History of Men’s Groups

In the 150+ years following the 1852 organization of the Congregational Church in La Crosse, men’s clubs have existed sporadically.

The first men’s group, the Pastor’s Auxiliary, was organized in 1892, forty years after the church was founded. In contrast, the first women’s group was formed in 1852, the same year the church was established.

The Pastor’s Auxiliary, organized by the Rev. Dr. Henry Faville, was open to all men in the community, and was the first men’s club in the West (according to his entry in Who Was Who in America). The purpose of the group was to provide an evening of worship and comradeship.

A second men’s group, The Men’s Bible Parliament, was organized in October 1900. Its structure was so similar to the Pastor’s Auxiliary that it appears to have been a continuation of the former with only a name change. According to the group’s bylaws, its purpose was to enhance the members’ knowledge of the Bible. The Sunday evening programs included readings from Scripture, hymn singing and lectures presented by local speakers or guest speakers from Madison, Chicago and other cities. A frequent speaker was Dr. Faville’s twin brother, John, who served churches in Peoria and Appleton.

In 1901, the group’s name was changed to Men’s Sunday Evening Club – perhaps in an effort to be less restrictive in topic selections for the weekly meetings. The group’s aim was to foster "A Better Sunday Evening Service. A Better Sabbath. A Better City."

A new men’s group (probably the same men but a new name) was formed in 1908 under the leadership of Dr. Faville. The Brotherhood of the First Congregational Church was organized for the purpose of encouraging members to increase their contributions to the spiritual and social life of the church.

One can see in the series of name changes that the focus of the men’s organizations was drifting towards social interaction and away from Bible study. This was a trend common in men’s organizations at the opening of the 20th century as emphasis on personal introspection was replaced by community boosterism.

One of the more popular of the five or more men’s groups organized by Dr. Faville, and one which bears witness to the drift of church men’s groups towards a secular nature was the Gentlemen’s Coffee, an event which met yearly from 1893 to 1930. This event was unabashedly identified as "an evening of sociability." During the first few years, coffee and light refreshments were served, but in time, the refreshments became dinners of three and four courses prepared and served by the women. Heavily social in nature, the meetings consisted of a full dinner followed by entertainment provided by musical ensembles, vocal or instrumental solos, group singing, and inspirational speeches. Opening and closing prayers were about the only sign that the even was church related. The Gentlemen’s Coffee existed until 1930, when it was absorbed by a co-existing group, The Congregational Men’s Club.

The "ancient custom" of the men’s dinner did not die in 1930; is appeared in The Congregational Men’s Club, a group organized in 1920 by the Rev. Carlos Rowlison. Less the bon vivant and more the puritan than his predecessor, Dr. Faville, Rowlison enjoined the men to serve the church in more productive ways – as exemplified by the women. Thus, the Men’s Club was project oriented, and during its 20-year lifespan purchased robes for the choir, helped to finance the education of the Maxwell children whose missionary father had died in Africa, pledged support to developing the Boy Scouts, and supported other worthwhile projects. But the men had not forgotten the good times had at the dinners, and so the annual Gentlemen’s Coffee dinner became monthly Men’s Club dinners prepared and served by the women. The after-dinner programs still featured singing, cheering, games, and "various gymnastic contortions." The Men’s Club abruptly ended when America was drawn into World War II. The club was not revived after the war; the next club did not appear until over a decade later.

After a hiatus of eleven years, a new men’s group was formed in 1951. This group, also called The Men’s Club, grew out of The Ambassadors of the Church, the group of men organized in March 1951 to raise money for the construction of the present building. This group – highly task oriented – spent many hours cleaning away construction debris, painting rooms, landscaping the grounds, and doing whatever they could do to reduce construction costs. Once the church was completed, the need for the club diminished. By 1960, club meeting dates were no longer listed in the church calendar.

Over a quarter of a century lapsed before another men’s organization developed. The group, The Men’s Club, was organized by church laymen in October 1987. At first the group held its monthly breakfast meetings in the church Community Room. A committee of men prepared the breakfast; but when the committee complained that kitchen duties kept them from hearing the program, the meetings were moved to a local restaurant. The format consisted of a breakfast, a short business meeting, and a speaker. Usually the speakers were congregation members. The topics included subjects such as the care of wounded soldiers in the Civil War, the implications of the women’s equal-rights movement, and other topics of a secular nature. In 1990, membership was expanded to include women in an effort to redress a perceived male-gender bias. In spite of this, interest in the club began to flag, and by the autumn of 1991, the club ceased to meet.

There have been efforts in recent years to form a men’s club. The Men’s Breakfast Group began around 2003 and has met monthly most years since then. They meet in a local restaurant, with congregation members taking turns leading discussion on a topic of current interest.

Live by faith, embody love, proclaim hope, and seek justice.