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A Magazine of comment, criticism and review dealing
The Church War Commission and Its
BY THE RT. REV. WILLIAM LAWRENCE, D.D., LL.D.
T is interesting to note how, when the emergency arises, a public sentiment arises to meet it. Three or four years ago it seemed to be impossible to arouse the slightest interest in the churches of this country in the chaplains of the army and navy, their number, character and status. At that time the number of chaplains in the United States navy was the same as that in 1848. The fact that ships and squadrons were without chaplains did not seem to disturb anybody.
About two or three years ago efforts were made by representatives of practically all the churches in the country, supported by the President and the Secretary of the Navy, which led to legislation increasing gradually the number of chaplains, so that the standard is now one chaplain for every 1250 men. Besides this, other conditions were written into the law which will improve the character of the personnel of the chaplains and increase their efficiency.
We have now been at war for some ten months and the situation in regard to the whole chaplain question in the army is very serious. The President and the Secretary of War are interested in making great improvements; Congress too is ready; the difficulty has been that the churches have neglected the subject.
It is interesting to some of us who have been at work on this subject for the last fifteen years to receive letters from clergymen complaining bitterly of the lack of chaplains in the army and of the many limitations to the chaplain's efficiency, the fact being that it is the neglect of the clergy, as well as of the people, that has allowed this situation to exist. Congress is quick and ready to respond when it knows what the people want. A few months ago representatives of all organized Christianity in this country met in Washington and presented a draft of a law; looking towards one thing-empowering the Secretary of War to appoint one chaplain for every 1200 men and to distribute the chaplains according to his discretion. Many other improvements are sorely needed, but it seemed best to concentrate upon this one great need.
In one and the same day this body of representatives met the President and the Secretary of War, who expressed their approval of the general principle of increase, and they then brought it before the Committee of the Senate on Military Affairs. On the next day the Committee unanimously recommended the bill and on the next day the bill passed the Senate unanimously and went to the Committee of the House on Military Affairs. Congress then adjourned and the bill is now before that Committee and will, we trust, soon come before the House.
I mention these facts to suggest the speed with which such a subject may be carried through, provided the request for legislation is simple and is unquestionably supported by the Christian sentiment of the country. Later several other very important changes in legislation must be sought for if the chaplains are to meet the conditions which the duties of their office require of them.
Under the present law the Secretary of War has been practically prevented from appointing any other than regimental chaplains. No matter if there be ten thousand young men who have just left their homes, they cannot, under the exact interpretation of the law, have a chaplain appointed to care for them. Hence the forty thousand young men in the Officers' Training Camps who were to give the tone to the new army had no chaplains sent to the camps, and in our great cantonments, where
the regiments have been gradually organized, the chaplains have been very slowly appointed. In November in cantonments holding 600,000 men there were but seventy-five commissioned chaplains, one chaplain for practically each eight thousand
The War Commission, realizing these conditions, has wasted no time in complaining of them or in writing to officials in Washington, but has set to work to remedy them, so far as is possible, and along such lines as these:
First: The surgeons and paymasters of the army are equipped with tools necessary for their efficient service. There is not a dollar appropriated for the equipment of chaplains. Again note that this is not the fault of the Government or of Congress; it is the fault of the churches that have not been alert to the conditions. Hence, it is the duty of the churches to equip the chaplains until the public sentiment is so aroused that appropriations will be made by Congress for equipment. The various churches of the country through their representatives have agreed that each church must equip its own chaplains. Hence it is the duty of this Church to equip every chaplain who is a clergyman of the Church, and this includes not only the newly appointed chaplains, but the regular army chaplains who have been in the service perhaps five and fifteen years, but who have been limited in their efficiency for want of equipment.
Second: In order to increase the spiritual forces in the camps due to the small number of commissioned chaplains, the war commission has undertaken systematically, with the co-operation of the bishops and other clergy, to place strong clergymen in the camps to be of service in any way in their power, but especially to care for the men and boys of our own Church. Thus it is that in all the large cantonments and camps of the country there is at least one clergyman of our Church living, it may be, in a Y. M. C. A. hut, who is devoting himself to the spiritual and moral welfare of the men and boys of the Church. In all these camps there is a celebration of the Holy Communion in the early part of every Sunday, and the chaplain gives practically all of his time to getting into personal touch with the men and boys of the Church, as well as all others who may care for his sympathetic advice or ministrations.