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Charles Rhind Joy

1922 - 1927


Charles Rhind Joy was born in Boston, Massachusetts on December 5, 1885, the third of seven children born to Arabella Sophia Parke and Robert S. Joy.  He grew up in Roxbury and attended Boston Public Schools.  After his graduation from Roxbury High School. In 1904, Joy was admitted to Harvard University where he studied English literature and became fluent in German and French. After graduating in 1908, Joy entered Harvard Divinity School because, as he later related “It was my ambition to combine theology and literature in one career.” When he matriculated at HDS, Joy also enrolled in courses at nearby Andover Theological Seminary. It was at this time that Joy encountered influential Unitarian mentors who inspired him, once he received a dual degree from Harvard and Andover in June 1911, to give visiting minister sermons at a Unitarian church on Cape Cod.  Shortly afterwards, Joy accepted a call from the First Parish of Portland, Maine where he was ordained in 1913. In addition, the day after commencement, Joy and Lucy Alice Wanzer married in the Chapel of the Divinity School and ultimately had four children, Alice, Lucy, Robert, and Nancy. In Portland Joy was settling into his ministry when the United States in March 1917 entered the First World War. Joy, who had previously declared that he was a pacifist, preached sermons calling the war was “unrighteous”, for which he was burned in effigy in front of the church and fired by a congregation that found his preaching “unacceptable.” Joy promptly signed on as an overseas social worker for the Young Men’s Christian Association, ultimately serving as Regional Director of YMCA humanitarian work in northern France for which French government awarded him the Médaille Commémorative de la Grand Guerre. At war’s end Joy returned to the United States to become pastor at Unity Church in Pittsfield, Massachusetts from 1919 until January 1922 when he accepted the unanimous call of Parish Committee leaders to become minister of First Church Dedham.   

Charles R. Joy’s five-year tenure as minister of First Church could be characterized as ambitious, productive, but ultimately somewhat frustrating for both him and his congregation. To begin with, Joy distinguished himself as an energetic leader of his church and denomination. Joy’s annual reports would recount that in a typical year he would preach at 44 services, teach 40 School of Religion classes, officiate at 20-30 baptisms, weddings, and funerals, attend 100 church-related meetings, make 200 pastoral visits, and prepares remarks for 80 non-First Church speaking engagements. Joy also took on significant denominational responsibilities: while at First Church from 1922 to 1927, he served as vice president of the Unitarian Fellowship for Social Justice, director of the Unitarian Temperance and Moral Welfare Society. literary editor of the Christian Register, Secretary and Treasurer of Unitarian Ministerial Union, and vice-president of the Unitarian Isles of Shoals summer conference center. Civically speaking, Joy also took the lead in speaking out in favor of liberal religion and the progressive causes of the day, whether it be supporting the Bok Referendum prize for creating ideas about peacemaking, speaking out against Kentucky legislation to ban teaching about evolution, or collecting funds for refugees of the Russian Revolution 1921-22 famine.

Joy’s ministry at First Church was also productive of some important innovations. Previous ministers has complained about the lack of a church parsonage. Indeed, Joy negotiated long and hard with Parish Committee leaders about adequate housing for his growing family before he agreed to move to Dedham. Consequently, a Parsonage Committee was established January 1922 to plan for his housing and to collect donations from congregants and church committees.  By May the Committee had collected sufficient funds to commit to buying the house that Joy was already renting and in April 1923 purchased the so-named Burdett house on nearby Chestnut Street as the First Church parsonage.   Joy supported another important institutional change at First Church, the establishment of free pews. Since 1638 parishioners had subsidized First Church expenses, including ministerial remuneration, by renting church pews. Historically speaking, the pews closest to the pulpit were reserved for Dedham’s monied elite, while poorer congregants were relegated to the back of the church and the balcony. However, at the conclusion of the Great War the Unitarian Laymen’s League called for abolition of the pew rental system because it conveyed inegalitarian distinctions among congregants, all of whom were purportedly God’s children.   In March 1922 the Parish Committee presented the “Free Pew” proposition at the First Church Annual Meeting, reminding congregants that ”if the system (free pews) there proposed is adopted, pew rents will be abolished and money will be raised by pledges. Present members of the congregation will be assigned their accustomed pews or seats unless they desire to change (seating arrangements), and pews or sittings not occupied will be assigned to persons desiring them. Thus it is apparent that the practical result will be that persons determine for themselves the amount to be paid and the times of payment instead of there being fixed by the Parish an arbitrary sum for the pew rents.” The Free Pew proposition being duly ratified, pledging was introduced as an alternative source of church funding. As Parish Committee explained, “Pledge cards, made necessary under the Free Pew system to cover the current expenses of the Parish, have been sent out this week…. In making out these pledges, it should be remembered that the amount raised will be the principal source of revenue of the Parish, and everybody is urged to give to the best of his ability.” Joy later acknowledged that it was unrealistic for church members to pledge a traditional tithe of 10% of one’s income. Rather, he advised that 2% of one’s annual income would suffice as a standard pledge, while 1% would suffice from those with more limited financial resources.

