Project Canterbury

Twenty-one Years in S. George's Mission

By Charles Fuge Lowder

London: Rivingtons, 1877.

Chapter III. Principles of Mission Work. Mr. Liddon's Sermon. Confraternities. Guilds.

IT was in the presence of such a population, in the face of such difficulties without and trials within, that S. George's Mission was now breaking ground in its campaign against sin. The blow which it had just sustained in the loss of two priests--i.e., half of the staff, and they in charge of the new Mission District of S. Saviour's--was indeed a staggering one. It reeled under it, but, thanks to God, did not fall; "persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed." Some temporary help was obtained, the Rev. J. A. Temple working for eighteen months, others for shorter periods, as the Revs. H. J. Borrow and Charles Anderson; and the Revs. E. H. Davies and W. P. Burn, now taken to their rest. In the close, however, of 1859 we thankfully welcomed the valuable help of the Rev. A. H. [41/42] Mackonochie, hitherto curate of Wantage, who took special charge of S. Saviour's, and by his indefatigable labours, eloquent preaching, and unceasing care for souls, set us an example of what Mission work really was. He was soon joined by the Rev. H. A. Walker, and both worked together most happily at S. Saviour's until, to our heavy loss, but to the great gain of the Church, Mr. Hubbard, with the advice of those who were best acquainted with his high qualifications, and after mature consideration, nominated him to the charge of S. Alban's, Holborn, in the year 1862.

During these years, although they comprise the sad period of S. George's Riots, the Mission work was steadily developing. The Holy Sacrifice was offered daily in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd; thrice a week in S. Saviour's. The work of the Sisters was active in the House of Mercy, now removed to Hendon, and in their Industrial School, commenced in Calvert Street, and also removed to an adjoining house in Hendon. The schools attached to both Mission Chapels were growing in numbers and improving in discipline, many now being presented every year for Confirmation; the number of communicants had reached upwards of one hundred, and the influence of the Mission was being extended and deepened. But this will be seen more [42/43] plainly as we enter into a detailed account of our work. First, however, it will be well to lay down clearly the principles on which it wan based and carried on.

Nor can this be better done than in the words of one who preached on behalf of the Mission at a festival service held in the Church of S. Mary Magdalene, Munster Square, in November, 1860, soon after the riots in S. George's Church. We are glad to pay a common tribute of thanks to the kind and courageous priest, the Rev. E. Stuart, who opened his Church to us at a time when we could not assemble in the Parish Church of S. George's, and to the preacher who now enchains with his eloquence thousands, not only of hearers, but of "doers, of the Word" in the vast Cathedral of S. Paul's. The Rev. H. P. Liddon, in his striking sermon on the text, "That I might by all means save some," after dwelling upon "the deep yearnings of the Apostle, that of the spirits ordained by the Creator to be centres of an existence as everlasting as His own, he might even save some;" upon the separate life of each soul before God; upon "the salvation of one human, soul which might have cost the Blood of the Infant Son of God;" upon the multitudes who, like Pagans of old, live, "having no hope, and without God in the world;" upon the motive power constraining the heart of the Apostle, [43/44] which he found in the poorest quarter of the Augustan city, in streets never trodden by a patrician foot in what was the S. Giles' or S. George's-in-the-East of Imperial Rome--goes on to speak of "the individualizing spirit of the Church." "Although the Church throws herself upon the masses, she deals with each individual soul as if it alone were entitled to all her labour and all her love. Never while the Church has comprehended her mission has she affected to win souls by general measures which ignore the individual needs of each. The soul of man is not a mere part of a machine, which moves because you set the machine in motion. It is a living force, a centre of undying life." He asks, as if hoping for a change in which he has borne no slight share, "Open your Metropolitan Cathedral on Sunday, and fill its aisles with multitudes, who listen if they do not pray. It is well; but what if the seed lie upon the surface, when there is none at hand to cover it with soil, and ere Monday morning comes the fowls of the air devour it?" Again, "The Good Shepherd calleth His sheep by name. Individualizing work is a matter not of taste, but of necessity. A religion which does not attempt this may succeed in adding to the stores of the understanding; it can never win the heart. It may cover the wounds of society; it can never bind and heal." And thus he draws [44/45] his conclusion. "If the principles which I have attempted to state be true, the S. George's Mission is doing its work faithfully and effectually. Say if you will that, since its establishment in that unhappy neighbourhood, the powers of ill have proclaimed their rule with a fierceness and urgency unknown before; prove from your statistics that crime has as yet lost little or nothing of its frequency or its grossness; have you proved the Mission to be a failure? I say confidently, No. It has not aimed beyond the mark of the Apostle. It has not attempted the mere civilization of the many; it has attempted the actual salvation of some. The S. George's Clergy live in the centre of a dense population; they are always on the spot. They are there ready to make the most of every opening, and to guard against each threatening of danger. They are surrounding themselves with services, schools, reformatories. They are winning penitents and gathering in communicants. Their object is not only to diffuse an influence, but in the name and in the strength of Christ to save. Around them are those who have been saved, saved from lies, and prayerlessness, and lust, and despair, and hell. Such of course may fall away and be lost, as may any Christian on this side the grave. But as it is, God 'has called them to this state of salvation' [45/46] by the entreaties, and toils, and sacraments of the S. George's Missionary Clergy. He will call others."

