Chapter 7 – Getting Religion on the East Side

podcast artworkRichard’s grandfather, Richard Poethig, emigrated from Saxony, Germany, during the anti-Socialist campaign of Otto von Bismarck.  He sees organized religion as antagonistic to the cause of working people. For Richard’s mother, a religious upbringing was essential to life. Her tenement neighbor, Emily Masek, encourages Henny to enroll Richard in Good Will Sunday School, an East Side mission of the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church.  At Good Will, Richard learns about more than the Bible. He discovers the wider world on field trips to the countryside and the lower East Side casbah, and through participation in a model League of Nations, where the invasion of Abyssinia by Italy is up for discussion. In loyalty to his street friend Tulio, Richard plays the part of Italy.

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4 thoughts on “Chapter 7 – Getting Religion on the East Side

  1. avatarDick Frothingham

    Reference to cigar-makers listening to one of their number read to them while they worked: that sort of reminds me of Trappist monks, with their vows of silence, who appoint one member of the order to read to them during meals.
    Church on 55th Street: I recall that at MAPC or its Sunday School someone talked about a church on East 55th Street that either closed down or moved, and then the building became a night club.
    Good Will as missiom of MAPC with classes but no worship services: it was a pattern of affluent churches in NYC to sponsor chapels with a full range of functions in less affluent parts of their neighborhoods. Henry Sloane Coffin resisted pressures to make Good Will a chapel with worship services; instead, he wanted MAPC to welcome people from the East Side to worship at MAPC.
    Definition of East Side as east of the east side of 3rd Ave is rough way of putting it, since the west side of 3rd Ave. also got noise from the El, making it also less than optimum for living. East of Lexington Ave. would be another rough way of defining the East Side. Most exactly, the most desirable locations for living began far enough west of 3rd Ave. that the noise of the El was not a bad disturbance.

  2. avatarRichard Paul Poethig

    Good comment,Dick. I generally consider the East and West Side divisions of New York as determined by Central Park. In the social context of Yorkville of our day, the working class families largely lived East of the 3rd Avenue El and the income level rose as you moved West from the 3rd Avenue El. At least, that the way it appeared in the eyes of a twelve year old.
    The religious climate of Good Will was influenced by the largely liberal views of the pastors at MAPC. How else can you explain the willingness to recreate a minature League of Nations in a church school setting. I believe my own lifetime theological framework was influenced by the
    non-judgemental and the broad Biblical interpretation I received at Good Will and MAPC. Unfortunately we keep slipping back into Biblical literalism and insularity. At heart, our Reformed tradition should lead us to universalism.

  3. avatarRay

    Rev. Poethig,
    I would be interested in your observations of the most recent Presbyterian General Assembly and how biblical literalism played a role. Is literalism’s influence on the PCUSA growing, or beating “beaten back?” Perhaps you could have a post on this topic!

  4. avatarRichard Paul Poethig

    This will be a short answer to a question on which books have been written. Divisions in the Presbyterian Church have developed out of Scriptural interpretation and this goes back a long way. Since the 1800s when the up close study of Biblical manuscripts became part of over-all scientific inquiry, the issue of biblical literalism has become front and center. The struggle between the Biblical literalists and the so-called modernists have been in constant battle in the Presbyterian Church. In reviewing the last century’s events within the PCUSA I would say that those who take a more literalist view within the church have been waning. Evidence of this is the growth of Presbyterian related groups who have left the church and formed new denominations because of the more inclusive actions taken by the PCUSA. The recent action affirming the right of LGBT folks to be ordained into the ministry of the church is a case in point. So in short I would say that the influence of Biblical literalism is waning in the PCUSA.

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