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Big Town
Chapter Six


Chapter 6:  Christian Fellowship

          Whatever the present fortunes of the city’s churches – and as stated in an earlier chapter they seem to be somewhat in abeyance- the holy work of Christian fellowship, as conducted by the Y.M.C.A., flourishes today as never before. Indeed it may be well that the churches could profit from a study of “Y” methods, the success of which appears to arise, not merely from the advancement of the fellowship idea, but also from a financial system differing widely from that employed by the churches.
          The outstanding expression of this success is found in the new “”Y” building, completed a year or so ago. It towers thirteen stories high on one of the downtown streets. Its architecture is from the Italian Renaissance out of Coral Gables. And it cost one million, three hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
          Chaste ecstasy over this imposing symbol finds expression in the glowing tribute of no less a dignitary than a member of the “Y’s” National Council: “It is more like the masterpiece of a sculptor who had hewn this figure from variegated stone or marble. There is no front of back. Every exposure is a view of compelling charm, like the famous Notre Dame Cathedral on the banks of the River Seine in Paris, which has held the admiring gaze of the traveling world for centuries.”  The interior of the Temple of Fellowship is equally striking. The floors are of richly variegated red and brown tiles. The walls are of creamy hand-modeled plaster. Massive lighting fixtures of hand-wrought metal depend from high and vaulted ceilings which, though made of concrete, are painted in startling likeness of their Italian prototypes.
          On the first floor, which is divided to serve the men’s and boy’s departments, there are two lobbies, two high-ceilinged lounges, two reading rooms, three game rooms, a candy stand (no tobacco or matches), a soda fountain, a cafeteria, public and private dining rooms, a large kitchen and a bakery.
          The second floor houses an enormous swimming pool, locker rooms, offices, classrooms, a pants-pressing studio, a chapel, and a combination banquet hall and auditorium with a highly impractical stage.
          Three separate gymnasiums share the third floor with an assortment of laboratories and classrooms. Above this there are ten dormitory floors, occupied by two hundred and forty cubicles which contain two hundred and ninety-nine beds.
          Quite naturally, the operation of a plant of this size requires a considerable paid personnel. There are nine secretaries, sixteen assistant secretaries, three cashiers, two bookkeepers, ten stenographers, sixty teachers, fifty-eight cooks and waitresses, eleven maids and fifteen janitors. In addition, there are a house superintendent, a matron, three elevator men, a night watchman, a laundry manager with two assistants and a number of mechanics, carpenters, and utility men. Thus somewhat more than two hundred souls are engaged in seeing that the wheels of fellowship turn smoothly.
          The “Y’s” annual budget approaches very closely to an even half-million dollars.
          Of this stately sum about seventy thousand dollars is contributed by the general public through donations to the Community Chest. The balance comes from a multitude of fees paid by the cash customers who enjoy the various privileges and services provided by the “Y.” Membership fees yield twenty thousand, physical department fees forty thousand, educational fees thirty thousand, dormitory fees sixty thousand, and the restaurant one hundred and eighty thousand. About seventy thousand more comes from rental fees charged for the auditorium and barber shop, receipts from semi-public banquets, proceeds from the sale of supplies in the educational department, and other minor sources.
          It is in the matter of membership and activities fees that the “Y” displays the keen realization of economic factors which has been so largely responsible for its present enviable estate. With a few exceptions, to be noted later, all members pay an annual fee, which amounts to five dollars in the men’s department and two dollars in that devoted to the boy’s activities. In either case it entitles the member to utilize the lobby, the lounge and the reading room, and to patronize the soda fountain, the cafeteria, the pantatorium, the billiard room and the barber shop – these latter at the same prices prevailing in similar places of business operating outside the precincts of the Temple of Fellowship.
          Theoretically these same privileges are open to the general public, but certain discriminations are made, based on practical considerations. There is, for instance, the matter of wear of wear and tear on furnishings. In the old “Y” building it was noted that many nonmembers were in the habit of dropping in from time to time and easing their frames down onto the upholstery in the lobby. Consequently today’s arrangements are somewhat different. The small lobby contains only a few rather stiff chairs; and the comfortably appointed lounge is isolated, except at the luncheon and dinner hours, by means of a velvet rope stretched across its doorway. Similarly, the reading rooms are unobtrusively located a little off the beaten path of customer traffic.
