A few months ago, someone donated a little pamphlet titled Plymouth Church and the Present Day Challenge to Democracy to our library. I've passed it on to the archives, but I thought some of you might be interested in what Plymouth was doing to foster an informed citizenry. The pamphlet isn't dated, but it was written while the Reverend Dr L Wendell Fifield was minister, 1927-1941. Detective work on my part has narrowed down the date of the pamphlet to between 1935 and 1941, a time when it was increasingly necessary to have a strong democracy. That's Fifield's picture, taken from Seeking to Serve: The Legacy of Seattle's Plymouth Congregational Church by Mildred Tanner Andrews. If you haven't read this book, check it out from our library. It's fascinating!
According to Seeking to Serve, Fifield was a theologically liberal minister who balanced liturgical tradition with modern scholarship and who championed a spirit of ecumenism. In 1938, he preached a series of sermons: Christ and Stalin - Love vs Fear, Christ and Mussolini - Love vs Force, and Christ and Hitler - Love vs Hate.
The foreward to the pamphlet begins with "This is the story of the way in which one church is seeking to stem the tide of fear, intolerance, greed, dishonesty, slavery, and to reestablish hope, goodwill, altruism, integrity, freedom.... The future of America is being determined in these days. It will be the result either of a philosopy of fear or a philosophy of faith. Fear undermines democracy. Faith supports and sustains it."
The Church felt that democracy was developed through education. They provided a Church School for all ages which included the following:
The Boys Afternoon School. This was aimed at news boys, messenger boys, and others to fit into their work schedule. Charles Wilson, the Coordinator of King County Juvenile Court, credited Plymouth with decreasing the deliquency rate fifty percent for downtown Seattle through its outreach to poor and neglected boys.
The Younger Girls Program. Plymouth maintained Girl Scout, Girl Reserve, and Camp Fire groups for underprivileged girls.
The Sunday Evening Youth Program. Plymouth provided "wholesome recreation, education and inspiration" for several hundred young people "who work for very small salaries....In most cities they are the neglected group, those who have few opportunities and so feel that democracy has failed because it has failed for them."
Plymouth Book Review Program. With an average attendance of nearly 1000 each Wednesday evening, the Book Review Program was "a constructive offset to the extension of undemocratic ideals". There was also a weekly radio program, It's a Case of Books, which reached thousands of listeners every Saturday evening. Books by Pearl S Buck, Aldous Huxley, and Adolf Hitler were featured. Fifield also reviewed Mein Kampf at Herzl Synagogue where, according to Seattle's Jewish Transcript: "Distinguished champion of good-will between Jews and Christians, the Reverend Dr L Wendell Fifield will...interpret it as a key to the character of the man responsible for the greatest persecution of Jewry in modern times".
Plymouth International Forum. "Dr Fifield originated the program and conducts each session. Following a constructive analysis of international problems, questions asked by the audience are answered." Again, average attendance was around 1000 for this Sunday evening program.
I hope you have enjoyed this brief look at Plymouth's past.