Young Mens Christian Associations

Young Men's Christian Associations This is the current designation of certain organization of modern times for religious work outside of the regular ecclesiastical limits.

I. History. — There were associations of young men for religious improvement in Great Britain and Ireland at a very early period. The meetings of college students participated in and largely controlled by John and Charles Wesley were of this character. Such organizations found their way into Germany and Switzerland about the same time. In 1710 there were similar societies in New England, which were addressed by Cotton Mather under the title "Young Men Associated." There were similar associations in some of the German cities during the period from 1834 to 1842. Up to that time, however, the organizations were sporadic, and left no permanent results in the form of our present associations. A larger movement occurred in Germany in 1849, which resulted in the organization of the German associations of the present time.

The Young Men's Christian Associations of England and America originated in a meeting of a dozen clerks in the upper story of a London commercial house, for the purpose of spending an hour in religious exercises, in 1844. It was organized by George Williams, one of the clerks, and afterwards became enlarged in its scope and plan so as to meet the wants of the Christian young men of that vicinity. A convention of those who had become interested in the movement was held, and a society was formed on June 6, 1844, for "Improving the Spiritual Condition of Young Men in the Drapery and other Trades." The plan was imitated in other British cities, and found its way across the Channel. Various cities on the Continent attempted similar organizations, and among them Paris. In the French metropolis, however, the consent of the police was required in order to hold any kind of public meeting. This was at length given, and a start was made in the good work. A providential circumstance favored the popularization of the new movement. Just at this time Rernan's Life of Jesus had appeared, and was producing great excitement among the Parisians. The work was read by thousands. To counteract the infidel influence of this brilliant writer, Protestant lectures were given in reply to him. The lectures were crowded. Thousands became eager listeners, who had hitherto been out of the reach of the churches and other religious movements. This gained for the association the esteem of all the better classes, and gave it a standing which it has ever since maintained.

The movement of London also found its way across the Atlantic in two directions at about the same time. The association of Montreal, Canada, was organized according to the model of the London society, Dec. 9,1851. Twenty days later, by direct suggestion from London, and without knowledge of the organization at Montreal, the association of Boston, Mass., was organized. On June 30, 1852, the association of New York was organized, and during the same year ten associations, including those of Baltimore and Washington, came into existence. Cincinnati, however, claims a permanent organization since 1848, which is earlier than that of any other American association. Such. organizations have greatly multiplied in North America since the time above mentioned, and at an early period of their history united in conventions for aggressive and concerted action. At the First Annual Convention of the Young Men's Christian Associations of the United States and British Provinces, which met at Buffalo, N. Y., June 7 and 8, 1854, a number of the societies, about half of those in existence, formed a Confederation. There were at that time in the countries mentioned 35 societies with about 8000 members. Associations not formally connected with the Confederation were welcomed to seats in the annual meetings, but could have no part in the proceedings except by courtesy of the convention. A second convention was held at Cincinnati in September, 1855, when there were 60 associations with 9000 members. A third convention was held at Montreal in June, 1856, when the reports showed the existence of 67 societies with 10,000 members. This convention accepted and ratified, the Paris basis, adopted by the first World's Conference of the associations, held in that city in 1855. It is as follows:

"The Young Men's Christian Associations seek to unite those young men who, regarding Jesus Christ as their God and Savior, according to the Holy Scriptures, desire to be his disciples in their doctrine and in their life, and to associate their efforts for the extension of his kingdom among young men." As a rule, the American associations regulated their membership on this basis. It was deemed advisable to keep their membership within the membership of the evangelical churches. While those outside who are seriously disposed are permitted to enjoy all the general advantages of the association, they are not allowed to vote or to hold office. In the English associations, as a general rule, any person is eligible to membership who gives evidence of his conversion to God. But still it is expected that when such a state exists, the young man will unite with some Church. In Holland there is no restriction as to membership; it is presumed that when a young man presents himself to the association, he is earnestly seeking the kingdom of God, and is worthy of all encouragement. From the period of its organization to the breaking-out of the civil war in 1861, the new movement had made steady and rapid progress, the membership of all the associations having reached 25,000 in April of the preceding year. The work done is in part indicated by an extract from the report of the annual convention held at New Orleans, April 11, 1860:

