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100 years ago: Remote attendance

17 February 2023

February 16th, 1923.

AMERICAN Protestantism discerns a new danger, and is afraid. Its rural chapels are faced with financial ruin, for their membership is rapidly dwindling. The cheap motor-car takes some of the former flocks in cities, where they hear better preaching under more comfortable conditions. The cheap radio set keeps others at home to hear sermons broadcast from urban chapels. The ministers in the small towns near New York complain that their chapels are being brought to an end by the competition of sermons and music from outside. “One canvasser for a Long Island church”, says the Literary Digest, “is reported to have found four members who had been substantial contributors, and who now say that they will give nothing, because they have radio sets.” We do not see how Protestantism can avoid the difficulty. For it has taught that the chief exercise of religion is the hearing of sermons, and if a good sermon can now be heard at home there is no reason why the road should be crossed to hear a bad one. The conception of corporate worship and of sacrifice has been lost, or, rather, definitely rejected, and there is no reason why Nonconformists should assemble if their needs can be met otherwise. But the tendency will have to be watched by Catholics also, nor only in America.

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