Project Canterbury

The Church on the Prairie

By H. H. Montgomery, D.D.

[London:] Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1910.

Chapter X. Our Clergy and Workers and Their Training

This chapter must be devoted to one of the most important subjects that the Church has to face to-day; the proper training, intellectually and spiritually, of the clergy. More than this, when we deal with new lands we have to consider what are the dangers of the younger clergy after ordination: the future of a promising man may be wrecked if during his Diaconate he is left to shift for himself and has not the counsel of a wise priest. Months of loneliness may shatter his ideals of prayer and check his growth in the deep things.

These thoughts are occasioned by the fact that this book has been taken up with the Canadian problem which can only be solved by pouring in workers in large numbers who have not had the long training which is universally recognised as essential for an instructed and well-educated ministry. But if abnormal methods are needed to meet a special crisis, it is incumbent upon the rulers of the Church that they do not injure the future of the men who so willingly offer themselves to do their utmost in the day of the Church's need. We must take care to give them all the fostering care that is possible, and to give time and pains to the subject. But, first, remember that everywhere, and among all [93/94] bodies of Christians, the ideals of education are rising. More especially is this true in the case of teachers. The following facts will be of interest in regard to the length of time given by various religious denominations to the instruction of their ministers.

In the Church of Rome the seminary course lasts from four to six years. Where students do no theological studies at a university the course lasts from seven to nine years. In the Jesuit Order the course is from ten to twelve years. Among the Benedictines it is five years. In the Established Church of Scotland all students pass through the Divinity Hall of one of the four universities and are advised if possible to take a university degree. In the United Presbyterian Church all theological students must first have taken a degree. In the Congregationalist Church the course of study is generally for six years. Among the Wesleyan Methodists the course is four years. Turning to the branches of our own Church, note that in the United States the postulant for Holy Orders must be under the eye of the bishop and under his direction for three years before ordination, and a graduate in arts of some university or college, or have passed the same standard of examination. If we turn to our own newer theological colleges we find that Father Kelly at Kelham puts his course at seven years; at Mirfield, no student is admitted till he has acquired a sound elementary knowledge of Latin and Greek; after this he spends three years in arts for his degree at Leeds, and two years in theology at Mirfield, five in all. The other Missionary Colleges make three years the minimum course for those [94/95] who are to go abroad; but all are dissatisfied with this term. I believe all desire to lengthen it to five years, whether all the time be spent at the Missionary College or part of it at a university. We have without doubt had in the pasta lower standard of attainment than any other religious body; a thoroughly Anglo-Saxon fault. A clean and athletic gentleman has been supposed to be capable of doing anything whether in the earthly or the spiritual army, without much if any special training. It is wonderful what the old system has effected; but why not specially educate the good material? Clearly the need for an all-round raising of the standard at home has been impressed upon us of late, especially the need of a liberal education and a broad based training. The recommendation of the committee of the Lambeth Conference on this subject is couched in the following terms: "The time has come when, in view of the development of education and of the increased opportunities afforded for university training, all candidates for Holy Orders should be graduates of some recognised university, as the increased facilities for obtaining degrees from the newer universities, with or without residence, bring a degree within the reach of those who are being mainly trained at theological colleges". They also add that premature specialisation in theology is not to be desired, and a course of arts preceding theology is the better basis. It is notable also that the committee of the Conference presses for instruction in social and economic questions, general business principles, and applied moral theology and Church law. I believe, further, that we shall see ere long the custom in [95/96] our own Church which has been adopted for all candidates for Holy Orders in the German Protestant Church. Their candidates are compelled to spend six weeks in a training college for teachers, and if he fails to obtain a good report he has to take another six weeks in the following year. And it is not only to learn how to teach but to study the principles of education, the interaction of different kinds of knowledge, as well as the interaction of physical, mental and moral health. At least such a course will enlarge the vision and teach the student how little he knows and how humble he ought to be.

