Project Canterbury

Alexander Heriot Mackonochie: A Memoir

By E.A. Towle

Edited by Edward Francis Russell.

London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, & Co., 1890.

Chapter XI.

Sequence of legal proceedings--Inhibition by the Bishop of Ripon--Speech at the Liverpool Church Congress--Visit to the Cove, Aberdeen--Mission preaching--First mission at St. Alban's, 1869--Estblishment of Clewer Sisters in the parish--Letter from the Mother Superior--Ideal of co-operation--Various parochial agencies--Chaplain to Lord Eliot.

If we take a brief review of the prosecutions with regard to the ritual at St. Alban's, we shall see that during the years 1867, 1868, 1869, and 1870, they followed one another very rapidly.

In March 1867 the Church Association, in the person of Mr. Martin, first instituted legal proceedings against Mr. Mackonochie. In the spring of the following year Sir Robert Phillimore delivered the judgment in the Court of Arches to which Mr. Mackonochie conformed. Against this judgment Mr. Martin at once appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and in the December of the same year judgment was given and Mr. Mackonochie was condemned with costs. Charged with non-compliance, the case was taken again before the Privy Council in December 1869, and finally, at the close of 1870, Lord Chelmsford declared judgment, and on Advent Sunday a sentence of suspension for three months was delivered to Mr. Mackonochie.

The details of these prosecutions have already been given; we only refer to them now because, though in themselves much to be regretted, they had no doubt an immediate influence in consolidating and extending his work during these successive years. The notoriety which unavoidably attended these various suits and appeals had its advantages as well as its drawbacks. Rites and doctrines which had perhaps at first been adopted by many people more as matters of taste than of principle, were found to be links in a chain binding the English Church by an indissoluble bond not only to the early days of Christianity, but to the rest of Catholic Christendom; and in the midst of discord, amongst the strife of tongues, there was a strong and ever-increasing desire not so much for outward peace as for inward unity.

In the spring of 1869 Mr. Mackonochie had gone up to attend an English Church Union meeting at Bradford, and was announced to preach at several churches in the town and neighbourhood, when he received a most unexpected communication from the Bishop of Ripon inhibiting him from preaching at all in his diocese. This unprecedented proceeding called forth a good deal of feeling, and awakened a not unnatural suspicion that Mr. Mackonochie and the party to which he belonged were not having fair play. It might easily have led to bitter recriminations and aggravated discontent; but a slight reference to it in Mackonochie's speech at the meeting manifests, with what one of the daily papers called 'his high tone and admirable temper,' nothing but a desire to allay irritation. He did not regard the Bishop

as responsible for what had been done, and believed he had only acted in the matter under pressure. He made that statement with the greater pleasure because, being quite removed from the local associations which surrounded his hearers, he was saved from the blame of transferring the responsibility to any particular person. There was one thing which confirmed him in the impression he had about the subject, and that was that only once in his life had he come into direct intercourse with the Bishop of Ripon, and on that occasion nothing could exceed the kindness and consideration with which the Bishop thought of his feelings and consulted him in every way; and then passing from the subject in a few short sentences, he goes on to speak upon questions of general interest to the Church. In a note to his brother referring to this incident he writes:

You will be gratified to know that I have drawn out Leviathan with a hook. In plain English the Bishop has inhibited me from officiating in the diocese without his written permission. Happily the Saturday night and Sunday have made a considerable impression, which I trust has been deepened by an address to the Guild of St Alban and a few select friends on Monday evening, so that the inhibition will just tread in the seed.

He had meant to spend some time in Yorkshire preaching and lecturing upon secular platforms, but this was now at an end, and he used to say that he had to thank the Bishop for a pleasant fortnight's holiday. But though he accepted the inevitable with undisturbed composure, he was by no means anxious to shut himself up. He had been brought before the public as a culprit, and he was not inclined to maintain a silence which was likely to be misunderstood. Not only was his preaching attracting increased attention, but his wide experience and practical suggestions made him a valued speaker at public meetings and upon occasions which called for the co-operation of men of all shades of opinion. It was in this year that he was announced as one of the speakers at the Liverpool Church Congress; and though Dean McNcilc declined to appear upon the platform if Mr. Mackonochie's name were retained on the programme, it is pleasant to find that the good sense of the committee refused to give way to the Dean's scruples, and at a full meeting the proposal that Mr. Mackonochie should be asked to withdraw was negatived by a large majority.

The subject upon which he proposed to speak,' Improvement of the Church's Services,' was one upon which he was well qualified to give an opinion; but he probably took a good many of his hearers by surprise when he rose in the midst of a good deal of excitement and said that he intended to speak from a practical point of view, and deprecating a rigid uniformity, pleaded for simple and elastic services to supplement the ordinary ones of the Church.

