Project Canterbury

Twenty-one Years in S. George's Mission

By Charles Fuge Lowder

London: Rivingtons, 1877.

Chapter IV. Open-air Preaching. The Way of the Cross. Special Missions. New Year's Eve. Funerals.

SUCH are some of the ordinary means of teaching and edifying our people specially in relation to the Holy Communion. We come now to speak of some extraordinary means adopted, and in view of the conversion of the ungodly.

In the commencement of the Mission we used often to preach in the open-air as a means of gaining the attention of those who could not be otherwise induced to hearken to God's message. In quite early days sermons were preached from the steps of the Parish Church, so that those who would not come inside the Church itself might have this opportunity of hearing the Gospel truths. During two or three summers we preached every Sunday in both districts alternately. For the most part the sermons were heard with great [62/63 attention, especially by the large number collected in Wellclose Square, although in one or two instances we met with considerable opposition. On one occasion, having made the attempt in a very bad quarter, the attack became so violent that we were obliged to beat a retreat; and it required some generalship and knowledge of the alleys and passages to bring off our forces, consisting of the choir-boys and others who had been singing the hymns.

We may mention here an occasion which was seized for an open-air sermon, in the sudden death of some workmen in a large sewer near Calvert Street. The sewer was of bad construction, and the foul air had been collected to so great an extent, that out of seven men who went down two were killed. On the Sunday after, notice having been given of the sermon, a large number of people was collected, among them the survivors and the widow and family of one killed. The congregation was too large for the spot itself where the accident took place, and so, after singing some hymns through the streets, the Dies Ira and a portion Of the Litany, the sermon was preached just outside the Mission Chapel; and a number followed into the Chapel afterwards, and joined in prayer.

The occurrence also of special days, such as Good [63/64] Friday, has been taken advantage of, and warnings given against its desecration. One Good Friday Bach a sermon was preached on Tower Hill, and some of the hymns for the season sung. Before or daring special Missions, and before the Dedication Festival, this means of giving a general invitation through the parish has been employed.

But the greatest interest probably will attach to the first attempts made in commencing the Way of the Cross. As out-of-door preaching had often been practised, especially on Good Friday, there was no great novelty contemplated at first, except in the attempt to give a more definite character to the addresses in connection with the great subject of the Holy Day, and the adaptation of a very popular devotion; viz., the Stations of the Cross, to the requirements of an out-of-door procession.

It happened, however, that so great a power in this country as The Times, having never heard of former attempts, received a full account of the first "Way of the Cross," which was published with a leading article commenting on the folly of such an attempt, and conjecturing that the author of it must have been driven to despair by not being able to induce his parishioners to enter the Church, and therefore had adopted this [64/65] unheard-of experiment But it also fell out that on the same Good Friday--viz., in 1869--an indecent political procession to Trafalgar Square was organized in honour of Ernest Jones, but proved a failure. The Times saw fit to consider our religious procession as little, if anything, better than the political one. Others thought differently; and among these a lady, desiring to mark her sense of the witness borne for our Blessed Lord in the more religious observance of Good Friday, sent a large contribution, which she has ever since continued, towards the support of the assistant clergy of S. Peter's.

The following account of the Way of the Gross is taken from the Guardian of 1873:

"Shortly after the conclusion of the Three Hours, the writer turned his steps towards the East-end of the town, where the Stations of the Gross were to be preached by Mr. Lowder, of S. Peter's, London Docks. Leaving behind the Tower of London, standing out against the dull grey sky, with its memories of past days when its now quiet courtyard was full of life and bustle, we passed on through the narrow streets leading to the Docks, amid many a strange sight of half-clad women and rough seamen, an occasional swarthy negro looking up from the sunken' doorway of one of the low and ill-kept boarding-houses with which the place abounds. [65/66] Reaching the Dock wall, and passing over one of its bridges, we turned down Old Gravel Lane; and here a new and unwonted stir was visible among the people, caused, as it proved, by the starting of the procession from the Church. Headed by a stalwart crossbearer, came forth the choir of S. Peter's in their cassocks, followed by the Clergy in cassocks, cloaks, and birettas, singing Faber's hymn, 'O come and mourn with me,' and followed by a company consisting partly of Clergymen and friends from a distance, and partly of the inhabitants of the district. On reaching Worcester Street the Vicar removed his cloak and biretta, and standing on a chair proceeded to address the people on the first Station, the choir first singing the words, 'Is it nothing to you all ye that pass by?' which were, repeated at each Station. In touching words did the preacher tell his hearers of the causes that had brought that dear Child of Bethlehem, that dear Son on whom the Spirit of God had descended like a dove, as a prisoner before the judgment-seat; and earnestly did he remind them of their need of preparation for His second coming. 'Then,' he said, 'we shall be condemned unless we now judge ourselves, and lay our sins in true confession before Him. Oh come then to-day and make your peace, or at least resolve that you will [66/67] never more say the unclean word or do the unclean deed which keeps you from Him.' Another hymn--'Jesus I refuge of the weary,' was then sung until the procession reached the Schoolhouse, where the second Station, 'Jesus receiving the Cross,' was kept. Telling them of what the reception of that Cross involved, the preacher pointed to the causes why the Saviour not only received it, but received it willingly, and showed how in their daily lives, in their afflictions at home and among their friends, and in their own hearts, they were to follow in His steps. Speaking of the power of the Cross, he pointed with striking effect to the figure of the Good Shepherd in a niche over the Schools, and begged his hearers never to pass it without looking up and remembering that the Cross of Christ is the true Shepherd's crook, which leads and guides us from earth to heaven. Then the procession advanced again, gathering strength as it went, old and young alike falling in and striving with evident anxiety to walk near the 'Father' and the 'Brothers,' as we heard an old man affectionately describe the Clergy. And as they sang the hymns, all lifting their hats at the oft-repeated mention of the Holy Name, the scene became more intensely striking. The windows of the houses, many of which were garnished with the plants whose growth [67/68] has been encouraged by prizes at the flower shows, forming one of the numerous social agencies of the Mission, were filled with people, while some were to be seen on the roofs endeavouring to gain a good view of the strange sight. The next halt was near the Dock gate, where a fine merchantman with flag flying at her masthead was lying-to, thus forming an effective background to the picture. On the third Station, 'Jesus falls beneath the weight of His Cross,' the preacher showed that it was as God made man that the Saviour thus fell, in order to tell poor suffering men and women that He knows how to feel for them. An earnest exhortation never to omit morning or evening prayer followed. At five o'clock, opposite the Church of S. John of Wapping, the fourth Station, 'Simon of Cyrene compelled to bear the Cross' formed the subject of an address on the marvellous power which a voluntary submission to the Cross exerts over our lives. The fifth Station was kept in Old Gravel Lane, which had again been reached in the lengthened circuit, and here 'the women of Jerusalem mourning for Jesus' suggested some touching remarks on the tender kindness of the Saviour, as He bade them 'Weep not for Me.' A few words on the right use of Good Friday were connected with an invitation to join in the service [68/69] shortly to be held in the Church, which has always been found an important means of deepening the effect of this open-air preaching. And now the rain began to fall, the bitterly cold east wind blowing harder up the narrow street, but apparently having little power over the preacher, who still stood bravely bareheaded on his stooL A more suitable spot, a square plot of vacant ground called the Ruins, was chosen for the sixth Station, 'Jesus stripped of His garments,' conveying lessons which it need scarcely be said were peculiarly applicable in such a district, where many a half-dressed woman and child was listening intently. 'There will be no clothes in the kingdom of heaven,' said Mr. Lowder, who, like a second Wesley, appealed to his hearers to dress the soul rather than the body, and never to be absent from Church because of shabby clothes. The seventh Station, 'Jesus nailed to the Cross,' led to a pointed warning to those who hit the angry blow or say the angry word to remember that they were hurting their Saviour by every such act. The next Station was kept in that portion of the parish which has been the scene of the loving labours of the Rev. R. Linklater, and here consequently many additions were made to the already vast procession. The eighth Station, at Wapping Wall,' Jesus dies upon the Cross,' was the subject of [69/70] an eloquent address on the loving and forgiving spirit of the Saviour. At the ninth Station, 'Jesus taken down from the Cross,' the preacher drew a graphic picture of the sorrowing Mother receiving the Body of her Son, and pleaded with the people to emulate her love. The long stage before the last Station was occupied by the singing of three hymns, 'Soul of Jesus,' ' Bock of Ages,' and '0 Paradise,' the last of which is so well known to all in S. Peter's parish that it was heartily taken up even by the poor little ones, who literally swarmed round the procession. After a most impassioned address on the tenth Station, 'Jesus laid in the grave,' exhorting all to prepare their hearts to receive Him in His risen glory on Easter Day, the Vicar concluded by inviting his hearers to Church, and by wishing all' A Happy Easter.' Many of the poor people entered the Church for Evensong, and listened attentively to Mr. Linklater's sermon, which is always looked for as Good Friday comes round at S. Peter's. The service of Tenebrae followed immediately after Evensong."