But further, the ideals of training are rising after the student is ordained deacon. The recommendation of the committee of the Lambeth Conference is that one year in the diaconate is an inadequate preparation for the priesthood and that two years are needed; after which they use the following significant words: "We desire to call attention to the very grave responsibility incurred by a parish priest, who gives a title to a deacon, for properly training that deacon in the duties of his office, as well as for securing for him opportunity for study and preparation for the priesthood. We therefore suggest that bishops should permit only specially justified incumbents to grant titles."

At present the intellectual side of the training has been chiefly in evidence, but I am persuaded that the spiritual side is of still greater importance. The Anglo-Saxon has to learn how to pray and finds it a very difficult duty. He usually starts with the ideal of a couple of minutes morning and evening: that exhausts [96/97] for him all the subjects of prayer and he reads with wonder of hours of prayer, of continuing all night in prayer, of books of intercession. He feels that except in a church or at his bedside there is something almost indecent in prayer. But the spiritual guide has to rise far above this; and you cannot "cram" this knowledge because it means a transformation and elevation of the whole man, a closer and more perpetually conscious walk with God. It needs time and silence, and much humiliation in the case of many. It is a definite and a very difficult branch of knowledge, but when it is attained there is a tone imparted to the life of the man which tells in every direction. It is not often that you find men deeply trained thus in their early days absent from a yearly retreat of some kind. They crave for periods of silence; whereas those who have had no such training are often those that no persuasion can bring to "Quiet Days". They are too busy for such "luxuries" for they have not learnt that they are necessities.

It is because of the deepening sense of what the training of a priest should be that we of the S.P.G. have taken a noteworthy step of late. It has been our custom hitherto, as soon as our students have been trained, to send them out to their dioceses abroad to be ordained there, and trained there as deacons and so to pass on to the priesthood. But both the bishops and we ourselves have now begun to ask whether in all missionary dioceses there are places where deacons can be properly trained. If there are no such places in any particular diocese, then another plan is suggested. The student is placed in the bishop's hands as before, but [97/98] the bishop at his own request arranges for him to be trained as a deacon in some missionary-hearted parish at home chosen by himself; and a deacon is known as one who really belongs to a diocese abroad, but is in England for his better training.

Now let me recount some of the failures of the past, drawing from my experience in many a land. Years ago the late Canon Potter of Melbourne told me that he was sent as a deacon to take sole charge of a great bush district in Victoria, far away from any priest or spiritual adviser, picking up experience as best he could. Once in three months the archdeacon came into his district to give the people the Sacraments. But on this occasion he himself had to go to the archdeacon's parish and take his duty. The result was that though Potter's people received their Sacraments once in three months, their spiritual guide received no such aid. I am afraid of exaggeration, but he certainly did not receive Holy Communion for more than a year, probably not at all during his diaconate. I often think with wonder of that archdeacon who probably had half a dozen such men, either as laymen or deacons in charge of parishes, who were sent in turn to take his duty without the great Means of Grace.

I have known a deacon sent without any spiritual training to take charge of a very difficult mining parish cut off from civilisation by fifty miles of bush. And I noted in his career afterwards just the lack which such neglect of training would lead one to expect: he had been sinned against by the Church. I read some years ago one of the most touching letters of my life from a [98//99] deacon who had been sent as a pioneer to cover a district about sixty miles square, with his people scattered all over it, and with some eight ministers of other denominations working in it. He told how his heart was broken; do what he would he could not cope with the work nor keep his people together. He had spent all his private means in supplementing his stipend; though married, he had not seen his wife for over four days in six weeks; and now in despair he was proposing to throw up his orders and take to business. These are stories of the past; this man did not succumb; he did not give up his orders and he is still at work, but our national want of foresight and forethought is the cause of fearful distress in all departments of public life. We trade upon fine material and our dogged character, but, to use a well known phrase, "Is it cricket?"

