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The Life and Work of the Most Reverend John Medley, D.D.,
First Bishop of Fredericton and Metropolitan of Canada

By William Quintard Ketchum
Rector of St. Andrews, N.B.

Saint John, N.B.: McMillan, 1893.

Chapter III. Archdeacon Coster--Origin of the Diocesan Church Society

UP to the time to which we now refer (A. D. 1848), the clergy in the Province were almost wholly dependent upon the grants made by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. There was not one exception. At least thirty clergymen were in this way provided for, with a generous provision for their widows. This required a large expenditure on the part of the Society. Comparatively little was contributed in the several parishes. Now it was properly and plainly intimated that the payment of these stipends, with the provision before alluded to, could not be continued as vacancies occurred. Even a reduced amount could not be relied upon for a lengthened term of years. Other and more pressing claims from almost all parts of the world must be regarded. Never can the Church in this Province fail in deep gratitude for all that long-continued aid, which has not wholly ceased at this present time. Nor should we forget to notice the vast benefit derived from generous gifts from the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. There is scarcely a Church in the Province which has not been assisted by a generous grant. Who can tell the benefits afforded by the publications of that Society, in so many cases freely granted for Sunday school and parish libraries?

The time now had come when the Colonial Church must be called on for self-support. On this point there had been sad neglect. Other Christian bodies, without endowment or external aid, were making their way in every direction, in many instances leaving the Church behind in unawakened zeal. Meanwhile grants of land, formerly made by the government, had increased in value in the way of endowment. All this was deeply pondered over by Archdeacon Coster. It formed the subject of correspondence with the Bishop of the Diocese, and with the Society in England. The Archdeacon felt that it was beyond his power to alter the course of things very much in his own day. He would do his utmost for those who were to come after. At a general meeting of the clergy at Fredericton, on the 8th September, 1836, and following days, under the presidency of the Archdeacon, resolutions were adopted for the establishment of a Church Society, and a draft of its constitution and objects agreed to. It may here be mentioned that the constitution and objects of the Society remain with little change at the present day. "Such was the first systematic attempt made in a British colony for the more full and efficient support of its own Church. A main design of it was to unite the laity in hearty co-operation with the clergy under the superintendence of the Bishop." [Annals of the Colonial Church, by Ernest Hawkins.] At this time (A. D. 1886) there were in the Archdeaconry of New Brunswick eighty parishes, twenty-eight clergymen, and forty-three churches or chapels. More than two-thirds of the whole number of parishes were without a resident clergyman. As a most interesting note in the history of the Church in New Brunswick, we subjoin the following extract from the address of the Archdeacon at the first meeting of the Diocesan Church Society, which was henceforth to become "The Diocese in Action":

The importance of the occasion on which we have met can hardly be over-rated. We are about to enter upon business which must very materially affect the fortunes of our Church. I pray God that it may affect them in a way which will make this day an epoch in its history, from which we may date the commencement of a happy and glorious improvement.

We are forming what, I trust, will prove a great and powerful combination among ourselves. But combinations may prove beneficial, ineffective, or mischievous, according to the manner in which they are conducted, and the objects to which they are directed. It is the wish of us all that this combination should produce nothing but good. We must therefore all do our best to give it the right direction and place it under proper management; and I am persuaded that you will listen with patience to a few observations from one who has given much consideration to the subject, and feels himself deeply responsible for the part he has taken in the formation of this Society.

I need not say how cordially I approve of the plan which has been adopted--how anxious I am that the design should be successful. I firmly believe, that some such combination among the members of the Church can no longer be dispensed with. And were there much more risk than there is of an undesirable result, I should still be inclined to make the experiment. Still I would proceed with the greatest caution and recommend caution to you.

The published constitution of the Church Society will now be submitted to you for ratification and confirmation, with any amendments that may be deemed necessary. It will be borne in mind that a society like this in all respects has not, so far as I am aware, existed hitherto in our Church, either in England or in the Colonies, under the sanction of ecclesiastical authority. It behoves us, therefore, to be cautious in our proceedings; and we need not be surprised if some apprehension should be felt, lest, in our zeal "to be doing," we should attempt things which may be inconsistent with the rules and customs of our venerable establishment. It is not enough to say that we know of no such design being entertained in any quarter. I am persuaded you will agree with me that we should try to make it impossible even to suspect us of such a design. Without this, we cannot expect that the Bishop will give to our undertaking his sanction and support.

"Nothing without the Bishop" has ever been the rule and motto of the Church Catholic; and we must take especial care that there be no deviation from it in this instance. Thus far we are honoured with his Lordship's sanction and approbation, the continuance of which we must be heedful to deserve.

No good churchman, I am sure, would wish that this Society would be an irresponsible body; or would choose to belong to it, if it should assume that character. Our institution must harmonize with the established societies of the Church, not only in having the same objects, but also in being subject to the same control, if we would have it become a bond of union among churchmen, and not an instrument of confusion and disorder.

You see how they manage just such matters in the United States--how carefully they cherish and maintain the principle I am now recommending to you, and how they have prospered in the observance of it.

