Material History of American Religion Project

The Pastor: A Promoter of Benevolent Efforts

Raising money has never been easy or without controversy in the church, as this anonymous document from the 1850s aptly demonstrates.

The various enterprises of the times which shadow forth that day of glory when the dark and direful effects of the fall shall pass away, leaving in their place the transcendently beautiful hues of righteousness, had from Mr. Eldridge the warmest sympathy and the most energetic aid. None of them escaped his eye nor were without an impulse from his aid; for in them all he saw signs of triumph to that cause to which he had consecrated his life.

On a Monday morning following the Sabbath on which he had commended one of these enterprises to his people in an earnest and truthful presentation of its worth, not only to the church, but to society in general, Colonel Presbury, Deacon Barnes, and one or two other gentlemen happened into the store of Squire Davidson about the same time. The conversation for a while was upon the great embarrassments of financial affairs in the country at that time prevailing, and which was almost every where the frequent topic of remark. At length, in apology perhaps for the exercise of more than ordinary prudence in the use of that which "answereth all things," Colonel Presbury observed, ­ "Our minister, Deacon Barnes, seems to think that we are not suffering much from the scarcity of money; he appears to feel that we have enough yet and to spare. was down upon us yesterday pretty hard, I thought."

"None too hard," said the deacon. "Mr. Eldridge did grandly yesterday. Though he was very earnest, yet he did not oblige any to give who were not disposed. He left the matter about right."

"Of course he did not oblige any to give; for he could not do that," the colonel replied. "But, then, a man can not avoid doing something, after his duty is made so plain and the cause so important and imperative. Besides, one feels rather small in refusing to sign something when his neighbors are giving pretty liberally."

"I am pleased to hear you admit," said the deacon, "that our minister exhibits the duty of benevolence with 'clearness and force, and makes the particular cause he advocates tell its own claims to patronage."

"Yes, deacon, I suppose I must admit that; if I did not, I should be in a rather small company. I think Mr. Eldridge does pretty well when he undertakes with the pocket. Somehow or other he makes the money come. But what is the use of his taking up so many of these causes, deacon ? He has one a month, and sometimes two."

"He considers them all very important, I suppose; as, indeed, they are. They all seem to be necessary for the benefit Of our fellow­creatures and for bringing forward the day when religion shall generally prevail and all wickedness and oppression shall cease."

"Well, deacon," said the colonel, "neither you nor I will live to see that day..."

"But we may hasten its approach, colonel, if we are pretty liberal and perform our other duties connected with this great event."

"It costs too much, deacon, it really costs too much for me," said the colonel, with an expression of countenance that made it evident he was sincere in the utterance. "Last year, what I gave and what my wife and daughters gave, after the appeals of Mr. Eldridge from month to month, amounted to one hundred and twenty­seven dollars."

"I am really glad he was so successful," the deacon replied with a smile. "If he had obtained twice that amount it would have been no matter. Your purse is deep, you know."

"Really, colonel," said the squire, "you did well last year. I presume you lost no sleep by your liberality."

"No; but then I lost some money. I shall have to stop giving if Mr. Eldridge continues to call as often as he has done. He'll drain me all dry."

"You need not flatter yourself," said the squire, "that the calls upon you will be any the less frequent or urgent by reason of any backwardness on the part of our pastor in soliciting."

"I suppose not," the colonel mournfully said; "I suppose not. Mr. Eldridge thinks he is right, and there is no stopping him; he will go ahead."

"I think our people have done very well for a few years past in their contributions to benevolent object," the squire remarked. "They were not much disposed to give when Mr. Eldridge first came here," Mr. Parker said.

"They were not, that is true," the squire replied. "They had not been trained to benevolent habits. We are indebted to Mr. Eldridge for this process?'

