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My First Year in Canada

By the Right Rev. Ashton Oxenden, D.D.
Bishop of Montreal, and Metropolitan of Canada

London: Hatchards, 1871.

Appendix 2. Primary Address to the Synod


MY BRETHREN OF THE CLERGY AND LAITY,--In presiding for the first time over this your Annual Synod, I must ask you to bear with me if I begin with a few remarks personal to myself.

Having been summoned by the unanimous vote of the Clerical and Lay representatives of the Church in this Diocese, when solemnly assembled in Synod, I felt that I had no alternative but to leave my quiet retreat in England, where I had watched over a simple and affectionate people for one-and-twcnty years, to obey at once your call, and to come among you as your elected Bishop.

I felt that under such circumstances your call was the echo, as it were, of a higher summons from above; and I regarded the expression of your wishes as indicative of the will of God. I came out therefore to fill my allotted post, not without sundry misgivings, but at the same time with a strongly impressed conviction, and I may also say with an assured confidence, that He, who seemed so plainly to have marked out my path, and who Himself knew all my deficiencies, would give me the needed strength, the requisite wisdom, and the grace to fit me for my new and unexpected work.

During the ten months that I have exercised my episcopal office among you, I may truly say that I have never once regretted the step which I have taken. The kind and generous reception which I met with on my first arrival from the inhabitants of this city and Diocese; the cordial and affectionate desire shown by the Clergy to carry out my wishes; and the very hearty co-operation of the Laity, who have evinced a zeal for the Church's welfare, as well as a respect for my office, which at once endears them to me--these would of themselves be sufficient to call forth my thankfulness, and make me content with my present lot. But I have yet further cause for gratitude from the marked way in which God has, in answer to my prayers, been graciously pleased to endue me with bodily strength, such as I have not experienced for years past, and to afford me other helps to fit me for the emergencies of my new position. To Him I desire thus publicly to give the praise.

I cannot help taking this early opportunity of acknowledging the debt I owe to my justly revered and beloved Predecessor, for the great work he achieved, with your assistance, in laying the foundation, and building up to its present height, the Church in this Diocese, with all its synodical and other organization. It is indeed a glorious structure, which will ever bear the impress of his wisdom, his intelligence, and his Christian character. He has been the 'wise Master Builder;' and it remains for his successors to rear the spiritual edifice, according to the model which he has designed with such consummate care and skill. There are many features in our Canadian Church system, especially as regards its synodical character, which have called forth the unqualified admiration of our brethren in the mother country. And all that we now want is from time to time the infusion of fresh life into it, that life of which the Holy Spirit is alone the Author and Giver.

And now there are certain points of general interest, in connexion with our Church and Diocese, which I desire to touch upon.

1. First, as regards our Country Missions. [These should perhaps rather be called 'Church Stations,' since many of them have lately assumed a less missionary, and a more permanent, character.] The number of these amounts at the present time to fifty-nine, having many of them from two to four churches or congregations attached to them. Of these I regret to say only eight are self-supporting, and the remaining fifty-one are more or less dependent on the Church at large for their maintenance. It is essential that these should be properly and vigorously sustained, that the ministerial teaching in each mission should be efficient, the public services adequate, and our admirable Church system heartily carried out.

But our attention must not be confined to existing missions. Whilst we use every exertion to preserve these in a flourishing condition, we must also be constantly on the alert to occupy fresh fields of labour as they present themselves. And I am persuaded that if our Church has real life and vigour in her, her bounds will be extending themselves year by year; and though an increased demand will thereby be made upon her resources, she will hail with joy every fresh necessity as it arises to multiply her missions, and increase her staff of labourers.

There are at this time two or three new posts, which might with advantage be entered upon, in each of which a faithful missionary would find his labours abundantly rewarded; and each of which, if not undertaken by ourselves, will eventually be lost to the Church. There is also great need for two 'Travelling Missionaries' to visit the lumber districts during the winter months, and to carry to those hardy and endurant men the message of the Gospel and the ministrations of the Church.

May we not look forward to such an increase in our resources as will enable us to carry out these works of faith and labours of love, and that devoted men will not be wanting to fill these posts of self-denial to which the Church calls them?

