The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
How to Revive a Dying Branch of the P.N.E.U.

by Mrs. R. A. Penney
Volume 14, 1903, pgs. 962-967

I feel I have before me this afternoon a critical audience of P.N.E.U. secretaries, much more experienced than myself, some who have been eminently more successful, and who are doing grand and good work. From the nature of the subject that has been given me to speak to (that of reviving a dying P.N.E.U. Branch), I have sought to put myself in the place of that secretary who is struggling against difficulties, who feels much alone, and whose efforts are flagging from want of the encouragement and success she has desired. My remarks are addressed mainly to such.

In order to make any work we take up a success, one must first feel strongly that the work is worth doing, worth spending time and trouble over. Is our work as P.N.E.U. secretaries worth doing? Pre-eminently it is.

We draw together those who have to do with the training and development, and the very beginnings of young life. We see going in our branches and meetings thoughts, ideas, impulses for good, of which we cannot in any way see the end. Let us not belittle our work, by thinking it trivial and tedious, and a bore to get up meetings, secure lecturers, send out notices to which few respond; that it is hard to interest those who seem supremely bent on social engagements, pleasure and dress. This work is of the highest, and, if well done, is far-reaching and full of rewards.

A dying branch! The first thing that one who undertakes the post and privilege of secretary of a struggling branch should say is, "I must not suppose or let in the thought that this is a dying branch." It is something that must live! It is bound to live, from very necessity. Things that are good—that are worth having—are worth striving for, and this must live. It is not dying. When we call in a doctor, he does not begin by telling us the patient is going to die, he sets to work with the thought that he lives, and is going to live, he is bound to live if he respond to the remedies applied. And these remedies are applied with a faith, a confidence, an unflagging regularity, persistent care and energy, that masters difficulty and ends in establishing a healthy, sound self-working machine.

First then, do not allow the thought that your branch is a dying one. It must live. It is bound to get better, bound to become the power you want it to be.

Secondly, we often hear it said that we get in life what we look for. There is a great deal of truth underlying this in life. A secretary gets what she looks for. Our branches and our meetings are what we secretaries, as well as what we members, make them. Do not let us blame the branch for being limp, inert, dull, incoherent, uncohesive. A good, energetic secretary has it in her power to raise a branch to her own level, if only she will forget herself, think how she can help, and give out all she has to give. Members will rally quickly to enthusiasm, to what is above themselves, to what they feel and know to be true, to be beautiful, to be the wiser, the better way.

Be diligent in meetings, in conversation, by pen and by voice, to bring yourself into touch and living sympathy with your members. There is the parent whose young children are still in the nursery, of older ones in the school-room with governess, or of those whose children are already facing life in a public school. Others whose daughters and sons are about to choose their vocations and lines of thought and action in life—the most delicate, important time of all perhaps, when boys and girls feel their independence; they have thrown off the authority of the school, and, in many ways, the home influence. It is a time when parents feel their need of tact, and the importance of a word, or a look, from them more than ever perhaps in their lives before. Choice is facing their children in many ways—choice of books, choice of friendship, choice of occupation, of habit; when, to put it briefly, the world, and the flesh, and the devil are on one side, desiring their worship, and on the other choosing of the higher and the eternal Spirit-filled life, under the influence and direction of God Himself. These, and many more conditions, all concerned in the study of character-training and development, make up our gatherings; so diversified are the needs and requirements of our members.

A secretary can help in a hundred untold ways. If she keep herself abreast with the thoughts, and the literature, which this noble God-energized, and God-endowed Union of ours is ever producing; if she drinks herself, and imbibe the best from the lovely minds that are ever at work, finding out the best and the true, she will never be at a loss. She will always have something to hand, and will herself receive again and again rewards and surprises she never expected. Contact with good cultured minds is to her a delight worth all the time and trouble involved under often discouraging and hard circumstances.

Thirdly, a secretary is bound to work much alone. She may have a strong committee, a loving, interested and influential president; but the bulk of the work must be done by one—by her—and she must take care that she does it. A committee can suggest, can decide choice of subjects for lecture or discussion, times and seasons of the year, and many such details to guide the secretary, but she must reckon on doing the work, and must put soul, energy, enthusiasm and will into it.

How to revive a dying branch?

The first essential, then, is a good secretary.

The second essential—a good president, lady or gentleman of weight, influence and presence in the town.

The third essential—a diversified committee.

But given all these, I maintain the branch will not live, will remain inert, without a good secretary. She must not relax effort; she must not let in discouragements; she must show a cheerful, hopeful front; she must, if she wishes to stimulate others, be sure of her own convictions, and then wisely, graciously, and with tact use them wherever opportunity presents. A good deal can be done by welcoming strangers and new-comers, making them feel at home in the "drawing rooms," making them feel they have come for something worth having, and that they get still more by joining the Union. Encourage older members specially to feel the privilege they have in giving of their knowledge and experience; by giving we get.