If one section of the Church--those who agree mostly with me--think that such additional services as I have spoken of help their belief most, let them have them. But why should we grudge to others the use of a prayer meeting or extempore prayer in one form or other by which they can best lay hold of the souls of their own people?

He then described how in Scotland he had held a service at the house of a poor fisherman upon the Presbyterian model as one best suited to those to whom he was called to minister.

The experience was a recent one and fresh in his mind. He had sought change of air and scene in taking charge of a Mission Chapel at the Cove near Aberdeen for his friend Mr. Ball. He was delighted to find himself amongst the simple fisher people, and with characteristic energy at once set himself to see how he might best bring home to them the Gospel message.

I have charge of the little mission here (he wrote on August 17, 1869), which is very delightful. Ball lets me have a daily celebration, to which from ten to fifteen come. Then on Sunday I have in addition Matins, Litany, and sermon at 11.30; and Evensong at six, also with sermon. At 3 p.m. I go down to a fisherman's cottage in a Row called Balmoral and give a cottage lecture. Her Majesty was not there in person last Sunday, but all the comers were stuffed with fishwives, fishermen, and great lads. We sang a Psalm sitting, then extempore prayer standing, then chapter of the Bible and another Psalm as before, then exposition paraphrases, extempore prayer and blessing. I should like to be here for a long time.

And with reference to his first Sunday services he wrote:

I have got through yesterday. T------ came and sang, so we had lots of noise. In the Psalm he had a strong predilection for the two endings of the 7th tone which are given in Helmore, while the children would hear of nothing but the 4th ending. The Te Deum also was contested by Tone 2 and Tone 8.1, the last eventually gained the day. But all went well as far as the service was concerned .... The Revivalists are here in great force. A man whom you will know as 'Charlie' preached and prayed and sang from soon after 3 p. 51. till about 8, when I was resting after my labours. I think he would be going on now, only a short but sharp shower of rain fell at that period .... I hope I edified the fishwives more than I did myself. I never felt more like a fish out of water in my life. I find I made them sing one more Psalm than usual to make up for not being able to sing myself. I read them St. Matt. xvi. and made my text 'What shall it profit?' Certainly the old women looked impressed, but I do not know what about. Afterwards we had a talk about Abinadab and his sons, also Melchizedec, the sons of Eli, Judas, and generally the peccability of priests--including St. Peter, with whom by-the-by it began . . . Now 'Charlie' has given me an idea, and I want to know what you think. I heard some bits of his sermon. There was the new heart--then grace and salvation only through our Lord--then Faith. So far all was very good; but next came an attack upon works. He gave an account of some conversation which he had had, he described the religion of the other as all do, do, work, work; but he is straightforward, &c. Now if I could do it and carry the people with me I should like next Sunday to talk to the fishermen about the whole Gospel, not saying anything about Charlie, but speaking of salvation by grace through our Lord's merits, then justification by faith, then sanctification. Do you think one could get them to take it in? Then the last Sunday might be 'the Christian's life.'

Here at any rate is ample testimony that he was ready upon occasion to carry out his own advice with respect to elasticity in public ministrations. It was not a question of Church ceremonial or the Book of Common Prayer; he prized these things, as many people would have asserted, far beyond their worth, and yet, when the occasion demanded it, he could lay them as easily aside, and was ready to take a lesson from 'Charlie' if by any means he might save some.

He found much refreshment of spirit in this quiet time at the Cove. He had indeed, even upon his holiday, a large correspondence with which to deal, and many anxieties which could not altogether be put aside, but he had a happy faculty of living in the present, as far as the things of this world were concerned; and no dark forebodings overshadowed his future. He made new friends amongst the small population at the Cove, and returned with renewed pleasure at different periods of his life to the quiet little bay.

He always seemed to enjoy Scotland [wrote one who knew him there]. We have many recollections of long walks with him, and he was so kind and genial with the children, reading aloud on one of his visits the 'King of the Golden River' with great vigour. . . . Some of the most beautiful sermons I ever heard from his lips were those preached in the little Cove chapel, and they are still remembered.

He had, no doubt, for so reserved a man, an unusual capacity for adapting himself to his congregation, and this constituted one of his most important qualifications for mission preaching. In 1865, after a mission held at Plymouth, he wrote:

We got on very well (thank God) at Plymouth. I think that no doubt the mission has been made the means of establishing and deepening the spiritual life of those who had been already seeking God, and I hope also of removing some shyness. Prynne said that he was almost overcome by the number of officers whom he saw at the Holy Communion of the Sunday, and whom he had not seen for a long time--some for years.

