Our Ports-of-Entry Parishes - 1916

Ariel View of Ellis Island Circa 1915.

Ariel View of Ellis Island Circa 1915. George Grantham Bain Collection. Library of Congress # 2014711712. GGA Image ID # 148d41cf4e

By Joseph E. Perry, Ph. D. -- A Representative of the Home Missions Council and the Council of Women for Home Missions at the Ports of Entry

These are the outposts of our national defense and the gateways through which millions of our fellowmen come to our shores. They bring much of the world's wealth and physical energy, intellectual strength, spiritual power, religious fervor, and souls burning with passion for liberty and life.

There are twenty-two Immigrant Districts with central and sub-stations at which the Government receives this incoming tide. At many of these stations, several Christian denominations and societies find fields for missionary service. In terms of area, these parishes cover limited space, but in influence encircle the world.

Here is the heart of the world through which are circulating humanity's life currents flowing from the ends of the earth. Here is the beginning of the preparation of this mass of humanity for the process of assimilation into American life and spirit.

Mr. Shriver, in "Immigrant Forces," says: "As the alien's first impressions are lasting, they who would be a friend to the immigrant must get in touch with him at the earliest possible moment." To-day, this is the duty of civic and philanthropic agencies and, in greater measure, the urgent task of the Christian Church.

In this department of our missionary service, the work is as varied as that of any ether missionary field. In the railroad rooms where thousands wait for a few hours or perhaps only a few minutes, upon their way out into the new world, the work must be done quickly. Bibles, tracts and other literature are distributed; needed counsel is given, a kind word of cheer is spoken, the seed is sown and, in many instances, it is found to have brought forth good fruit.

The hospital and detention rooms are places of exceptional opportunity for active ministry that combines regard for material comfort with care for the spiritual life. This ministry is characterized by the true spirit of humanity and brotherly kindness and heart sympathy filled with the spirit and power of Christian love.

If these workers were withdrawn from our ports of entry, it would be like darkening the sun in the heavens. Civic, philanthropic, and National societies engaged in this service have rather definitely organized their work, and as organized agencies can take their places along with municipal authorities and other agencies interested in the formation of any comprehensive scheme for aid and protection of the immigrant.

The "Immigrant Work Committee" of the Home Missions Council and the Committee on "Home Mission Interests among Immigrants" of the Council of Women for Home Missions are giving special attention to the work of formulating some plan by which denominational forces engaged in this work at ports of entry may be federated and organized in such way as to unify their work and bring it into active cooperation with all other agencies working toward the same end.

After careful study of conditions and relations of our ports-of-entry missionary work, a plan of organization was presented to the committee representing the two Councils with the recommendation that if they approved, it should be referred to the missionaries at Ellis Island for correction and adoption.

The chief features of the plan were suggested by the missionaries working at the different ports and were the result of their rich and varied experience. They heartily approved the plan and appointed the committees on various departments of their work.

 Events have already proved the advisability of the adoption of this plan. Still, its actual value will be realized in the gradual process of its full operation. Special attention is called to the work of the "Follow-up Committee."

The purpose of this committee is to fill the gap between work "at the gate" and work inland. This work will depend in a considerable measure upon the cooperation of workers in all towns and cities to which immigrants go. In many instances, it will be significantly aided by the formation of local interdenominational immigrant work committees, similar to the Continuation Committees on the Pacific Coast and the Missionary Committees for the work in Scranton and vicinity.

Immigration during the past year was so restricted that time has been given for assimilation. Yet even in this dull time, there have been received at Ellis Island 2,000 in one day and of the number coming during the past ten" months 167,212 were received at Ellis Island, while of those returning from our shores within this period, 142,600 sailed from the New York harbor.

The danger is that this time shall be regarded as an opportunity for rest and relaxation of energy. Such an attitude is wholly contrary to the real meaning of the hour and is not responding to its earnest offer of splendid opportunity for active service and permanent achievement.

That fewer are coming to our inland communities makes possible a service continued and less interrupted.

It has been demonstrated that the scope of this work can be enlarged and its effectiveness increased by organizing its activities so that this branch of missionary service will represent Christian love and life operating with a spirit wholly interdenominational and non-sectarian, through a body of workers inspired by the same motive, working by a common method, and moving toward a well-defined goal.

Thus our ports-of-entry missionary service would be appreciated at real value, recognized by Government authorities and other organizations as a most essential and efficient factor and given the place it deserves in cooperation with the Federal, civic, educational and philanthropic agencies, working in any comprehensive service for welcoming and protecting the immigrant.

For the full consummation of this scheme, there must be a clear vision of the far-reaching scope of immigrant work and realization of the vast opportunity and unlimited possibilities for achievement in this service.

There must be a willingness to let go, not a few denominational and personal preferences, and a readiness to sacrifice some things held dear. It will require a spirit in workers and societies and faith-based organizations that can say: "What things were gain to me I count but loss," if only the nations coming to our shores may be saved.

Joseph E. Perry, Ph.D., "Our Ports-of-Entry Parishes," in The Home Mission Monthly, Vol. XXX, No. 5, March 1916, pp. 109-110.


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