Project Canterbury

Twenty-one Years in S. George's Mission

By Charles Fuge Lowder

London: Rivingtons, 1877.

Chapter XII. S. Peter's Church: Its History during the Last Ten Years. Ceremonial.

THE account of the commencement and Consecration of S. Peter's was written ten years ago. It was then new, with a career before it; it has now a history and a name, with many touching and interesting associations. It has entwined around it the affections, not only of the parishioners and regular congregation, but of many also who from time to time enjoy its festivals or ordinary services. It has experienced trials and disappointments, but also blessings far outnumbering and outweighing them. It has been blessed equally in the assistant Clergy, in the Choir and servers of the Sanctuary, and in the faithful Communicants and worshippers.

But first of trials. Immediately after the Consecration the cholera fell upon the parish, of which more hereafter. [160/161] Scarcely a year had elapsed when no less than three of the Clergy, two from S. Saviour's and one from S. Peter's, seceded from the Church of England, and joined the Roman Communion. This step was so sudden that one of them spoke of it as not contemplated by him a week before; another was actually returning to his post, when he was met on his journey and carried off. The pang of this sorrow was the sharper, that it fell upon a wound scarcely healed; and not only so, but it really necessitated the amputation of a once healthy limb of the Mission body. The existence of S. Saviour's depended upon the speedy erection of a Church. For this, Mr. Akers had offered a noble contribution of £4,000, and if a site could have been earlier procured this sum would have been secured. By his secession the opportunity was lost, and the Mission district passed from our hands.

The blow, as it may well be supposed, was a heavy one, and the Incumbent of S. Peter's was left with but one faithful assistant priest to carry on the work of the new parish. It was at this time that the Superior of S. John the Evangelist Fathers again came to the rescue, and when the writer's health gave way and he was obliged to go abroad, provided efficient help to the Curate. Since that time the need of Clergy has been [161/162] little felt. In 1870 the Rev. J. W. Biscoe joined the staff, and though absent for a year in India, returned to his post in 1875, and is now the indefatigable Precentor and Choirmaster. The Rev. R. Linklater, who commenced S. Agatha's Mission in 1869, filled up the gap which was made by the resignation of the Rev. F. K. Statham, whose death so soon followed; and for the last two years the roll of assistant Clergy has been well and efficiently filled.

But S. Peter's has also been much blessed in its Choir. One family alone, thanks to the good training which its sons received at S. John's College, Hurstpierpoint, has from the first furnished us with two members. One was also for some years Churchwarden, and, though he has now left the neighbourhood, his place is well filled by a younger brother, who with another yet younger is a regular server at the Altar. Two brothers of another family have been most stedfast and exemplary from the Consecration; while of another member of the .Choir, who has been our stalwart cross-bearer in every Way of the Cross on Good Friday, it may be safely said there is not a stauncher Catholic in the Church of .England. Of others also many good things might be truly said. The boys are of the roughest material, as may be supposed in such a district as this; it reflects [162/163] therefore the highest credit on the patience, talents, and diligence of the Precentor, that he has succeeded in training the Choir to such. a standard as has been attained, and that the music of the services is so efficiently rendered. Happily the congregational character of the music has been stedfastly maintained, while the devotional style of the more solemn services, especially the Eucharistic, as well as of the Gregorian tones and hymns, forms a solid groundwork. This, however, does not exclude a lighter supplement in more popular hymns and tunes.