We hare made large extracts from this sermon of the present eloquent Canon of S. Paul's, because it so exactly sets forth the principles which guided our Mission work. Its concluding words have been richly fulfilled since 1860. God grant that they may be, still more richly, in time to come!

The great object, then, of all Missionary enterprise is the saving of souls. In spite of the far greater attraction and popularity of general schemes of benevolence, of attempts to brighten the surface of society by plans of amusement or social recreation, of physical exercise or domestic economy, by friendly meetings of the poor, by lectures, concerts, or tea-meetings; however praiseworthy and useful such schemes are in their proper place, and not lost sight of in our own Mission work; yet we have ever felt that our great object must be to save souls. Such plans as these, if allowed too great a prominence, if used as anything but subsidiary to a far higher object, are apt to secularize both Priest and people, to lower the religious connection which should subsist between them, and so to defeat the great purpose which they were originally intended to serve. Such schemes are so much easier, and to human nature so much more [46/47] agreeable, than the more painful work of gaining souls, that there is always great danger lest the Clergy, forgetting their proper vocation, should sink to the level of merely agreeable or humanizing members of society.

Nor, to go a step higher, did we feel our object gained merely in bringing people to Church, in inducing large numbers to make some outward profession of religion without a real change of heart and life. We have indeed seen around us such miserable examples of the blasphemy and profanity of those who made a profession of religion, that we should have been sufficiently warned against the delusion of such profession, even had we ever been misled by it.

Again, we believed that though it were a much more difficult work to win souls to Christ in the sorrowful ways of true repentance, and in the fruits of penitential discipline, to build them up and train them in the whole faith of the Catholic Church, and in the duties of the Christian life; yet that thus only were we fulfilling our special obligations as Missionary Priests of the Church--thus only were we feeding our flock in the rich pastures of their Christian inheritance--thus only enabling them to contend against the manifold trials and persecutions amidst which they lived, to be a witness for the faith in a wicked and perverse generation--and [47/48] thus to be truly missionaries themselves in bringing other souls to Christ. We were engaged in the great undertaking of laying on a surer foundation the Missionary work of the Church at home. To lay this foundation requires time, and patience, and faith; it must be built up, stone upon stone, like a breakwater, where a vast amount of labour is spent on that which will never appear till the Judgment Day, and where, after these stones have been carefully laid, they must be strongly cemented together until they can be left to buffet against the angry storms and waves of the ocean. It is difficult to describe the amount of prejudice, unbelief, and wicked opposition which must be patiently encountered in laying such a foundation soundly and securely.