Special Missions have now become a recognized agency in the Church of England, and are sanctioned by the Bishops and employed by the Clergy of various schools. In many large cities and towns they have become a means of uniting in one great assault upon the kingdom [70/71] of Satan those who are at other times too widely estranged. It has been already remarked that it was not so twenty years ago. Then, besides some desultory attempts made by Mr. Aitken and others who agreed in opinion with him, as well as by some Evangelical Clergy, the only organized Missions were those under the Bishop of Oxford in such towns of his diocese as Banbury and Reading, and the country parishes around, but these were not carried out on such lines as the London, York, and other Missions.

It was, however, in the Lent of 1862, as is told in the Report of that year, that the Superior of S. George's Mission was permitted to organize a Preaching Mission in Bedminster, a large and populous suburb of Bristol. The Bishop of the diocese (now Archbishop of York) preached the first sermon on Ash-Wednesday in the Parish Church. For the ten ensuing days Holy Communion was celebrated every morning; morning prayer was said later, and a sermon preached on one of the Spiritual Exercises, the subject of which was afterwards drawn out in a common meditation in Church, all kneeling. In the afternoon the children of the Schools were catechised on the Creed in the Church, with hymns and a metrical litany. In the evening the Church Litany was said, and a sermon preached on one [71/72] of the seven deadly sins; after which a Bible Glass was held in the Schoolroom, when the Clergy had opportunities of freer intercourse with the congregation. Lectures also were given to the colliers, who on one evening assembled to the number of 200 in the Schoolroom. A sermon was preached in the open-air, and the Mission was concluded by a visit to a neighbouring coal-mine at midnight, where, upon the invitation of the colliers, a short service was held, and a sermon preached in the mine to a most attentive audience of colliers. The services in Church and the Classes were very well attended, and a deep impression was made on many. The Easter Communions were considerably increased; and the Vicar, writing some time after, said that he "looked back upon the Lent Mission with entire satisfaction." It may enhance the interest of this extract to add, that the Clergy engaged in this Mission, in addition to the writer, were the Rev. R. M. Benson, now Father Superior, and the Rev. Luke Rivington, one of the Evangelist Fathers of S. John (the latter then a Deacon, now a Missionary in India), who both commenced their Mission work at Bedminster. We had the advantage also of the valuable help of the Rev. W. H. Hutchins, then Curate of the parish, now Assistant-Warden of the House of Mercy [72/73] at Clewer. A lay helper in S. George's Mission was also with us.

A Special Mission was conducted by Father Benson in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, and in 1869 we united with a large number of Clergy in the First London Mission, ably organized by Father O'Neill, on which so many blessings rested, and which largely promoted the cause of Special Missions throughout England Our own Mission preachers were the Rev. W. Twigg and the Rev. E. P. Williams. Again, in 1872 the Revs. R A. J. Suckling and Alfred Mills, assisted by Mr. Shelly, an excellent layman from Plymouth, conducted a Mission in the parish; and in 1875 the second and most important London Mission, inaugurated by the Bishop of London and the Bishops of the adjoining sees of Winchester and Rochester, invited another effort in our own parish, in which we were again aided by Mr. Suckling, with the help of the Rev. C. N. Gray, son of the late revered Metropolitan of Cape Town. To God be praise for the manifold blessings which attended these attempts to promote His glory; and to the Mission preachers thanks for the zeal and devotion with which they laboured for the salvation of souls amongst us!

