Archived Page: 175 Anniversary
Celebrate the Journey 1827-2002
Third Presbyterian Church
Celebrates 175 Years of Ministry
Dr. Paul Moore Strayer (1903-1925)  

Dr. Strayer After the rather aristocratic, staid ministry of Dr. Richard Harlan, the leaders of Third Church were led to look for a man who would have the vision of an active church, focused upon not only itself but also the greater world. They found such a man in Paul Moore Strayer. Thirty-two years old, he had attended the University of Chicago and graduated from Yale Divinity School. He had also studied in Edinburgh and Bonn for six weeks, then was in charge of a Congregational church in London for some time. His first sermon in Third Church was entitled "The Work We Must Do," with the text, "They brought him to Jesus." It marked his clear vision of service beyond the walls of the church.

His coming was clouded because between the time of his call and his arrival, his wife of four years gave birth to their first child, Paul Gilbert Strayer, and died seventeen days later. It was a widower and new father who came, with his sister as housekeeper and substitute mother. Many of the long-term members remember "Gil" Strayer, who died in 1988.

Dr. Strayer was a good pastor, active in the community and in the denomination. As a preacher he was "clear, forceful, with clear thought and simple diction." In 1911 the church gave up having an assistant minister, for Dr. Strayer felt that the money should go to service in the community. In 1912 a social service department was established with Miss Elise Jones, a trained social worker, in charge. In 1917 Miss Mary A. Paris, one of the first Christian Education graduates of Auburn Theological Seminary with which the church has had long association, came as the first director of Christian Education. In 1918 she organized the first Girl Scout troop in Rochester, which continued as a formative group for girls.

These were times of ferment for the church nationally. Dr. Walter Rauschenbusch, whose name is associated with the social gospel with an emphasis on the relevance of the gospel to the world in which Christ lived, was a continuing friend and colleague of Dr. Strayer. Dr. Rauschenbusch taught at Rochester Theological Seminary, located at the corner of East Avenue and Alexander Street, and lived at 4 Portsmouth Terrace.

Reaching out beyond the traditional church. Dr. Strayer induced the Ministerial Union to appoint him as a fraternal delegate to the Central Trade and Labor Council. (We in the 21st century need to remember that the trade union movement was seen by many businessmen as a gathering of dissatisfied workers who represented a danger to the status quo of the nation.) Dr. Strayer attended their meetings, had a column, "Brother Strayer's Corner" in their paper and even marched in the labor union parades.

Realizing that laboring men were not attending church or hearing any message of uplift, hope and responsibility, he started with Dr. Rauschenbusch and others the People's Sunday Evening meetings in the Victoria Theater. Third Church paid half of the expenses, contributed a quartet and gave up its Sunday evening service. Billed in 1908 as a religious meeting for non-churchgoers, there were Bible readings, prayer, singing, and speakers on social topics. Even on story nights 1,000 came and 2,500 on other nights. These meetings were held in five winter months and lasted until World War I. Strayer was a staunch temperance man and invited 200 members of the Bar Tenders Union to a meeting! During the hard time of 1908-09 an employment agency was started out of the Sunday Evening meeting with a committee of community leaders to investigate the causes of unemployment and the community response. This led to the United Charities and the Social Welfare League, the ancestors of the United Way.

Among other community issues to which Dr. Strayer responded were the election rather than the appointment of the school board, opening the schools evenings for extension classes and for social needs as well as involvement in a committee to investigate the recreational needs of workers, the latter leading to his statement that not "the sanctity of the Sabbath but the sanctity of man was at issue."

At a different level, he started the City Club, a weekly luncheon club with able national speakers, to encourage progressive thinking among the men attending. He was the only officer and toastmaster for three years. The club continued for over sixty years as a force in the community.  

(To be continued...) 

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