Joy was less successful in his efforts at church reorganization.  Joy was apparently concerned that First Church and Parish had an overly cumbersome governance structure that resulted in unclear lines of authority, redundant responsibilities, and unaddressed needs.  Thus in 1924 he proposed disbanding the separate church/parish organizations with church leaders asserting their decision-making authority over all parish committees, though he acknowledged that this restructuring required permission from General Court. Joy also suggested streamlining committees by merging those with similar functions.  Accordingly, Entertaining was to merge with Hospitality, Publicity would subsume the Parish Record, and Housekeeping would take over the tasks of Building and Grounds. Moreover, Joy called for the establishment of a Social Service Committee oversee all philanthropic appeals that the minister would otherwise have to respond to.  Next, Joy called for creating a Committee of Arts and Architecture for beautifying church properties and incidentally “to protect us from the atrocious memorials that a church is often asked to accept.” Lastly, Joy advised that committees should be appointed by Parish Committee, not the newly Planning Board.  However, Joy went on proffer that Planning Board, over which he presided, should coordinate all church activities and committee plans, in much the same way a Committee of Committees operates in Unitarian church today; This would allow minister to coordinate church efforts without interfering with lay control.  As far as I could ascertain, despite his cogent and innovative persuasiveness, the only Joy reorganization proposal to be actually implemented during his tenure was the aforementioned repurposing of the Planning Committee.

However, ultimately the aspect of his 5-year tenure that that Joy and his congregants found most frustrating was membership growth.  From the early days of his ministry, Joy prioritized increasing church attendance and membership. He organized services in order to attract specific clienteles. For example, he urged congregants to invite young people to specific services. “We want them to feel at home with us. The subject will be ‘What Shall I Fight for?’ and will be of interest to those who are making their decisions for lifework and service.”  Another Joy target for membership growth was male attendance at services. As Joy declared, “We need more men in our churches. Religion is not predominantly feminine.”   In this effort Joy encouraged the Laymen’s League to track the attendance of men at First Church services. “The ten Unitarian Churches with the best record will be publicly listed each month. This is a call to your loyalty. What are you doing to help the School of Religion?” Joy cajoled. “Have you sent your children? Have you volunteered as a permanent of substitute teacher? Have you inquired of other ways to help? Have you visited the School that the members of it may know you are interested?” Joy also became invested in the music program of First Church, hoping that purchasing a new hymnal, the hiring of soloist, a quartet, instrumentalists, and a couple of music ensembles, and holding Sunday evening vespers would attract the unchurched. Joy’s reporting about the School of Religion evinced some of his impatience with congregant support for his membership initiatives. “Our Sunday School is being put on a sound educational basis, with competent teachers, high educational standards, and regular reports to parents on the work accomplished. But,” Joy observed, “some parents are uncooperative and there is the failure of most of our church people to show the slightest interest in our difficult task.” Joy confessed that his particular membership recruiting innovation, the setting up of a Wayside Pulpit to proclaim sentences from upcoming services and the short sermon excerpts he published in the weekly Transcript Pulpit column, was somewhat wanting, with only a small percentages of Dedham residents actually accessing the messages purveyed by these means.

