Don’t Spit on the Carpet and Other Ministry Manners

by Paul Tautges | June 20, 2012 1:42 am

During a recent visit to Princeton Theological Seminary, I was privileged to visit the historical room inside the library, which is in the process of being remodeled and expanded. One rare, glass-encased book displayed there is Letters on Clerical Manners and Habits Addressed to a Student in the Theological Seminary at Princeton, NJ, authored by Samuel Miller, D.D., who served as professor of ecclesiastical history and church government for 36 years at Princeton. The campus chapel is named after Miller who published his treatise on ministry etiquette in 1827. The head librarian was kind enough to give me a 2-page photocopied article written by Arthur Byers in the Alumni News in 1987, which draws attention to this non-famous volume.

Byers writes of Letters, “This book presents an interesting picture of the manners and customs of the times. It also reveals a quiet observer of manners and habits who understood his contemporaries, one who knew that although manners change, human nature remains much the same. A pastor’s heart still speaks to those who hear.” By “manners,” Miller meant “those manners which become the Christian Gentleman: which flow naturally from the meekness, gentleness, purity, and benevolence of our holy Religion; and which both the precepts and examples of the Bible equally recommend.” His article includes offensive personal habits to be avoided, advice for personal communications (such as not talking too much) and “conversing with females,” and recommendations for conduct in presbytery meetings. Personally, I found the list concerning offensive habits quite entertaining. (I’m going to have to stop spitting on the floor of the counseling office. What a bummer!)

Avoid Spitting on the Floors and Carpets “of the apartments in which you are seated. This is a habit with which Americans are constantly reproached by those Europeans who travel among us, or who have occasion to remark on our national manners. There follows a vivid description of those who habitually chew or smoke tobacco who have rendered there immediate neighborhood intolerable, in parlour or in the pew in church…and, in some instanced, even compelled persons of delicate feelings, especially females, to leave the room, or the pew, and retire in haste to avoid sickness of stomach.”

Guard against Loud or Boisterous Laughter – “It is a mark of ill-breeding.”

Don’t Comb Your Hair – “It is an offense against delicacy and cleanliness, and ought always to be performed in private.”

Eat Slowly, Gently “without that smacking of lips, and that noisy motion of the mouth, which are expressive either of extreme hunger, or vulgarity, or both.”

Learn to Sit Upright – “If you cannot sit ten minutes without throwing yourself into the recumbent, or semi-recumbent postures, to which we see the young and healthy constantly resorting; what will you do in the feebleness of old age? How will you sit at three score and ten?”

Avoid Yawning & Picking Your Teeth – “It looks as if we were weary of our companions…As to picking your teeth with a fork which you employ in eating (which I have sometimes witnessed) I presume your own sense of propriety will instinctively revolt from it, as peculiarly offensive.”

Though these may seem somewhat humorous to us, we have our own offensive habits. Cell phone use alone could provide quite a list. Whatever the era in which we live, however, this article is a good reminder that no matter who we are or where we serve the Lord we ought to heed Paul’s admonition in 2 Corinthians 6:3, “giving no cause for offense in anything.”

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