Do not let us go on the principle that we only join a good thing for what we can ourselves get out of it. We get be giving as well as by receiving. Then, with regard to the part we take individually in the meetings, the secretary should herself set the example, and encourage others to speak, elicit questions, remarks and suggestions.

It is not easy to do this, to break down the stiffness of fashion that seems to stultify some gatherings. Members think it is unfeminine, or unwomanly in a lady to allow her voice to be heard in public. They talk loudly and freely enough as soon as the meeting is over, but have not the courage to offer an opinion in the meeting. A criticism of a large women's meeting, held during the recent Church Congress at Bristol, when Mrs. Creighton, Miss Mary Clifford, Mrs. Knight Bruce, and others addressed the meeting, ran thus:—"But they had a difficult audience. I was vastly impressed by the stolid passivity of the women as compared with the enthusiasm of the great mass meeting of men. Is it that women present less which can be touched or appealed to than the men, or is it their curious incapability of hanging together? The electricity of common humanity does not seem to course through them, knitting and welding speakers and hearers together as in the case of a masculine audience; and so their humanity remains veiled, hidden, inscrutable." I quote this for what it is worth, we may not agree with it, but it is to the point as touching on what we find in our smaller gatherings. But this day of nonchalance is slowly giving way to a better. Many of the most gifted women in our land set us a worthy example, in the brave, self-forgetting, graceful way they face audiences, and seek by their culture, and high outlook, and noble inspirations, to impress their sisters with their own lofty ideals and beliefs.

Let us always have something to give in our meetings, something worth giving, and let us not be satisfied unless we draw out from our members, also, that which they are able to give. The chairman or lecturer, whoever they be, cannot do this as well as the secretary. She is acquainted with those composing the meeting, who come month by month, or week by week. And though she may not often meet them at other times than at P.N.E.U. gatherings, this is itself an introduction. There we are for the time on common ground, and the more we seek to be en rapport with one another the more useful will our meetings be. We give and we get: we get by what we give.

Miss Mason is an example and inspiration to the secretary, who may feel herself the humblest and the lowest. She has been striving at this work—her work—for years. The women of England have been slow to see what she has been aiming at all the time. A few have rallied to her, but how few even yet out of the great bulk of the women of England have ever even heard of Miss Mason, or of the P.N.E.U., of what it is doing, and of what she and our Union have done. She has lived to see her labours in part rewarded. She has a strong National Council carrying out what she at first inspired. She sees branches formed and forming in all our large centres, and in other lands too, and she has her own devoted students and pupils at work in countless homes and places, spreading principles of her begetting and fostering. Let us feel that we, too, are links in the chain. A favourite saying of Miss Mason's is, "The strength of the chain is its weakest link": let us fear to be that weakest link, which if it break would bring down all. It cannot break. We are linked on to undying power and good, and because the P.N.E.U. exists, our branch of it must exist also. Our branch shall not die, but permeate our town, and the generation coming and to come shall be the better for our work, our striving, our secretaryship of the P.N.E.U. branch in our own small centre.

Whilst feeling thus drawn to outline "the ideal secretary," I am conscious how far below such an one, I myself come. But is it not good for us, sometimes, to see, as in a mirror, what manner of secretary we may and ought to be? Mrs. Daniell will, I hope, speak more in detail to the point of evoking interest, and spreading knowledge, and the practical working of a branch.

Of first importance is it to draw up a good programme of lectures and meetings, richly varied in topics, and attractive in interest. It is a great think to have definite dates fixed early for the working months of the session. Having got these, and secured drawing rooms in differing centres of the town, in order that each hostess may be able to draw in from her own circle, we thus secure a widened interest. Do not be discouraged at small meetings; great good is often done by small numbers. If the tone and spirit of the meeting is good, and members are helped by it and enjoy it, they must tell others, and good indirectly will be done. Let none of our meetings be slack or dull, or purposeless. Plenty of literature should be at hand for sale or for distribution on the seats at each meeting, for those who like to take away with them and to hand to their friends. And all subscribers should of course read the Parents' Review.

Reading Circles, Sub-Societies (Natural History, Art, Nurses, &c), and Children's Classes are all desirable, and these should be the separate work of committee or other individuals; but not necessarily that of the secretary, as she has already much upon her. The more work is deputed to others, the better; members who feel they can do something are ever the best members. But the main thing is to keep enforcing the purposes and principles of our Union; not in set words and phrases, but in fresh and living thought, and by spirit permeating spirit. There is always ignorance to be dispelled—there are always those who do not know—and prejudices to be overcome. There are always young members coming on, young mothers who have not been face to face with these pressing questions before; young and older teachers who want inspiration, who want their hands strengthening, their ideals confirming, re-forming, or re-arousing. The work of education goes on through life, it is ever new, it can never grow old; its interests are fresh, demands fresh, outlooks fresh. Those who read much, and saturate their minds with the many-sided parts in this many-sided, all-important, every-day pressing subject of education, cannot but make their influence felt. The possibilities of our Union, and of our little branch of that Union, are tremendous, and our work a beautiful one.

Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, July 2008