GLYN MORRIS 1941 Religion in the Mountains

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 04: ADMINISTRATION – Directors
Glyn Morris TALKS
Religion in the Mountains

GLYN MORRIS 1941 Religion in the Mountains

A preacher at a “funeralizing” at Big Laurel, near the Medical Settlement, c. 1920s. [X_099_workers_2524c_mod.jpg]

TAGS: Glyn Morris, Religion in the Mountains, Pine Mountain Settlement School, religion, Holiness Church, Baptist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Catholic, Appalachian students, education, literacy

GLYN MORRIS 1941 Religion in the Mountains 

The following lecture on religion and education, given to the General Faculty [at Berea ??] on January 17, 1941, is one of Glyn Morris’s most thoughtful statements regarding his faith and his work at understanding the various faiths he encountered as an educator at the Pine Mountain Settlement School. His exploration of religious beliefs was a lifetime journey and the great variety of beliefs he encountered at Pine Mountain seem to sit at the nexus of his spiritual and professional self. Morris came to Pine Mountain Settlement School to assume the role of Director at the age of 26 in 1931 and he stayed at the school for ten years, until 1941.

Morris returned to Kentucky following the close of WWII to work with the Harlan County School System. At Evarts, he continued his exploration of his religious beliefs and and how those informed his educational agendas and those of his community. He continued his work with the Rural Youth Guidance Program, an inclusive and experimental educational approach developed by Morris, Orie Latham Hatcher, Ruth Strang, and James Cawood, Superintendent of Schools in Harlan County. His deep belief system and his Progressive educational ideas that pulled from John Dewey became a fundamental reservoir for his later life. The lessons he learned in forming the Rural Youth Guidance programs can be unfolded in an exploration of his time in Eastern Kentucky and his writing and his talks. 


In the opening remarks of this talk, he cites Orie Latham Hatcher as the source of his inspiration for the topic, noting that Dr. Hatcher encouraged him to speak to religion in the mountains of the Appalachians. His response to her nudge is a deeply thoughtful and intensely researched offering on his ideas regarding religion in the Appalachians and in the Central Appalachians, particularly. It was not an easy topic for Morris and it is not surprising to find him still searching for his religious perspective within the talk. 


Dr. Hatcher, his muse when developing the Institute for Rural Youth Guidance in Harlan County, was fiercely independent. But when religion was under discussion, she apparently found Morris’s deeply held views to be balanced and keenly observant, and resonating with her own religious perspectives. His non-sectarian approach to religion opened the dialog across multiple sectarian silos and always aimed at a comfortable consensus in the world of religion and education.

The stewardship of Hatcher in the development of the series of Rural Youth Guidance Institutes was a respectful and magical relationship for both of the educators. The Institutes became one of the most innovative educational programs for rural Appalachian youth in Harlan County and caught the attention of national educational circles. Perhaps this was because at the core of the approach was the respect for the independent soul of the student and that to understand that soul was to understand the religion of the Central Appalachians and to open the student to learning. 

To understand the religion of the student was to find the path to learning for many of the youth at the Settlement School. Morris introduced many of his lessons learned at the School into the educational innovations of the later Institutes. In his autobiography, Less Traveled Roads (1977), Morris says of the Institute’s purpose that it was increase our efficiency in helping Harlan County youth to find themselves: by surveying their needs and all possible resources for meeting those needs; by coordinating these resources in a concerted effort to accomplish the above objective …

–28-page Youth Guidance Institute booklet

To find themselves was to reach deep into the soul of the student. This process was often accomplished in dialogue with a disparate group. Part of the 1940 “youth round table” was focused on exploring differences. Morris was able to bring together for the first time, Black, Brown, and White students in soul-searching dialogs. It was one of — if not the first — attempt to integrate the schools of the county.

Morris explains in his book, A Road Less Traveled (1977), that approximately 10% of the students in Harlan County were black and that the process of joining Black and White students was the first time that an integrated program had been tried in the county. Morris says of that first joint program that it was “revealing and instructive.” And, that what he saw was that “integration is not a youth problem, it is an adult problem.” In many ways this exercise in cross-cultural dynamics was the message that runs throughout his lecture, “Religion in the Mountains.”

(See November NOTES 1935, pages 1-6, for a lengthy treatise on local religion by Alice Cobb.)

TRANSCRIPTION: Religion in the Mountains

Page 1

Presented to General Faculty
January 17, 1941

Glyn Morris
Director of Pine Mountain Settlement School


I am happy for the opportunity of being here, although when Professor Hatcher suggested that I discuss Religion and the Church in the mountains, I felt some trepidation. There are many working in the Highlands, who by more intimate and longer and more widespread experience than I, are better equipped to discuss this topic. But, perhaps somewhat selfishly, I accepted the invitation to come, for I felt in the invitation, a challenge; for who can lightly turn down the opportunity of speaking to a college faculty? Even in the midst of our problem, you and I find it helpful to turn from the immediate task for a longer view with all its relationships and implications. And so, I was glad myself, for the assignment of examining again,the many-sided problem of Religion and the Church in the Highlands. And it is a many-sided problem.

