Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Tempted London : Young men, [Anon.], [c1889] - Chapter 16 - Christian Associations

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CHAPTER XVI.

CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATIONS 

    HAVING glanced at the efforts that are being made on behalf of the young men of Tempted London by certain representative congregations, there remain to be considered those associations which are unconnected with any particular Church. but which welcome the co-operation of all. They are few in number: in fact, there are but three - the Young Men's Christian Association, better known as the Y.M.C.A. which has its central offices at Exeter Hall, the Church of England Young Men's Society, with its headquarters at the Leopold Rooms, Ludgate Circus, and the Young Men's Christian Institute, at the Polytechnic, Regent Street.
    Of these, the first-named finds its adherents amongst wholesale warehousemen, clerks, and retail salesmen, which the last is specially intended for artisans an trade apprentices. The Church of England Institute runs on parallel lines with the Y.M.C.A.
    It must be confessed at the outset that both the Y.M.C.A. and the C.E.Y.M.S. arc the subjects of considerable prejudice on account of their distinctively religious character; and there is an idea abroad that their members are required to submit to some [-275-] religious test or to make a definite profession of religion before they are made welcome. But such is not the case. In fact, to become a member of the C.E.V.M.S. nothing is needed but a reference as to respectability of character, and the same is the case with respect to associates of the Y.M.C.A. Members of the latter, however, are required to be communicants of some Christian Church and to give "decided evidence of conversion to God."
    It cannot be denied that until recently the social an physical interests of young men were of little importance in the eyes of the Churches, and for this neglect all Christian effort has to suffer, even where it has corrected this error; for the spirit of suspicion is still abroad, and many have the idea that these great associations are simply spiritual agencies, and that all jolting them are liable to incessant religious importunities.
    But amongst better-informed people it is thought that the religion professed by the members of the Y.M.C.A. is of a narrow, namby-pamby description, and that the "Exeter Hall young man" is a pale bloodless, knock-kneed creature, who is of no account amongst his fellows in the rough-and-ready warfare of the world.
    There is no no doubt, then, that a very widespread misconception exists, which we hope by this chapter to dispel, or at least modify. If, however, the term "conversion to God" offend any, or if the admission that the one great aim of all the Association's efforts be the conversion to God of those within its reach be considered a proof of narrowness, then our labour will be lost for all the three societies referred to [-276-] above are founded and maintained for that very purpose.
    The Church of England is, we believe, the only Church that has a young men's society of its own, and even that is gene rally associated with the Low Church section of its adherents. Upon its council however, are representatives of all parties in the Church, and the sneer that it is a young men's society without any young men in it is no longer true, if indeed it ever were. At its central offices, at the Leopold Rooms, Ludgate Circus, there are billiard, reading, and smoking-rooms, a gymnasium, a restaurant, and a lecture-hall, with a number of bedrooms, where those who can afford a guinea a week can have bed and beard in addition to the other advantages of the institute. There are several branches in London and the provinces, but these seem to be little more than mutual-improvement societies. The Church of England Young Men's Society proceeds on exactly the same lines as the Y.M.C.A. It is, however, still in its infancy and has not, therefore, a sufficiently large clientele to offer the same advantages as the Y.M.C.A.
    The work of the Y.M.C.A. proceeds upon four main lines - spiritual, intellectual, social, and physical. The first of these is chiefly carried on by young men for young men. For example, at the time of writing, every Sunday afternoon Mr. F. J. Kennedy. the Secretary at Exeter Hall gives what is termed a "straight talk" to men only. The attendance averages about 350, and to make the service bright and hearty the musical part of it is led by the string band of the Association. On the Sunday [-277-] evening an evangelistic service was held in the large ball, attended by more than 700, and sometimes by over a thousand, of the general public. A daily prayer-meeting is held from 1 till 2 p.m., and Gospel meetings for young men are conducted on four evenings in each week, by which much spiritual good is continually being done.
    At the City branch in Aldersgate Street much the same work is carried on, every evening being taken up by one or more religious meetings; and during a short break in the Wednesday evening gymnastic practice, at the spacious and well-appointed gymnasium in Long Acre, a ten minutes' "practical Gospel address" is given by Mr. Kennedy, who is a squad-leader in the gymnasium as well as General Secretary of the Association. The prominence given to the purley spiritual aspect of the Association's -work may blind the eyes of outsiders to the thoroughness with which the other requirements of a young man's nature are supplied. There are as many as sixty-seven educational classes held, all of which are self-supporting, while some of them produce a fair return to the general fund. The teachers of these classes have rooms found for them, and in most cases the necessary advertising, but they receive no stipend, their remuneration consisting of two-thirds of the tuition fees, the remaining third being paid to the Y.M.C.A. In some instances very fair incomes from this source alone are being made by the teachers of the more popular subjects, which include ancient and modern languages, English, commercial requirements, music, science, ambulance work, etc. Both at Exeter Hall and Aldersgate [-278-] Street are good reading-rooms and