Joy’s anxiety about First Church membership growth culminated in 1925-26. In his Annual Report for this year, Joy bemoaned a decline of church attendance from an average of 140 congregants each Sunday to 132. Joy opined that societal transformations were, in part, responsible.  “The present day is a hard one for the church. The radio, the auto, the movie, auction and golf, summer homes and winter excursions, are all drawing on the strength and interest of our people…. The recent land boom in Florida comes to mind.” But Joy also blamed congregant selfishness and lack of persistence for declining numbers. “There are three classes of people in every church: the shirkers, the jerkers, and the workers. The shirkers are riding on the charity… They live through the generosity of their charitable neighbors. The jerkers are those who throw themselves with great enthusiasm into Church work, but at the first discouragement, their enthusiasm evaporates and they become shirkers. They have no patience, no perseverance. The workers are those who stick, through thick and thin, loyally performing the routine tasks of the church, responding to special emergencies with special help, confident in the abiding importance of the task the church is undertaking.” In addition, Joy attributed the membership decline to his own lack of time for community outreach to attract new church members. Joy argued that in order to be freed up to be more of a presence in the greater Dedham community, he needed a parish assistant to take over some of his secretarial duties, such as correspondence, ordering office supplies, and making entries of deaths weddings, and baptisms in the church book. Indeed, in September 1926 Joy paid an assistant for $100 of his own funds to assist him with these tasks and at an October 15, 1926 Special Meeting he asked the Women’s Alliance, School of Religion, Laymen’s League and First Parish Club to chip in to hire his assistant as year-round clerical support. Attending congregants voted 24 to 20 in favor of this proposal. But perhaps dismayed by the lukewarm response to his proposal, shortly afterwards, on October 24, 1926, Joy resigned as First Church minister, delivering a parting salvo about the necessity of permanently hire his part-time parish assistant to oversee church activities while church leaders seek to recruit a new minister.

After his resignation from First Church, Charles Rhind Joy’s career was eventful, accomplished and internationally engaged. From 1927 till 1929 Joy was minister of All Souls Church in Lowell, Massachusetts during which time he also assumed the position of Secretary of the Committee on the Supply of Pulpits for the Unitarian Ministerial Union, the association of Unitarian ministers of both the United States and Canada. Joy’s denominational work culminated in his leaving Lowell for employment as administrative vice president of the American Unitarian Association from 1930 till 1937.  Between 1938 and 1940, he served the Church of the Messiah in St. Louis, Missouri, the First Parish in Waltham, Massachusetts, the First Unitarian Congregational Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the Church of the Disciples in Boston as a visiting minister. During this period Joy completed a massive biblical reference tome, a project that he had been working on for many years. Published in 1940 as Harper’s Topical Concordance, Joy’s book, reprinted several times, became a standard reference tool for ministers. With the founding of the Unitarian Service Committee to rescue endangered Eastern Europeans, namely Social Democrats, union leaders, and Unitarians as well as Jews, fleeing Nazi persecution, Joy assumed the role of Director of the USC in Europe. Stationed in Lisbon, he coordinated aid and provided transportation to safety for thousands of displaced and suffering people, and in this effort oversaw the design of the Unitarian flaming chalice as a symbol on documents that identified USC agents in high-risk areas as non-combatant religious workers. After World War II Joy continued to support starving and displaced civilians as European commissioner and associate executive director of the Save the Children Federation (1947-1950). With the outbreak of the Korean War, Joy took on the responsibilities of Chief of the (Unitarian) Korean Mission to provide support for those displaced by the fighting. And from 1950 to 1956 Joy also appointed by CARE as its executive consultant for African affairs, in part because in 1949 he had travelled to French Equatorial Africa where he befriended the Doctor Albert Schweitzer whose biography he later wrote. Joy spent the remaining years of his long life travelling, writing (a total of 42 books), and speaking about important global issues such as world hunger until he passed away in Grey, Maine in 1978.  Reflecting on his career in the Harvard Class of 1908 50th Anniversary Report, Joy reported that “I have wandered about the world in more than a hundred different countries and everywhere I have found friendly people with whom it has been good to associate. I am now trying to make these many peoples better known in America and to promote in some small way a world understanding on which alone enduring peace may be built. Traveling, speaking, writing, these are the three foci around which my life now turns. I could not ask for any activities more interesting, more rewarding. I am not much concerned with the past, though I know the future has its roots there. I am eager to see the burgeoning and the fruitage of the years that are to be.” 

Ministers Folder 1903-1968 in First Church Records: Dedham Museum and Archive
Parish Records March 1921-October 1926: Dedham Museum and Archive
Records of the First Parish in Dedham Commencing AD 1900: Dedham Museum and Archive


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