The Music and Ritual of the Church have advanced steadily together. The congregation, which had been trained for ten years in the Mission Chapel, was of course prepared for a fuller development of both on the Consecration of the Church. The vestments however were not at once adopted, but were presented by the churchwardens, choir, and congregation; and for the improved ceremonial, in the first instance, as well as for the more efficient instruction of the choir, the greatest obligation is due to the zeal and energy of the Rev. F. K. Statham. Such an advance has been possible, because it has been made with the entire goodwill of the people, who have been taught the meaning of each step. It is also well known that the Ritual of S. Peter's is not a [163/164] more aesthetic embellishment, but the outward expression of a great reality. It exactly meets the wants of those who have been taught to value their Lord's Sacramental Presence; they rejoice to see His Throne made glorious, His priests ordering themselves as His representatives, and the whole arrangement of the service typical of its heavenly counterpart. The poor and uneducated are thus taught by the eye and ear, as well as by the understanding; and when they find that those who set these great truths before them in the Ritual of the Church are at the same time commending their priestly office in the daily sacrifice of their lives, they acknowledge the truth and consistency of the doctrine. Surely those who know the trials and hardships of the working classes, the dreariness of their homes, the dark and cheerless surroundings of their work, and the few innocent pleasures which are within their reach, cannot deny them the gratification to be derived from the one bright spot in their neighbourhood. To many the Church is their only quiet retreat, the daily sacrifice or service the one happy occupation; all that they have to soothe and cheer them in the privations of a hard life. Nor ought the Clergy themselves or the Sisters to be lost sight of altogether, giving up as they must the comforts and recreations of ordinary [164/165] life, and struggling not only against the physical but also the moral and spiritual difficulties by which they are surrounded. They also may claim that the services in which they join in the Church should help to lift them above the depressing influences to which they are exposed; so that, apart from the fact that Ritual has a great teaching power, it would seem that the poor have an especial claim to services of an advanced type and character. Festival seasons duly observed; vestments, processions, lights, incense, choral services, flowers, pictures; music--grand, hearty, and inspiriting; the details of Ceremonial carried out carefully and reverently;.--these accessories of worship are the rightful claim of the Clergy and people of such a Church as S. Peter's; and they are appreciated by them. The people love and glory in their Church. It is their home--it is (Ion's, but it is also theirs--and they feel a just pride in its adornment and in the improvement of its services; nay, the very attacks which have been made on the Ritual of other Churches only band them together more resolutely in its defence.

But their love goes far deeper than this. They have found by experience that the whole system and teaching of the Church meet the special wants of their spiritual life. Its reality, its heartiness, its outward manifestation, [165/166] are a constant witness to themselves and others of the continual sacrifice which they should offer of their lives to the service of Gm. They feel its influence on themselves; they see it in their families; they carry it with them into the streets, and courts, and alleys in which they live. A faithful Communicant is not only living for God's glory himself, but is influencing others also far more than he is aware; so that the religious power which the Church exerts in the pariah and neighbourhood must not be measured merely by the numbers of our Communicants or congregation, but is seen in the restraint which they exercise upon sin, and the encouragement which they afford to the cultivation of religion and virtue in those around them.

Let me speak more particularly of the services of the Church which help towards this end. There has been always one, and for many years there have been two celebrations of the Holy Eucharist daily in S. Peter's. The first is at 6.45, the second at 8 a.m., with Matins at 7.30. Choral Evensong is at 8 p.m., with, on Fridays and Eves of Festivals, a sermon. A Communicant Class is held on Thursday evenings, and during a portion of the year a Confirmation Class on Tuesdays. On Sundays we have Celebrations at 7, 8, and 9 a.m.; Matins at 10.30; High Celebration and sermon at 11.15, [166/167] except on Festivals, when Matins is at 10.15, and there is a procession before the High Celebration. Litany is said at 2.30, the children's service at 3.30, and Evensong at 7 p.m. During Advent the Dies Irae, and during Lent the Miserere is sung, and an instruction is given after Evensong; at ether times, there is a Bible Class. On week-days, during Advent and Lent, there is a meditation in Church on Mondays; a Mission service, consisting of a metrical litany, hymns, and sermon, on Wednesdays; and the Stations of the Cross on Fridays. Confessions are heard on Fridays and Saturdays, and on special days before Great Festivals. There are on an average fifty Communicants on ordinary Sundays; at Easter, including those made during the Octave, about 280, and at other Festivals in proportion; while the total Communions made during the year are nearly 5,000. These are all made at the early Celebrations. The Church is well filled on Sundays, on Festivals often thronged, and has a good attendance during the week.

Any account of S. Peter's would be incomplete without mention of our churchwardens. The Church has been singularly blessed in these important officers. The parish warden has filled that office for eight years, and is a fine pattern of a Catholic layman of the working class. When first appointed he was a foreman lighter-man, [167/168] but now he is himself a master, having craft of his own. But his honest and hearty affections are with the Church. There he is to be seen in the early week-day morning, kneeling before the Altar before he goes to his work or business; and there he is to be found Sunday after Sunday, with his brother churchwarden, fulfilling their duties with all their heart and soul. A trusty leader of his own class, ready at any time to help the Clergy, brave and bold to defend the Faith of the Church, and not ashamed to confess it before men, he shows how, out of the difficult material with which we have to do in a parish like S. Peter's, souls may be won for God and the setting forth of His glory. There are already many (may God increase their number!) who are treading in his steps.

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