When the boys come home…

The Congregational Church was already, perhaps optimistically, looking forward to the end of the war. An army chaplain explained that the war was changing the soldiers’ outlooks on life.


Among the interesting topics considered at the recent Assembly of the Congregational Union of England and Wales was that of “What returning soldiers will expect, and how the Churches can best meet this expectancy.”

The Rev. J. A. Patten, Chaplain to the Forces, in dealing with the first part of the subject, paid a great tribute to the moral standard of the Army in France. His experiences led him to think that the average soldier was decidedly inclined to give Christianity a fair hearing, and that on his return home he would respond to the message that was strong enough, he would welcome and even expect greater simplicity and directness. The deep things of God would have to be presented in language plain and direct, with the utmost frankness and with sympathy. In the events of the time, men are discovering themselves, and they will come back critical. Their immediate and greatest need will be rest; later on will come a remembrance of their past experiences, and then they will realize the change which has passed over them. With this will come an appreciation of all that is real and true, and then, only something which comes from the centre will grip them. Men are recognizing that it is only quality of life that counts. There will never be so great or so magnificent an opportunity for evangelical work on the part of the Churches.

The speaker dealing with the second part of the problem emphasized the fact that the Churches must lead. Men are not craving for a new religion, but discovering the value of the old, and they will want the real thing, a direct, forceful, and human appeal. To meet the need, some real sacrifice in Church organizations will be required; a spirit of comradeship in our Churches will be wanted. It will mean the searching of our own souls and of the riches of Christ, so that we may be able to give out to others.

Principal D. L. Ritchie spoke in his usual forceful style. “War” he said “is mud and blood and scientific devilry”. Returning soldiers will expect, instead of the pieties and conventionalities, a great warm Church. They will want ministers to be God’s men, frank, brave and loyal, not “parsons”. There will be need for the presentation of a God that is to be obeyed, such as prevailed in the days of the Puritans. The difficulty with many who are outside is that the Churches do not apply their Christianity. The challenge of Christianity must be heroic; there is room and need for heroes in God’s Service.

Maidenhead Congregational Church magazine, June 1916 (D/N33/12/1/5)

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