In providing for the spiritual wants of our members, we should have a due regard for those districts which cry out to us for help, but can bring little or no resources of their own to supply the stipends of their ministers. To refuse to establish a new mission simply because there is but little prospect of its being in any measure self-supporting, would be a fatal error. To despise a call from our brethren because they chance to be poor would be contrary to the spirit of the gospel, and be unwise as well as unchristian. The fact of the Church's ministrations being demanded should be a sufficient reason for supplying that demand, if practicable, at any sacrifice to ourselves. There is much truth in the remark which I have somewhere seen, that 'a Church which is content to lose its poor is losing its true riches.'

And this leads me to speak of the manner in which our missions are at present sustained. The Church's work in this Diocese is to a certain extent fettered for lack of funds. Now, if it is to be carried on in a really earnest and hearty spirit, as I trust it will be, these five things are needed:

First, Our Church members in the various parishes must make a more strenuous effort to supply their proportion of the stipends of the Clergy who labour among them. I know that many of them can ill afford to do this, but I am very sure that they will sec the paramount necessity of giving to the very utmost of their means for an object in which they themselves are so deeply interested.

Secondly, The richer Laity of the Church, in this city and elsewhere, must be prepared for an increased demand upon their contributions to the General Church Fund of the Diocese; or, I would suggest (what would be far more beneficial) that they be willing, as some have already clone, to name a fixed annual sum as their regular subscription to the fund. Their past liberality, whenever appealed to, makes me feel the most entire-confidence that it will, not be withheld, if only it be clearly shown to them that their Church needs it.

Thirdly, In addition to the requirement of the Synod that an annual sermon be preached in every Church, it will be necessary that a bona fide collection be made from house to house in every parish or mission throughout the Diocese, in augmentation of this general fund.

Fourthly, It will be necessary that an enquiry be made into the state of the various Endowments which exist in certain parishes, and the manner in which each property is invested; also that a correct record be kept by the registrar of all such endowments.

Fifthly, And above all, a better organization is required for the distribution of our mission funds. I am rejoiced to say that a committee of laymen has been sitting, for the purpose of remodelling our system of grants on the one hand, and our requirements for the people on the other. . Whatever changes this committee may recommend in their report, and the Synod may sanction, will, I trust, be carried out with the hearty concurrence of both clergy and laity.

It is the more necessary that the Mission Fund should be forthwith placed on a sound footing, since the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel is gradually withdrawing its hitherto liberal grant from the Church in this colony.

I feel that there is yet another point which I dare not omit. I believe that no Church will thoroughly prosper, unless she enlarge her heart towards those nations which enjoy not the same spiritual blessings as herself. While trying then to meet our own pressing needs, we must not close our hearts towards those of our fellow-men who are sitting in darkness and the shadow of death. Let us make an effort, according to our means, to extend help to others, and then we may look for God's blessing on ourselves. 'There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth.'

During the past year the special collections throughout the Diocese have been carried on with much zeal, and with some success. The Annual Meeting, in the Mechanics' Hall, was perhaps the largest that has been held for many years. And we were glad to number among the pleaders for our work an eminent Bishop of the American Church. By his eloquence, the cause of our mission was greatly advanced; and also an opportunity was given for the interchange of those cordial and brotherly feelings, which will, I trust, ever exist between the two Churches--each carefully adapting itself to the special requirements of its position, but both one, indissolubly one, in all essential matters of faith and practice.

'Facies non omnibus una,
Nec diversa tamen, qualem decet esse sororum.

Whilst speaking on the subject of our financial resources, it will not, I trust, be thought out of place if I allude to a method very much resorted to at the present time, in order to raise money for religious objects--I mean that of Bazaars. I am quite aware of the multifarious and pressing nature of those efforts which, from time to time, claim the attention of clergymen and others. I am aware too of the exceeding difficulty of obtaining funds for the accomplishment of any good object. But still the end, however desirable, can never sanctify the means, if in themselves unworthy. It seems to me that by so doing we are setting aside real Christian benevolence, as if it were a thing in these days hardly to be attained, and are substituting in its stead a spurious and worldly system of liberality, on which God's blessing can scarcely be expected or even asked for. I should be very thankful to see a higher standard of almsgiving, and a healthier tone of charity, prevailing among the members of our Church.