"Yes, yes, we are," quickly responded Colonel Presbury. "Mr. Eldridge has not been slow in this department of labor. We have had line upon line and precept upon precept, here a little and there a good deal, by way of instruction and appeal. If it had not been for Mr. Eldridge I should have been a 'thousand dollars richer ­ yes, a thousand dollars richer ! I was reckoning recently what our family have given that I know of to different benevolent societies for the last four years; and principal and interest make the amount a little rising one thousand dollars."

"Perhaps," said Deacon Barnes, "you would not have been so rich as you now are by several thousand dollars had not our pastor been instrumental in opening your heart and purse somewhat. I believe public opinion declares that you have added more to your property for the last three years than at any former period."

"I have not lost quite so much lately by bad debts as I formerly did," the colonel replied. "As for making money, you know any one can do that."

"If every one can make money," the deacon replied, "there are very few who succeed as you have done.. You have been wonderfully prospered. I hope you will give over two thousand dollars to benevolent societies for the next four years; and I advise you to resolve to do this, or more, if you wish to continue to grow rich. I believe in Scripture promises and Scripture threatenings, colonel. I believe in this one, for instance: 'There is that scattereth and yet increaseth; and there is the withholding more than is meet, and it tendeth to poverty."'

"Well, well," said the colonel, "I shall do in the way you mention for the next four years, if I should live, just as little as I can."

"O. colonel," the deacon replied, "how can you be thus ungrateful after having been blessed in the period when you have been somewhat liberal more than in any such length of time before ?"

"I was not expecting such a decision from you, colonel," said the squire, "to give as little as you could."

"If I continue to go to meeting," the colonel replied, "and if we have Mr. Eldridge for our minister, I do not believe that it will be possible for me to give less than two thousand dollars for the next four years. I tell you what, gentlemen, Mr. Eldridge has a wonderful faculty for getting away money."

"If this be your feeling," said the deacon, "I am glad of it. I hope and believe Mr. Eldridge will remain with us. If you do as you think you are likely to do, you may advance very much in property whilst you remain benevolent."'

"Now that our pastor has gotten us in such a good way of giving, as you call it, I think," said the colonel, "it would be well for him to go to some of the neighboring parishes and stir them a little. Some of them might benefited, perhaps, by his services. I should like to have him try some of them; and if he bled them pretty smartly I would not object. It would be a capital plan for the American Board or some other benevolent society to employ him. He would raise the money for them."

"The attempt has been made by one benevolent society," said the squire, "to secure his services."

"It has!" said the colonel. "He has been invited to leave us, then? How much salary has he been offered ?" "Much more than he has here," was the reply.

"How lately was this offer made him ?" the colonel inquired. "About two months since," the squire said.

"He is not intending to leave us," the colonel remarked, "or he would have asked for a dismission before this, I suppose."

"I think Mr. Eldridge will not leave us at present," the squire said. "What a noble agent Mr. Eldridge would make!" Mr. Parker observed. "His heart is so deeply interested all the benevolent societies that he would be very likely to infuse his own interest into any audience he might address."

"If he should succeed in all congregations like our own," said the deacon, "he would truly accomplish great things for any society which might have the good fortune to secure his services."