For the help of those who may be preparing for [73/74] Missions in their own parishes, it may be here added that next in importance to the choice of Mission Preacher come the preparation of the parish, with prayer for God's blessing, and the organization of visitors, who should be fully alive to their own duties as Missionaries.

It need scarcely be added that the seasons of Advent and Lent are yearly recurring occasions of special efforts. This is now thoroughly understood in every well-organized parish. Another opportunity for bringing to Church those who are not otherwise accessible, especially Dissenters, is New Year's Eve. Though some let slip this occasion because it is not a strictly ecclesiastical epoch, the good Missionary will avail himself of a time when the minds of the most uneducated are singularly alive to solemn impressions. In S. Peter's we have adopted a service after a late evensong. An address is given from the pulpit on the mercies of God and the sin of man during the past year, leading to repentance. Then the congregation are invited on their knees to make a solemn examination of their consciences in respect of the sins of the past year, in which the priest himself leads them, kneeling at a faldstool, and suggesting questions arising out of the Commandments, with frequent acts of contrition, giving time for [74/75] silence before midnight. When the clock strikes a hymn for the New Year is sung, and then a second short address is given, leading to thankfulness for being spared to another year, and resolutions of amendment, after which the Te Deum is sung solemnly at the altar. Such a service is found to be most popular and effective. On the last occasion, when New Year's Eve fell on Sunday, the Church was thronged to overflowing, and the congregation, considering the rough material of which it was largely composed, was for the most part reverent and attentive.

Funerals also must be regarded as golden opportunities for Mission work. The following account of the funeral of a sister, taken from us as early as 1864, is extracted from a local paper:

"On Monday night a curious and interesting ceremony took place at S. Peter's Church, the occasion being the funeral of one of the Sisters of Mercy belonging to the parish. A procession of clergy and choristers was formed at the Church, and then proceeded to the Mission House in Calvert Street, where the body lay. At the Mission House another procession had been formed, consisting of the sisters and girls belonging to the Industrial School. A crowd of people had collected in the streets, but there was not the slightest annoyance. [75/76] The people, most of them too belonging to the very lowest class, seemed to pay very great respect to the Clergy and Sisters. We were in the thickest of it, and we did not hear a single profane expression. The long line of white-robed choristers, preceded by a cross-bearer, took up their station outside the Mission House while the body was being brought out The bier was covered with a very beautiful white pall, having a large red cross running the whole length and breadth of it. A wreath of white flowers was placed on the bier. When the procession was formed, the choir began to sing that very beautiful hymn, 'O Paradise! O Paradise!' to a joyous melody. It was very well sung indeed; the men's voices came in well with the boys', and they kept well together. One of the Clergy (the Rev. F. E. Statham), who was all but ubiquitous, had a most powerful voice, and sang out lustily as he passed up and down the procession, as if to encourage the boys. The Sisters who followed were dressed in black, with long veils; we noticed one or two in white. The girls of the Industrial School had dresses of some dark material, with white frilled caps. The whole scene as this long procession wound its way through the streets, surrounded on each side by a very dark and motley-looking crowd, was particularly striking. Every now [76/77] and then the lines of the hymn seemed to ring through the air in a shrill manner, and one could hear very distinctly the words, 'Who doth not crave for rest?' 'Ah, poor dear,' we heard an old crone say, 'she's at rest now; she didn't have much of it while she was here.' The hymn was concluded by the time they reached the Church, and then began the ordinary Church service for the burial of the dead. This was proceeded with as far as the part which is said over the grave. The choral parts were very beautifully sung. The Vicar read the lesson, and at its conclusion delivered a short address. He alluded in touching language to the Sister who had departed, and said how humble-minded, and meek and childlike she was in life, and how greatly she was comforted in passing out of this world by receiving Absolution and the Blessed Sacrament, and the blessing of the Church. He asked those present to pray for her soul. At this stage he turned round to the altar, and the choir and congregation went down on their knees and remained for a few moments in silent prayer, during which time there was such a perfect stillness in the Church that a pin might have been heard to fall. The reverend gentleman concluded by asking all present, those who had come out of love for the Sister, as well as those who had come merely out of curiosity, whether [77/78] each was prepared to die. 'If,' said he, 'you were to be called to die to-night, are you ready?' When he said this he paused, and looked round at the congregation wistfully, as if he knew the answers that ought to be given. Again there was perfect stillness, and he went on to urge all present to prepare for death.