          On the other hand, the cafeteria openly welcomes anyone who has the price of a meal. Nor do the barber shop, press shop and Turkish bath distinguish between Christians and heretics in building up their paying clienteles.
          Various forums are open to the guests of members. There are also frequent free religious lectures, though at most of these affairs the hat is passed in order to assuage the embarrassment of any who are reluctant to accept spiritual uplift without contributing in return.
If these privileges do not sate the member’s appetite for “Y” advantages, he may participate in a wide variety of other activities: physical, educational and recreational. These will cost him from five to fifty dollars, depending upon the intensity of his desire for exercise, erudition or amusement.
          The physical department offers gymnasium classwork, volley ball, basketball, boxing, wrestling, tumbling and swimming. The Turkish bath, open to both members and nonmembers, is widely popular in these degenerate days with the bucks who wish to get themselves boiled out after a hard night’s battle with Demon Rum. Formerly the “Y” maintained an athletic park which provided baseball, track work, tennis and canoeing. This, however, was a losing proposition, and when the city provided public playgrounds it was abandoned. Outdoor “Y” athletics have since been conducted on fields provided by the taxpayers.
          The educational department affords sixty-three courses in such subjects as commerce and finance, liberal arts, law, manual training, and office training. The instructors are drafted from the corresponding fields in the outer world. Tuition fees are as high as forty dollars; and the students are expected to purchase all textbooks and supplies from the “Y” store.
          In addition to the above standardized activities, there is provision for sixty-three avocational interests, including archery, bee culture, croquet, picnicking, stamp and coin collecting, and woodcraft. These are open to paying members only; and in connection with some of them the “Y” levies special fees to cover the cost and care of equipment.
          In these divers ways some four thousand members, and perhaps an equal number of ordinary citizens, provide the money with which the whole structure of “Y” activities is able to balance, year after year, a steadily increasing budget.
          Elsewhere throughout the communal fabric of the city, males of all ages customarily address each other as “men,” “boys,” “gents,” “guys,” or the like – and occasionally by more pungent designations implying either illicit or even canine parentage. But within the portals of the “Y” the almost universal appellation is “fellows.” Doubtless the hearty simplicity of this designation does much to enrich the atmosphere of democracy and community of interest which the “Y” secretaries to seek to maintain through the general membership, and especially among the dormitory tenants.
          In the old days many of the fellows who enjoyed the privileges of monastic residence in the “Y” dorm displayed, in their conduct certain manifestations of a deplorable liberalism. Despite the most searching inquisition of the applicants for rooms, not a few of the unregenerate were harbored, however briefly; and their antics caused the “Y” personnel much sleepless worry.
           This may have been due to the fact that the first building occupied by the “Y” boasted a saloon on its ground floor; and that the second stood at a street intersection, two corners of which were occupied by similar dens of vice. At any rate, it was the lamentable custom of many of the fellows of earlier days to carry suitcases full of beer up to their rooms and heave the empty bottles out of the windows into the adjoining backyard. And since this backyard was the property of two elderly and eminently respectable spinsters, there were frequently acid complaints from these ladies, followed by frantic if unavailing efforts on the part of the secretaries to apprehend and punish the culprits. Eventually the spinsters took up their residence in a less hazardous sector, and their former home became an annex to the “Y.” The resulting calm was only temporary, however, as ere long it was discovered, to the unspeakable horror of the devout secretaries, that the fellows were regularly smuggling ladies of the evening into the hallowed quarters afforded by the annex. Nor was this practice entirely discouraged even by putting an easily awakened matron into the annex itself.
          Finally there was the anti-cigarette pledge to be signed before entering the dorm – a document which unquestionably lent added flavor to the vile coffin nails which were surreptitiously smoked in every bedroom.
          Today these evils have been partially abated, by astute planning of the building itself and by a supervision of eternal vigilance.
          The cigarette apparently has gained at least a temporary victory over Righteousness, being permitted not only in the bedrooms but also in two or three of the public rooms downstairs. But intramural chastity is assured by having a night secretary on duty in the lobby, and by shutting off the stair well with a single door which is not only locked at night but also sounds an alarm bell if unofficially opened. Fellows who persist in staying out after midnight are lectured severely by the secretaries; and if a dorm resident is presumed to be guilty of amorous derelictions he is given the choice between foregoing such delights or being banished from the company of the continent.