And now to speak of the means by which we have endeavoured to attain this great object. Our first anxiety has been to convince men of sin, to bring home the guilt and heinousness of all sin in God's sight to the consciences of our people. In sermons in the open-air and in Church, in tracts, in classes, and in private conferences, this has been our great aim. The love of God, making sin what it is, and alone giving hopes of pardon through the precious Blood of Jesus Christ, has been one of our chief topics. When the soul is touched with [48/49] contrition, and anxious to make her peace with God, we recommend Sacramental Confession, and have reason to be most thankful that this has been our practice from the beginning. With the many instances we could adduce of God's blessing abundantly poured out and constantly following this Holy Ordinance of the Church, we should have been unfaithful alike to our vows, and to the souls committed to us, if we had ever allowed any outward opposition to wrest from our hands this most powerful weapon against the enemy of souls. When we see how all earnest denominations of Christians, such as the Wesleyans, and all who hold more or less with their views of conversion, feel the need of some ordinance answering to special Confession, it is a matter of wonder that any who are acquainted with the difficulty of dealing with souls, especially in the most trying of all times, their reconciliation with their Heavenly Father, should depreciate the help of Confession; or that those who have experienced, as surely many have, how defective conversion often is, how unreal, deceptive, and fitful, and at the best how imperfect in leading to the higher gifts of God's grace, should swell the popular clamour of the ungodly against the Blessed Ordinance of Confession and Absolution.

The soul thus reconciled is naturally led to seek increase [49/50] of spiritual life and grace in the other sacramental gifts of the Church. The Classes for Confirmation, which generally continue for three or four months of every year, previous to the opportunities afforded for Confirmation in neighbouring Churches, are most useful in giving occasion for closer spiritual intercourse, in supplying to both old and young that instruction in the Faith which has been so generally neglected, and in gradually cherishing the devotion and earnestness which may best fit the candidate for the reception of God's Holy Spirit These classes have been a most interesting part of our work. We have generally presented about fifty candidates every year to the Bishop, who have commonly become Communicants; and though some may have fallen away, or been lost sight of by their removal from the district, yet the present body of Communicants chiefly consists of those who have been prepared here for their Confirmation and First Communion. Very many of the Confirmed have been persons of riper years; some in old age, who, either through neglect, ignorance, or schismatic teaching, having passed by earlier opportunities, have now for the first time learnt to value this Sacramental Bile both for its own sake and as a step to Holy Communion. Some also have been quite young, under the usual age, and it [50/51] is a great comfort to see these young Communicants, brought up from their earliest age in the true Faith, and imbibing from the first a deep reverence and love for the Blessed Sacrament, in the freshness of their innocence giving their hearts to God, and walking in His holy ways.

The Classes for Confirmation naturally commence, and according to the time afforded carry on, instruction for the Holy Communion. To this end much care and attention are expended, and Communicant Classes are continued throughout the greater part of the year. They give opportunity for frequent personal intercourse, for helping those who are unable to read much themselves in their devotional preparation, and for drawing out in full detail the manifold blessings and graces which flow from the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. Thus, while the Holy Communion is made the central Act of Worship, while all are taught to regard it as the most necessary and important part of their religious privileges and duties, there is the less fear that with these various safeguards of discipline and instruction, they should approach the Holy Altar unworthily. They are exhorted indeed much and frequently on the duty of Sacramental Communion, but it is rather that they should at once prepare themselves with the help of the [51/52] Classes, and the instruction of the Clergy, than that they should presume to come untaught or unprepared to so holy a Sacrament.

If it be asked, as it is by some, Why the Holy Communion is made the great central Act of Worship? the answer is that it is the one great service ordained by Jesus Christ Himself--"This do"--the Liturgy of the Church; that it is a commemorative Sacrifice, the great means of showing forth that which it most concerns us to show forth as the means of our salvation, the Death of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; that it is the Communion, or communication, of the inestimable blessings which are derived from the Incarnation, Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of our Blessed Loed.

That which we teach in sermons and other instructions we endeavour to carry out in the ritual and daily practice of the Church. In the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, where the near residence of the Sisterhood supplied Communicants, we had the privilege of a daily Celebration. In the other Chapel we always had three in the week, and after the outbreak of Cholera daily Celebrations. The ritual was, from our slender resources, of a humble character, when compared with that of other Churches where Catholic practices prevail; and [52/53] yet our object was to make it, whether choral or plain, of as solemn and devotional a type as possible, that our people might learn, not only by oral instruction, but from all the outward associations of this solemn service, to worship their Blessed Lord present in His own appointed Sacrament with reverence and devotion, and to communicate at this Heavenly Feast with recollection and earnestness.