In reference to this first mission, the Rev. G. R. Prynne, the Vicar of St. Peter's, writes:

I think he was one of the most effective mission preachers I ever heard. Not simply because of his eloquence, though that was often great, but because of that tone of thorough and honest conviction which characterised every word he spoke, and which, therefore, as if by an electric current, carried conviction to the hearts of his hearers. The reality of the impression which he made was evidenced by the numbers of people he had never seen before who came to him to make their first confession. . . . He was most unsparing of himself, and gave himself with the most absolute self-surrender to the work which he had undertaken.

In addition to the missions which he preached, he held many retreats for clergy, for religious communities, and for others. They were marked by the same directness of aim which characterised his ordinary preaching. Some of these retreat notes lie before us now, and are chiefly remarkable for wideness of scope combined with definite-ness of arrangement, the gathering up of the different threads of thought having always a practical bearing upon the circumstances of every-day life.

From November 14 to November 25, 1869, a mission, conducted by Father O'Neill,1 of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, and the Rev. G. Boddington of Willenhall, was held at St. Alban's. [Father O'Neill remained ever after one of the best beloved and most valued among our friends. The last years of his life were spent in India, far away from European society, he lived among the natives as a native, and died in their midst of cholera. In the parish of St. Alban's, Holborn, he is still lovingly remembered by some, who speak of him always in terms of deepest respect as 'that apostolic man.'--Ed.] It was the first London mission, and indirectly affected large numbers who took no practical part in it. It had, unlike many isolated individual efforts, received the formal approbation of the Bishops in whose dioceses it was to take place, and was a united and vigorous effort on the part of clergy differing as widely as possible from one another as to the ordinary means to be employed in furthering their common end. Its very novelty insured a certain amount of transitory success, but nevertheless its ultimate effect remained uncertain, and in default of experience it could hardly be regarded by even the most sanguine as more than a hopeful experiment.

A mission is a call from God (wrote Father Mackonochie in his opening address). In a mission God calls us all. He calls us as sinners to repent. He calls us as beginners to go on well. He calls us as lovers of Him to perfection.

The services, various meetings and instructions, were arranged to suit the convenience and needs of all classes of people, and differ in no respect from the ordinary means employed during a mission week, now so well known as to excite no attention outside the limits of a parish or congregation. It is curious to refer to the lengthy accounts in the daily papers, entering into every detail of the proceedings, at that time the subjects of widespread interest and public criticism. The congregations at St. Alban's were so crowded that it was necessary to have supplementary meetings in the schoolroom, and the mission ended with a public renewal of baptismal vows. It was in reference to this that Mr. Mackonochie wrote:

1 never saw anything so touching. Old white-headed men, young children, rich and poor, many old men with tears on their cheeks. Surely the Spirit of God was with them. ... It has been a great, quiet, calm success. Deo Gratias.

And by the time that his annual address was issued on the St. Alban's Day of the following year, that success was established and assured, and he could write:

The chief event of our year has been the twelve days' mission in November. I trust that the effect of this will long endure. ... It was shortly followed by a special confirmation, most kindly accorded to my request, held in St. Alban's by the Bishop of London two days before Christmas. About 115 of our own people then received the Holy Ghost from the hands of Christ's chief Pastor in this diocese.

This is only one instance of the large, and in some respects rapid, advance which the Church had made; an advance which had, to some extent, insured the success of the mission. The preparatory work had been real and thorough, and no artificial means had been used to force the growth of either personal spiritual experiences or outward religious observances.

There was a large band of district visitors, and an Association of laymen, in connection with the order of St. John Baptist, Clewer, had its headquarters in the mission-house in Greville Street, and was doing good work. The Mother of Clewer (Harriet Monscll), with her keen insight into human nature and practical knowledge of parochial work, had from the first felt a special interest in St. Alban's. She had been the means of bringing the work of the Association to bear upon the parish, and as soon as it became possible she willingly acceded to Mr. Mackonochie's anxious desire to have the co-operation of resident Sisters.

In 1868 he wrote:

It would be impossible to over-rate the help which would be derived from the residence among us of a small band of Sisters; and in 1869, already two choir and two lay sisters were in the mission house in Greville Street.