What we want in the Province is clearly this--something that will powerfully stir up the people of every class, to take that interest in the maintenance and prosperity of the Church which heretofore has not, by every one's acknowledgement, been manifested, as it must be now and hereafter, if we would have it even remain what it is, and induce them to co-operate zealously with the clergy in promoting the objects for which it was instituted and ordained. For this purpose the plan of our Society has been made as popular as possible. But none of those who have assisted in the framing and proposing of it, are men "given to change." None of them would consent to lay a rough and violent hand upon any part of the time-honoured fabric, however desirous they may be to improve it, wherever improvement is practicable and requisite.

To engage the laity in the work is what they ardently desire; and they trust their brethren will be willing to enter into their counsel and co-operate with them, with temperate earnestness, and with a disposition to submit to those checks of which the experience of ages has demonstrated the need and the use. They wish to act with vigour, and the popular character of the Society sufficiently provides for that. But they also desire, that every disposition to weakness should be powerfully restrained; and with this view, they recommend that the Bishop should always have power to stop its proceedings, when it appears to be venturing upon dangerous ground.

What amount of means of doing good is likely to be placed at the disposal of this Society, is yet unknown. Be it, however, large or small, we have to provide for its being carefully and judiciously managed and expended. Of course it is only the actual expense of missionary visits that the Society can think of paying at the outset. But everyone, I should think, will be of the opinion, that we should endeavour to provide for as many such visits as the funds appropriated to that object will permit. It is desirable that a plan should be laid down, to be submitted to the Bishop, upon which such visits shall be conducted.

But here, as you all must see, a difficulty of no small magnitude presents itself. The extent of country requiring to be visited is frightfully great; and where are the men to whom the work can be committed? The number of clergymen already employed is not much more than adequate to the duties, in which they are actually engaged, and from which they cannot be released without the consent both of the Bishop and of their parishioners. And from whence such an increase of the present number, as will enable the Society to do much for the neglected districts, is to be looked for, who can tell? Some means, however, must be devised; and we must not despair, by God's help, of accomplishing this most desirable end. ........

My Reverend Brethren--You who assisted in the formation of this plan--you, I feel assured, have not seen cause to change your mind with regard to it. I would to God that some of our body, who were absent from that meeting, had manifested an equally favourable disposition. I had flattered myself that, for once, all the churchmen of the Province might have been united--that in his cause there was absolutely nothing to which any churchman could seriously object. Though I know not the grounds of the opposition, I understand that opposition has been made, and with such effect that, for the present, we must act without the concurrence of our brethren in that part of the Province which is able to afford us the most powerful aid. The reasons by which they have been induced to withhold their concurrence to such a design will, I trust, be communicated; and if, by any allowable alteration of our scheme, we should find ourselves able to obviate their objections, no doubt we shall be sufficiently inclined to do so. Should they, however, prove such as to forbid the hope of an accommodation--what then shall we do? Shall we be discouraged and deterred from the prosecution of our design? God forbid! unless we be first convinced that our design is not what we all thought it--that this Society is not calculated, if well supported, to render those services to religion and to the Church, to whose altar we are consecrated and devoted, which we fondly expected--which I still confidently expect from it. I am quite willing, however; nay, I desire, that the opposition it may anywhere have encountered should have the effect of making us extremely cautious in every step we take, so that the result of our endeavour at this meeting may, by God's help, be to win over to our cause many who have hitherto been deterred from adopting it, by convincing them that at least we are thoroughly desirous to do what is right and good.

My Brethren of the Laity--Permit me to address a few words also to you. The cause, my friends, is surely yours, fully as much as it is ours. You are all as much interested in its success as are your clergy, and the success we hope and pray for can only be obtained through your active and zealous concurrence. And think you that if, on any account, this design should fail, you will not share with your clergy the shame--the intolerable shame--with which the defeat will cover them, after the plan has been thus published to the world, and you have been thus earnestly called upon for aid, for God's sake and charity's and your religion's'? I feel it strongly, my brethren, and I tell you plainly, that if such a design as this cannot find among you such support as it requires and deserves, our Provincial Church will be a laughing stock to those who love her not, and an object of compassion to all who do--none will or can respect her. Then indeed shall I begin to despair of a final triumph over the difficulties of the times, and regret that Providence had not cast my lot among another people. My station in this Church will become a matter of humiliation to me, since on account of it my portion of the shame will be the greater.

But think not that I wrong those who are here present by supposing for a moment that, so far as in them lies, such disgrace will be permitted to befall us. The commencement which has been made promises a very different result, and I shall not quickly cease to rely upon the promise being amply realized. Before this sun goes down, I trust there will have been among us such a display of zeal and unanimity in this great business, as will effectually remove all apprehension from every mind of a failure being even possible.

It was under these circumstances that the Diocesan Church Society originated. Much that through neglect the Church had lost, it has been the means of recovering, and. the Society has become the main-stay of the missionary work in the Diocese. For over fifty years the Society has gone on gaining confidence and support. The foresight and sound judgment of its originators have left little to change in its constitution and rules. For a while, unfortunately, a strong section of the Church, especially in the city of St. John, held aloof. Still, year by year, the interest in the movement gained ground. Leading churchmen, in many instances, gave generous yearly offerings, and large bequests at their death. The Society now, from its considerable endowments and yearly income, can, in some degree, supply what is wanting by reason of the withdrawal of a part of the S.P.G. grant to the Diocese. It has called out, from the several parishes, more regular and substantial support for the clergy and a deeper interest in the extension of the ministrations of the Church in neglected districts.

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