From the frequency of the Celebrations it is of course necessary to give some special advice as to frequency of communion. Communicants are always encouraged to be present as often as possible at the Holy Sacrifice, and always on Sundays and Festivals, but we do not recommend them at first to receive more frequently than once a month and on great Festivals, trusting that by God's grace they will be gradually led to seek their Lord more and more constantly in this Blessed Sacrament.

In order to kindle devotion and cultivate a spirit of self-recollection, especially among the less educated worshippers, we have adopted the practice of common meditations on the chief mysteries of the Faith; lessons as it were on meditation, and providing food for their aouls in the service of the Church. Such common meditations are especially of use in seasons like Lent [53/54] or Advent; in Passion or Holy Week they are more frequent, and longer ones are used on Good Friday. During Advent and Lent, instructions of a familiar kind are given in Church after the service or sermon. These generally form a course, such as on the Incarnation, Confession, &c.

Another means, which has been found helpful in preparing Communicants, is a special meeting called before the Greater Festivals, or occasions when they are especially invited to Communion, such as the first Sundays in Advent or Lent. The meeting is in Church after Evensong, and the address is given on the subject of the Festival and the spirit with which preparation should be made.

Thanksgiving after Holy Communion, as well as preparation for it, is carefully taught, and Communicants are encouraged to remain a short time in Church for this purpose. It is very gratifying to witness the reverence of our worshippers, and to know how many devoutly appreciate the blessings they enjoy in the constant Celebrations of the Holy Eucharist.

To such the Altar is a home for their affections; before it they pour out their feelings, whether of joy or sorrow. Is it a family festival, their own or a dear relation's birthday? They like to make a Communion [54/55] on that day, or at least assist at the service. Is it a time of sorrow, the anniversary of a death or funeral? They fly to the Altar, and ask the Priest who Celebrates, and some of their friends also, to remember before God the soul of their departed one. Matins and Evensong may be made hearty services, sermons may move and affect, but the Altar is the centre whence the brightest beams of divine love radiate into the soul, and the home which gathers to its Lord the tenderest feelings of the heart.

Thus from a very small beginning--for we had scarce one or two Communicants at first--we have now, by God's grace, more than 300; and though this may seem a small number in comparison with Churches in more favoured districts in the West End, yet it exceeds that of the four other Churches in S. George's combined, and is not exceeded in any Church within two miles of S. Peter's. It must be remembered that nearly all of these Communicants have been gathered in singly, instructed and trained with great care and pains, with much prayer and exhortation. Many others also have gone out into the world, not only from amongst the penitents in the House of Mercy, or the children in the Industrial School, but from those living in the district. Some are at sea or in foreign countries, some in other [55/56] parts of London, some in service or in the country, some we see or hear of from time to time, others only at very long intervals, or not at all; and though we cannot presume that all are living religiously, yet we have frequent evidence that the seed sown has not been lost, but is bringing forth good fruit. When souls have once been really brought to Christ, though in time of temptation they may fall away, yet in afflictions and sorrows they seldom forget the love of Him in Whom they have believed.

There is also great cause for thankfulness in the stedfast faith and perseverance of our Communicants. None but those who have lived among such a population as that of S. George's can conceive the amount of opposition and persecution with which the faithful have had to contend--the young in their own families from ungodly parents and relations; parents from their children or their neighbours; many left single-handed to contend against whole courts or alleys of irreligious or schismatics.

Another means of binding together our Communicants besides that of classes has been the establishment of Confraternities. That for men is called the Confraternity of S. Peter; that for women, the Confraternity of the Good Shepherd. Their rules are the same, [56/57] combining the objects of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament--viz., the honour of our Blessed Lord in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, and the promotion of fasting Communion--with those of the Association for the Unity of Christendom and of Intercessory Prayer for the Conversion of Sinners. The rules are few and simple, such as that all members should endeavour to be present at the Holy Eucharist on Sundays and Festivals; should Communicate at least once a month and at the Greater Festivals; and should pray daily for the Clergy and Sisters, the Unity of Christendom, and the Conversion of Sinners. There are meetings once a month, when an office is said or litany sung; the subjects of special intercession and an address or instruction given; counsel taken on matters of common interest; an offertory for Missionary or other Church purposes made; and new members admitted. There are about 100 members at present.