In addition to these precautions the maids are required to report  any symptoms of sin; and one of the secretaries makes frequent room inspections, examining everything except the contents of locked trunks. Each of these tours results in a harvest of ten or twelve bottles of booze – usually from beneath mattresses or similar incautious places of concealment; and not infrequently some of the unmentionable accessories of vice make their appearance. It is customary to give the fellows who have thus succumbed to temptation at least one chance to amend their ways; but occasionally they prove quite incorrigible and are exiled to the outer darkness.
          By way of supplying diversions presumed to take the place of the various iniquities which lure young Christians to dissipation in the evil outer world, the fellows are subjected to considerable pressure to induce them to take part in the activities of Bible classes, discussion groups and avocational clubs. There are also Saturday night frolics, or “mixers,” in the auditorium. Here the fellows find dancing partners drafted from the Y.W.C.A., and are regaled with amateur dramatics, piano selections, recitations, cider and doughnuts. Boyish romping and other forms of good clean fun are encouraged.
          A taste for simplicity and economy in living arrangements is inculcated by the modest size of the dorm rooms and by the lack of any ostentation in furnishings. When some of the tenants first displayed a tendency to go in for extension lights and radio sets, the house superintendent pointed out the folly of such worldly luxuries by going through the rooms with a pair of pliers and severing all of the offending wires. Subsequently, however, the use of these appurtenances in the rooms was permitted in consideration of slightly increased room rents for those who wanted to enjoy them.
          On each floor there is a religious monitor, a tried and true proselytist, who spends a considerable amount of his time inquiring into the estate of his neighbor’s souls, striving to win to the Cause those who seem to be insufficiently endowed with religious enthusiasm. At least once a year there is a week-long carnival of prayer, during which all of the fellows who can be found in their rooms are haled nightly into the chapel, there to offer up repentance for their sins.
          Through all of the “Y” activities, from the boisterous ones provided for the ten-year-olds to the quiet chess games of the gaffers, the motivating purpose and guiding spirit is Christian Fellowship.
          Its sanctified odor is wafted to the nostrils at every turn – a fragrance which is not to be confused with that robust and all-pervading effluvium, characteristic of all “Y” establishments and alleged to arise from the locker rooms.
          Christian Fellowship finds its full glory in the semi-public meetings, lectures and forums. But it also permeates such secular activities as hiking, motor boat construction, auto touring, photography, poultry culture, accounting, advertising, code pleading, mechanical drawing and typewriting. And it gives an unctious glow to the smile of each and every secretary.
          It is the first thing with which the neophyte comes into contact as he enters orders in the Temple. As soon as he has made out his application and paid his membership fee, he is turned over to a specially trained lay member of long standing, whose duty it is to determine the precise nature and degree of the candidate’s attitude toward the Fellowship idea, and begin to steer him in the proper direction.
          A “conference” is held between these two, during which the lay worker eases his way into the confidence of the neophyte by telling him the story of his own life, with due emphasis on the details of his past viciousness and the exaltation of spirit resulting from his having embraced Fellowship. This gambit usually breaks down the defense of the newcomer’s reticence, and he replies with a lurid account of his own iniquities to date. Next the inquisitor examines into the candidate’s religious affiliations, and if these do not seem to be highly active, he arranges for another conference with the pastor of any church the candidate may select. He also advises immediate participation in those of the “Y” activities which are most certain to make sinners see the light. After all of this he follows up each case to see that there is no backsliding along the path toward salvation.
          Secretaries also pursue the new member, especially if he is a dorm resident, urging him to take part in the Bible classes and religious forums. Announcements of such events stare at him from the bulletin board as he passes through the lobby on his way to exercise in the gymnasium or the replenishing of the flesh in the cafeteria. If it is discovered that he is contemplating matrimony, one of the married secretaries seeks him out and enlightens him on some of the more intimate secrets of that holy estate.
