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Twenty-one Years in S. George's Mission

By Charles Fuge Lowder

London: Rivingtons, 1877.

Chapter VII. The Children. The Schools. Children's Services. Catechising.

IN Mission work nothing is more important than the care of the children. It is a very happy and encouraging, a very engrossing and profitable work, and yet very laborious and trying, and full of disappointments. These latter often outnumber the encouragements, and yet they are generally outweighed by them, so that, when the balance comes to be struck there is always abundant reason for perseverance.

But when the care of children is spoken of, it is of course the religious care that is intended, not their mere instruction, making them quick and apt scholars, or merely promoting their worldly advantage. For this there is now other machinery; the State has taken charge of it. Building Schools, raising large sums for their maintenance, the anxiety of finding and superintending teachers, would be poorly recompensed by [99/100] material results. It is a necessity imposed upon the Church to undertake these secular duties, in order to retain her hold upon the religious and dogmatic training of her children. It is the importance of educating our young in the Catholic faith and discipline of the Church which involves all this expense, anxiety, and toil. If they are to be fed with the pure milk of the Word, we must give it them; the School Board can only provide milk and water. And we must begin from the very first.

A chief duty of Clergy, Sisters, and Teachers, is to bring the children to Holy Baptism. On first coming into the parish we found a very large number of children of various ages, as well as of adults, unbaptized; and even after baptizing 2,500, as we have now done, yet, from the increase of the population, :the influx of strangers, and the ignorance or prejudice of many parents, much remains to be done. In the difficulty of finding suitable godparents we can look to the Sisters, and members of the Confraternities or Guilds, to undertake this charitable office, and thus very, many have been baptized who for want of sponsors might have died without this necessary Sacrament. Many adults, children, and young people of an age to answer for themselves, have also been prepared by the Clergy and [100/101] Sisters, and then baptized. This service, used in the presence of the congregation, reminds them of their own baptismal vows, offers the privilege of joining in prayer for the newly baptized, and stirs up many to bring to the Font any of their own family or acquaintance still unregenerate. It forms also a very fitting part of the children's service, who are specially interested in a ceremony which they can so well understand; witnessing it may be the baptism of their own infant brothers or sisters, and learning to take a deeper interest in the blessings they themselves owe to this Holy Sacrament.

But care for their baptism is not enough. The Schools are a natural consequence of the fulfilment of the first duty. Their commencement, both in the district around the Chapel of the Good Shepherd and that of S. Saviour's, and the changes subsequently made up to the Consecration of S. Peter's, have been already mentioned. When S. Peter's was Consecrated, and it became necessary to abandon the Schools in Wellclose Square, the Girls' School was carried on in the Old Iron Chapel, and the Infant School in a room in Pearl Street, now enlarged and forming the School-room of S. Agatha's Mission. The Boys' School remained in Old Gravel Lane.

[102] All these buildings, however, could only be looked upon as temporary. They were inconveniently scattered, and either small or in bad repair, and condemned by the Inspector. No sooner, therefore, had the debt upon the Building Fund of S. Peter's been sufficiently reduced, than a site for permanent Schools was secured, with the help of the Bishop of London's Find, in 1869. During the next year contributions were received, and on S. Peter's Day, 1871, the first stone was laid by the Earl of Powis, in the presence of a large number of our friends and parishioners. After the usual luncheon, the Confraternities and Guilds, with the School children, assembled in Church, whence they marched in procession with cross and banners, and preceded by the Clergy and Choir, all singing the appointed hymns, to the site in Broad Street. After an appropriate Office, the stone was laid by Lord Powis, the Benediction given, and an address made by the Vicar, and the offerings brought by the children and others laid upon the stone. The Building was completed by the close of the year; and on January the 3rd, 1872, the new Schools for 600 children were opened by the Bishop of London. There was a Celebration of the Holy Eucharist at S. Peter's, when an excellent Sermon was preached by the Rev. Baring Gould, on Religious versus Secular Education. [102/103] At 3 p.m. the Bishop, in his robes, and preceded by the Clergy and Choir, ascended from the Infants' to the Girl's Schoolroom, when the Office appointed for the occasion with his approval was commenced, the children of the Schools, and the friends and parishioners who filled the rooms, joining heartily with the Choir. In the course of the Office, the Bishop gave a charge and his blessing to the Teachers, and afterwards an address to the company assembled. A very interesting feature of the proceedings was the presentation to the Bishop, by the children of the Schools, of a framed Photograph of a statue of the Good Shepherd. This beautiful statue, the kind present of an old Mend of the Mission and an Associate of the Sisterhood, is placed in a niche under the gable.