But I now pass on to speak, secondly, of the Condition and Prospects of our Clergy.

I have on another public occasion borne my willing testimony to the general character of those who minister in holy things among us. I doubt if there is any Bishop who can boast of a more laborious, self-denying, earnest clergy than those who are working under my episcopal superintendence.

I cannot but speak with much thankfulness of the general harmony of views which exists among us, and of the soundness, faithfulness, and moderation, which for the most part mark the preaching from our pulpits. There will ever be some few whose opinions reach the extreme line of what the Church permits; but I am not aware of any within my Diocese who are so decidedly overstepping that line as to call for my interference. Still there are .some, whom I would gladly see conforming more heartily to the general feeling and spirit of the Church in which they serve. And I am extremely anxious that, by a little modification of practice, and by the exercise of a conciliatory spirit, there may be brought about a more entire conformity throughout the Diocese, especially in the ordinary mode of conducting our services. I hope that those who feel with me in this matter will be willing to make a sacrifice of their own cherished opinions, where at least no sacred principle is involved, in order to attain this desirable end; and that they will boldly lead the way in making such concessions.

It is the policy of our great enemy to separate us from one another as widely as he can; it should be our policy--our holy and Christian policy--to close our ranks, and wage our warfare sick-by side. Our strength lies in united action. And if God is pleased to draw us nearer together by the attraction of a loving spirit, this will make us strong against our common foe, and strong in the discharge of our spiritual mission. May it ever be so with us! For then, and not otherwise, will our Church answer to that description given in the inspired song; she will be 'beautiful as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners.'

As regards our Christian brethren who belong to other communions, we should avoid anything like an attitude of antagonism towards them, or the use of hard words and unkind expressions, whilst we hold our own with a honest and firm hand. We should inculcate in our teaching sound and definite Church principles, and at the same time set forth clearly, distinctly, and prominently, the great and life-giving doctrines of the Cross. Our best weapon is, I believe, an earnest declaration of what we know to be God's truth, a simple uplifting of Christ before our people, and a desire to embody this teaching in our daily lives.

On the appointment of a clergyman to any leading parish or mission, I propose in future either to induct him into his charge myself in the presence of the whole congregation, or to commission some one of my clergy to act as my representative in so doing. The entrance of a clergyman into a new sphere of labour, and his reception by the congregation, I feel to be of so solemn a nature, that the opening service in which he takes part ought to be marked by some public ceremony befitting the occasion. I have prepared a Form of Service for this purpose, which is chiefly borrowed from one in use in the Sister Church of America.

I spoke just now of the duty and expediency of sustaining our Missions with vigour. But we must not forget that the Church has also a duty to perform towards the Labourers in these missions. The incomes of the clergy strike me as being lamentably small; not merely in comparison with the stipends allotted to them in other dioceses, but also in comparison with those enjoyed by men who are engaged in other and less important callings. Many of our most active clergymen are at present receiving barely $600 a-year. I am glad however to see it acknowledged in the authorized rules and constitution of the Church in this Diocese, that 'the minimum salary of the clergy shall be $800 per annum.' I should be still more glad if that intention could be carried out, though at present it seems scarcely possible, owing to the deficient state of our funds. I would express a hope that the attention of the laity will be directed to this urgent question; and the more so, as I feel assured that no request will emanate from the clergy themselves.

The fact that the supply of clergymen is at present somewhat below the demand is attributable in part to this inadequacy of the remuneration we have to offer them. It is true, men can be found, but not men of the right stamp, to fill our ranks. And I am sure you will agree with me in feeling that it would be a serious disaster to our Church, if, in consequence of the lack of men, we were to lower the qualifications of our clergy, and admit candidates of an inferior grade. My desire is to raise, if possible, the standard of ministerial efficiency, rather than to diminish it, assured that in these days especially we want a well-educated, as well as an earnest and faithful, body of clergy.

The number of spiritual labourers within the Diocese at this time amounts to eighty-seven. Of these seventy-nine are in holy orders, and the remaining eight are catechists, or lay readers, licensed by the Bishop.

