A Free Thought Church at McMinnville, Oregon — May, 1896
The portrait of Nettie A. Olds (right), appears as the frontispiece of this number of this Magazine. We also herewith present our readers with a picture of a part of the interior of the church of which Miss Olds is the pastor. Below will be found a short sketch of the life and work of Miss Olds by ex-Rev. C. B. Reynolds, the popular Free Thought lecturer, and a brief account of the dedication of the church above mentioned by Mrs. E.L. Walker, Secretary of the church. This seems to be the day for organizing broad, liberal, scientific, Free Thought Churches, under various names. Such churches are springing up, or being developed from sectarian churches in various sections of the country. The people are becoming tired of the old stereotyped orthodox theology, that has had the field for the last two centuries, and are demanding something more in accord with the progressive spirit of this scientific age. And where there is not. Liberalism enough to establish independent free churches, the orthodox preachers, to hold their congregations, find it necessary, to use a Bible similitude, to put a good deal of the new wine of Free Thought into their orthodox sermons.
The most pernicious doctrine that the orthodox church has inculcated is this: That there is virtue in believing and criminality in disbelieving. That is the dead rot from which the old church is now dying. The doctrine, in other words, that orthodox creeds are of more value than good deeds. The new churches, if they are to become a success and prove a blessing to humanity, must entirely and forever discard this deleterious dogma. Every individual must be left entirely free to bold and promulgate such doctrines and opinions as to him shall seem just and true. Over every pulpit of this new church should be placed, in letters sufficiently conspicuous to be read by every person within the edifice, this motto: “PREFECT LIBERTY OF THOUGHT IS ALLOWED HERE.” And under this: “CHARACTER IS THE ONLY TEST OF FELLOWSHIP IN THIS CHURCH.” The church of the future must maintain a platform broad enough to give a hearing to every honest man or woman, whatever may be their opinions. The Rev. Dr. Rusk of the Militant Church of Chicago, by inviting Colonel Ingersoll to speak from his pulpit, proves that his church is of that character. We hope, trust and believe that may also be said for the First Secular Church of McMinnville, Oregon.
Sketch of the Life of Nettie A. Olds
NETTIE A. OLDS was Born September 13, 1872, on a farm two miles from McMinnville, Yamhill County, Oregon. She is the youngest daughter of Aaron K. Olds (now in his eighty-fifth year) and his good wife, Martha J. Olds, nee Ford. Unitedly this couple have upheld the banner of Secularism, by example, earnest efforts and devotion of time and means, sustaining the cause in McMinnville and vicinity for the last quarter of a century. To the generous, genial nature, the sterling honesty, persistency and courage of her father, and the keen sense of justice, abounding benevolence and natural ability of her mother, the cause of Secularism is indebted for one of its most able and fearless exponents and the most zealous, self-sacrificing and successful Sunday-School worker in the United States.
Miss Nettie A. Olds is a natural musician, a proficient performer on the piano and violin, a lover of melody, with buoyant spirits and a rich, powerful voice. She dearly loves children, and they, the best of all discerners of who really love them, idolize her in return. With patience and gentleness that appears inexhaustible, she will arouse to effort the dullest scholar, and awaken their interest and ambition to sing little songs and recite pieces. She seems to know intuitively just bow to keep interested and secure t.be attention and win the affection of children of the most opposite dispositions and temperament. As a lecturer she has a queenly presence and is an earnest, most interesting and eloquent speaker. Her hearers may not endorse her opinions, but the most prejudiced are convinced of her gentle, kindly, honest nature, and the sincerity of her every utterance.
Miss Olds attended a district school until the age of thirteen, afterwards spent three years in McMinnville Baptist College; evinced more than ordinary ability, delivering at different times orations which, because of the originality of expression and eloquence of utterance, induced her professors and the leading lawyers of the city to urge her to take up the study the law. But opportunities were wanting. During the winter of 1895 she took the business course in the Portland Business College, and the following winter, the course in stenography and typewriting. From infancy to now she has always breathed the air of Free Thought, never having been circumscribed by the dogmas of orthodoxy.In the fall of 1892 Miss Olds attended the Annual Convention of the O.S.S.U., held at Portland, which awakened her enthusiasm in the Secular work, especially in the establishing of Secular Sunday Schools, and was elected Superintendent of the P.S.S.S. The following spring she taught a public school at New Era. Under the urgent solicitation of friends, she delivered her first Free Thought lecture at the First Secular Church of Portland, March 18, 1894, subject, “Free Moral Agency.” In July, accompanied by Katie Kehm Smith, she made a tour of Western Oregon and Southwestern Washington in the interests of Secularism; her singing and violin solos attracting crowded houses. She took a prominent part in the next annual convention of the O.S.S.U., held at Forest Grove, and was elected Vice-President of the organization. The following November she resumed charge of her school at New Era.
At this time, without notification, Mrs. Katie Kehm Smith resigned her position as pastor of the Portland Secular Church, leaving the organization entirely without a lecturer. Miss Olds was most urgently entreated, as the most available person, to fill the vacancy. With great reluctance she consented, realizing that her school was fifteen miles away and that it would be necessary to walk at least five miles to reach a public conveyance to and from Portland. During that winter she successfully carried on her school and increased the interest and membership both in the Portland Church and Sunday-School, visiting McMinnville each month to lecture and sustain interest in the cause there. In the Spring she moved to Portland and was elected permanent pastor. In addition to her pastoral duties she made frequent journeys and gave lectures in other cities.