In spite of radio, automobile, and motion pictures, faith of the fathers is a reality in the Highlands, as consuming, if not more so, than any other area in America but, paradoxically, it is a faith without much works. And, whereas in so many places, the problem (of the church) is to sharpen the spiritual eyes of people so that they may see the unseen things of the spirit – in the Highlands the unseen things are sometimes too sharply seen, and are[?] become so real, that too little attention is given to the here and now, and religion is so separated from ethics as to make it possible for a man who has just shot another to pray for his departed soul at the site of the murder because no one else feels inclined to do so and this must be done.Furthermore, in a region often characterized by excessive homicide and law violation the Bible is the Book of books; verily the word of God, and the infallible rule of faith, if not practice; and eternal fellowship with the Prince of Peace is a theme taken literally and sworn to repeatedly. Here are people who cannot read, but who quote scripture better than many seminary graduates; whose faith inspires them to handle poisonous snakes or fire and who take the word of God so literally that I have seen them during a dry season move from one stream to another in the midst of a baptism, because the brother who had been partially immersed, being unusually large, might have as little as one inch of his body uncovered by water. Here, on the one hand is the child-like faith of which Jesus spoke, as well as a profound sense of the tragedy of life – and on the other, distressing lack of appreciation of Jesus’ ethic. It is my hope that this paper will be of some use in understanding this paradoxical part of Highland life, which is, in a sense, the greatest spiritual force around which a more abundant life may be organized – and at the same time one of the greatest stumbling-blocks.

And at this point may I make my qualifications and state the necessary limitations of this paper. It is of necessity general and summary in nature, although we are conscious throughout of the danger of generalization. And in generalizing I have omitted attention to types of religious services,of preaching,emphasis on various doctrinal points and music.

By the mountains I mean the entire Appalachian area, with its six distinct areas within this region, each with its peculiar geological, topographical, social and economic characteristics. However, for the most part I am conscious, not of broad fertile valleys, nor of prosperous towns and cities but rather of 

Page 2 (in progress)

coves and hollows and lonely places; coal camps and all those spots which yet form the area where special needs are our reason for being here. And particularly I am thinking of the N.E. and N.W. Cumberland Plateaus, which are in a special way — ours. And I should add, most of the factual information is gathered from exhaustive studies of others, hwose scholarship and devotion are established facts — namely,  the late Mr. John C. Campbell and MIss Elizabeth R. Hooker. What I present is a digest of their findings together with my own subjective interpretation flavored by residence for ten years in one part of the mountains. 


the Southern Highlands By which I mean most of West Virginia the Blue Ridge Valley the Allegheny Ridge counties of Virginia east Tennessee eastern Kentucky Western North Carolina for northwest counties of South Carolina northern Georgia and northeastern alabama our part of the southeastern region which spins more money per person in proportion to income both for EDUCATION  dictate and religion Than any other region of America in the south $16.02 of each $1000 goes into church coffers as compared to $10.68 the highest twitches for the NE parentheses Odom parentheses . But in the highlands The annual expenditure per resident is only $4.80 as compared with $10.35 parentheses **** page 178 parentheses for country churches alone of 21 nationally representative counties surveyed by the Institute of social and religious research .

according to a survey 1931 of 17 counties representing principal subdivisions of the highlands there would be one church every 2.3 miles apart 3 1/4 churches per 1000 inhabitants as compared with two for each 1000 for the United States as a whole but within the highlands our areas particularly in the Cumberland Plateau where there are fewer than three churches per 1000 and some areas where there is as many as 4.2 Central Ridge in valleys and some areas where there are as many as 4.2 central ridges and valleys and in eight communities in the section of the Blue Ridge area within a short distance of each other none of the communities having a population of over 500 there are 20 churches.

70% of the churches are one room structures generally thought of not as sanctuaries but as places to meet 11% of the congregation used school houses or other quarters only one church in 50 had a resonant minister devoting full time to his parish although for towns and rural areas in 21 representative counties previously mentioned the figure is one in four the average salary for a minister allowing $200 for parsonage where this is provided in 1/5 of the cases is 623 dollars and eighty three cents and in 1/6 of those cases the salary was made up in part by grants from home mission aid five out of the eight ministers and some other breadwinning occupation many being laborers and farmers 4/5 have attended neither college nor seminary this figure being much higher in the mountains than in the rural areas of the states of which the region surveyed is a part two out of five had not completed elementary school.

resident church membership averages 58 the average annual expenditure per church for the two counties surveyed was $280.37 or less than one fourth the general average in 1920 only one church in 13 has services every Sunday five out of the eight have preaching once a month in the areas surveyed the proportion of Sunday schools held in connection with churches is not much lower than the general average but this varies widely within the whole area for on the North East Cumberland Plateau there are few Sunday schools due to the opposition of the primitive churches less than 1/6 of the churches had a woman’s


society and little over one-fifth had a  young people’s society.  Although until 1926 tehrer was a gradual rise in church membership in proportion to population 30.4 1906 to 36.7 in 1925, a trend correspondig to the national ration — the ration for the Highlands, 36.7, is still considerably below the national rural average, 47.8 (#205 p.179). Again the figures are lowest on the Northeast cumberland Plateau. (17.3)  — and the ratios within the entire area varied from 7.1 to 68.2%.


GALLERY: Religion in the Mountains

TRANSCRIPTION: Religion in the Mountains 


See Also: