Project Canterbury


When the Men Come Home


An Address delivered at a Conference
of the Clergy in the Synod House of
the Cathedral of St. John the Divine,
on the night of January 2, 1919, by
the Rev. Ernest M. Stires, D.D.,

Rector of St. Thomas's Church.

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012


The Occasion

Just before Christmas the Bishop of New York sent to the clergy of the diocese an invitation which read as follows:


The men who have been fighting the battle of freedom and righteousness on the other side are coming home. What will they have to say to us when they come? And what shall we say to them? These are vital and timely questions for which the Church must be prepared.

I am therefore inviting all the Clergy of the diocese, and as many laymen as they can bring with them, to a


in Synod Hall, Amsterdam Avenue and 110th Street, Thursday evening, January 2nd, at 8:15 o'clock.

The Reverend Dr. Stires and possibly others who have recently returned from overseas will relate their experiences and help us to answer these questions.

This is a most important gathering, and I earnestly trust that even at some personal inconvenience you will make it a point to be present.

DAVID H. GREER, Bishop of New York.

At this conference there were several instructive and stimulating addresses which, could they be printed, would be of value to many. The address in this pamphlet possessed the one advantage of being in manuscript, and for this reason the writer was requested to print it.

There are many things the men will say to us which the paper does not touch at all. Frankly, I am more concerned that we succeed in inducing them to talk to us, and in establishing a genuine contact with them. The paper, therefore, largely limits itself to the idea of the Service Club, with an attempt to visualize the practical problems and opportunities of the new era.

Whatever the method, let us plan for the most intimate relationship with the home-coming men. We will find them wise in counsel, brave in spirit, and grateful for the chance to go forward.
E. M. S.


When the Men Come Home

RARELY do men possess a clear understanding of the times in which they live; seldom do they know what great things they ought to do. This has been almost invariably true of the periods following great wars. After a severe strain relaxation is inevitable, but the rest-time may be dangerously prolonged, while new perils may threaten, more subtle and not less terrifying than those faced on battlefields.

It is therefore a hopeful and prophetic event, that on the threshold of the new year the Bishop of New York invites the clergy of the diocese to enter into conference with him for the better understanding of our times and our duties. That he has requested me to begin this discussion indicates that he thinks that the men should have taught me something during my summer in France, and [1/2] that, in any event, I have had the chance to learn the glory of being sacrificed in a great cause. If he has led me up for sacrifice, I am quite content, if only the cause be advanced.

The invitation which calls us together reads, "The men who have been fighting the battle of freedom and righteousness on the other side are coming home. What will they have to say to us when they come? And what shall we say to them? These are vital and timely questions for which the Church must be prepared."

The first essential is that the clergy shall understand these men. Their development in every constructive direction is almost incredibly great. You have heard many stories of the simplicity and reality of their religion; of the ways in which they have applied to their personal conduct the high principles for which they fought; and you know of their extraordinary physical improvement, their quickened intelligence, their increased will-power. When these qualities are united they constitute a glorious and invincible force—the power of an idealism both sane and militant.

The stories you have heard are not an exaggeration of the truth. Whatever occasional exaggeration there may be in specific incidents is more than [2/3] outweighed by the undoubted fact that the men in the aggregate are infinitely finer than we know, or than anyone has been able to describe them. To understand them we must know them; and they wish to be known, to be understood, to be given a chance for other high adventures, and to be led to larger victories in the new world which has been born.

We are their proper leaders, and they will be grateful and proud of us if we do not fail them. They will help us to think their thoughts, to speak their language, to feel their influence. In our turn we are to help our congregations, our communities, to understand them, to value them, and to plan with them for a better world.

Already the nobler outlines of a new world are appearing; and in advance of the coming of our men, we know something of the hopes and high purposes which inspire them. We may reasonably attempt, therefore, the forming of plans large enough and wise enough to win their respect.

The first step is to provide for our immediate and intimate relationship with the home-coming men. We should prepare to organize the men whose names are on our honor-roll. We might wisely appoint a temporary committee of three [3/4] efficient, devoted men who are on that list, and whose business it will be to help us to welcome every returning man, to tell them about the forming of the Service Club, the Church Militant Club, call it what you please, and to assemble them for organization when a little group have reached home again.

This is the place to emphasize the need of care in the selection of leaders. The men are not equally fine; all have great possibilities, but some of them have not felt, as others have, an overpowering sense of consecration to the cause of humanity. A major-general recently described the result of a ballot taken among our soldiers in France to determine what they considered the most serious sins. There was amazing unanimity in the result; they practically agreed upon these three and in this order: cowardice, selfishness, conceit. When we organize these men for great undertakings there must be no trace of these sins in us, or in the committee we appoint, or in those whose leadership we favor.

There is no ideal number of members for a Service Club. Parishes with several hundred men in the service may well wait until twenty or twenty-five have returned, though all should be informed of the program as soon as they arrive. [4/5] Where the honor-roll has ten or twenty names, you might well begin your club with three or five. The number is not important; the spirit is everything. I met hundreds of men in France any one of whom would be invaluable in any parish,—almost a club in himself—the kind of a man of whom it is written that one shall chase a thousand, and two shall chase ten thousand. They were not like that when they went away, but there will be many such when they return.

When we meet to form our club, whether of two members or twenty, we will, of course, let them see that we have followed the red tide of the unparalleled struggle, that we know the cost of the victory, and the meaning of the victory; that our hearts are filled with gratitude and a sense of responsibility—gratitude to God and to them, and responsibility for applying in city and nation and in all the world the ideals of justice, liberty and humanity preserved by the devotion of many millions of earth's noblest men, of whom millions died that these ideals might live and bless all mankind.

Then we might wisely review the beckoning opportunities of the new era. These we will consider in some detail, a little later. You will find the men ready. [5/6] Encourage them to talk, not merely about the future, but of their service over-seas; of their friends, of the trenches, of going "over the top," of the greatest dangers they experienced, of the finest heroism they witnessed. The best men will not discuss these things with strangers, seldom even with their own families, but among themselves,—among those who understand—they could talk the clock around, and in their club they will count you as one who understands. I have had such talks with them in France, where every sentence revealed not only the finest courage and manliness, but a quality of sincerity, kindliness, humility and aspiration which I dare not attempt to estimate or describe. Before long we shall all have deeper experience with this, and we shall listen in wonder.

The Service Club will keep the sacred fire burning on the altar of God and humanity. Living over the high moments of experience will recall and intensify the thoughts and feelings of those moments, will recall the larger vision of life which flashed before a man whose heart was strong in the supreme test, whose soul found faith, and who turned a smiling face to the fiery venom spat at him from enemy trenches. Scores of wounded men have replied to my question, [6/7] "What is the most interesting discovery you have made in the war?" by answering, "That I wasn't 'yellow,' after all." It is a significant statement; they have found themselves. The Service Club will offer them what they will value as a priceless privilege—the best way of maintaining and developing their enlarged manhood.

As soon as our clubs are comfortably organized, and a program has been reasonably defined, it would be wise to have an assembly of from three to six clubs of neighboring parishes, for exchange of over-sea experiences, and for discussion of the plan for extending the victory. Without unnecessary delay this conference should be enlarged to include similar clubs of other religious bodies. Christians of every name trained and fought and bled together over there, let us find a way for them to serve together over here. Who knows but that they may yet be as successful in rearranging boundary lines in the Church as they have among the nations? These larger conferences under your wise supervision and with the leadership of men who are no longer rare should develop a power for righteousness which will discourage all dangerous and destructive forces.

Now let us consider the larger [7/8] practical program which may be presented to our club and to those greater assemblies of service men.

The magazines are filled with articles entitled "Land for the Soldiers." It is encouraging to note that people realize that most of these men cannot be put back into the places which they filled before the war; they have outgrown them. Some of them will be glad to have a "Little Gray Home in the West" of which they sang often in France. The larger, freer, out-door life of their service days will make many a clerk, many a shopman, long for some land and a home, for fields and trees and a far horizon.

Australia and Canada have made generous provision for the returning soldier. Australia gives a large section of land and lends the man $2,500 on his personal note, allowing him forty years in which to repay it. Canada furnishes him with land, a house, stock, a complete equipment, arranging liberal terms of payment. Such plans as these should be easy for us to make; for, although we have not an unlimited amount of free and desirable land, we are vastly richer than Canada and Australia, and can afford to be generous in encouraging the men who should be and will be the most [8/9] valuable citizens in any place where they may make their home.

Secretary Lane says, "We have, still, nearly one hundred million acres of land—irrigable land, swamp-land, cut-over land with its heavy timber cleared—which can be turned into farms, for cotton, for corn, for alfalfa, for fruit, or for grazing." Much of this, however, requires money and effort to make it largely productive. The Secretary favors the expenditure of money and the employment of service men in great government projects like these. He says: "In each instance the work, other than the planning that is to be done so that there will be no unemployment problem in the United States after the war, should be done by the soldier himself. The dam or the irrigation project should be built by him; the canals, the ditches, the breaking of the land and the building of his house, should, under proper direction, be his occupation. He should be allowed to make his own home, but be cared for while he is doing it and be given an interest in the land for which he can pay through a long period of years, perhaps thirty or forty."