3. The Training of our Candidates for Holy Orders is not altogether on a satisfactory footing. The fact of our Theological College being at a distance places us at a disadvantage. And I should certainly be thankful if I could gather my candidates for the sacred ministry around me here at Montreal, where I could watch their characters and conduct, and superintend their preparation for the ministry. I feel unwilling however without more mature consideration to interfere with the present arrangement as regards the college at Lennoxville. But if it should eventually be found desirable to move the theological department nearer home, I doubt not that I should obtain from the Churchmen of the Diocese the needed help to enable me to carry out the project. My present conviction is that, if we had in this city a Theological Institution, with a Building worthy of its character, it would prove an immense blessing to the Diocese.

4. I feel anxious to take this opportunity of calling attention to what I consider a very lax and objectionable practice in administering the Sacrament of Baptism, and in celebrating the rite of Marriage, in private houses. There are reasons why it should have been permitted in this country, and principally from the fact of many parishes having been hitherto unprovided with Churches. These reasons however for the most part no longer exist. I must request my clergy to discontinue a practice so entirely without precedent in our Church, except in peculiar cases, and then not without the special permission of the Diocesan. As regards Baptism, however, the illness of the recipient is, of course, a sufficient ground for the use of the private service provided in our prayer book.

5. The subject of Liturgical Changes has of late-occupied some attention. I have on many occasions, both in the Convocation of Canterbury and elsewhere, advocated a certain modification of our rubrical directions, to suit the wants of the present generation. I would gladly see liberty given for the use of the Morning Prayer, the Litany, and the office for the Holy Communion, as separate services, according to the original intention; or, when used in their combined form, divested of certain repetitions which now mar their beauty.

We greatly need also a Third Form of Service, to be used in the evening in those churches where prayers have already been read in the morning and afternoon. This seems to be especially called for in our city congregations.

And further, we perhaps want a curtailed Form of Prayer for occasional or special use.

But for these we may be well content to wait, until the Mother Church leads the way, which she is evidently prepared to do at no very distant day.

I much hope that the new Lectionary, which has been prepared with great care by the Ritual Commission, and has passed the English Convocation, will be submitted to our Provincial Synod at its next meeting. The adoption of this new Calendar of Lessons will be a great boon to our Church, and has long been wanted.

I propose putting into the hands of my clergy a Form of Harvest Thanksgiving. It maybe used this year merely as an optional service, with a view to some approved Form being ultimately submitted to the Provincial Synod for its sanction.

6. The expediency of having one authorized Hymn Book for the Diocese, if not for the whole Province, has been much on my mind. A committee appointed by the Provincial Synod upon the subject is now sitting, and will, I hope, before next year be prepared with its Report.

There are many difficulties and arguments which array themselves against the adoption of such a book, but the countervailing advantages seem to me to be immense.

I have long felt that the lack of uniformity in this respect is a prominent source of the Church's weakness; and I should heartily rejoice to see it remedied. We are rich in Hymn-books in the present day; and from the varied treasures that exist an excellent selection may be made, and one that would, I hope, commend itself to persons of all views, and would meet with general acceptance. In any case it would be very unwise to make the reception of such a book compulsory on our congregations: it would be sufficient that its introduction into the diocese or province should be permissive, sanctioned as it would be by authority.

7. I cannot omit the mention of a subject which has given rise to some discussion in the lesser meetings of our Clergy and Laity. I refer to the Ruri-diaconal System.

I know that it has not found much favour with the Clergy generally; but feeling that the office is of ancient origin, and that it now forms an integral part of our Ecclesiastical system, feeling also that it may be made extremely helpful to the Bishop, as well as conducive to the good order and working of the Diocese, I am unwilling lightly to abandon it. I must therefore ask you to bear with me in my conservative wish that it should be continued as a part of our Church Organization. I propose however in the event of vacancies occurring, to leave the selection of the Rural Dean in a great measure in the hands of the Clergy of the Deanery. This will relieve me of some responsibility, and make me feel that the office is filled by one of your own choice. It may also be desirable to review and re-cast the Form of Instructions given to the Rural Dean, on his appointment by the Bishop.

