When the church meetinghouse was the center of our communities

Today, especially since the Pandemic Panic, government both in the States and across the planet has expanded into more and more areas of human life. Not only that, but governments actively seek to take control of and provide more and more services. There is often little pushback against this, which is the perfect opportunity for government to grow larger and more powerful while private and cooperative, voluntary efforts are dwindling away.

It has been nearly a decade since Anthony Bradley’s excellent article was published by the Acton Institute, and worth revisiting now. We here at TPOL have added [additional discussion in brackets].

Here’s Mr. Bradley: This summer [2014] I made a visit to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, and on a tour of churches, I heard a fascinating explanation of how society functioned when the church was the place where the poor had their material needs met, not the government. The Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg is one example.

According to church records, Burton Parish formed in 1674 following the merger of several colonial parishes originating as far back as 1633. As a Church of England [forerunner to today’s Episcopalian] congregation, this Anglican parish church was the center of life and culture. For example, during the era of the American Revolution men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry attended the church. Not only did prominent people in politics attend the parish church, the church also served the central location for providing social services for the poor.

In 17th and 18th century Williamsburg, Virginia helping the poor was assumed, as a social norm, to be the responsibility of the church, not the state. In the Bruton Parish, the vestrymen [usually called “deacons” both in the First Century and today], in addition to managing the affairs of he parish, were responsible for all poverty related social services. In the Anglican church, the vestry was established as a committee elected in local congregations to work with the wardens of the church to meet various needs. During the colonial era, if a person did not have adequate housing, adequate food or clothing, if women were widowed and children were orphaned, and so on, it was simply an assumption that the church would meet the needs of those on the margins locally and personally. [This was based on the assumption that everyone had been christened as an infant into the Anglican Church and was therefore a member, and members worked through the church (NOT the government) to care for one another beyond their immediate family, or when the family was unable to. (Not unwilling to, but unable to.)]

In the early 1990s, Marvin Olasky challenged Americans to re-think the role of the church and faith-based organizations in meeting the needs of the poor by reminding us that before FDR’s “Great Society” programs, “Human needs were answered by other human beings, not by bureaucracies, and the response to those needs was not compartmentalized,” writes Olasky. These “human beings” from the colonial period, through the end to 19th-century, were primarily operating directly out of the church or out of a faith-based organizations.[Such as missions, fraternal organizations, and cooperative societies.] The first orphanages, hospitals, food pantries, and so on, in America were all faith-based organizations. They were all derived from the models like the ones lived out in Colonial Williamsburg. [And which, though changed, had their origins and mission in the First Century in ancient Judea and the Roman Empire.]

While America is not likely going back to an era where the church was the center of local communities (which is also not the goal given the fact that such a structure brought other negative externalities as well) Americans in the 21st-century should consider the differences between people receiving help solely on the basis of their material and psychological needs versus people receiving on the basis that they are persons with minds, bodies, and souls. Humans persons are created to live a certain way in order to be truly free and properly human. When the church was the center, spiritual and material needs were addressed with concurrently. Government social services can only help people on the basis of them existing in an anti-supernatural, non-spiritual world and absent of souls. [While the TPOL agrees that the church meetinghouse is unlikely in most American communities to be central, the congregations of faith-based groups are still the center of many American communities, and not just the LDS in Utah and nearby States. And such groups (one hesitates to call them organizations and be inclusive enough) may once again become at least A center: to provide just what he says is lacking today.]

For nearly a century now, poverty in a land of plenty has been solved by “let George [Washington] do it.” It has been a major reason for the massive increase in government wealth and power, as well as (in our opinion) a major reason for the deterioration of society. Ending government involvement in welfare and health care is as critical to the cause of freedom as is restoring the churches’ separation from the state (government) and separating school and state. We have to love people for real – and demonstrate it by our actions – rather than echo and reenforce the politicians’ and bureaucrats’ hypocrisy about doing things “for the people.”

About TPOL Nathan

Follower of Christ Jesus (a christian), Pahasapan (resident of the Black Hills), Westerner, Lover of Liberty, Free-Market Anarchist, Engineer, Army Officer, Husband, Father, Historian, Writer, Evangelist. Successor to Lady Susan (Mama Liberty) at TPOL.
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