The center of influence in New York City Protestantism is shifting from white to black, rich to less rich, “Avenue” to ghetto. Tensions of change hit hardest at that most conspicuous of America’s 1,000 inter-church councils, the Protestant Council of the City of New York.

The hydra-like PC has the awesome task of representing a constituency ranging from Pentecostalists to Swedenborgians, fundamentalists to ultra-liberals. But it is the great racial reformation of the Sixties that has brought things to the breaking point.

During the past year some sort of revolt seemed imminent, and in December a seminary professor said that “the future of cooperative Protestant strategy in the next decade is being fought out right now.”

An unusual PC policy conference last month enabled the new guard to flex its muscle as never before and helped tone down racial, sectional divisiveness in the city. The conference was dominated by inner-city (usually a euphemism for “slum” or “ghetto”) ministers and denominational executives. Conspicuously absent were leaders of big downtown churches, even the PC’s figurehead President Norman Vincent Peale.

The PC goes through periodic crises, about one every five years. The last one was financial and caused extreme cutbacks in staff and program. The present one began with the festering summer heat of 1964 and the bloody riots in Harlem and the Bedford-Stuyvesant ghetto in Brooklyn. At the time, the PC had millions tied up in a World’s Fair pavilion and a chapel at nearby Kennedy International Airport, and was unable to act.

The policy conference keynoter, lean professorial Lawrence Durgin of Broadway United Church of Christ, said such “inconsistency” was “confused to the point of being grotesque.” While the Church nationally has had great impact for racial justice, he said, Protestantism in New York is known chiefly for its opposition to bingo and horse-racing.

Brooklyn Division President W. G. Henson Jacobs was also blunt. He said Negroes are “completely dissatisfied” with the PC and that it will “continue to be irrelevant, meaningless, absolutely undesirable” until it “shows an interest in individual human beings—to save souls, to save men’s lives.” Negroes are not “a hopeless people,” he said, and will support financially a program that matters. Critics said various independent social action groups that sprang up after the riots filled a vacuum the PC left by its inadequate program.

Like these independents, insurgents in Manhattan Division worked with Roman Catholics. The latter tried to get “Protestant” out of the division name by calling it the “Manhattan Council of Churches,” and one leader called the PC’s rejection of the idea “paranoid.”

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But a name change seems inevitable, since “Protestant” keeps Orthodoxy outside the council, although some Orthodox churches belong to borough divisions. Lutherans are outside insiders on much the same basis, except for Missouri Synod, which joins in broadcast projects.

The name issue stirred emotions, but Negro strategists saw structure as the key issue. This became clear at the final conference session, which was closed to reporters from CHRISTIANITY TODAY and the New York Times but open to church executives from outside the PC. Chairman Graydon McClellan, general presbyter of New York, who moves to Washington this month, brought in from the steering committee a package of resolutions that were duly passed. But the key motion was made from the floor by the influential Eugene Callender, pastor of Church of the Master (also Presbyterian) and chairman of the controversial Harlem action group Haryou-ACT. Callender put teeth into the movement for a change by getting the conference to seek a $10,000 study on formation of a brand-new cooperative Protestant agency in New York.

The People Problem

New York’s Protestant Council (see adjoining story) often claims to represent all the city’s 1.8 million Protestant and Orthodox adherents, but a more realistic estimate of its rank-and-file would be 600,000 to 900,000.

A PC task force on organization produced some eyebrow-raisers. Only sixteen of sixty-five board members bother to attend policy-making meetings. Staff turnover is such that only twelve of thirty-one executive slots are now filled, and one hundred twenty-six people shuffled in and out of sixty understaff jobs during 1965. The study group saw “confusion,” “sponginess,” and “defection of responsibility.”

The study group, like the policy conference, would be weighted against the present establishment and board of directors and would report back October 1 of this year. If the board doesn’t implement the Callender plan, the annual General Assembly, highest PC authority, will meet ahead of schedule at the end of this month and presumably will go along.

Ghetto ministers want closer ties between the PC and the grass roots, particularly the myriad independent churches in Negro areas. More neighborhood councils under PC borough divisions would help, but one of the city’s five boroughs, Queens, retains its own council outside the PC.

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The grass-roots trend conflicts with the denominations’ drive for more leverage within the PC. Denominations are traditionally strong in the city, while the PC has been what one Harlem activist calls “a front to do the dirty jobs.” A stratospheric design was revealed the week before the PC policy conference: a thirty-one-county, tri-state Regional Church Plan to unite denominations, the PC, and other church councils behind civic programs.

