New Church Bible and Book Car (1916)
After leaving home we soon found out that our posters threatened to blow to pieces by the wind, and proceeded to remove them.
Sellersville was the first town we considered giving a talk in; but there were too few people on the streets . . .
Our next stop was Quakertown eight miles from Allentown. We put out our signs and played a little music, but as this did not draw a crowd we talked to some of the people sitting on the porches without any success . . .
This morning we left Allentown and with no other accidents after two blow outs we arrived at Stroudsburg.
After supper we took the car out on the street and on seeing many people walking around decided to give a talk . . .
Karl played several pieces, and I started speaking to about ten persons . . . At the end of my speech Karl sold five copies of Heaven and Hell . . .
I hope you are feeling better . . .
Your affectionate Son
P.S. We find speaking in the day time is not a success” (Theodore Pitcairn. Letter to John Pitcairn. 7 July 1916. Glencairn Museum Archives, Bryn Athyn, Pa.).
In the summer of 1916, Karl R. Alden and Theodore Pitcairn embarked on a missionary tour of Pennsylvania and New York. Both men were students at the Academy of the New Church Theological School, preparing to graduate the following June. They fitted up their touring car with a banner emblazoned with the words “New Church Bible and Book Car.” The car had a bookshelf on the side (see photo, left). They also brought musical instruments (see the large drum in the top photo), which they hoped would help draw crowds in the towns they visited.
Theodore wrote letters home to his father, John, who was not well at the time, and sadly passed away before they had finished their tour. His letters are full of youthful enthusiasm as well as details of his frustrations, which included flat tires, disinterested crowds, and worries about his speaking abilities.
Karl and Theodore were ordained into the first degree of the priesthood on the nineteenth of June, 1917. Karl became the pastor of the Society of the Advent in Philadelphia, and Theodore embarked on a missionary effort in that city—an effort that included worship services and “lectures with moving pictures.” Theodore reported on the results of their endeavors at the Chicago District Assembly in October of that year.
“Rev. Theodore Pitcairn then told of the missionary efforts undertaken in Philadelphia by Rev. Karl Alden and himself. In the early part of the summer they had done some speaking at prominent crossings in West Philadelphia, especially near the elevated railroads. At first they sold copies of Heaven and Hell and The Four Leading Doctrines, but it was afterwards decided that it would not do merely to sell the books and lose track of the purchasers, so names and addresses were obtained from those who would like books, and thus they were able to follow up with circulars and letters. They usually had several members of the local society with them, who would get up and tell why they were Newchurchmen. This helped a great deal and made a good impression. These would then introduce one of the ministers as being able to explain the New Church Doctrines. They also tried to get the people to their Church by means of circulars and advertising in the street cars. Some said they could only come in the mornings, and others could only attend in the evenings, so it was arranged to have the regular worship in the mornings and a missionary service in the evenings. Mr. Pitcairn did most of the missionary preaching, while Mr. Alden did the society work. The street car signs proved very successful, and they had about fifteen strangers present every week. They also tried Thursday evening lectures with moving pictures. These were not very successful with the adults, but brought quite a number of children. They had been teaching the children selections from the Word, including the Ten Commandments, and about twenty of them had come to Sunday School. This part of the work had been very encouraging” (New Church Life 1917, 756-757).
The effort to reach out to those who may be interested in the New Church continues today. General Church Outreach, a department of the General Church of the New Jerusalem, is one of several organizations worldwide that provide resources and support for those interested in New Church teachings. Their quarterly magazine, New Church Connection, explores a new topic in each issue.
Photos: Karl R. Alden and Theodore Pitcairn posing with their touring car before setting off on their missionary tour on July 7, 1916. The photograph is in the collection of Glencairn Museum Archives, Bryn Athyn, PA. The photograph of New Church Connection is from the magazine’s website.
Questions and comments may be addressed to the editors at firstname.lastname@example.org.