You will find men ambitious for just such a chance and you will gladly help them to obtain it.

[10] In my opinion we shall not find many would-be farmers on our service lists in this diocese. That does not mean that other parts of the country, the West for example, will not attract them. There are interesting mining prospects, vast engineering projects, the building of dams for irrigation, the development of waterpower for light, traction, manufacturing, and every application of electricity. Many of our soldiers in France have been studying these subjects and I have read many applications to the Y. M. C. A. and the Library Association for the standard text-books. In every case the books were ordered and sent to the men.

You can suggest many other lines of endeavor which in various parts of our country would appeal to men who desired "a big job."

But let us look beyond our own borders, as many of our soldiers are looking. They are enjoying their larger vision of life, their sense of brotherhood with many peoples, their new knowledge of other lands, the tales of attractive opportunities in South America, or in Asia. These tales are true, and we may be able to hasten the larger victory by encouraging their ambitions, by helping them to make their plans, by sending to South America or to Asia groups of able, manly Americans [10/11] who have helped to save civilization and are well fitted to extend it.

The time is not distant when the intolerable conditions in Mexico must receive attention. It is possible if not probable that the Mexicans may soon be able to hold an honest election, and form a strong government respected at home and abroad. Or it may become necessary for us to do for Mexico what we did for Cuba—stop the banditry; give the people a chance to vote and to have their votes counted; sustain the new government until it can control; and then return in honor, as we did from Cuba. To quiet and stabilize Mexico would require only a few brigades; but a peaceful Mexico would offer limitless opportunity for the development of resources from which Mexico and the world would reap great benefits. Let us hope that this may be accomplished without our intervention.

During the war missions from England, France, Italy, Belgium, and other lands have visited America. They came to establish an intimate relationship with us, even before we entered into alliance. We exchanged points of view, compared our ideals, our methods, and these missions have done much to promote a genuine friendship, a sympathetic understanding, [11/12] and an extent of cooperation which has increased the faith of many in a League of Nations.

Before very long we shall be sending our missions, not officially but effectively, to many lands; missions of service men going to other countries mainly for a vocation, only incidentally for an avocation. For it is a sense of high calling which at the present moment possesses the soldier's soul. He is not greedy for money; he wishes only a chance for a reasonable living; but he demands a task which appeals to his imagination, a task which needs the new nobility which was born in him in the hour of the world's supreme need.

Does not the use of the word missions suggest campaigns for extending the victory? Think of groups of our service men, living in foreign lands, gaining a livelihood by representing American business or by developing local resources, but proving their value principally by living—and  perhaps by teaching—our Christian religion, our ideals of government, our principles of morality. Christian missions need nothing so much as such groups of men. If we have the vision of the opportunity many returning soldiers will welcome it with eagerness.

There remains a large part of the men, [12/13] perhaps half of them or more, whose ties or inclinations will keep them in or near their former homes. Most of these are aware of the local problems and opportunities; and practically all can be relied upon to respond to a sincere program of patriotism and morality. This city needs sane and fearless crusaders. We hear the calls of civilization in other lands; we behold the latent resources of our own vast country waiting to be freed for service; but we are most acutely conscious of the human problems in the city and of the need of great souls to fight here the battles of humanity.

Our returning men will gladly follow our vision and our leadership in dealing with the needs of the city; they see these needs far more clearly now than when they went away. Several weeks ago a soldier returned from overseas to his home in a congested part of the East Side. A friend inquired whether he found everything all right. His reply was evasive, and when pressed for an answer he said, "Well, the flat's dirty, the kids are dirty, and my wife doesn't seem to notice it. And the language the kids use is something fierce." The conditions in that flat are just what they were when he went away; the change is in the man. He has been trained to have a sense of [13/14] order and cleanliness, of decency and respect; and he is ready to enforce these in his home and in his community.

The returning soldier understands the implications of the ideals for which he fought—Justice, Liberty, Humanity. He will insist that these vital principles be applied to all our municipal problems. He will demand that genuine justice shall dictate our legislation and the administration of law in the courts. He will urge a fair hearing for both capital and labor, and if there are "predatory powers" on either side they will have an unhappy experience at the hands of those who have become expert in the detection of camouflage.