A key spokesman for denominationalism is Episcopal Suffragan Bishop J. Stuart Wetmore, who doesn’t think a tiny cult should get the same attention as a major church, wants limited authority for the PC, and says democracy is often a “fetish.” The man in the middle is PC Executive Director Dan Potter, the slight, likable Presbyterian who has weathered thirteen stormy years at the PC helm.

A. McRaven Warner left as Manhanttan director just before the conference partly because of policy disagreements with the PC and Potter, but he said denominations use both as “scapegoats.” The denominations are also latecomers in meeting crucial problems, he said, and “those most critical of the Protestant Council should look at themselves.” Critics say rich business contributors have too much say about PC programs, but denominations produce only 6.5 per cent of the PC’s annual million-dollar budget, most of it for special interests.

Starving Public Schools

Public schools in many big U.S. cities are beset with problems because of inadequate budgets. But the problems are particularly acute in cities where Roman Catholics predominate and parochial schools abound. The reason is simple: Catholic parents dislike paying school taxes in addition to supporting church-sponsored education for their children. Catholics win seats on school boards and other governmental agencies where they can choke off education funds and keep school taxes low.

Perhaps the worst such conflict of interest is found in Buffalo, which with a population of more than 500,000 is the second largest city in the nation’s second largest state. The school board is picked by the mayor, who is traditionally Roman Catholic. The present school superintendent is Jewish, but his predecessors have also been Roman Catholic and have allowed public elementary and secondary education to deteriorate steadily over the years. A National Education Association report published last August showed that only one of the more than 750 major school districts in New York State spent as little per pupil as did Buffalo in 1964. The percentage of local tax money in the city’s school budget has been cut in half over a twenty-year period.

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This has been Buffalo’s “silent issue,” according to Dr. Arthur W. Mielke, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church. “Protestant businessmen do not raise it for fear of reprisals,” he told a Sunday radio audience in late January. “The situation bogs down in apathy.”

Mielke, who has four children in Buffalo’s public schools, challenged Roman Catholics to state their views on the principle that “the public school system is basic to our democracy.” He devoted his sermon to a frank appraisal of the Buffalo school situation and pleaded for an open discussion of the issues.

The response to his radio talk was encouraging, Mielke said. At least one Roman Catholic couple took the trouble to indicate to him their agreement. The only adverse reaction was in the form of a handwritten note: “The Catolic (sic) Church will be here after you’re dead.”

Divorce And Lottery

New York State’s legislature last month debated two controversial bills, one of particular interest to Roman Catholics, the other to Protestants.

The first would add four new grounds for divorce to the present 177-year-old law, which recognizes only adultery and is the strictest in the fifty states. The legislative lobbyist for Roman Catholic bishops had called for a delay on the legislation. But many top laymen including Senator Robert F. Kennedy urged a new law. The bishops decided in mid-February not to fight moderate revisions, and their spokesman admitted a new law seemed inevitable.

Protestants were particularly concerned with a call for a referendum this fall on whether to permit a lottery to raise school aid funds, as New Hampshire has done. The New York State Council of Churches, which opposed bingo several years ago, fought the referendum bill and is planning an anti-lottery campaign. But General Secretary Kenneth Roadarmel admits the churches face an uphill battle. The lottery fuss apparently sidelines efforts to authorize state-run off-track betting parlors.

Jumble At Judson

The March Esquire has some fun telling all about Howard Moody’s Judson Memorial Church, which has become sort of a community center in New York City’s Greenwich Village.

Fellow Baptists who were scandalized by that nude dancer last year will be interested in other arty experiments. Like Population Explosion, “a huge collage of contraceptives,” and a play in which actors “delivered a highly scatological evocation of the pleasures of coitus.”

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The church was started by a man from the famous missionary family who worked hard to help the community. By 1948 only fifteen people attended worship. Changes ensued, and now the place is jumping; but the secular seems to have won out completely. One casualty: “Bud” Scott, former assistant minister who turned Catholic and moved to a religious colony, apparently because (Moody explained) he missed the traditional “structure and order of the church.”

Cold War ‘Benefits’ For Clergy

The Cold War GI Bill enacted by Congress and signed into law by the President last month is expected to help at least 30,000 veterans become ministers, priests, and rabbis, according to Religious News Service.

The projection, contained in a dispatch by RNS Washington correspondent William Willoughby, is based upon a comparison with the number of veterans who took advantage of Korean War educational benefits. Fifty-four per cent of the number eligible cashed in, and the Veterans Administration expects at least as great a response to the new bill.

Under the World War II GI Bill, 36,000 men obtained ministerial training. An additional 25,000 have registered at seminaries under the Korean Bill, not to mention laymen in religious work who benefited.

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