She organized the Woman’s Auxiliary of the F.S.C., which proved a grand aid to the cause. The Portland Sunday-School increased from 15 to 120 members. She was elected chairman of the Sunday-School Lesson Leaf Committee and did all the work of writing and publishing the leaflets. The success of the convention, September, 1895, was due almost entirely to her untiring efforts and ability. But the strain upon her nervous system proved too great, and in November, 1895, she was forced to rest from her work and resigned her pastorship, retiring to the quiet farm home, but only to find the needs of the cause at McMinnville imperatively demanded all her energies to revive it. After two weeks of rest, with her usual enthusiasm and zeal, she aroused the Liberals to effort, reorganized the Sunday-School, inspired hope and confidence which has ultimated in the erection and completion of the First Secular Church and Science Hall of McMinnville, a brief account of the dedication of which appears below.
This spring Miss Olds entered upon a course of law and natural philosophy, to further prepare herself for a w1der field of business.
The Dedication of the First Secular Church of McMinnville, Oregon.
Last evening witnessed the celebration of the birth of Thomas Paine and the dedication of the newly erected temple in honor of his memory. It was the biggest gathering ever assembled in the county. All shades of opinion were represented. Bigotry and prejudice seemed to be for the time buried in their desire to participate in the rejoicing at the addition to the city’s attractions of so commodious a building erected in the interest of SCIENCE, SECULARISM and MENTAL LIBERTY. The pastor, Miss Nettie A. Olds, excelled even herself in the preparation of the most perfect and interesting program ever given to the public, which was rendered without a break or flaw.
This building, the result of the hard, earnest efforts of the secularists of this county, is a combined lecture hall and opera house, with special adaptation to the devotees of Terpsichore, and a seating capacity of seven hundred. The standing room was tested last evening, and the only regrettable incident was that over three hundred were unable to gain admission. The stage equipment are unexcelled, if equaled, by any opera house between Portland and San Francisco. The interior is handsomely frescoed. Upon the walls, in most artistic design, in handsome frames four feet by six, are mottoes from Confucius, Buddha, Thales, Paine, Lincoln, Grant, Ingersoll and the Bible, the last one being over the outside door, “Come, let us reason together.” The motto work is the generous donation from the local artist, Mr. J.B. Rohr. Large portraits of Thomas Paine and Colonel Ingersoll adorn the sides of the proscenium.
Not the least among the causes of rejoicing is the fact that to woman’s brain, woman’s work and woman’s persistent efforts is due the erection of this splendid temple of science. For years have a few dauntless braves stemmed the tide of opposition and kept the banner of Liberalism to the front, and it is a just cause of rejoicing that Free Thought and Science have now a home, and are no longer to be hunted from place to place by the devotees of superstition.
Special credit is due Mr. Chas. Hagner, founder of the Portland Secular Church, for his splendid address. His telling truths found ready response in the hearts of the liberty-loving people present. The eulogy of Thomas Paine and dedicatory address was delivered by Miss Nettie A Olds, to whose untiring efforts is mainly due the success of the cause in this county, eventuating in the erection of this building. It was delivered with a fervency and touching eloquence that stirred the entire audience to a high pitch of enthusiasm. The formal dedication and building of a block temple by the little children of the McMinnville Secular Sunday-School was most effective and impressive. The dedication was as follows:
“This beautiful temple, erected by the persistency and self-sacrifice of those who realize the joy, peace and happiness that the ennobling principles of Secularism have thought to their own hearts and homes, affords a free platform where each and all may express their honest thoughts, and where the truths of science shall eradicate the errors and terrors of superstition.
“It is now our delightsome duty to dedicate this building, the first Secular Church building in the United States, to the cause of Universal Mental Liberty. May the dear children of our Secular Sunday-School, here receiving instruction in truth and morality, build each for himself a living temple whose base shall be as broad as the universe and as solid as the rock of Truth, reaching upward to the highest pinnacle of human intelligence.
“Emblematical of the structure of Secularism to be built by the dear children, we place the various stones necessary in its construction.
“First, we must have the all in all, great first principle, JUSTICE. To insure justice, we must avoid being biased by prejudice, and therefore need as a companion stone to justice, REASON. Thus we shall be upon the solid basis of RIGHT, insuring our care and regard for our fellow creatures. So upon justice, reason and right, we establish FRATERNITY. With the light of reason as our guide, justice and right our watchwords and the bond of fraternity as our stay, we seek only to find the rare and precious gem of TRUTH.
“With these five stones in our temple, there is no room for bigotry and intolerance, but to each and all our fellow kind, however humble and unfortunate, however dwarfed by heredity, education or environment, we extend the benevolent influences of CHARITY, MERCY and LOVE. And now we only need the glorious keystone of LIBERTY to crown and complete our edifice.”
After the name of each principle in the temple, a little child brought forth an imitation stone block bearing the inscription in large letters. The crowning stone was a shield, supported by an arch at either side, and bearing the flag of our nation. Aft~ the atoms were placed, the little ones formed in a group around the temple. Turning to them, in touching words that moved many eyes to tears, Miss Olds said:
“Dear children, may the temple you have here erected be truly emblematic of the principles of your lives. You are the opening buds in the garden of humanity. Oh, may you grow to make that garden rare and beautiful with kind and ennobling deeds.” Then to the audience she said: “Brothers and sisters in the cause of liberty, it but remained for us to prepare the soil. Oh, m!\y we each and all strive to embody within our lives the principles here used in the erection of this temple, and to perpetuate the true glory of our nation and our nation’s flag.”
The benediction was delivered by Mr. 0. B. Reynolds in his most happy and humorous vein. To his artistic skill and labor the completeness of the stage equipment and scenery is due.