          Through the constant zeal of the secretaries and laymen, considerable numbers become imbued with Fellowship and thus are saves. Others display a religious apathy which ill beseems their interest in the secular privileges they enjoy. And there have been a few apparently who could resist the full treatment – such as one individual who, during the holy ritual of a Fellowship Forum, made off with the chairman’s sixty-dollar overcoat.
          Naturally, one of the most important factors in the Fellowship campaign is the frequent repetition of “purity talks,” at which the pitfalls treacherously placed in the path of the unwary by Nature herself are carefully pointed out. One of the speakers on this ever-popular theme delivered no less than eighteen orations in a single week, being supplied with audiences made up of every group active at the “Y” during that period. This particular lecturer entirely omitted any reference to venereal hazards on the theory that his hearers should, after hearing him, lead lives of unblemished chastity.
          Unquestionably a large measure of the “Y’s” present prosperity is due to a skill with which it has laid its course through the reefs and shoals of sectarian dissension.
          It possesses a flair for diplomacy which enables more than a hundred Jewish members to enjoy the privileges of the physical department without being disturbed by Fellowship’s essentially Christian nature. Rome, too, suffers three hundred of its communicants to revel in similar privileges, in spite of a “Y” policy whereby a safe majority of all official boards is kept in the hands of the evangelical Protestants.
          It is only from among these Protestant groups that friction arises. The membership is quite evenly divided between the various sects. But there are occasional mutterings which allege that various “Y” activities conflict with similar church affairs, resulting in consequent distraction of the faithful. The religious department must exercise a nice discretion to avoid stressing matters which are at once the dogmas of one faith and the heresies of another.
          Unfortunately the general public attitude toward the Temple of Fellowship is not one of unmixed and enthusiastic approval, principally on account of the matter of the seventy thousand dollars received by the “Y” from the Community Chest. Over this item there has been prolonged and continuous grousing on the part of the citizenry. There are many who persist in asking why the “Y,” which they stoutly decline to regard as a charitable institution, should be the recipient of their largesse. Quite often, too, proprietors of restaurants, hotels, apartments, rooming houses, barber shops, cleaning and pressing establishments, and commercial schools, want to know why they should help to support, out of their charitable donations, an organization which is in direct competition with all of them.
          While these complaints  are not easily answered by Chest solicitors and other “Y” proponents, a careful consideration of the “Y” system of operation indicates that there may be something to be said on its behalf. It unquestionably provides many lads with an unequaled opportunity for physical diversions which are at once riotously unbridled and distinctly beneficial. Such opportunities are afforded not only by the gymnasium in the winter, but by the “Y” boy’s camp in the summer. In cases where a youth’s family is unable to afford an obviously needed course of physical development, the modest fees usually charged are either reduced or eliminated. And certain Boy Scout troops are given swimming privileges at a cost of a dollar season for the whole troop. Quite obviously the providing of such advantages is impossible save at a distinct loss to the “Y” in operating cost; and in this respect it may be looked upon as a benevolent institution.
          There are also those who hold that the “Y” might be more nearly self-supporting were it not for another aspect of its physical department’s operation. These claim that members of the men’s department, particularly those who enjoy the privileges of the gymnasium and the swimming pool, are provided with these advantages at an annual cost to them which is far lower than they would have to pay in a private athletic club – a cost so low as to produce a very marked annual deficit in physical department operation. However, many of these gentlemen are both active and influential in the general pattern of “Y” activities; and consequently t is said to be somewhat difficult to effect such a readjustment of annual fees as might be expected to place the whole “Y” more nearly on a self-supporting basis.
          Whatever may be the truth of these claims, the practical soundness of the whole “Y” system is not to be denied. It provides a money-making residential hotel of modern convenience and reasonable rates. It operates a public restaurant whose profits help to offset other departmental deficits. Its schools please employers by producing graduates whose attitudes toward such sacred institutions as the time-clock and loyalty to the boss are chastely free from any leanings toward individualism. Through emphasis on Christian Fellowship, it provides its members and other supporters among the citizens with that soothing sense of self-righteousness which comes only from a feeling of participation in holy works.
          As long as these policies are pursued there is every reason to believe that the vast majority of the cash customers will continue to be thoroughly satisfied with their bargains. This being the case, there seems to be little likelihood that the “Y” will find itself in a parlous state or that Christian Fellowship will fall upon evil days.

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