Superintendent Gates was succeeded in 1881 by the Rev. C. W. Merrill of Waseca, Minnesota, as State Superintendent of Home Missions, and with his advent we may date
When Superintendent Merrill made his first report he found, out of the "136 nominal organizations 132 de facto churches"; of these fourteen were self-supporting. Seventy-four churches were supplied with regular services; fifty-one a part of the year; and eleven had no regular services.
The German Association, which has such an interesting history, had come into being with eight churches, and Rev. J. D. Stewart was soon to enter upon his duties as State Superintendent of Congregational Sunday School Work, so that Superintendent Merrill had the help of his valuable assistance, for the cultivation of a Sunday school mission field was often the most valuable preparation for vigorous church extension. The problems of the field were very similar to those which confront us to-day.
During the first six and one-half months of Superintendent Merrill's service he traveled 12,595 miles, 580 of these by team. It was no sinecure office which he filled.
He had a strong conviction that there was need of "a better understanding of the relation of the church to the A. H. M. S. The idea of some seems to be to get all that can be secured from the society, and the church make up
REV. C. W. MERRILL, SUPERINTENDENT
the rest of pastor's salary; the idea of others, to ask and get a certain amount from the society and raise a certain amount themselves.
"What is the true idea? Simply this: the Home Missionary Society is a helper. A thorough, careful canvass should be made of the church, the field, all who will give to support the Gospel, and then an honest answer given to question twenty in the form of application, 'The least amount that will suffice from the A. H. M. S.' Pardon the bluntness, but in many cases that question is not honestly answered."1 The Board of Directors of the Nebraska Home Missionary Society in their monthly meetings appreciate the application of these plain words to present-day conditions. Too many times a thorough canvass of the local field has not been made. This may be natural, but it is not Christian.
The association this year--1881--recommended to the churches the Congregational paper "Church and Village," established and owned by Rev. H. A. French, then pastor at Milford. This paper was established in July, 1880, and in July, 1882, its name was changed to "The Nebraska Congregational News." It has held a unique place among the state Congregational papers of the country and is placed in the very front rank. It has been a valuable medium through which church and school news, secured in no other way, comes to our homes and has been published in Lincoln where Mr. French resides.
The association in 1882 was able to record a marked increase in benevolences and conversions, and a "kindling enthusiasm in Bible study and Sunday school work." It also took measures to organize a State Home Missionary Society to take the place of the State Central Home Missionary Committee. This organization was completed at
REV. C. W. MERRILL, SUPERINTENDENT
the meeting in York in 1883 with the following officers: President Rev. W. S. Hampton, Recording Secretary Rev. L. Gregory, Treasurer Rev. C. W. Merrill; Board of Directors: Rev. H. Bross, Leavitt Burnham, Rev. L. Gregory, Pres. D. B. Perry, Rev. W. Scott, Rev. A. F. Sherrill, and Charles West.
With this organization Congregational Nebraska came into line with the older states in the aggressive work of the churches.
At the meeting of 1883 Superintendent Merrill reported that he had traveled during the year 27,173 miles, visited 130 churches and fields, and delivered 123 sermons and addresses. The churches had increased to 147. Fourteen churches had been organized during the year, five of whom were German. Omaha now boasted its second church, St. Mary's Avenue, organized May 8, 1883. Omaha has now, 1905, eight churches, the First, St. Mary's Avenue, Plymouth, Saratoga, German, Cherry Hill, Hillside, and Park Vale.
It was generally the privilege of the association at its annual meetings to welcome representative Congregationalists from the East and from other state associations. In the earlier days delegate from other state bodies were received, and the association appointed delegates to their state meetings. This pleasing custom gradually went out of use, but our missionary secretaries continue to visit us from time to time, and in these later days enterprising business committees have secured the presence of some of the most noted missionaries from the foreign field. They have thrilled us with their addresses, and have given us a larger vision of the worldwide work in which we all have a common interest. We shall not soon forget the visits of such men as Dr. W. S. Ament of China and Dr. R. A. Hume of India.
