Feast of Francis J. McConnell (August 18)   Leave a comment

Above:  Bishop Francis John McConnell

Scanned from Orlo Strunk, Jr., In Faith and Love (1968), 120

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FRANCIS JOHN MCCONNELL (AUGUST 18, 1871-AUGUST 18, 1953)

U.S. Methodist Bishop and Social Reformer

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One effect of prophecy is to force the enemies of the moral ideal into the open, to make them declare themselves, if not in speech at least in action.  It is sometimes said that moral evils in a social community destroy themselves by their own follies.  This often comes about through the self-revelation of the forces of evil due to prophetic pressure.  Politics, we are told, makes strange bedfellows.  What drives the enemies of the truth into close union and fellowship is often their common hatred of the prophet.

This, then, is the duty of the prophet–to force moral issues into public attention and to keep them there.

–Bishop Francis John McConnell

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Bishop Francis John McConnell, a bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church (1784-1939) and The Methodist Church (1939-1968), predecessors of The United Methodist Church (1968-), comes to this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via Orlo Strunk, Jr., In Faith and Love (1968), a Methodist resource for adult Sunday School.  The book contains biographies of eleven Christians of the twentieth century, from Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Pope St. John XXIII, whom it calls by his birth name, Angelo Roncalli.  This is a fine volume I purchased at a thrift store in 2014.

Christ calls people to be salt and light in the world.  Salt preserves and heightens flavor.  Light scatters the darkness.  Both transform.

Bishop McConnell understood this well.  He, born in Trinway, Ohio, on August 18, 1871, was a preacher’s kid.  His father, I. H. McConnell, was a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church (1784-1939) and a preacher in the revivalistic, pietistic sort; the emphasis was on individual salvation.  Our saint learned doctrines and Bible stories from his mother, Nancy Chalfant McConnell, widowed during the year Francis spent at Andover Preparatory School.  She was a cautious, fair-minded woman to whom others turned to arbitrate their disputes.  Her preference was for reconciliation.

McConnell discerned the call to ordained ministry.  He, an 1894 graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University, continued his studies at the Boston University School of Theology, graduating in 1897, the year he married Eva Hemans Thomas (1871-1968), also a member of the Ohio Wesleyan University Class of 1894.  During the following years they had a daughter and two sons, and McConnell earned his Ph.D.  He transferred from the New England Conference to the New York Conference, serving in parish ministry until 1909.

For three years (1909-1912) McConnell was the President of DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana.  He expanded the institution’s curriculum and endowment.  McConnell also learned from idealistic students interested in the social applications of the Gospel, especially in realms such as economics, industrial relations, and race relations.  That outward focus–as McConnell later phrased it–“social cross-bearing”–was evident in his life.  He was, from 1912 to 1944, the President of the Methodist Federation for Social Service.  Good people who resigned themselves to injustice were the greatest threats to social progress, he argued.  The Church, he insisted, should function as an agent of liberation, not making people feel guilty for committing imaginary sins, such as attending plays.  Furthermore, McConnell wrote, the Church has been guilty of a lack of social imagination and therefore of supporting injustices, rather than confronting them.

McConnell was a bishop, starting in 1912.  He served in the Denver Area (1912-1920), the Pittsburgh Area (1920-1928), and the New York Area (1928-1944).  [Explanatory Note:  In the Methodist tradition an Episcopal area is a bishop’s territory.  It might consist of one conference, or perhaps of more than one.]  McConnell also served as the President of the Federal Council of Churches, a predecessor the National Council of Churches, from 1929 to 1933.  He retired from active service in 1944.

McConnell died in Lucasville, Ohio, on August 19, 1953, his eighty-second birthday.

One of McConnell’s quotes that is especially applicable in the context of the increased political tribalism in the United States in 2018, often to the point of mistaking the administration for the state, is this:

We need a type of patriotism that recognizes the virtues of those who are opposed to us.

The McConnells were a married couple for fifty-six years, five months, and seven days (March 11, 1897-August 18, 1953).  In 1952 the bishop wrote of his beloved Eva,

…after having known her for nearly sixty years, I have never seen any trait in her in which I would suggest improvement.

Eva, the Vice President of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Union of the Methodist Episcopal Church, often traveled with her husband.  She died in 1968, aged 97 years.

The McConnells were indeed salt and light.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 21, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALOYSIUS GONZAGA, JESUIT

THE FEAST OF BERNARD ADAM GRUBE, GERMAN-AMERICAN MINISTER, MISSIONARY, COMPOSER, AND MUSICIAN

THE FEAST OF CARL BERNHARD GARVE, GERMAN MORAVIAN MINISTER, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN JONES AND JOHN RIGBY, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

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Almighty God, we praise you for your servant Francis J. McConnell,

through whom you have called the church to its tasks and renewed its life.

Raise up in our own day teachers and prophets inspired by your Spirit,

whose voices will give strength to your church and proclaim the reality of your reign,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Psalm 46

1 Corinthians 3:11-23

Mark 10:35-45

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 60

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