AT THE CHURCH OF THE ASCENSION
A group of literary people with whom I was acquainted had rented No. 3 Fifth Avenue, and were operating a cooeperative housekeeping scheme. I became part of the plan and it was there that I first met the Rector of the Church of the Ascension, the Rev. Percy Stickney Grant.
Naturally, we talked of the church and its work. I was so impressed with Mr. Grant’s bigness that I volunteered to devote some of my spare time to the work of his parish. A few weeks later I got a letter from him inviting me to become a member of his staff. This was a surprise to me, but I made no immediate decision. I was earning a comfortable living and devoting my spare time to the Socialist propaganda. I was free—very free—and I saw danger ahead in church work.
I had several interviews with Mr. Grant and went over the situation. I wasn’t a man with Socialistic tendencies; I was a Socialist—a member of the party.
The danger ahead looked smaller to Mr. Grant than it did to me. He had absolute confidence in the broad-minded men of affairs around him. My Socialism was explained and understood. Just how to fit in was the next problem.
The mission of the church is at No. 10 Horatio Street. It was without a minister in charge. For a few Sunday evenings I conducted the service. The audience was composed of half a dozen parishoners and a dozen of my personal friends. Mr. Grant knew nothing of my ability in public address. I took his place one night in the church and that ended my career at the chapel. I had discarded an ecclesiastical title I possessed but never used; I became a lay reader in the Episcopal Church—the church of my youth—the church in which I was baptized and confirmed.
The conference and discussion following the service was an afterthought. The audiences steadily grew. It was and is the most cosmopolitan audience I ever saw. I wanted to get acquainted with the people and suggested a sort of reception in the chapel. The ladies of the church provided refreshments.
“Who is that man?” one of the ladies at the tea table asked one night.
“He is a Socialist agitator,” I answered.
“Why don’t you ask him to talk?”
The man was Sol Fieldman and I asked him to speak for five minutes. He did so and from that time the character of the after-meeting changed. The first few evenings after the change the speaking was very informal: any one of note who happened to be in the meeting was asked to speak. Later, the invitation was enlarged and any one who desired to speak could do so. Then came a time limit. A workingman asked that the refreshments be cut out. The table took up valuable space and the time consumed in “serving” was “a pure waste,” so he said. Then we arranged for a formal presentation of a topic and a discussion to follow it.