The Schools have increased in numbers and efficiency. The poverty, however, of parents enhances the difficulty of regular attendance and the payment of fees; while a neighbouring Board school for girls and infants, the Parochial Schools of S. George's (with their gifts of clothes, and prospect of apprenticeship or admission into the Raines Asylum), and the nearness of another endowed school, as well as of a Wesleyan school under government inspection, are serious hindrances to the full development of our Schools. There is good reason, [103/104] however, for trust that when parents see more plainly the insufficiency of the so-called religious instruction in Board schools, and its want of power in reaching the hearts and moulding the lives of children, in comparison with the full education in her doctrines and discipline which the Catholic Church provides for her young; and as parents themselves are more fully instructed; the policy of maintaining our Church Schools will be more generally acknowledged. The strain at present is no doubt great. It requires that a sum of £300 per annum should be raised by subscription, in addition to the government grant and the school-pence; but this has been hitherto done, and every effort will be made to maintain the Schools. Some of the Clergy are present every day to lead the prayers, and give religious instruction; and a special examination is conducted every year by the Diocesan Inspector. The pupil teachers also receive separate instruction from the Clergy in the religious subjects appointed yearly for their examination.

But the teaching in school is not all; this is carried out and enforced by the services and catechising in the Church. On Sundays the children assemble in Church for the high celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Thus they are early taught the obligation of this, the [104/105] great service of the Church; and surely our grand Liturgy, when accompanied by an impressive Ritual, the Responses, Creed, Sanctus, Gloria in Excelsis, &c., sung to solemn music in which all, even children, may join, with hymns interspersed in the service bringing out the great mysteries of the Blessed Sacrament, is more full of teaching and more readily understood than Matins and Evensong, which, even when duly chanted and made as lively and hearty as possible, require more intelligent attention, especially in the Psalms and Lessons, than can be expected from the children of our schools; whereas in the celebration of the Blessed Sacrament, even when unable to understand distinctly each detail, their minds are impressed with the grand outline of the service, and fall into the common act of worship to our Blessed Lord, here mysteriously present, which is offered by the whole congregation. The sermon also at this service, being commonly a plain and practical exposition of the Gospel for the Sunday, is more likely to interest and instruct them. This, however, is not their whole religious instruction in Church. In the afternoon there is a special service for the children, consisting of hymns, a metrical litany, and catechising. They are catechised not merely by one or two classes at a [105/106] time, but an endeavour is made-and not, we trust, without success-to enlist the attention of the whole schools, even of the very youngest children, who will say their Creed and Lord's Prayer, and answer some very elementary questions, even when unable to understand the instruction addressed to the older ones.

On festivals there is a special celebration for the children. In this the very simplest music is employed, and hymns are sung at various points of the service, in which are set forth the Eucharistic mystery, and the affections which it should draw forth. An instruction is also given on the subject for the day. During the Lent of this year a yet simpler and plainer celebration has been provided once a week, in which they have been led in such prayers as might help to lift up their hearts as the service proceeds, and instruction has been given in the use of their daily prayers. Thus an attempt is made to surround the service with an atmosphere of prayer.

The great point is to draw the affections of the young towards holy things. The Hymns, Canticles, and Litanies, which they sing with much spirit and understanding, tend to enliven the services, and cause them to be considered a privilege. Many are glad to come [106/107] to Church on Sunday evenings, even after they have attended once or twice before. They are taught carefully in school and in Church the fundamental doctrines of the faith. Religious instruction is not a mere teaching of certain historical facts of the Old Testament, or even of the Catechism by rote; but the truth is taught diligently in all its details, and in a loving and reverent spirit, as an exercise of faith and love, so building up the young from their earliest days against the heresy and unbelief by which they are surrounded. Especially is our Blessed Lord's Incarnation taught them in doctrine, in history, by hymns, pictures, descriptions, and every other means which may make His life and sufferings here upon earth real and interesting to them, and draw out their most tender and reverent affections towards Him in His earthly ministry. And thus is the foundation laid of a lively faith in the sacramental gifts and blessings of the Church which Bow from this central act of Divine Love.

It is indeed refreshing, in these days of heresy and schism, to hear from the loving and unquestioning lips of Christ's little ones those great truths of our redemption which are so often held with doubt and hesitation, if not openly denied and blasphemed.