A Guild has also been formed many years for our young women and girls, which has for its object to promote the glory of God by the holiness and purity of its members, and their endeavour to advance the spiritual welfare of their friends and associates. One of the Sisters is Superior, and she is assisted in the government by bandmistresses chosen from among the elder [57/58] members, whose duty it is to watch lovingly and carefully over the members of their bands. Meetings are held once a month on Sunday afternoons, when the Warden gives an address, an office is said, an offertory made, and business transacted; afterwards the members drink tea together. By means of their weekly pence and their offertory they help one another in time of sickness, or--as already has been the case on two or three occasions--in the expenses of the funeral of a member, which they attend. They have purchased a library, which is lent out amongst them; and they often make contributions to Missionary purposes, Church work, or the festival decorations in the Church.

The Guild of the Holy Child is similarly intended for young men and boys, and with like objects, the promotion of a religious and brotherly feeling among its members, with the advantage of the counsel of the elder brethren to the younger. They likewise hold monthly meetings, and drink tea together; and also meet in their club, which is open in the evening for games, reading, &c.

A great object in these Guilds and Confraternities, both among old and young, is to infuse a Missionary spirit into the members, that they may feel their own interest in drawing others to the services and [58/59] instructions of the Church, and thus help the Clergy and Sisters in cases where they are unable themselves to win souls.

The Burial Guild has been established for the promotion of a reverent treatment of the departed, their interment with the becoming ceremonial of the Church, and the assistance of the families of members in the expenses of the funeral.

The S. Peter's Branch of the Working Men's Society of the Church of England is a union of our working men Communicants for the Defence of the Faith and Ceremonial of the Church. It is introduced here not as one of the means employed by ourselves, but as having grown out of our teaching through the organization of the men themselves. The foundation of the original society is one of the many instances of the blessing of persecution. The attack on S. Albans brought it into existence; the trials of S. James, Hatcham, gave it an amazing impetus, added largely to its numbers, and afforded it an opportunity of showing its strength in the protection which it offered for many Sundays to the Clergy and faithful under persecution. In the overflowing and enthusiastic meeting in Cannon Street Hotel not only the working men of London, but delegates from all parts of England, showed their powerful [59/60] organization, their calm determination, and intelligent support of the liberties of the Church of England. S. Peter's Branch was well represented on that occasion, and thus an opportunity has been given us of witnessing the effect of Catholic teaching in kindling the hearts of our hard-working men, showing that though they may have been long in grasping the truth, yet, once grasped, they hold it firmly and faithfully. Most of the older ones have only been gained after a great struggle. Some would have nothing to say to the Clergy or Sisters for years, and refused them admittance into their houses, even when their wives or children were ill and anxious for their visits. Others were careless, indifferent, or leading irregular lives; but the time came when their hearts were touched, and they were not ashamed publicly at Confirmation to confess their faith; and now that they have sealed their vows in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, they hold it dearer than their lives. There is no difficulty now in kindling their zeal, but rather in restraining or guiding it aright; and they are ready to make some sacrifice. One, though not a Communicant himself, yet whose wife and sons are, promised to subscribe liberally for the support of the Vicar if he were turned out of S, Peter's.

The Guilds of S. Agatha will be described by the [60/61] Rev. R Linklater in his account of his Mission Work.

In order to combine these and other religious works and societies, there is established the S. Peter's Church Society, which meets quarterly, when reports are read of the aim of some of the various works, and consultation is held as to the best means of promoting their efficiency. The Clergy have here an opportunity of learning the minds of their people in Parochial Council, and addressing them on matters of common interest. The subscriptions are applied to the support of the works most needing help, or to objects of importance outside the parish. The discussion of business is usually preceded by a tea-meeting. We have been much indebted in the organization of this society to the Rev. H. D. Nihill, who had already founded such a society in his own parish of S. Michael's, Shoreditch.

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