"Sixty-nine associations have sent in reports. Of these 64 have sustained prayer-meetings; 15 have Bible-classes; 34 conduct mission Sabbath schools; 30 have had courses of sermons, and 35

courses of lectures; 45 own libraries, and 38 keep open reading- rooms." But with the fall of Fort Sumter came a terrible shock to the associations. Many of them disbanded; the annual convention could not be called that spring; and the Confederation speedily fell to pieces. The work of the preceding ten years seemed to have been destroyed in a day. But a new field of activity came on with the war. Within a month after the opening of the war the association of New York appointed an Army Committee, who began work among the soldiers gathered in the numerous camps in the neighborhood of that city, and exposed to the demoralizing influences of camp and army life. Devotional meetings were held among the soldiers; a pocket edition of a Soldier's Hymnbook was published and circulated; the Christian men of every regiment were organized, as far as possible, for effective work, and public sentiment was aroused in behalf of the momentous interests involved.

The need of co-operation under this new phase of the movement, as under the earlier development, was soon felt, and, by the suggestion of the Army Committee of the New York association, the Central Committee was induced to call a convention to meet in New York. Only forty-two delegates were present, and these represented but fifteen associations; but in their sessions, which lasted a day and a half, a grand beginning was effected. In order to promote the temporal and spiritual welfare of the soldiers and sailors of the army and navy, the United States Christian Commission was appointed. This commission consisted of twelve Christian gentlemen from eight leading cities, and was to be the organ and executive agent of the Young Men's Christian Associations and of the Christian public. This proved to be a great boon to the soldiers in camps, on battle- fields, and in hospitals. It co-operated with the Sanitary Commission, which was a purely secular agency; but it went further than that commission could go. The Christian public heartily supported its efforts, and made it the medium by which Christian homes, churches and communities sent spiritual and material comfort the soldiers in the field and the hospital. This work belonged distinctively to the Young Men's Christian Associations only at its origin. After it was fairly organized it belonged to the whole Christian public. During the four years of the war, the commission sent out 4859 delegates to do hospital and Gospel work; expended in cash $2,513,741.63; received and distributed stores worth $2,839,445.20; received and distributed Bibles and- reading-matter valued at $299,576.26,; distributed 1,466,748 Bibles and parts of the Bible, 296,816 bound books, 1,370,953 hymnbooks, 19,621,103 papers and magazines, 8,308,052 knapsack-books in flexible covers, 39,104,243 pages of tracts — its delegates preached 58,308 sermons, and held 77,444 prayer-meetings.

Similar work was done by some of the associations in the South among the soldiers of the Confederate army, but there was no general organization for that purpose.

The distinctive work of the associations throughout the country during the war was continued on a limited scale. Two general conventions were held during this period; the first met at Chicago, June 4-7,1863, with 30 associations represented; the second met at Boston, June 1-5,1864, with 28 associations represented by 136 delegates. Although these meetings were full of enthusiasm, it appeared that the principal activity of the societies was absorbed in army and commission work.

After the close of the war the associations entered upon a new period of progress in their work among young men, which has continued at an increasing rate until the present, and has every appearance of a still greater development of power for good in the years to come. Among the items in which this improvement has been manifested, a few deserve mention. A number of general secretaries have been appointed, who make this work for young men the business of their lives. These secretaries hold an annual meeting for the interchange of views on their common work, and carefully prepared papers are read on topics of vital interest to those present. The greatest advantage accruing from the labors of these officers is the rapid increase of societies, as well as of workers in those already organized. There has been a rapid increase in the amount of property and the number of buildings owned by these associations. A test of membership has been adopted by the International Convention, which has secured a more substantial Christian character to the associations. In 1866, at Albany, N.Y., they reaffirmed the Paris basis adopted in 1856; in 1868, at Detroit, Mich., they adopted the "evangelical Church test" and in 1869, at Portland, Me., defined the term evangelical. The test, as now applied, is as follows:

"Resolved, That, as these organizations bear the name of Christian, and profess to be engaged directly in the Savior's service, so it is clearly their duty to maintain the control and management of all their affairs in the hands of those who profess to love and publicly avow their faith in Jesus, the Redeemer, as Divine, and who testify their faith by becoming and remaining members of churches held to be evangelical. And we hold those churches to be evangelical, which, maintaining the Holy Scriptures to be the only infallible rule of faith and practice, do believe in' the Lord Jesus Christ (the only begotten of the Father, King of kings and Lord of lords, in whom dwelleth the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and who was made sin for us, though knowing no sin, bearing our sins in his own body on the tree), as the only name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved from everlasting punishment." At the time this resolution was passed about one half of the associations had the same test. It was decided that all associations organized after that date must, in order to be entitled to representation in the International Convention, limit their active voting membership to members of evangelical churches. The associations have thus secured the hearty co- operation of the churches and Christian people of the land. Another important work, not to be overlooked, is the origination by these societies of stringent legislation in the United States for the suppression of obscene literature, and the continuation of those efforts by special organizations for the enforcement of such legislation.

The building of the Pacific Railroad brought together many men of vicious habits, who, in turn, contaminated those who came in contact with them. Here was a new population continually on the move, yet sadly needing the assistance of such an organization as the Young Men's Christian Association. Each new terminus of the road became, for the time being, a town, generally of tents and board shanties; but what was a town today might be a wilderness to-morrow, and another spot in the wilderness be chosen for the town. Churches 'could not keep pace with this onward march of humanity. and in July, 1868, the Young Men's Christian Association of Omaha organized a movement to meet the demands of this new field.. They sent out a company of Christian young men whose duty it was to keep pace with the march of the employs and the attendant means of drawing men into temptation. They held religious meetings wherever they could get a hearing, and organized societies for the perpetuation of these beginnings. After the movement had been fairly started by the Omaha association, and its practicability had been demonstrated, the International Convention of the Young Men's Christian Association took it up, and extended it' to other railroads as rapidly as circumstances would permit.

Efforts were made to open rooms for railroad workmen at Erie, Altoona, Baltimore, Jersey City, and other important centers, but for various reasons they met with only partial success. In time leading railroad men became interested in these philanthropic labors in behalf of their employees. Such men as Cornelius Vanderbilt, Thomas A. Scott, John W. Garrett, Robert Harris, J. H. Devereux, and others gave encouragement to the movement in various ways. Some of them contributed to the support of secretaries named by the associations, and offered rooms for the holding of meetings. In Indianapolis twelve railway companies unite in supporting the association; and in Chicago the principal railroad officials are members of association committees.

II. Present Operations. — There are two prominent characteristics of these associations, which deserve notice they are associations of young men; they embody the youthful. enthusiasm and energies of the Church. What constitutes a young man, is a problem that has had various solutions. In America a man is considered to have passed his youth when he has reached the age of forty years. After that he ceases to be an active, and becomes a counseling, member. In France marriage serves as the dividing line between the young men and those who have passed young manhood. Young women, as a rule, are not admitted. In one or two organizations women have been admitted to equal or nearly equal privileges with men. This is the case in Brooklyn, where the wisdom of the plan is apparent in the activity and efficiency of the society. In some other cities women have all the privileges of the library and reading-room, and other similar advantages. In Boston they have organized a Young Women's Christian Association. A like association was founded in New York in 1870, and incorporated in 1873. It has for its object the same ends as those to which Young Men's Christian Associations are directed. Generally, however, young women are not admitted to these organizations of young men, except as spectators to certain of the more public meetings.

The second characteristic of these associations is their undenominational character. They profess to be simply Christian associations. But it was found necessary to limit the voting membership to Christian young men and in time it was deemed important to find a. common basis of Christian belief. This was found in the evangelical test already mentioned. There is a broad distinction to be noted in the methods and opinions of the evangelical churches and the so-called liberal Christians. The incitements to sinners to lead a new life, the degree of zeal in exhortation, and the methods of instructing inquiring penitents are so widely different in the two systems of belief that it was considered vital to the success of the enterprise to keep them separate in this field of labor. No new creed was desired, and none was needed; a simple declaration of what was already in the symbols of all evangelical churches was sufficient to unite the Christian young men of America into one brotherhood for aggressive Christian work. There is no clashing of theological opinions, for all have united under the one banner of the Divine Christ, to reach out and save fallen humanity from impending ruin. The work of the associations consists of prayer-meetings, Bible classes, social meetings, educational classes, meetings in jails, hospitals and almshouses, open-air services, services of song, neighborhood and cottage prayer-meetings, and the sustaining of reading- rooms, lectures, gymnasiums for physical exercise, and employment bureaus. The extent of this work is indicated in the statistics given at the close of this article.