"It is sometimes really amusing," the squire observed, "to hear what is said of Mr. Eldridge's manner of reaching the heart. You know Mr. Andrews don't believe in these benevolent societies. A. few Sabbaths since it was announced that on the next Sabbath a subscription would be taken up in behalf of the sailors. In the course of the week Henry Andrews ­­ a roguish fellow, you know ­­ importuned his father for five dollars, for the purpose of purchasing a gun. His father, being disinclined to give him the sum, remonstrated with Henry. He told him that he had other and better uses for his money, and said a variety of things to dissuade the boy from pressing his request. Henry at last became impatient and said, 'You will give next Sunday, I dare say, to Mr. Eldridge's sailors twice as much as I ask you for now.' His father told him if he did, or if he gave any thing, he would certainly give him five dollars with which to buy the gun. Henry said no more, but was willing to wait. You remember how very earnest and interesting Mr. Eldridge was that Sabbath when he pleaded the cause Of Seamen, how eloquently he described their perilous condition and their indispensable agency in bringing to our shores the products of foreign climes and of taking to these regions our own surplus commodities, and withal how truthfully he painted the representative character of the sailor, and thence deduced the importance that he be both qualified and disposed to give the true representation of the land of his birth. Well, after the subscription had been taken and the services were closed, I met Henry Andrews as I was passing out, and from his looks I perceived he wished to speak to me. I addressed him, and gave him opportunity. So he at once said that he would like to see the subscription paper which had just been circulated. Taking the paper from my pocket, I handed it to him. I saw he looked confused after examining it a moment, and I asked him if I could assist him in any way. He said his object in looking at the paper was to ascertain if his father's name was on it. I informed him that it was, and at once showed it to him. 'Good ­­ good,' said he;' father is down for ten dollars.' His joy was so great that I could not resist the promptings of my curiosity, and I asked him what pleased him so much at discovering that his father had given ten dollars. He then told me the story of the gun, and appeared sure that he should now have it."

"That is pretty good," said the colonel. "I knew Mr. Andrews gave ten dollars, for I heard him speak of it. He said that he did not intend to give a cent. When he went to meeting he determined that he would not patronize these societies ­­ that he would keep his money for useful purposes; but he said Mr. Eldridge obtained the advantage of him. He lost control of himself, and was forced to surrender his own judgment to the reasoning and conclusions of the minister; and he put down ten dollars for the sailors."

"You heard of the effect of that sermon on Mrs. Pitcher; did you not, colonel ?"

"I have heard nothing," was the reply.

"My wife was telling me," said the squire, "that a sister of Mrs. Pitcher, who resides in Boston, has been out on a visit lately, and that Mrs. Pitcher was very much taken up with a silk dress worn by her sister, and was determined to have one of a similar pattern. She supposed her husband would begrudge the money, and that fifteen dollars would come hard from him for a single dress. However, she ventured to encounter his rebukes of her extravagance, and requested the requisite sum, at the same time saying that she knew of no reason why she should not have a dress equal to that of her sister. So, after the exercise of all her tact and eloquence, she succeeded in obtaining from her husband the amount she desired. Her sister was expecting to return home the next week, and Mrs. Pitcher was intending to send by her for the dress. The Sunday following Mr. Eldridge preached in behalf of seamen; and when the subscription paper was handed to Mr. Pitcher he did not look at it; but, being passed onward in the pew, his wife took it and put down ten dollars. After she returned home she acquainted her sister with the fact, and remarked that she did not know but that she should have to do without her silk dress; for she was so much overcome by Mr. Eldridge's sermon she could not resist her convictions of duty, and subscribed ten dollars for the sailors."

"That's good!" exclaimed the colonel. "I am really glad Mr. Pitcher got bled so; but I hope his wife did not lose her dress." "No; she did not," Mr. Parker observed;" but her husband was mighty poor for some time afterwards. I had occasion, about that time, to borrow some money for a few days; and, as I had often been accommodated before by Mr. Pitcher, I called upon him for the loan. He replied that he did not know as he had so much money as I wanted ­­ that he was poor and did not know what he should do. ' My family,' said he, 'are getting to be very extravagant. I have had to give Mrs. Pitcher lately thirty dollars to buy a dress; but ten of it, I hear, went to dress the sailors. As he said this he looked not very kindly at his good wife; but she explained the matter and laughed very heartily all the while; and I could not avoid joining her. Her husband at last was obliged to give in and laugh too."

"Poor man!" said Deacon Barnes. "I suppose Mr. Pitcher is worth seventy­five thousand dollars."

"Yes," said the colonel, "all of that; but he is poorer than most men who are not worth five hundred dollars. I am glad his wife gets some of his money; I wish she might obtain three hundred dollars where she now gets but thirty."

