When you do research in local history, sometimes you turn up fascinating little local dramas. Like the newspaper story I found today about Unitarian minister Samuel L. Elberfeld, who lost his job in part because he coached a church basketball team for teenagers. This is a story that appeared on the front page of the New Bedford Standard for 18 November 1922, above the fold.
Sports fans will have fun reading how Elberfeld believed sports and religion could not be separated — and they will have less fun reading how he got fired for so believing. Aficionados of dirty church politics will revel in the stratagems used by church members to promote minority rule. Church polity geeks will want to puzzle out the complicated matter of why a church rooted in congregational polity would ever delegate responsibility of firing their minister to another church (quick answer — that other church provided the money to pay the minister’s salary).
Journalism fans will notice how the reporter uses “it is said” instead of directly quoting someone, or attributing facts or opinions to an actual person — a delightful use of the passive voice to promote innuendo — but this was a different era of journalism, with different standards. Note too how a daily city newspaper chose to report such a story on the front page — for it is exactly the kind of juicy rumor-laden story that we all love to read in local newspapers, notwithstanding the obvious pain this particular story caused to Samuel Elberfedl, as revealed in his quoted remarks in the story; and no doubt the article was also very painful to members of the congregation. Which is why newspapers stopped carrying stories like this one, and which why we now read blogs, because the newspapers have gotten so boring.
So here is the story, blazing headlines and all (with an epilogue at the end telling what happened afterwards):
26 VOTED FOR
Meeting Held in Unity Home
Last Evening Acts
ONLY 36 PRESENT
OF 135 MEMBERS
Final Action in North Unita-
rian Church Up to
At a meeting of members of the North Unitarian Church held in Unity Home, Tallman street, last night, a vote was taken on the dismissal of the Rev. Samuel L. Elberfeld, pastor of the church. There were 36 members present, and the voted was 26 for dismissal, and three for his retention. There were seven blanks cast.
According to previous announcements, the meeting was called for the purpose of discussing the future policy of the church, bearing on the question of whether the social and athletic activities are to be carried on as extensively as they are at present, or whether they are to be made subservient to the work of the church proper.
The meeting resolved itself into a discussion of the dismissal of the pastor. The vote it is said did not represent the sentiment of the full church body for the reason that there are at least 125 accredited members of the parish, and that our of this number only 36 were present. Of the 36 who attended, it was pointed out that the majority was entirely out of sympathy with the pastor. Members of this majority, it is said, were the instigators in the removal proceedings that were first brought to light as a result of a meeting a week ago. It
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