"After the address another hymn was sung, during which there was incense used round the coffin, which had been deposited in front of the Altar in the Chapel. The Altar was a perfect blaze of light and bright colours, and had four or five vases of beautiful flowers on it.

"This was the conclusion of the first service. The body remained in Church all night, and was watched over by a band of Communicants, who each took a certain hour to watch. As a proof of the esteem in which the work of the Sisters is held in this neighbourhood amongst the poor, numbers of men and women, who had hard work to perform on the next day, offered themselves for watching; and notwithstanding that the watchers were almost entirely taken from this class, the numbers applying far exceeded those required.

"On the next morning there were several celebrations before the body was finally removed to Hendon Churchyard.

[79] "During the whole of the proceedings two things specially impressed us; first of all, the utter absence of anything like gloom or dreariness, such as we generally find in English funerals; and secondly, the apparent earnestness and devotion of the large congregation assembled in the Church. All seemed to join in the service, and to be perfectly at home and accustomed to it."

This long extract has been inserted, because it may help to show how a funeral may be made a means of spiritual help to the faithful, and not only a striking spectacle, but a telling instruction to the careless and unbelieving. A like scene was witnessed in the funeral of another sister, and one yet more touching in that of the dear brother who is mentioned above as so active and efficient in the procession. Indeed, to quote from our Report of 1873, "the scene on Sunday evening, when his body was brought into the Church for the first portion of the Burial Service, and for the Office of the Departed, amid the scarcely-restrained expressions of sorrow on every side, was one never to be forgotten by those who witnessed it. Nor was the effect less touching as during the silent hours of the night the bands of watchers around his coffin in the Church, who had so freely offered themselves for this expressive [79/80] work of charity, relieved each other from time to time, and--sometimes aloud with psalms and versicles, at other times silently on their knees--offered their earnest supplications for the repose of the departed soul."

The funerals also of our parishioners, especially of such as have been cut off suddenly by untimely death, have been occasions of warning to the survivors. Three poor fellows were killed in a moment by foul air in a pit connected with the railway works under the Docks. Their mates were invited, and numerously attended a special service on the following Sunday, as well as the funeral service in Church. So also, on the occasion of a murder of two children close to S. Peter's, an address was given in Church at the funeral.

In fact it is one of the great duties of a Mission Priest to watch for and utilize any events of interest happening around him, turning them into matters of warning and edification. It must not, however, be supposed that the object of the Mission was to keep up a continual excitement, but to work on steadily in breaking up the fallow ground, sowing the good seed, watering and nursing the tender plant, and praying earnestly for God's grace upon the increase. It could [80/81] not be expected that such a population could at once be brought to God and converted to the Faith; it is a work of patient persevering toil, in which every means must be carefully used, many disappointments calmly borne, and failures made stepping-stones for future success. The conversion of masses is not in the ordinary way of God's providence, but the fruit of such miraculous outpourings as that of the Day of Pentecost; and even then we must rather recur to the patience with which our Blessed Lord in His Hidden life of thirty years, in His last three years of ministry apparently unfruitful, and above all in the agony of the Passion and Sacrifice of His Death, laid the foundation of His Church, ascribing rather to this the wonderful conversion on the Day of Pentecost, and the subsequent ingathering of the Gentiles, than merely to S. Peter's sermon or the eloquence of S. Paul.

While then we readily availed ourselves of any special circumstances that might give us occasion to preach the Gospel to larger numbers of people, we felt that our proper work lay rather in the constant services of the Church, the frequent preaching, the constant pastoral visiting, the Classes for Confirmation and Holy Communion, the care of the Schools, the catechising and instructing of the children, and such means of bringing [81/82] home the truths of the Gospel, the witness of the Church, and her sacramental blessings to individual souls. This has been the special object which we have kept before our minds, the characteristic feature of our Mission, "If by any means I might save some."

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