Then there is the paralysing effect of loneliness. I have been told by earnest priests of the languor that seizes upon them before an early celebration of Holy Communion in the tropics. Something whispers, "You want a pick-me-up; try a brandy and soda". And these are the temptations of the devil. Or else it is a man who is always giving out to others. His weekdays are spent in bush hotels and farm houses. When he comes home he has no one to help him spiritually: the temptation to become worldly is strong. If he is in a mining district, "scrip" is flying about all the time and he is sore tempted to speculate. If he does he loses his influence. It is sad to note the many cases of ex-ministers of denominations who are mining agents and sub-editors of small papers. Some are tempted to become hotel keepers and farmers.

[100] The burden of my story is that in every pioneer land, not least in Canada, we have to see to it that our spiritual guides get the deepest and best education available.

The temptation to lower the standard is terrible owing to present difficulties. But we have to remember that the permanent deepening of the character of our priests can only be affected by time as well as guidance. It needs to soak in. No short courses can effect this; and it is the depth of character which tells; the felt need for silence, for much study, for periodical times of retirement, for much prayer, has generally to be cultivated in the days of preparation; it is better so than to have to learn it by failure, by .the terrible feeling that the days of spiritual and intellectual drought are upon us, and the cisterns are nearly empty. It is strange how much more easy it is to fill up a cistern three quarters full than to put the same amount into an empty cistern. Moreover the water tastes so much nicer in the first case than in the second.

All I have said is perfectly familiar to the bishops on the prairie. And their position is made extraordinarily difficult by this fact. They know the difficulties; how are they to avoid them? They long to give their clergy and catechists the deepest training possible. Education is being supplied to every type of mankind: it is to be had in abundance; but how to raise the teachers spiritually and intellectually so that they may have a right to teach, and how to do it in the field when they have not had great advantages beforehand, how to make them fitted to become in time [100/101] priests of the Anglican Church throughout the world--this is the problem.

In the same way in the Diocese of Saskatchewan the special perplexity which is felt is how far it is right to continue an abnormal state of things so that it may become almost normal locally. If to meet a sudden crisis you pour seventy catechists into a diocese who have not had years of preparation, giving them large districts and much responsibility, how far is it right to double those numbers so that they far exceed the clergy in the diocese? We are asking these questions of bishops who feel the weight of the problem and our sincerest sympathy goes out to them.

It is not surprising then that for the sake of information for which we shall eagerly look we have asked the prairie bishops, four in number, namely, the Archbishop of Rupert's Land, the Bishops of Qu'Appelle, Calgary and Saskatchewan the following questions.

How far, after the experience attained, is the catechist scheme a success or otherwise? How far should it be extended further? What are the dangers to be avoided, and the safeguards needed? What do you think of the suggestion that some external body should test the qualifications of the catechists, just as the Universities' preliminary examination tests and aids the missionary colleges in England to their great comfort? Is it not likely that experience will now enable you to tell us whether there ought not to be a definite proportion between the number of catechists and the clergy who superintend them? Probably it is impossible for one superintending priest to supervise adequately more [101/102] than five or six catechists, or whatever the number may be. How often can they receive their Communions? How often can a few catechists be brought together for a day of prayer and mutual consultation? The deeper the view we take of the priestly life the more overwhelmingly important are the answers to such questions. And we believe that the answers will be of deepest interest.

No one can have read the story of the Catechists and Deacons at work on the prairie without a feeling of profound thankfulness for their pluck and enterprise. It is for this reason that we are more than ever anxious for their welfare, spiritual as well as temporal, and are prepared to show our zeal for the Canadian Church in a practical manner. Do what we can, the Lord's battle in many a land is too often a soldier's battle--an Inkerman--Single soldiers doing their best without a leader's supervision. We would help to plant the Church on the Prairie so firmly that the superstructure may stand for all time, by making it as little as possible a soldier's battle, with as much leadership as is possible.

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