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
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
His tone was facetious
but was tinged with contempt.
“Yes; come on in,
preacher,” indulgently invited the man collecting the money for the
“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
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.
JOSEPH K. GRIFFIS AS PASTOR OF THE SOUTH PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF BUFFALO,
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