Volume IV (New Series I). Number VI. November, 1845.
Cambridge: Walters, pp 272-275
The Bishop of Norwich on Pues
"ON Sunday, the 21st ult., a sermon was preached at S. Peter's Mancroft church, Norwich, by the Right Rev. the Lord Bishop of that diocese, with the view of making a collection to defray the expenses of a new arrangement of the pues, in order to provide increased accommodation for the parishioners. The Lord Bishop took his text from S. James ii., 1:--"My brethren, have not the faith of our LORD JESUS CHRIST, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons." His lordship said he had been requested to address the congregation on a subject, which had for a considerable time been pressing itself on public attention; and had excited an increased desire to render our churches more applicable to the purposes for which they were originally built, viz., to bring together every class of persons under one roof, to offer up their united prayers and praises to their common GOD and SAVIOUR. His lordship was highly gratified in acceding to the wishes of the parochial authorities on this occasion; and trusted that the result of their endeavours would set an example to other parishes, and more especially those of large and populous towns. In alluding to the question of the rearrangement of the pues, his Lordship remarked, that it was not to be expected that long and established prejudices could be suddenly removed; but he hoped that, ultimately, the pue system would be abandoned for that of open seats, at no great distance of time, the former being a system, by which the great mass of those who most needed instruction, were deprived of the means of hearing and profiting by the beautiful and impressive services of our Church; and thus they were induced to accept the accommodation offered them in meeting houses. He was persuaded, that it was not on account of any hostility to the principles and doctrines of the Church on the part of the people, that dissenters had acquired, m many instances, an accession to their ranks, the Church being of so wide and comprehensive a character, as to admit the two extremes of high churchmen on the one hand and Calvinism on the other. While there was this want of church accommodation, many fell away from the practice of assembling in the church, and acquired a habit of indifference to religion; they became a prey to infidelity, and insensible to the hopes of the Gospel, which were of so much importance to the poor, teaching them how to endure the privations to which they were exposed, and raising them from the contemplation of this world, to them one of sorrow and labour, to another, where sorrow and affliction would find no admission, and where there would be joy for evermore. His Lordship proceeded to give a sketch of the modes of conducting public worship with regard to church accommodation, from the apostolic to the present times. He shewed that an exclusive system in the Jewish synagogues was discountenanced by our SAVIOUR, and that it did not prevail among the early Christians, nor afterwards, with the exception of some private chapels annexed to churches, which had been built and endowed, as they all were, by private individuals. The ministers and officiating officers in such churches were provided with seats, but the rest of the space was open and free to all and every one, at all hours, and on all occasions. But as religion became darkened by worldly prosperity, worldly-mindedness, and individual selfishness, a change came over this spiritual and pure state of things. Abuses crept in, and selfishness prevailed; and from the middle of the sixteenth century might be detected the encroachment on public rights by private influence and interference; the system of pues gradually became general, and had now become so identified with the habits and prejudices of the people that all idea of its original injustice was lost. So accustomed were people, in these days, to look on the system of pues as a right, and private possession a privilege to which the wealthier classes were entitled, that it was impossible for many to raise the veil from their eyes, accustomed, as they were from infancy, to contemplate pues in this respect. It was evident, however, that if this claim on the part of the wealthy had been made for the first time in these days, it would not be admitted, built as churches were for the benefit of the many, and not for the few; for publick and not for private accommodation. It would not now be allowed, for a moment, that any party should have so many square feet boarded-off and called their property; if such a claim was made, common sense, and every feeling of religion and equity, would be raised against it. It was said, that it was desirable that families should all worship together, and nothing could be more gratifying, than to see parents and children all going to the House of GOD together. Who would gainsay this? But was such a thing reasonable to be enjoyed by the few at the expense of all the other parishioners? Let it ever be remembered, that all have the same claims. There might be some present, who, on account of their station in life, thought that accommodation should be exclusively provided for them; but let these wealthy claimants remember, that the Church of England was called by a peculiar title; it was called emphatically and proverbially, and it was its boast that it was so called--the Poor Man's Church. It might, therefore, be fairly argued, that the poor man and not the rich man was the first claimant for this privilege; and if there was any exclusive right, that it should be in favour of the poor. At all events the poor should not be limited to a smaller, an inconvenient, or incommodious space, for the accommodation of the wealthy. His Lordship solemnly appealed to that congregation, consisting, as he well knew, of the most respectable inhabitants of this city. He would ask, compared with theirs, where and what was the accommodation of the poor, who from want of education, scanty means, and peculiar habits, required all the accommodation and instruction that the Church could possibly afford? He had spoken his sentiments fearlessly and candidly; he wished not to give offence, and he trusted he had given none; but it was a just cause, and he was bound, as a Christian minister, to speak. From much that he had seen and witnessed, he believed the sentiments he had uttered would be responded to by many of the most respectable parishioners. It was very gratifying to him to find, that an example had been set by several influential pue-holders, an example of sacrificing their present convenience in so praiseworthy a cause. He hoped to see the time, when that beautiful edifice would be rendered still more beautiful by the seats being thrown open, that all might find convenient accommodation for worship within its walls. It would not be the first example of the kind in England by many hundreds, as was proved by several instances mentioned by his Lordship, who cited the testimony of various clergymen as to the good effect of a change from the pue system into that of open seats."--Cambridge Advertiser.
We have pleasure in transferring to our pages the preceding- abstract of the Bishop of Norwich's opinion upon pues. In so doing we beg to call especial attention to two of his Lordship's statements: 1. That our old churches were originally built for the holiest of purposes, namely, " to bring together every class of persons under one roof, to offer up their united prayers and praises to their common GOD and SAVIOUR." 2. That from the middle of the sixteenth century "religion became darkened by worldly prosperity, worldly mindedness, and individual selfishness," which produced "a change in this spiritual and pure state of things." Really, Mr. Close, now that he has overthrown Rome and Oxford and Cambridge, will find an antagonist where, we venture to assert, he least expected to meet with one. Supposing now that next gunpowder-and-orange-plot day he were to preach from the following text:--"The Bishops of the Establishment are the allies of the Pope; proved and illustrated from the authenticated publications of the Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of Norwich, by the Rev.," &c., he would produce no doubt the same effects as he has done by his previous fifth of November sermons. [We must in candour say that we have heard of no reply to our exposure of the Restoration sermon, nor yet of a fifth edition! FIFTH THOUSAND!! Let us hope that even a sermonizer (out of the pulpit) may be ashamed of dishonesty.] In some way or other he must enter the lists with Norwich, and prove all over again, the popery of old churches and the purity of pues; or else surrender his old position.
It will not be out of place here to append a sentence from the last Report of the Incorporated Church-building Society.
"In reference to the large proportion of the seats to be allotted as free (36,200 out of 42,800, or nearly six-sevenths of the whole) the Committee have great gratification in observing, that publick attention has been so effectually drawn to the lamentable deficiency of such church accommodation, that by far the largest portion of additional sittings obtained is now devoted to unappropriated seats. The Society's Rules require that one-half, at least, of the additional sittings obtained through its aid shall be free; and this proportion has in every year been greatly exceeded; but, in the last year, more than four-fifths of the whole additional church room provided was to be free; and no less than twenty-five of the new churches, containing together accommodation for 11,843 persons, will be wholly free and unappropriated."
These are cheering signs. Five years ago there were not, probably, as many free churches in the whole kingdom as are now built during the course of a single year. It cannot, however, be denied that the Church-building Society would be justified in insisting--and perhaps in duty ought to insist--that ALL the additional sittings obtained through its aid shall be free. They who demand pues may be expected at least to build pues for themselves.