The great work and rapid growth already indicated, and still more apparent by an examination of the statistics, could not have been secured by the active efforts of individual associations. A very common experience is that of a few young men of a village, who meet and organize an association, obtain a room, meet for a few months, and then disband. Such failures result from a lack of organized superintendence. To counteract such evils, secretaries were employed, who were to give their time to the work and receive remunerative salaries. In 1870 these were 11 in number; while in 1880 there were 133 secretaries, with several assistants.

The system of organization and mutual dependence of these associations is best indicated by an extract from an article by Rev. George R. Crooks, D.D., in Harpers Weekly for April 3, 1880. He says, "First are the local organizations, occupying hired rooms, or in some instances their own buildings, and employing secretaries to conduct the necessary business. Then follow the state and provincial organizations, composed, of a State or Canadian province, holding an annual convention and appointing a State committee to exercise due oversight. Their relation to the local bodies, however, is purely advisory; twelve of them employ secretaries. Ascending higher, we have the American International organization, composed of the associations of the United States and Canada. Its executive agent is an International Committee of twenty-five members, having a working quorum in New York city. The committee is a vigorous body, and has taken in hand the fostering of associations among college students, commercial travelers, Germans, colored young men, and railroad men. At the top of all is the International Central Committee, which met in Geneva, Switzerland, in June, 1879." The work accomplished by the American International organization has exerted a powerful influence upon the associations of the whole country. In 1866 a committee of five was appointed by the convention, and located in New York. This committee has since retained its headquarters, with a working quorum, in that city, but has been increased to twenty-five members, many of whom reside in other parts of the country. This is the executive agent of the International Convention. By it the convention is called to assemble each year, and by it the proceedings are afterwards published. Each year the committee brings up a report of its work, and submits a plan for the coming year. This, after due consideration and such modifications as are considered desirable, is referred back to the committee for execution. In 1868 the convention authorized the employment of a visitor in the West. The field included the states of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Kentucky, and Tennessee. There he has continued to labor with abundant success. When he began his labors there were less than 40 associations, maintained at an annual expense of $29,000. Now there are nearly 300 associations, expending annually more than $100,000. At that time only one general secretary was employed, and not one society owned a building. Now there are 48 general secretaries and eight buildings. The eleven states all have state organizations, and of these six employ state secretaries. The requirements of the central office had so increased in 1870 that a general secretary of the International Committee was appointed to direct the correspondence, visitation, and editorial work. He has since been retained, and, owing to the increased demands of this department, an assistant has lately been provided.

The work in the South has developed wonderfully within a period of ten years. In 1870 there were between Virginia and Texas only three associations. In that year the visitors of the committee began their labors in that section, and now there are more than 150 associations. The work among railroad men has already been referred to another movement, entirely independent of the Pacific Railroad Mission, was that begun in Cleveland, O., in 1872. In that city, where about 10,000 men are employed by railroad companies, meetings were held to which men of this class only were invited. The idea was taken up and practiced by other railroad cities, and, finally, the International Committee undertook the general supervision of this branch. Since the beginning of 1877 a general railroad secretary has given his entire time to this work, organizing associations, locating secretaries, visiting associations, and holding conventions. There are now more than eighty railroad organizations, with a membership of about 17,153. In 1874 the first meeting of the National Bund of German- speaking Associations was held in Baltimore. A competent secretary was chosen, and the International Committee asked to sustain him. The work of this secretary is to visit German communities and organize associations. The field embraces the young men to be found among the two millions of German-speaking inhabitants in America.

The general work among colleges was begun in 1877, when a visitor was placed in the field. The work has yielded abundant fruit. There are now 302 associations in colleges, with a total membership of 18,742.

