They could get it, of a sort, in many quarters of Hoxton and Islington, in most cases by sharing their bed, or at any rate their room, with another.
    It was extremely difficult for a minister to accomplish any good by calling upon young men at their places of business, either during or after hours, and yet he was continually being asked by anxious friends at home to "look up" So-and-so. He found he often did harm where he most desired good. The "parson" was "spotted" as soon as he entered the place, and his quarry was marked, while the object of his attentions, blushing and bothered, stammered out a few curt answers to his inquiries, knowing that as soon as the parson was gone his companions would be down upon him with all kinds of chaff to clear himself of which he would not improbably indulge in some stupid outburst of folly, which would destroy what little seeds of good still lingered in his heart.
    So far Mr. Dawson's labours amongst the work-girls of the neighbourhood had been more productive than his efforts on behalf of young men, but these may come to be noted when the case of the young women of Tempted London is treated. On the whole then, Methodism cannot be said to be doing much in the city. It has, however, taken the initiatory step, and it has only to give Mr. Dawson a free hand and plenty of money to accomplish a great work.
    We may turn from City Road to St. James's Hall and Wardour Street, to inquire how far the Wesleyan [-266-] West Central Mission affects Tempted London. It is, of course, as yet in us infancy, and its organization is by no means complete; but the Rev. H.P.Hughes has informed us that the bulk of his great Sunday-evening congregations and of his Saturday-evening concert audiences is formed of young men and women, but especially of young men, from the great Wrest End shops. They number fully two-thirds of his hearers. But as yet very little has been done to affect them on the social side of their natures. There is, however, a choral society, numbering at present about a hundred young men and women, who meet at Lincoln House, Greek Street, once the notorious Austro-Hungarian Club, every Tuesday evening, which affords not merely musical recreation, but an opportunity for social intercourse to those who attend it. Lincoln house is well fitted to become a centre of good work as far-reaching and effective as were its capacities for evil. It has ample accommodation, and its nobly proportioned rooms will answer every purpose except that of public meetings, for which Wardour Hall is available. But the Wesleyans are ambitious, and there are hopes in the air that soon they will be in possession of a great central hall, where every kind of philanthropic and spiritual agency will find an appropriate "local habitation and a name."
    Mr. Hughes avails himself of every opportunity of meeting the young people of the West End houses in their own rooms and in many of them he finds proofs of steady and earnest Christian work, although it is a lamentable fact that a great many employers recognize no responsibility towards their assistants [-267-] other than that of providing fairly comfortable accommodation, while in some instances the profligate life of heads of departments and the complete absence of all moral oversight are producing terrible results amongst the young men and women in their employ. There is no power to cope with this so great as individual consecration to God. In one instance Mr. Hughes mentioned that a single country lad, coming to a great London house, had, during a few years' stay there, by his consistent life and manly piety, change the whole current of public opinion in the establishment and purged the moral atmosphere of the perilous stuff that had been hitherto fatal to all true life. It was on individual effort and example that he placed his chief reliance.
    In passing it may be noticed that Lincoln house, called so from Lincoln College, Oxford, of which John Wesley was some time Fellow, is intended to form, amongst other things, a kind of depot of the army of workers who are trying to evangelize the neighbourhood. With this object in view, its upper floor, formerly a billiard-saloon, has been divided into twelve roomy cubicles about eight or nine feet in height, and which in every other respect are independent rooms, having a lock and key on the door and every necessary for complete privacy. Each room is well furnished, having an iron bedstead with spring mattress, a chest of drawers, a washstand, a chair or two, and abundance of comfortable bedding. Twelve young men can be accommodated in this way and supplied with full board at a weekly charge of 16s. 6d. In return they are expected to give a considerable pro-[-268-]portion of their leisure to missionary work amongst the poor, outdoor evangelizingm etc. their hearts thus being kept warm in God's service, while their bodies are provided with wholesome food and their physical interests promoted by careful tendance.
    What Mr. Hughes has done in Soho a very successful Congregational minister, lately come to London, is thinking of doing in the far west of Paddington - viz, forming a home for Christian workers, a sort of college of lay evangelists, or, as they are termed in the Anglican Church, lay readers or subdeacons.

TWO ISLINGTON CHURCHES.

