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Chapter XLI I Surprise the Clergy

IN Buffalo I became a member of the Ministers’ Meeting. In it was represented nearly every school and shade of theological thought. In it were clergymen, living in the religious beliefs of hundreds of years gone; standing with their faces over their shoulders, their eyes on the road of the past, which leads to dead issues.

Some were so dense that it was difficult for them to see a hole through a sieve with daylight on the other side of it. Some were of the broadest minds and highest culture, while others of them belonged in the cornfield rather than the pulpit. Some were womanish and very ladylike in their manners; some, manly, full-blooded men.

One was so small in personality I always wanted to look at him through a microscope to make sure he was a man.

One was sun-like, and with him I felt a need of smoked glass to keep me from being blinded by his brilliance.

Still another was moonlike, a world burnt out by bitterness. A telescope was needed with which to view his lonely caverns and bleak mountains. This man was a destroyer of struggling life.

Most of them were in a rut—which is a grave with both ends kicked out.

Nearly all of these men were charitably disposed, but one brother of my own denomination did his best to send me to jail because he felt sure I was a criminal.

Another, the Stated Clerk of Buffalo Presbytery, had my name dropped from the roll of ministers of the Presbyterian Church on the plea that my place of residence was unknown, although he had in his possession at the time a letter—which he afterwards acknowledged—giving my address; moreover, several of the brethren knew where I lived. Accidentally discovering that I had been unjustly deposed from the ministry, I appeared at a meeting of Presbytery, when my name was restored to the roll.

But, taken as a whole, the members of the Ministers’ Meeting were the finest men with whom I have ever been privileged to associate. Those of high intellectual attainment and character were of inestimable benefit to me. Indeed, to such as I, they made the club a university.

But among all the wonderful things I learned, the most surprising was to hear the ministers lament over having to unlearn so much they had learned while students in the theological seminaries.

The meetings were held on Monday afternoons and lasted two hours. At each meeting some member in his turn would read an essay or preach a sermon, which became the subject for discussion and criticism. A dinner followed each session.

While I always received help from contact with these men, I am sure that at times the spirit of my old life expressed itself in a way that grated upon their refined sensibilities. For it takes time and effort to adjust, oneself to the demands of a new environment.

One of my unexpected doings happened after my visit to the Gun Club one Monday. Sportsmen were there from every part of the country, and they were trying out their guns preparatory to the regular tournament. At the moment they were making up a “pot” to pay for the clay pigeons which they were to use. The money remaining after they were paid for, was to go to the man who would break the greatest number.

Judging from my clothes that I was a minister, and expecting to have some fun at my expense, one of the men winked at his fellows and said: “Let’s ask the preacher in on this.”

His tone was facetious but was tinged with contempt.

“Yes; come on in, preacher,” indulgently invited the man collecting the money for the “pot.”

“I am not familiar with a shot gun. I have been used to the rifle,” I demurred.

“Oh! come on in, preacher. Be a sport,” laughingly challenged the sportsmen in chorus.

Now, I never liked to be called a preacher, and the apparent contempt with which these men viewed my calling, made my blood tingle, and it decided me. In my pocket was a dollar in small change. I put it into the “pot” and took one of the proffered guns. I used several during the day, and fired until my shoulder was so sore from the recoil I could hardly raise my arm.

The sun was low in the west when I remembered I was due at the Ministers’ Meeting for dinner. Thither I hastened and piled my winnings on one of the tables. I was thirty-nine dollars to the good, after paying for my share of the clay pigeons and the ammunition.

With no little pride I told how I had earned the money. My story was greeted with roars of laughter from most of the brethren. Then followed discussions of the ethics of shooting for money. A majority decided, though somewhat jokingly, that I had upheld the dignity of my calling, and, finally, one of the oldest ministers carried the day by showing conclusively that it was not gambling, but skill, through which the money became mine.

As for myself, I was content, for I enjoyed the satisfaction of having won over the crack marksmen. But the next day the same minister who had championed my cause, induced me to accompany him to an Indian reservation. Lest I be tempted again, I surmised.

During my five and a half years’ pastorate of the South Church in Buffalo, I started two missions under its care. One of these—The Faxon Avenue—had its beginning out-of-doors on a street comer, and my pulpit was an old wagon which I had borrowed from a saloon-keeper. Both missions have since grown into churches.

In all these years of my Christian ministry a menacing cloud hung over me. It was the memory of my old military offence. I had never spoken of it to any one, and I brooded over the thought that I, a clergyman, was at the same time an escaped convict. The thought with its sting grew as time passed.

Surely, no man ever occupied a position so peculiar.

I finally decided I had made a mistake at the outset of my Christian life in not making a clean breast of my secret, and applying for a pardon. But I did not know how to go about it, so I dreaded the consequences which might follow a confession. Suddenly came the crisis which forced me to take action in the matter. It came shortly after I had visited the Kiowa and other tribes in Oklahoma.


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