A secretary has been sent to visit the colored young men of the Southern States, to organize associations, but more especially to instruct them in right methods of Christian endeavor.

A great work has been undertaken 3 behalf of commercial travelers. A ticket has been issued by the International Committee, which entitles the holder to all the privileges of the associations where he may be traveling. A secretary for commercial travelers has been appointed, and the work of this department receives his attention.

So the work is ever enlarging and reaching out into new fields. In 1868 the committee expended in its entire work $1399. Now, with the recent development of the work in all its departments, $22,000 are required annually to meet the demands upon it.

III. The Outlook. — In its Statement of Work for 1880, the International Committee has announced the following as its field of labor: "60,000 college students; 100,000 commercial travelers; 500,000 German-speaking young men; 500,000 colored young men; 800,000 railroad men; the young men in the states west of Ohio; the young men at the South; the young men in Canada; the Young Men's Christian Associations of North America." They state that the work will call for the undivided effort of nine men; the co-operation, for brief periods, of twenty-five members and forty corresponding members of the committee in every state and province; the visitation of more than 550 places; 130,000 miles of travel by these workers; distribution of pamphlets and documents relating to the work, with necessary correspondence. All this can be done with so much economy that $22,000 will cover the total cost." In America the field is almost unlimited, and with its present facilities, the International Executive Committee will go, on enlarging the work and gathering power while there are any young men yet unsaved.

IV. Statistics. — There have been eight World's Conferences held- beginning with that at Paris in 1855, and ending with that at Geneva, Switzerland, in 1878. Twenty-three American International Conventions have been held-beginning with the one at Buffalo in 1854, and ending with the one at Baltimore in 1879. There were thirty State and Provincial conventions held during the year ending June, 1880. There is, over and above the committees already referred to, an International Central Committee, appointed by the: World's Conference at Geneva in 1878. This committee represents eight Christian countries, and has headquarters at Geneva, where the general secretary and one half of the members reside. In America there are 9 International secretaries, 13 State secretaries, 977 general secretaries, and 66 assistants and other agents.

The following table will indicate in some degree the wonderful growth of the Young Men's Christian Associations in this country. The figures, however, do not fully represent the facts. Many associations send in no reports. Their membership, property, libraries, and work must therefore be left out of the account. Much of the work, also, is of such a nature that it cannot be represented in statistical tables. The information about this work in foreign lands is meager, but enough is known to give some idea of the proportions it has assumed in several countries.

Other Countries. — The latest reports from the British Isles show 583 associations. In 1889 partial returns indicated an average membership of 160 in England Many societies in Great Britain own the buildings in which they keep open reading-rooms, and employ the same general plans in their work as have already been described.

There are in France 61 associations, but the membership is very small, averaging less than 20.

In Germany the statistics are more encouraging. There are 836 associations in all, of which 173 report a membership of 8035, 113 have libraries aggregating 20,710 volumes, 170 sustain educational classes, and 173 conduct Bible classes.

The total number of associations in Holland is 406; but we have no report of membership or other items.

In Switzerland there are 383 associations, 80 of which report a membership of 1284. There are also 22 Boys' Associations. The most of these societies sustain prayer-meetings, Bible classes, song services, and Sunday-schools; several have courses of lectures and a few own libraries. The great majority of them have been organized within a few years, and more may be expected in the future than has yet been done.

Sweden has 81 associations, with 3435 members. The following additional associations in various countries are reported: Italy, 41; Spain, 8; Austria, 5; Belgium, 27; India, 15; Syria, 1 — the one at Beirut, organized in, 1870, has 60 members and a library of 160 volumes; three others were at Damascus, Jaffa, and Nazareth; South Africa, 10; Japan, 10; Madagascar, 2; Sandwich Islands, 4; Bulgaria, 9; Norway,:73. There are in the world, so far as reported, 2371 associations.

Most of the information contained in this article has been obtained from documents published by the American International Committee, especially a Historical Sketch of the Young Men's Christian Associations of the United States, etc., written by Richard C. Morse, secretary of the International Committee (N. Y. 1878); and the Year-book of the International Committee for 188990. See also Harper's Magazine, Oct. 1870, p. 641 sq.


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