Charles M. Sheldon Encourages Childlike Faith

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Janet Nyfeler
The Central Congregational Church in Topeka, Kansas, is proud of its historical ties to Rev. Dr. Charles M. Sheldon.

I remember the term, “What Would Jesus Do?” and the bracelets that popularized the saying in the mid-1990s. I was in middle school and high school at the time, and they seemed more of a fashion symbol than any real evangelistic tool.

But never did I realize where the saying came from; right in the middle of the United States, in Topeka, Kansas, where world-famous Rev. Dr. Charles M. Sheldon gave sermons.

What called this to my attention was the June release of a collection of Sheldon’s poems in the book Communion Hymn Poems, by the Central Congregational Church of Topeka. The poems were brought to light through the work of two people: Heidi Hunt, a congregation member who found the poems while organizing Sheldon memorabilia, and Janet Nyfeler, the church’s administrator who typed them up and grouped each with appropriate scripture before taking it to the publisher.

“We have lots of calls and lots of people who want to visit, who are interested in Charles Sheldon, or who have been affected by his books, especially In His Steps, so, historically, this is the place people come,” Central Congregational Church’s Rev. Sherry Triggs says. “So this (the book of poetry) is just another great offering, kind of a little different look at Sheldon.”

In His Steps, Sheldon’s most popular work (published worldwide in more than 30 languages and regarded as one of the most popular Christian books other than the Bible), was penned in 1896 and told the story of a dying beggar who gives a lesson to townsfolk and challenges them to ask the question, “What would Jesus do?” before taking action in any facet of life. Like some of Sheldon’s other books, In His Steps grew out of a series of his sermons in which he would tell passionate, gripping stories to keep the people coming back to Sunday evening services.

And speaking with Sheldon’s great-grandson, Rev. Dr. Garrett W. Sheldon, a professor at the University of Virginia who wrote a preface for the recently published Communion Hymn Poems, reveals a different side of the renowned author.

“He was very intellectual and very political, but in his faith, he was very simple and childlike, and that’s what Christ said we should be,” says Rev. Dr. Garrett W. Sheldon. “These poems and hymns reflect that very simple faith.”

In the book of Matthew (chapter 18), Jesus is talking to His disciples and they ask Him who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, and Jesus calls a child in front of them and says to the disciples that unless they change and become like little children, they will never enter Heaven.

So I turned to Communion Hymn Poems, and I was moved by a poem which evoked, not the spirit of the presumptuous know-it-all, but that of an innocent, eagerly looking to a spiritual role model.

The poem goes:

“Savior, thou art my example, Free from sinfulness art thou; By thy strength remove my weakness, Fill me with thy spirit now.

“In the way that thou hast suffered, By the path that thou hast trod, Draw me daily nearer heaven, Keep me in the love of God.

“Earth’s temptations round me gather, Thou has overcome them all; O surround me and protect me, That I may not fear nor fall.

“Holy Spirit, Light eternal, Speaking only what is true, Show to me the mind of Jesus, Let me know what he would do.

“Help me, O my soul’s Redeemer, All my earthly race to run; When my pilgrimage is ended, May I hear thee say, ‘well done.’ Amen.” Communal Hymn, June 4, 1905

Sometimes it’s comforting not being the authority.

Ordering Information

To order Communion Hymn Poems, visit the Central Congregational Church’s Communion Hymn Poems webpage, or call 785-235-2376.