Since the arousal of interest in rural welfare by the studies made by the Country Life Commission in 1908, probably no movement has made more rapid progress than that concerned with rural life. Studies of rural church conditions made by the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions and other agencies, of rural health by the National Public Health Service and by a number of the large philanthropic foundations, of educational conditions by the United States Bureau of Education, and of other problems by various agencies concerned, have revealed the more important conditions and have made possible the organization of programs for their amelioration. The conditions still further revealed by the problems incident to preparation for the World War and the facilities made possible by that preparation for mobilization of the forces for improvement still further advanced the rural-life movement until now no other interest is occupying more public attention than this.
The list of agencies with programs of rural service on a national scale that have found representation in the National Council of Rural Social Service affiliated with the American Country Life Association will indicate the large number of groups now contributing to the advance of rural welfare. This list is as follows: National Grange, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Board of Farm Organizations, Farmers' Educational and Cooperative Union, American Home Economics Society, American Red Cross, Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of America, Federal Council of Churches, National Catholic Welfare Council, Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, American Baptist Home Missionary Society, Board of Home Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Young Men's Christian Association, Young Women's Christian Association, United States Department of Agriculture, States Relations Service; United States Department of Agriculture, Office of Farm Management; United States Public Health Service, United States Bureau of Education, United States Department of Labor, Children's Bureau; National Organization for Public Health Nursing, National Child Labor Committee, Child Health Organization of America, Russell Sage Foundation, National Tuberculosis Association, National Educational Association, Rural Department; American Library Association, National University Extension Association, National Child Health Council, Playground and Recreation Association of America, Community Service, Inc.
The above is a list of thirty-one different agencies that have a national definitely organized rural-service program. This list doubtless is incomplete and will be increased in the course of time.
The problem before us is to determine just what place the church should have in this formidable galaxy of agencies, and to consider what advantages and difficulties present themselves to the churches of America in functioning unitedly and successfully in doing their part in the entire movement.
It must be recognized that it is impossible for the church to assume leadership in all the interests represented now by various specialized agencies. It has been contended that the task of the church has been completed with reference to a number of these interests when it has encouraged their organization in a local way and has continued to give them its moral support so long as they render effectively the service for which they were intended. Rural interests are so complex that specialized groups are necessary to insure adequate attention to all the interests concerned.
It must also be recognized that until the two great branches of the Christian Church -- Catholicism and Protestantism -- learn to cooperate in their service to the community, the religious forces of America cannot present a united front in rendering the service that belongs peculiarly to them. It is assumed that the effort will be made by those responsible for community service in both branches of the church to work out this problem so that the church can do its part in the general movement.
The physical basis for organization of all forces for service on a comprehensive plan is recognized to be the political units, county, State, and nation. The township is giving way gradually to the community as the more local unit of organization. In cases where community boundary lines do not coincide with county lines local adjustments will be made whereby the integrity of communities may be maintained within the organization of one or the other of the counties concerned.
The present movement is toward the appointment of county work secretaries on a salaried basis to administer the work of the respective interests concerned. Thus we have now developed wherever the spirit of the people has made it possible salaried County Y. M. C. A. officers, Y. W. C. A. officers, International Sunday School officers, Red Cross Chapters, Boy Scouts, Community Service, Inc., and so forth. There is no regularity or uniformity in the selection of the counties by the different agencies with reference to each other, but it appears that when one of the groups succeeds in getting a county office established, it is increasingly difficult for other agencies concerned in rural social service to gain a foothold on a salaried basis. The agency that succeeds in gaining a foothold originally tends to incorporate into its activities the full program of social service. Theoretically all admit their readiness to turn over to other agencies the functions belonging to other groups as soon as they are ready to assume their proper duties, but practically the organization of an interest group county office delays indefinitely the organization of rural service on a proper basis.
The normal course of development is for the agency that is prepared to organize and finance a comprehensive rural program for a county should render this service; but it should at the same time use its influence to bring about at the earliest possible moment a county council of social agencies that will give unified control of the rural service program to all agencies that should have a voice in rural progress. If this policy is adhered to, there will be the heartiest support of the work of any agency that wishes to begin its work on a county basis in any section of the country.
The first impression that may come to one not familiar with the vastness of the organized movement for rural welfare may be that a large number of agencies have undertaken rural service for their own sakes rather than for the sake of the community. This is not the case. It is recognized that rural organization for definite objectives should take the place of previous uncoordinated, haphazard opportunism in rural progress, and the present sporadic and unrelated movements toward organization are but the result of a very rapid development which has not yet found time to make the desired adjustment desired by all concerned. The National Council of Rural Social Agencies, the State Councils coming into existence, the County Councils and the community councils that have appeared here and there are but the beginnings of a well-ordered, economical and necessary coordination of rural social forces.
How is the church related to this movement? Repeated investigations have shown that the churches of America have within their membership by far the larger proportion of those whose public spirit registers itself in voluntary financial support of public enterprises. The |friendly citizen| is largely a myth. Those who build churches at large personal sacrifice, and pay the bills in maintaining religious services are those whose names appear at the top of most subscriptions to benevolent enterprises. It was the Christian ministry and the church membership that made possible the Red Cross drives during the war, and the other financial campaigns for relief and other calls incident to the war. Thus history has continued to show the same condition so far as financial resources for public welfare support are concerned.
Since this is the case, it appears that the most natural method of initiating social service work on a voluntary basis is to expect the churches to take the lead. As has been pointed out, the church and the school are the two local institutions that have salaried officials to care for their public service. Other agencies, with the possible exception of public health nursing service, will probably not in the near future be able to secure financial support for full-time salaried local officials. The nearest they can approach to such salaried service is the county official who must depend for local service upon trained volunteer help. This condition puts upon the church an additional responsibility because through the organization of a county religious organization outlined in the preceding chapter it can not only mobilize local support for such work on a permanent basis most effectively, but it can also provide the salaried local leadership for carrying out a well-organized community service program. Moreover, in harmony with principles presented in an earlier chapter, the church as a conservative institution is one of the permanent organizations that in the last analysis must be expected to take over and insure permanence to well-tried advances in community organization and service. If this thesis is admitted, then it logically follows that all who are interested in rural progress should encourage the organization of the religious forces on a comprehensive basis to insure the perpetuation of the work now being inaugurated by a large number of private agencies.
When it is found that the interests of other organizations conflict with the program of the church, the interests of the American public will give the preference in support to the church, or to the tax-supported institution. In the long run much of the work now being done by private organizations of various sorts will be inherited either by the church or by the state; and it is not only the opportunity but the obligation of the church to prepare itself as rapidly as possible for conserving these newer activities by financing county and State and national organizations for coordination of religious forces for community service. If county offices for coordination of religious forces were now in existence, the churches could provide facilities through which much of the work now being developed by other agencies could be carried on. And thus the church could render a much-needed service to the entire rural-life movement.