The church where the Rev. Francis Edward Clark was pastor on Thomas Street in Portland is home to condominiums today. Haley Pal / For Lakes Region Weekly

If you have been following the Windham Historical Society’s Facebook page, you will know that for the year 2021, they are featuring daily diary entries from the 1898 journal of Lena Megguier. Lena was a young woman from South Windham who earned her living as a housemaid in Portland’s West End.

Every Sunday evening, Lena and her best friend Rose attended services at churches around Portland, many of which were a part of a Christian youth organization known as The Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor. It is not surprising that Lena chose to join this youth group, as the church where the Endeavor was conceived was located just blocks away from the house where she lived and worked at 330 Spring St.

The society was founded in February 1881 by the Reverend Francis Edward Clark, pastor of the Williston Congregational Church at 32 Thomas St. in Portland. Clark is considered by many to be the founder of modern youth ministry in the United States. From the earliest days of his ministering, he was interested in bringing young people into the service of God. He was known for colorful lectures on topics ranging from gambling to dens of ill repute to the evils of alcohol.

His Society of Christian Endeavor encouraged members to increase their mutual acquaintances while working together “to know God in Jesus Christ.” His teachings were so compelling that what began as a small group of youth in his Portland parish grew into a global movement. The society began making headlines worldwide, and by the turn of the 20th century it had grown to include nearly 50,000 members.

When a young person joined the Endeavor, they agreed to take the following pledge: “Trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ for strength, I promise Him that I will strive to do whatever He would like to have me do, that I will make it the role of my life to pray and read the Bible every day and to support the church in every way possible, and just so far as I know how, throughout my whole life, I will endeavor to lead a Christian life.”

The pledge also asked members to promise to attend as many Endeavor meetings as possible and, if hindered for some reason, to at least read a verse of Scripture to give praise to their Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.

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Over time, Clark became a well-regarded author, publishing such works as “The Children and the Church,” written in 1882, “Young Peoples Prayer Meetings,” written in 1884, and “World Wide Endeavor,” which he penned in 1895. He was also the editor of the society’s newsletter originally entitled “The Golden Rule.”

By 1887, the society was hosting world conventions and this led Clark to international travel. He famously visited the Arcot Mission in India and in 1893, spoke at the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago delivering the lecture, “Christians as Seen by a Voyager Around the World.” In 1895, he was elected president of the United Society of Christian Endeavor and he held the position until his death in 1927.

This poor boy from Canada, orphaned at the age of 2, came a long way in his 76 years on this earth. The small organization he formed in the little city of Portland is still in existence today. The International Society of Christian Endeavor World Office is currently located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The society remains active and continues to hold conventions every four years. The next one is scheduled for July 2023 and will be held in Flensunger Hof, Germany.

Haley Pal can be contacted at [email protected]

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