Some of the most touching scenes in the visitation of [107/108] cholera were connected with our children. One was a most promising girl, who had been from her earliest days in the infant school, and thence had gone into the girls' school, where she had gradually won her way to the top. Her mother was a widow, who had lost her husband very suddenly in cholera during a former visitation; she had also lost a son a few months before, drowned in crossing the river from his work. Esther therefore could only be spared occasionally for school during the latter months of her life, but at home was quite the right hand of her poor paralytic mother. She was confirmed at Stepney by the Bishop Coadjutor of Edinburgh, then acting for the Bishop of London, and, received her first Communion on the following Whitsun-day. Her little nephew, a boy of about three years old, was first taken, and lay for several days before his death in a bed in the best room of the house, watched over by his mother, whose husband had gone to the United States, and was expected shortly to send for her and her children. Her brother, a lad of sixteen, was next taken, and laid upon a bed above. His symptoms became rapidly aggravated, and then Esther followed, being laid upon a bed next to him. Thus there were three lying dangerously ill in the poor widow's house, her only remaining son being imbecile from frequently-recurring [108/109] fits. Esther was just able to make her confession, but physically unable to receive the Blessed Sacrament; happily, however, she had received It in Church the Sunday before. In spite of all the care and attention which were paid to her in conjunction with her brother, who lay by her side, the poor girl died, her brother unconscious of his great loss. It was very touching to witness the grief of her schoolfellows, the more that even her dearest companions were not allowed to be with her, or follow her to the grave. On the day of her funeral (which chanced to be that on which so many were sorrowing over the loss of John Mason Neale) her sister was burying in one grave her infant, while the poor mother was accompanying Esther to her grave, leaving at home her son, just hanging on the thread of life, and needing every care and attention of the watchful nurses who were with him, lest his life might silently ebb away. By God's mercy and providence he after a long illness gradually recovered, and after a change of three weeks in the Convalescent Hospital at Seaford, returned fresh and strong to his work. It was indeed a happy office to be permitted to commit to the ground one of whose future happiness there was such a blessed assurance; and yet there was needs sadness in losing one of those lilies from our [109/110] garden whose sweet fragrance was delighting all who passed by.

A word or two may be added of two others of our children. Their elder sister, about eighteen years old, was first taken and removed to the cholera ward, and died. A younger one, well and fresh on the Sunday--indeed after the service in Church coming up with her usual childish affection to one of the Mission Clergy, who passed near her mother's house, to tell of her sister's illness-was taken ill herself on the Tuesday, and removed to the same ward as that in which her sister died. The mother was following the elder one to the grave when the youngest was taken ill and laid on her bed at home, when the same Priest, called in by a neighbour, felt it his duty to carry her off in his arms to the ward. Here she was laid in the next bed to her sister, and yet both so ill that for a long time they were unconscious of each other's nearness; and on those beds both died, the elder one just able to say the Lord's Prayer with the Priest.

As one of the Clergy in the dusk of the evening was making his round in the cholera ward of the London Hospital, he was surprised to be addressed by name by a little child whom he had not recognized, but who proved to be a girl from S. Saviour's School.

[111] During the riots in the Parish Church, when the Mission Clergy assisted the Rector in his time of need, and were themselves in considerable danger from the mob, while returning from the Church to the Mission House, we generally found on our way home a little girl from the school trotting close by our side, as though to protect us from the violence of the people, who were pressing and shouting around us. She would take up her position near the Church, and often wait a long time until we appeared; and if we did not recognize her before, we soon heard a little voice by our side addressing us by name to show that she was near. This child, a wild little thing, living in an unfavourable atmosphere at home, was afterwards taken into S. Stephen's Home and sent out to service, and is now married.

While speaking of the Schools, we must not forget the good influence which they exercise on the parents. The care and attention which the children receive in school are a ready passport to the hearts of the parents; and many an opening has thus been made where otherwise there would have been great difficulty in gaining admittance. The attendance of the children at school always forms a good occasion for a visit, and the children themselves an interesting subject of [111/112] conversation. Many lessons also are carried home by the children from school; and many rough and careless fathers, unapproachable in other ways, will take their little ones upon their knees to hear them repeat their Creed, or the hymns which they sing at home to the great satisfaction of their parents.

At the Anniversaries of the Mission the children's service is a very striking feature. S. Saviour's Church was often thronged with the schools on these occasions. In 1866, at the Anniversary of S. Saviour's in May, a procession was formed from the Chapel of the Good Shepherd to S. Peter's Church, yet unfinished, the Clergy and Choir in surplices, the children with their banners, and singing some favourite hymns. The effect was very striking, both in the streets and the yet unfinished nave. They were catechised from the steps of a ladder. S. Peter's is now filled with the schools on these occasions; indeed more than once the procession has come to a dead lock, the children encircling the Church.

The annual excursion into the country is always anticipated with great delight. In earlier days the smaller parties were taken by vans to Epping Forest, or Richmond Park; then a steamer was chartered to Erith, or a special train for Hampton Court, Box Hill, or [112/113] Chislehurst. Many of the parents are glad to accompany their children on these joyful occasions, so that sometimes as many as 500 or 600 are carried out of the parish to enjoy the fresh air of the country, of the river, or of the downs.

As boys and girls leave the schools and are confirmed, they are generally invited to join a Guild, and in this way a hold is maintained over many. The Choir, the Evening School, and Club, or, as they grow older, the Working Men's Association, help to retain them in connection with the Church. Many hundreds have now gone forth from the schools into the world; some married and settled in the parish, others scattered all over the world. Among these there have been many disappointments, yet such are abundantly compensated by the good examples of others, in whom the seed sown has borne good fruit. The labour bestowed on a religious education is not lost; it may appear like casting bread upon the waters, but it shall be found after many days.

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