In the '80s we find the Nebraska Sunday School assembly established, with Rev. A. E. Dunning, D.D., of Boston, as conductor. A Chautauqua assembly for some years was conducted at Crete with superior programs, which attracted visitors outside of the state, but the enterprise was not a financial success, and was, after some years' trial, reluctantly given up. It is a matter of sincere regret that this movement, which gave prestige to the denomination and was developing a Congregational consciousness, should have failed for want of financial support. The reasons for this it is not our purpose to discuss. Opinions vary. The loss to the churches, however, is evident.
The German work was so rapidly expanding that a general superintendent, the Rev. George E. Albrecht, was appointed with headquarters at Davenport, Iowa. Dr. Albrecht, in the interest of the German work, visited the association at its Norfolk meeting in 1884. Dr. Dunning was also a visitor, speaking in the interest of the Sunday School Assembly, and Dr. Wm. M. Barrows, Secretary of the A. H. M. S., represented that society. At this meeting Superintendent Merrill closed his work in the state, having been enticed to resume pastoral labor in Minnesota.
Mr. Merrill is now in Saratoga, California, and in response to a request for some reminiscences of his experiences in Nebraska sends the following characteristic letter:
"SARATOGA, CAL., June 4, 1904.
"DEAR BROTHER--I send in this some crude material for you to work over if you can make use of it. I have left it in 'the rare' because I had but little idea how much room you would wish to give, if any, to what I send.
REV. C. W. MERRILL, SUPERINTENDENT
"I preached one Sunday in the First Church of Omaha; the next Sunday the same sermon in a sod schoolhouse in northern Nebraska, the insects so thick I could hardly breathe without swallowing bugs; yet cultured and college-educated people in the schoolhouse could appreciate the best sermon as well as the people in the Omaha church. When the church at Arlington was organized there was not an original Congregationalist in the organization. Congregationalism is the solution of such a situation. Church organized at Phelps Center, the county seat. New railroad went through, and town of Holdrege started four miles away. Phelps Center in winter time was put on runners, every building, stores, schoolhouse, residences, and all and 'slid' over to Holdrege, four miles.
"Student employed on one field of three points for the summer; preached every Sunday morning at one point, and in the afternoon alternated between other two points. I went on the field and wished to visit all three points in one day; rode forty miles; preached three times; held three communion services; held three church meetings; reached home at midnight, or rather reached starting point; strong, hot south wind, mercury 107 degrees above zero; student used up riding around and looking on while superintendent next morning started on for other work.
"Church building put up at Freewater in the Republican valley. Foundation had to be in by a certain time or largest subscription lapsed; delayed in getting brick; they came right in height of harvest, when the men could not be spared from the fields for a single day; women took teams and went twenty-four miles to railroad, loaded the brick on wagons, drove them home; foundation put in at night, subscription saved; and building dedicated free from debt.. These women were of finest culture and education.
"Had correspondence with persons in Beatrice about church organization; one night by telephone arranged for services the next Sunday; conducted the services, completed the arrangements, laid the plans, called the council, and inside two weeks the church was organized and services, regular services, established
"When I closed my work as superintendent, I received a call from this church, signed by every member, some over forty, in the church.
"When I began my work the First Church in Omaha was the only Congregational church in the city; their idea was to have one strong central church. They saw their mistake afterward.
"I secured Rev. Geo. Hindley to work in the neighborhood of the St. Mary's Avenue Church. In about a year effected an organization; secured Rev. Willard Scott from New York; had to give $750 from the missionary society on salary of $1500. Committee thought it very unwise; in third year the church came to self-support, and soon became one of the best churches in the state.
"Went to Ogalalla; no church, Sunday school, or anything of the kind. Just before I was there a fire burned down most of the business part of the town; some men were gambling in a saloon; saloon took fire, men moved their table into the street and went on with their gambling by light of the burning buildings.
"I secured a man to go there as teacher and preacher, and in a short time had council called to organize a church.
"But I think I better 'say amen and quit.'
"I don't know as I have come within forty rods of what you wish, but have at least shown my good will.
"Most cordially yours,
"C. W. MERRILL."