The Radio Cathedral

The Wireless Age, Volume 10, October 1922

Embarking Upon a Great Missionary Enterprise in the Radio: Broadcasting of the Gospel on a Scale That Would Have Astonished the Old-Time Apostles By R. E. Flynn

The service was over. The large congregation slowly walked out of the Cathedral as the last notes of the recessional hymn were heard from the choristers, marching away in the cloister. By the center door of the church stood the man who for over one year has numbered his “flock” in the hundreds of thousands. He was bidding his “visible” friends a kindly good night. As the crowd diminished to nothing he turned to find a young lady waiting at his side, and a pleasant voice inquiring, “Is this Dean Rogers?”

It was he—the Very Rev. Warren L. Rogers, dean of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, Detroit, whose services have been broadcast by station WWJ for the past year. To the stranger’s question he replied, “Yes, I am he. What can I do for you?”

Then the young lady told her story. “My home is in Highland Park,” she said, “a distance of some four miles from the Cathedral. We have a small radio receiving set at home, and for some time I have been enjoying your services broadcast by station WWJ. Your beautiful service has appealed to me very strongly, but somehow I just could not make up my mind to join the church.

“But tonight,” she continued, “as I listened in, I heard you speak so earnestly of the great work of the church, and received the invitation which you gave to your congregation, both present and ‘listeners in,’ to join the confirmation class which you are just starting, and then I made my decision. So strongly did it appear as my duty to act at once, that I went out to the garage, started my car, and have driven down here tonight to enroll in the confirmation class that you are now forming.”

After making the necessary arrangements, and seeing the young lady start for home, happy, the Dean turned away, a smile of deep satisfaction on his face. He could not help feeling gratified, for his convictions as to the value of the radio in the broadcasting of Divine services once more had been completely vindicated.

For several months following the installation of microphones in the Detroit Cathedral, the Dean was called upon to answer many adverse criticisms. Some said it was not in keeping with the dignity of the church. Others said it cheapened the service to have it broadcast so freely. Still others declared that it would make it much easier for people to remain away from church, and contribute thereby to the growing moral and religious laxity

To all these criticisms the Dean stoutly replied that it is the duty of the church to “preach the Gospel unto every creature.”

From the very first he believed that radio offered a means of reaching a large part of the “unchurched” population of America, and by means of a broad and varied program, such as only a cathedral could provide, to break down many of the modern prejudices of people toward the church.

Perhaps the strongest of these prejudices was based on the seeming lack of co-operation between the different Christian denominations. To combat this, Dean Rogers decided to broadcast proof of such co-operation; more, to allow ministers of other faiths to preach to the radio congregation from his pulpit. Thus it has come about that services have been conducted in the cathedral by a Methodist Bishop; a Jewish Rabbi; ministers from the Presbyterian, Central Christian and Congregational Churches; a Baptist layman; a representative of the International Committee of theYoung Men’s Christian Association; a national figure in the American Prison Reform Movement; an Indian professor of high repute from the University of Baroda in Bombay; and the leading woman preacher of the British Empire. A number of other ministers in his own and other communions have likewise conducted their service from the cathedral.

Following the appearance of each of these men, Dean Rogers received many letters from all parts of the country, expressing commendation of his efforts, and welcoming this move toward promoting a closer bond of fellowship between the churches. Perhaps the greatest single recognition of his work in this respect was his election to the Presidency of the Detroit Council of Churches for the ensuing year.

Conversing with the Dean a few days ago, the writer asked the following question: “After a year’s experience at the microphone, Dean, are you convinced that the radio has proved of any practical benefit to the church in its work?”

His reply was characteristic, quick and decisive. “I am convinced,” said he, “that radio has unquestionably proved a most valuable adjunct to the work of the church. It has enabled us here in the cathedral to embark upon a great missionary enterprise in the broadcasting of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, on a scale that would have astonished the old-time Apostle of our Lord. By it we have been able to reach and help many thousands of non-churchgoers, and it has, therefore, opened the way for the greatest missionary achievements since the time of Christ.