8. I am thankful to say that I have been enabled to visit the larger half of the Diocese, namely, forty-three missions, during the past ten months; and I hope to complete my visitation of the whole before the commencement of another winter. My first Episcopal act was to consecrate the little church at Como in September last. Other churches are now in the course of erection: and several, especially in the Deanery of St. Andrews, will be ready for consecration during the ensuing autumn. I have held Confirmations in twenty parishes, and received nearly four hundred persons into full membership with the Church. I have also ordained six Clergymen, who are now at work in the Diocese.

And now, as to the future of our beloved Church in this land, I cannot but think that the prospect is bright and hopeful. With a sound and devoted Clergy, loving the work which their Heavenly Master has given them to do, and anxious by the power of His Holy Spirit to win souls to Him; and with a generous and right-hearted laity, zealous not merely for their own, but for the Church's welfare, we have little to fear. There is a great and glorious work entrusted to us by our Lord; and happy for us if during our short hour of life we take, each of us, our part in the fulfilment of it. On you, my reverend brethren, devolves the important duty of acting as leaders in the progress onward; and whilst you go forward, undaunted by the difficulties before you, and confiding in the promise of your Lord, sure I am that our lay brethren will rally round you, upholding you in your great enterprise by their untiring aid, and cheering you by their sympathy.

I have now only a few more words to add regarding the present Synod, which I have to-day the privilege of opening, and over which I have the still greater privilege of presiding. I have looked forward to its meeting with some degree of anxiety, knowing the influence which its calm and dignified bearing will have upon the Church at large, and feeling the great responsibility of the part in it which I am called to take. But of this I am assured, that if He whose aid we have solemnly invoked, is Himself with us, my anxiety will be exchanged for thankfulness. The eyes of many of our brother Churchmen are turned towards Canada at the present time; let it be seen, from the temper we display at our Synod meetings, that we can come together as Christian brethren, and separate with our hearts warmed, and our spirits calmed and chastened.

I am inclined to think that in all mixed gatherings of Churchmen there is some little danger, lest a feeling of clanship should be allowed to spring up between the Clergy and Laity. This should be especially guarded against; for surely the interests of the one body are the interests also of the other; and the moment those interests are divided, the well-being of the Church is in peril of being weakened.

It is for this reason that I would venture to recommend a very sparing use of our privilege of Voting by Orders. It is important for both parties that the privilege exists; but we should resort to it only on very exceptional occasions. This manner of voting should be regarded by us as something rather held in reserve, than brought into frequent exercise--as a power which should be rather felt, than often used. It is well for a Church when its clerical and lay members feel such mutual confidence towards each other, that they can consult together with perfect freedom and singleness of purpose. And better still is it when they can be seen habitually voting together, and acting together, without distinction. This should be our rule; the other only the rare exception.

And may I not also express a hope, an earnest hope, that the Clerical members of this Synod may have come here prepared to lay aside their sectional differences--that from the tone which prevails within these walls it may be happily apparent to all that the spirit of party is speedily dying out, and that the spirit of union is taking its place.

Try to forget, my Reverend Brethren, any little specialties, either of doctrine or practice, which have in days past ranged you on separate sides; and think only of the greatness of those matters on which you are sent here to deliberate, and of His honour which should be dearer to you than all else. Look at each question which shall come before you, not as to how it will affect yourselves, but how it will affect the Church at large.

In your recent Sessions the subject which engaged your attention was of an unusually exciting character, and naturally aroused a certain warmth of feeling. That subject has now passed away, and with it I trust any little irritation which it called up at the time. We shall henceforth do well to lay aside all bitterness of feeling, and devote ourselves to those questions of practical importance which shall come before us. And surely if our deliberations are conducted in a spirit of self-control, and as in the presence of God Himself--if we speak with all deference towards each other, and with due respect for the opinions of those who may chance to differ from us--then may opposing views be expressed without the slightest risk of our harmony being disturbed.

I have full confidence in those who are now before me, that they will strive to promote the feeling which I have expressed; and that their chief forbearance will be exercised towards myself, in presiding for the first time over this important Assembly.

May the Holy Spirit so possess our hearts with His calm and gracious influence, that we may speak with all Christian love and wisdom! And may He Himself so direct all that shall be said and done during this present session, that it may tend to the advancement of His glory, and the growth of His Kingdom among us!

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