"People don't seem to think any the worse of Mr. Eldridge for his efforts in raising money for objects of benevolence, do they, squire?" Mr. Parker inquired.

"Not that I have heard," was the reply. "I believe they are pleased that he is so successful."

"He does some good at home, I confess," said the colonel, "when he labors for money to be sent abroad. He opens some hearts that never showed any doors before. Some people are the better, I have found, for giving; they are more like human beings than formerly; they have more feeling; they show a better spirit."

"That is one of the effects of benevolence," the squire rejoined. "I have often heard Mr. Eldridge remark that he valued the benefits which accrued to his own people from their giving about as much as those produced abroad by their benefactions. The reflex influence of benevolence he thinks very great and powerful."

"That is a new idea to me," said Mr. Bolles, who had entered the store after this conversation began; "but there may be some foundation for it, I confess. So Mr. Eldridge is thinking of home when he is laboring for objects abroad ?"

"Certainly, my good sir," said the squire; "he thinks of his people first and last; and in all that he undertakes he has an eye to their good."

"Well, then, no one can blame him fir being so wide awake in his efforts for all the benevolent societies," Mr. Bolles continued, "when he sees that the influence of the liberality of his people is to benefit them."

"I do not see how Mr. Eldridge can be censured," the squire. "For my part, I value him the more for his energy and perseverance in advocating the different benevolent societies. If Mr. Eldridge imitated the example of some ministers and was silent in relation to the calls of these societies through fear that his activity would conflict with the attachment of his people to their money, he would not accomplish half for our good that he now does, nor be half So much worthy of our love and respect."

A Donation Party

Whilst Mr. Eldridge had so deep a place in the affections of his people as the preceding chapters must have shown, it would have been singular if he were not often remembered by the families of his parish at those times when the favor of a propitious Providence had given them an exuberant supply for their own necessities. He was thus remembered. The farmers did this when their fields contained the articles which are every day needed for the table where the wants of the body are satisfied. The few manufacturers who were here and there in his territory did this; and scarcely a single household in the parish omitted in the course of every year to make the pastor or his family some present with which to manifest their affection and esteem.

Aside from these informal and private acts of generosity, it had ever been the practice of his people to go en masse once a year to the house of their pastor to tender their kind congratulations, and to leave in his family that which would tell in the wardrobe, or on the table, or in the library. These annual visitations were something more than occasions for allowing the people to have a good time at the parsonage, regardless of the injury to carpets, paint, furniture, which often accompanies indifferent assemblages for fun and frolic which has marked some donation visits of which we have heard. The parishioners of Mr. Eldridge never incurred the charge of eating all that they carried, and of leaving nought but the fragments to testify of their respect and love for their pastor. If the disposition thus to do had appeared in many it would have been rebuked by the ruling spirits, which were powerful, by their judicious and commendable counsel to have the donation visit always amount to something of substantial benefit to the pastor. It was well known what Squire and Mrs. Davidson, and others like them, considered the proper demeanor on these occasions, and likewise that it would not escape the eyes of Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Clay, and others, what was carried to the parsonage, and what remained there, too, after the company had mostly retired. By reason of these influences there was ever an anxiety and care on the part of every family to have their gift of an appropriate, and therefore of a serviceable, character.

In the nineteenth year of his pastorate the people made Mr. Eldridge a donation visit, which was like the others which had preceded it ­­ a gathering of the multitude. Smiling countenances, heavy baskets and boxes, full barrels and bags, and large bundles were all there as usual. Till an hour or two had passed after the company was made up it was not discovered but that all the people were there likewise. When, however, the novelty and excitement of the scene were over, and it became a matter of comfort for those who were there to sit rather than stand, when the time came for "taking observations," it was discovered that several of the people who had heretofore always been prominent on these occasions were absent.

A Voice from the Parsonage (Boston: S. K. Whipple and Company, 1854.)

Return to the documents page

Return to the project home page