To go from Central London to "merry Islington" is to obtain a complete change of air, so far as the domestic life of Tempted London is concerned. We are no longer surrounded by colonies of whole-sale warehousemen, lodged in great caravanserais, but by swarms of private lodging-houses, tenanted by city clerks. Amongst these the labours of Dr. Thain Davidson have long been famous the world over.
    It is more than twenty years since he instituted his lectures to young men that from month to month crowd his church with eager listeners. In those days there were but few who made any direct efforts on behalf of young men, and their mode of attack was chiefly that of argumentative discourses on the evidences of Christianity. Every youth was looked upon as an atheist in embryo. It was taken for granted that he was the prey of all sorts of intellectual questionings, that must be answered before any moral good could be effected. The [-269-] practical temptations that surround the young were ignored. For every doubt that assails the wind a hundred snares allure the flesh ; but it was the former alone that were combated in the Evangelical pulpit; and so thousands were falling a prey to the temptations of the senses, while the few were being equipped against the misgivings of the mind.
    Dr. Davidson saw this error, and determined to avoid it. Young men who came to hear him felt that something practical was offered Them. The preacher was a man who knew what life was and his audience recognized that he had correctly diagnosed their complaint and was prepared with a remedy. He did not put a blister behind the ears when they need a draught for the stomach. And so his work has gone on and prospered. Dr. Davidson's lectures are published periodically in fugitive form in the Islington Gazette and also as books. In the former they are sent all over the world, and frequently reappear in other countries and languages. But he does not confine his labours to the pulpit. His correspondence is very great, and he is constantly being called on to minister to minds diseased through the post. Every few weeks the lecture-hall of his church, the Presbyterian Church of England, Colebrooke Row, Islington, is transformed into a drawing-room where the young people of his congregation are welcomed to an evening of socia1 entertainment of precisely the same nature as they would meet with in the drawing-room of a private house. He acknowledges that his experience had shown him the more favourable side of a young man's character, and he seems to [-270-] give no ready assent to the reports he hears of so much evil abroad, it was a special feature of his pastoral teaching to insist upon the responsibility of those possessing homes and domestic circles of their own towards such as had nothing of the kind, and he was continually urging them to throw open their doors to the stranger amongst them, the young man or woman of good character, who was isolated from such refining influences amidst the dreary surroundings of a North London lodging-house. Many who came to him were attracted by his printed discourses, many more were the result of invitation, and others came direct from pious homes in the country. A great proportion were Scotchmen, who in general resembled Jeremiah's figs ; the good were very good, and the bad very bad. Owing to the strictness of the restraint under which they had been held at home, the large liberty of London proved too much for them, and they burst all bounds.
    Beyond the usual congregational agencies of services, mutual-improvement societies, debating-clubs, reading-rooms, and the like, common nowadays to every Christian Church, there seems to be nothing peculiar to Dr. Davidson's Church except the personality of the pastor. This is, however, the chef secret of all successful work amongst the young. Some ministers, with every good desire and the most elaborate agencies, can never hope for success in this direction, as they are not young men's men and never will be. Now Dr. Davidson is a young man's man, and that is what has given him his great power and influence.
    The same is true of Dr. Allon. Union Chapel, [-271-] Islington, is the centre of a most extensive circle of work of all kinds, and of course the details have to be committed to tine hands of numerous lieutenants. The pastor looks to them to carry out the execution of the Church's will. His work amongst young men closely resembles that of Dr. Davidson, allowance being made for the difference of personal characteristics. There are the same periodical sermons, the same social gatherings, and the same literary associations. Dr. Parker is perhaps the most popular preacher among city young men, and there are lectures and societies in connexion with his church.

DR. CLIFFORD.

A chief feature of another large centre of Christian agencies, Westbourne Park Chapel, is the flourishing literary institute connected with it. In the mammoth concerns of the Grove there are great numbers of young men, countermen and others, who gladly avail themselves of the advantages of the Westbourne Park Institute, which is by no means a close preserve of the chapel adjacent. All creeds and no creed may join the classes or attend the lectures and week! free concerts. But Dr. Clifford acknowledges the difference between the young man of to-day and the one of twenty years ago, and unless we are mistaken, he notices and regrets the absence of that earnestness and solidity of character that was to be found in bygone days. Self-amusement has taken the place of self-improvement. When he was the pastor of Praed Street Chapel he used to have a class of young men at seven o'clock in the morning, before the shutters of the great [-272-] shops came down, to study the Greek Testament. He laid himself out in every possible way to do good amongst the young, and was prepared to teach almost everything they wished to learn. He could not say whether it would he possible in the altered condition of things to muster a class of twenty young men at seven o'clock on a week-day morning for study of any kind.
    But there seemed to be a growing interest in the Bible. One of his office-bearers had for some time now conducted a largely attended Bible-class for young men on the Sunday afternoon, in which there was great freedom of discussion, both as to subject and method. Nothing was excluded upon which the Bible could be referred to, social, political or moral. 
    But he felt the need of something to fill up the Sunday evening after the hours of worship. It was the most dangerous time of the day. The public-houses alone were open, and they were attractive enough. It had been the custom of one of his people to throw open his drawing-room on the Sunday evening to the young people of his congregation, and he should very much like to see such an example widely followed, for the domestic comforts of the large drapery houses in that neighbourhood were few and small. Their life at its best was but a barrack life.
    So far as his inquiries went, he believed the crying evil of gambling now so prevalent was due to the utter absence of all healthy excitement in the lives of the young. They did not bet for gain, but for fun. It gave them something to look forward to. It added a relish to life which was not provided [-273-] in any other way. How to satisfy this craving was a great and pressing question. And with respect to this matter of gambling, the writer was asked by one of those he interviewed it he had rightly estimated the difficulty of combating the evil upon moral grounds. Its spirit was an unchristian one, but how could the practice be reprobated? Upon what principle could it be met? If the man who betted on the chances of a certain horse winning a race was sinning, is not he also sinning who invests his savings in an undertaking on the chance of its securing a greater return than it has hitherto produced? Does not many an honest Christian man stake his earnings on mere chance in the same way as the office-boy does when he joins a sweep stake? and how, then, can the evil be exposed and denounced? it is a question easy to ask, but difficult to answer. Are we not all gamblers? and how, then, can we effectively denounce gambling? Wherein does the sin lie? No Christian man denies its existence, but how may it be detected?
    The great work of the Y.M.C.A., the Church of England Y.M.S. and the Christian Institute at the Polytechnic, Regent Street, demands chapters to itself.