libraries, while popular and scientific lectures are periodically given during the winter season. The social claims of the young are recognised to some extent also. There are monthly receptions of new members, frequent social evenings to which members and associates are invited to meet people of note, distinguished foreigners, etc., and pleasant evenings, where music, vocal and instrumental, with recitations, affords an hour and a half's healthful amusement. Then there are ladies' evenings, when lady friends of the Association come and spend two or three hours in the drawing-room, and try by their winning smiles and charming arts to keep alive in the breast of the homeless London youth some of the reverence and chivalrous regard for women that life in the great city is only too apt to dissipate. We cannot speak too highly of the entertainment offered at these pleasant evenings. The only fault it that they are too short to effect the object they have in view - viz, to offer counter-attractions to those who would otherwise frequent doubtful places of amusement. By paying sixpence at a music-hall, a young man can have his whole evening occupied from 8 till 11 pm. ; but here, though he pays nothing for his entertainment, it is over at 9.30, and he is then as much at the mercy of the streets as ever. This is, in fact, the fault of almost all the philanthropic efforts now being made to afford free and wholesome amusement for the people. They do not give  enough to fill up the evening, and thus at the most dangerous hours of the day the young man or woman has an hour or more of leisure which he or [-279-] she hardly knows what to do with. It is too early to go home to bed, and too late to go anywhere else; and the only alternative is to walk the streets awhile, when every element of moral danger is at its height.
    A comparatively new feature of the Y.M.CA.'s work is the provision made for the physical culture of its members. The gymnasium in Long Acre is one-of the most spacious and best-appointed in London. It is filled every evening by numbers of young men, who submit to regular instruction and judicious oversight in the practice of athletic exercises, but Wednesday is a kind of show night, when visitors are admitted to the gallery, and members are expected to appear in athletic costume - white flannel guernseys and knickerbockers with blue stockings, the squad-leaders being distinguished by red stockings and sashes. As many as four hundred youths spend their evenings here, and as the Secretary remarks, after two hours' exercise in the gymnasium they are glad to go straight home to bed. The culture of athleticism is a direct antidote to sensual indulgence. There are cricket, rowing, cycling, and swimming clubs in connection with both the Exeter Hall and Aldersgate Street centres, so that the reproach so often cast upon religious movements that they aim too exclusively at saving souls has little or no force in reference to the Y.M.C.A.
    But now the question comes, Does the Y.M.C.A. command the confidence of the youth of London? We believe that it soon will, if it does not already. There is still as we have pointed out, a vast amount of prejudice against it, not only amongst the irre-[-280-]ligious, but amongst intelligent Christians ; but that this is being rapidly overcome may be gathered from the wonderful increase in the numbers of its associates during the last few months. There are in London more than 10,000 young in connection with the central institute or its branches, and of these more than 1,000 have joined within the last year. Every day widens the circle of its influence and increases the number of its members. In almost every large house of business there is a resident correspondent, who forwards a monthly list of new arrivals to the Secretary, and each of these receives an invitation to the social evenings of the Association and a free card of membership for one month, in order that he may become thoroughly acquainted with the objects and advantages of the Y.M.C.A. before being asked to join as a subscribing member.
    The difference between members and associations has already been pointed out, and it is interesting to know that the proportion of the former to the latter is about one-third. Of course the very word "Christian" in the name of the Association is quite sufficient to deter many a youth from joining it at first; as it suggests to his unthinking or ill- instructed mind ideas of goody-goodiness, milk-sopism, or cant, and to many the great attraction of London life is its utter freedom from religious or moral restraint. It is not surprising, therefore, to hear from the Secretary that those who join the Association may be roughly divided into two classes - those who come straight to them upon their arrival in London, and those who have learnt by bitter [-281-] experience the vanity and vexation of spirit that unrestrained indulgence in sin creates.
    Many of the great wholesale and retail warehousemen are independent of the Y.M.C.A., as they have the same advantages offered them in the houses they are connected with, and it is therefore amongst those who occupy private lodgings that it finds most of its members.
    The terms of subscription are 5s. per annum or those from fifteen to twenty years of age, 10s. from twenty to thirty years of age, and a guinea for all above thirty. This subscription gives the free use of reading-room, library, and writing-room, admission to lectures, entertainments, etc., and admission at reduced fees to all educational classes, which in most instances are 3s. per term. Any young man in London can, therefore, at a trifling expense, command more advantages than membership of a wealthy West End club could offer him, with the exception, perhaps, of a billiard and a card-room. Neither of these will be found at Exeter Hall.
    Enough, then, has been said to show what a great work is being done by the Y.M.C.A. on behalf of Tempted London. It is difficult to say what more it could do. It derives all its energy and support from its distinctively religious and Evangelical character, and we very much question whether it would effect half the good it now does were it to  follow the advice of those who would have it relegate its evangelizing agencies to the background.