In the mid-nineteenth century, Charles Deems was a Methodist minister concerned
about the unchurched in New York City. He persuaded Commodore Vanderbilt to
underwrite the effort. Vanderbilt bought Deems a church building for $50,000.
That was a lot of money at that time. Vanderbilt deeded the church to Deems so
that no group of trustees could, as Vanderbilt put it, “bedevil” him
if he preached too hard on sin. (The Commodore never attended that particular
church himself!) Deems called it ‘The Church of the Stranger’. Today we think of
our churches as places where no one is a stranger — but Deems was targeting
people who thought of themselves as strangers not connected to the rest of
society nor to any church. But if one remembers the old song There’s a Stranger
at the Door one might conclude that any church faces the danger that Christ,
Himself might feel out of place there, and in a very different and undesirable
way that church become The Church of the Stranger.
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