The service men—soldiers and sailors —know the meaning and the cost of liberty. They are quick to recognize and attack the enemies of liberty. They will not tolerate the phrases and symbols of anarchy. When service men are at hand the honor of the flag is secure. Every problem related to the intelligence and loyalty of the citizen will have the instant attention of the soldiers of constitutional liberty.

They have a new conception of humanity,—larger, more intimate, more unselfish, and more militant. They accept the principle "All for each, and each for all;" [14/15] but they demand that it be applied justly and, unselfishly. They will look with seeing eyes upon the city's problems of poverty, disease, vice and crime. They know, many by personal experience, that these are largely curable. In the name of humanity they will demand the cure. They will have something to say about schools, and playgrounds, about homes instead of slums.

It is obvious that there is need and opportunity for extending the victory won in France. Service clubs in every parish would give the clergy the happiest method of describing the waiting glories of new victories. The value of these men to the Church, and through the Church, is largely dependent upon the vision and the spirit of the clergy. They do not put their trust in mechanics, in methods. They will not get excited over the question as to whether pews are rented, assigned, or free; or, as is generally the case when they are rented at all, partly rented, partly assigned and partly free. Many of them will be glad to sit once more in the family pew, the home corner in the Father's house, where they learned the great principles for which they offered their lives. No, they will be more concerned with the spirit of the Church—whether the officer of [15/16] Christ is clearly transmitting the messages and commands from the Great Headquarters; whether in the administration of parish endowments and offerings there is genuine democracy and unselfishness; whether the parish is doing its full duty to the whole army—the diocese, the cause of missions, and every great forward movement; whether there is Christian hospitality not only at the church-door and in the pew, but whether after the service in church, sacristy or vestry-room, the rector is not too tired or too busy to greet every visitor who may be willing to meet him. They will have no patience with cant, or ecclesiastical politics, or a stiff and Pharasaic attitude toward our Christian brethren of other communions. They know what sincere democracy is, and they can be depended upon to demand it in their parishes.

We should, of course, be prepared to recommend the formation of certain committees in our service clubs. There should be a committee on Justice, dealing with legislation, the courts, labor troubles, and similar problems; a committee on Liberty, concerned with patriotism, citizenship, and the sinister forces which threaten freedom; a committee on Humanity, interested in the social problems [16/17] of poverty, disease, vice and crime, in the condition of city institutions, and in genuine city improvement—the provision of parks, playgrounds and better homes. Obviously these committees overlap; that need not produce confusion but rather cooperation. The primary principle involved in the work of each committee is reasonably clear, and there is an advantage in designating the committees by the ideals for which all fought, and for which we shall now strive to win a wider victory.

Naturally our men's clubs in parish and diocese, as well as the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, would desire to cooperate fully with a Service Club, and that cooperation would be wise and necessary. But the Service Club in its organization and in its regular meetings should be limited to the men of the army or navy who have served overseas or at home; with leadership given to the men who have had the unique development of the battle-line.

A few days ago, after describing to a group of men the development which has taken place in our soldiers, I was invited to read a paragraph from a letter written by a soldier in France to his father living near New York. Let me quote it.

[18] "Father, I am always making the acquaintance of wonderful people over here. I have listened to their stories, and hear of the opportunities they know of. If I should get through this war I will have a hundred big projects to take up. I have learned of opportunities in places that I never dreamed existed until I came over here and talked with men from all over the world. One thing this war will accomplish if nothing else, it will make the present generation of America a broad-minded race. After seeing the old world and meeting people from all over it, getting their ideas and business notions, I cannot help but believe there is a great opportunity for America to lead the whole world. If we would only believe it possible, and try, I am sure we would be immensely successful, more so than any other people. I have seen the French and English stand with mouth wide open at the way we go at the war game over here. We can surprise them just as much in other ways afterwards. Whether I will be content to settle down in some small business at home afterwards, I do not know. I'm afraid not. I have changed a lot since coming over here. I want to get into something big, something that will reach out even beyond my own country. A lot of us feel [18/19] the same way over here. You will see a strange bunch of men when we return."

Surely we know something of what they will say to us. And surely we have much to say and to give to them—gratitude for what they have done, and for what they are; a vision of the larger triumphs to be won; and the pledge of ourselves as leaders or comrades as we seize the torch thrown to us from dying hands, that we may keep faith and bear it on to the greater victory.

George Meredith said of one of his writings, "It is to be apprehended, not dissected." I ask no such consideration for the suggestions I have offered. You can, and doubtless will, devise far better methods; but, even so, my effort will have served its purpose. In any event, it has been made in humility, with apprehension of the greatness of the task, and with appreciation of your patience.

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