“Numerous examples of the far eaching effects of our radio ministry,” continued the Dean, “have come to me in the form of letters and verbal communications, since I delivered my first message into the microphone one year ago Palm Sunday night.

“One of the first letters I received the following week was from a man living in a Middle Western city, who frankly stated that he had not attended church in over twenty years. The radio enabled us to reach him where nothing else would, and he pledged a renewed interest in the church of his early youth. He sent me five dollars as a pledge of his good faith.

“Two other cases that appealed to me very strongly were those of returned soldiers. One, a member of a prominent club in Chicago, was slowly dying of tuberculosis. The other, living in a large Michigan city, had been badly ‘gassed’ while in action in France, and was in a similar condition. Both of these lads write me frequently that they listen-in every Sunday, and that the Divine Message of the church is proving their only comfort in their dying days. Occasionally, I give them a word of greeting during the course of a service in the cathedral.

“Then there is the case of the clergyman, a former rector of one of our churches in the Diocese of Michigan. For several years this man suffered from a dread disease, which finally necessitated his resignation from his rectorship, and submission to a series of amputations of one limb. A few weeks ago he wrote me a letter, from a. small town in Ohio where he is convalescing, stating that he attends service with the cathedral congregation every Sunday, and expressing his thanks for this wonderful invention that ‘makes it possible for a poor old one-legged parson to go to church.’

“Many other evidences of the great practical benefits of radio in a more general way are apparent to us here in the cathedral,” went on the Dean. “I am certain that the greater interest that is now being manifested in the church is due in no small measure to the radio as a means of appeal to them. “For instance, during the last calendar year, we have had the largest confirmation classes by far in our history, and also the greatest number of baptisms of any previous year. The astonishing fact is, that of 172 persons confirmed in St. Paul’s Cathedral last year, over one-half were persons whose early training was received in communions other than our own. 1 am convinced that radio has proved a great factor in enabling us to widen the scope of our appeal as evidenced by these figures.

“As a further proof of the remarkable field that this wonderful invention has opened for us in doing intense missionary work, I should mention the case of the banker in a small Canadian town, whose church was minus a rector, and who wrote me saying that after ‘listening in’ to some of our services in his home he had finally decided to purchase a receiving set to be installed in the church, so that the members might worship on Sunday with us, even though they were without a minister of their own.

“Just last week I received a letter from one of the clergymen in our Diocese, who has two churches in neighboring towns under his charge. He has installed a receiving set in one of these churches, so that his people may have the privilege of worshiping there, while he is conducting services in the other town. He wrote for our schedule of services.

“From information that I have received I am certain that several other churches, without the services of rectors of their own, are likewise worshiping with us. And this is not confined to our own communion either, for only last summer a Presbyterian church in a Michigan town put in a receiving set and worshiped simultaneously with us, while their pastor was away on his summer’s vacation.

“Of the invalid lady who sits propped up in her bed each Sunday with a receiver at her ear and a prayer book in her hand, worshiping earnestly and effectively with us, or of the many other instances of sick people and shut-ins, who can attend church in no other way, I need say little, for their cases are apparent to anyone.

“Since radio was installed I have not been preaching to empty pews, as some people predicted during the early days of our great experiment. In fact, we have had the largest congregations in our history. Most people like a live church, and I believe this is what appealed to many of them in our case.

“Do you wonder,” concluded Dean Rogers, “that I am enthusiastic about the wonderful possibilities of radio in the broadcasting of Divine services, and that I am convinced that by its means we can effectively follow the command of our Lord ‘to preach the Gospel unto every creature.'”

On Palm Sunday night one year ago, the beautiful tones of the Barbour memorial organ in the cathedral and the triumphant choruses from the throats of the cathedral choristers, 103 voices strong, were sent forth from St. Paul’s Cathedral by WWJ, the Detroit News, for the first time.

The earliest message broadcast from there was in the form of a great cantata, Christopher Marks’ “Victory Divine.” Down through the stretch of a year at the microphone have come echoes of that first great triumph, which in the words of America’s radio Dean can best be described as “the greatest missionary achievement since the time of Jesus Christ.”