It is not yet easy to say what we are doing (wrote the Mother soon after their arrival), because we are just getting into work; but that which is specially committed to our care is the work which lies too deep for the district visitors to do. The care of the sick, the getting at the people in their own homes, the bringing what Mr. Mackonochie calls the sacramental power of the Sisters' life to bear upon all the sin and sorrow and misery of the parish. . . It is a great blessing to enter upon work in a parish where you have such clergy to help you--and I, having some little experience in work, say with my whole heart that it is impossible to find more excellent, devoted, and self-sacrificing men than those working at St. Alban's; this little time of trouble will pass away, and their work will remain. I could not but marvel the other day, when at the midday celebration at the good sense of England spending thousands to put out those two innocent candles, placed there for the one aim of pointing out Christ as the Light. Oh how the angels who look into these mysteries must marvel to see what man can and will do to mar God's work!

On New Year's Eve we had a tea for the parents of the schoolchildren. Nearly 300 were fed most comfortably, then they had a few songs, and then Mr. Stanton told them we were going into the church to sing a Te Deum in thanksgiving to God at the close of the year, and that whoever liked might come; and every one of them turned into the church, and so in the midst of evil times we sang our thanksgiving, surrounded by the people who throughout eternity will, we trust, thank God for the church which God put it into Mr. Hubbard's heart to build for His Glory.

The small community thus established increased and prospered. In 1870, speaking of the Sisters, Mr. Mackonochie wrote:

Their presence, bringing the power of the religious life to bear on all the parochial works of mercy and charity, is an unspeakable blessing.

And again in the following year;--

We are getting, I think, to the right idea--different works each with its own head, and with more or less independence, according to the character of the work and the power of the worker; but all making the Sisterhood the centre round which they work.

Here, too, Mr. Mackonochie was specially fortunate in retaining for many years the services of those who had zealously co-operated with him from these early days. In writing about the Sister-in-charge of this branch of the community, who was only removed in 1882, he says:

One prominent figure in all that was good and active in the parish disappears from the midst of us this year--I mean Sister Georgiana Mary. . . . She is a loss, a great loss to the parish, not to say to the neighbourhood . . .

and he goes on to speak of 'the womanly tact and perseverance she carried into work which few men would care to attempt.'

As the parochial organisation was extended, the work naturally became of a more varied character. Already, during the period of which we are writing, some of the most valuable parochial agencies were in active operation. The Choir School; the Orphanage, started on a small unpretending scale after the visitation of cholera in 1866; the Infant Nursery; the Youths' Institute; the Sunday breakfast for really destitute boys, 'every care being taken to avoid its ever seeming to be a trap to get them into church;' the Soup Kitchen, assisting about 150 families weekly during the winter months; and all the other means employed for raising the physical and spiritual condition of the people, were in good working order; and in the midst of many inevitable disappointments there was cause for deep thankfulness that so far the efforts made had been sustained and blessed.

The years 1871, 1872, and 1873 were years of peace. It was during- this time that the new schools were built and opened, the Working Men's Club established, and various other additions made to the parochial machinery. But there was no change in the main scope and object of the work; it had not ceased to be of a missionary character, though year by year the church undoubtedly influenced a larger number of outsiders. In earlier days, one of the Sisters had spoken of 'Father Mackonochie doing all the work of everybody.' The saying was no longer true. It was now rather his desire to secure for those in co-operation with him an appropriate sphere of action. He himself took as keen an interest as ever in the affairs of the parish, but in many respects he was content to leave the conduct of them to others. He was day by day in St. Alban's, constantly preaching, instructing, hearing confessions; and undoubtedly as time went on his life became less one of ordinary parochial duty, being almost altogether engrossed by direct spiritual ministrations. He could well afford to turn a deaf ear to the angry clamour of opponents, whilst hearts were touched and consciences awakened, repentance deepened, and the old wounds of sin healed by his ministry; when, moreover, the glaring injustice of repeated prosecutions served but to kindle fresh enthusiasm and generosity, of which the following letter is by no means an isolated example. It was on the occasion of his first suspension by Lord Chelmsford in November 1870 that Lord Eliot wrote:

Dear Mr. Mackonochie,--I am going to make a request that you will, I hope, at least not think an impertinent one.

As a peer I have a right to name a domestic chaplain; it of course entails no duties, and I fear conveys no privileges, and if I venture to offer you such a title it is only with a sincere desire to give a proof of my gratitude for the comfort and, I hope, profit which I have derived from the service which the Privy Council is attempting to put down. That the attempt will be successful I do not fear; but, feeling that it is the duty of every one to do what he can to protest against this monstrous iniquity, I venture to make this offer, well knowing that all the honour will be on my side if you kindly consent.

I have the honour to be yours very faithfully,


The offer was accepted, and the connection thus begun was only severed by death.

Project Canterbury