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Twenty-one Years in S. George's Mission

By Charles Fuge Lowder

London: Rivingtons, 1877.

Appendix II. Mr. King's Letter.

THE Rev. Bryan King, formerly Rector of S. George's, now of Avebury, has kindly permitted the insertion of the following letter as his testimony to the work of S. George's Mission.


"I gladly comply with your request that I should contribute something to the work of Twenty Years in S. George's Mission, which you are now preparing, by giving some account of the state of the parish before the Mission was instituted, and by alluding to the notorious riots at the Parish Church.

"You have in the first two chapters of your Ten Years in S. George's Mission alluded to many circumstances which rendered my position as Rector of the parish well-nigh hopeless; but it is impossible that you or anyone should at all adequately appreciate the feelings of hopelessness with which I myself was habitually [225/226] impressed by those circumstances. The time seems now to have arrived when I am called upon to disregard my natural instincts of reserve with respect to the revelation of some of my own deepest feelings, and to give some expression to. them, out of deference to the infinitely higher interests which may in any measure be subserved by such a revelation.

"When then, in 1842, I was instituted to the cure of souls of the parishioners of S. George's, East, as Rector, the number of such souls nominally entrusted to my charge was about 38,000; and although in the course of some years I succeeded in assigning two conventional districts of the parish to the charge of two Priests, still at the time of the commencement of the Mission the number of souls remaining under my nominal charge, with the help of only one assistant Curate, was but little short of 30,000. Now when I allude to the amount of the merely ordinary routine of Clerical duties, in the celebration of the daily services and the occasional religious offices involved in the spiritual oversight of such a numerous charge, with the care of schools, charitable funds, &c.; and when 1 further allude to the merely secular duties which devolved upon me as Chairman of the Vestry (so that my duties literally ranged from the direction of souls to the direction of sewers), it will not be a matter of any surprise if I now confess that beyond the exercise .of something like discipline in regard to a few extreme [226/227] cases--such as the refusal to give Christian burial to unbaptized children, or to permit the bodies of some who had died in open sin to be taken into the Church for that portion of the Burial Service, and the refusal to Communicate one or two notorious evil livers--I was never able even to make any attempt at anything like active aggression upon the seething mass of evil and sin by which I was encompassed.

"For several weary years I had felt the pressure of this impossibility, and had bitterly deplored it. I could not' but be conscious that the flock which had been committed to my charge was really as sheep without a shepherd. From the first I had met with much active opposition in my efforts to raise in some poor measure the character of the public services of the Church, which had ever continued to be conducted in the dull, formal custom of the last century, not unfairly characterized as the 'parson and clerk duet;' so that the difficulties, and apparent hopelessness of my position, can scarcely be conceived by anyone whose lot has not been cast in a similar post of a 'forlorn hope' indeed.

"My experience gained .from the Bethnal Green Churches Fund, with which I had been identified from the first, had convinced me that the only hope of making any religious impression upon such neglected populations consisted in committing a comparatively small district to the charge of one or more Priests, who might as occasion offered gain some personal influence [227/228] one by one in the hearts and consciences of their people; and I had succeeded in inducing the committee of that fund to act upon this system after the erection of the first two or three new Churches in Bethnal Green. But I had long looked out and hoped for the establishment of such an agency as this in S. George's in vain.

"Of course I had sought for succour (though doubtless most imperfectly and most faithlessly) from the one only source of all help; but I well remember now something of the intense feelings by which I was oppressed by the reflections suggested by my position during the Advent season of 1855, and how earnestly I used then to fasten upon some of those glorious promises and prophecies in Isaiah, which abounded in the daily First Lessons of that season, and how I used to reflect with something like feelings of dawning hope, 'Surely there must in these blessed words be some pledge and promise of mercy and grace in store even for this most desolate portion of CHRIST'S heritage, for which I, alas! am responsible.'

"And so indeed (blessed for ever be His name Who sent the mercy!) it came to pass; and I found indeed that though 'heaviness may endure for a night,' yet 'joy cometh in the morning;' for it was in the very 'ensuing Christmas season that I was informed by the Rector of a neighbouring parish that some Clergymen in the Western district of London were looking out for some parish in which to make the attempt to start a [228/229] Preaching Mission. I immediately wrote (I think) to Mr. Murray, the Rector of Chislehurst, who I was informed was in some way connected with the above movement, earnestly inviting the Clergy in question to begin their work in my own parish. In the season of Epiphany the arrangement was concluded between us, and on the evening of Ash-Wednesday, as you have stated in your Ten Years in S. George's Mission, your work commenced.

"The marvellous manner in which you, with your sympathising brethren, in their zeal, and I in my sore needs, were thus brought into contact with each other, has always reminded me of that double interposition of divine grace by which S. Peter was induced to go and minister to the spiritual needs, of the awakened Cornelius.

"And now, after the lapse of some twenty years, you and I can look back to the history and the results of that work. For myself, I avow that I am simply overwhelmed at the thought of what has been done. I can now only recall to my recollection some five or six at most, then living in the present district of S. Peter's, who were Communicants of the Church. And when now I see the devout congregation of S. Peter's Church, and think of your roll of Communicants, numbering some hundreds; when I think of all the works of mercy carried out by the Sisters; nay, when I see a perceptible change even in the outward aspect of the [229/230] inhabitants of the district, I can but exclaim, in absolute amazement and adoration, 'What hath GOD wrought!' So that I say it with the most deliberate conviction, that I know of no undertaking in the Church in which such an overwhelming return and reward of blessing has been vouchsafed, as the encouragers and supporters of the S. George's Mission have received. So much, then, respecting the origin and the result of .the S. George's Mission.

"I will now allude to those miserable riots by which the services of S. George's- Church were for so long a period profaned; and I may here confess that such was the feeling of bitter distress which those dreadful scenes had left upon my heart, that I could not endure even to set foot within the parish for some years after I had left it. The sense of my own sad shortcomings, which doubtless must have contributed to provoke those sacrilegious scenes, will I trust ever remain with me; but I can now look back over the interval of some seventeen years, and recall most thankfully some of the happier results of those sad scenes. I can now trace the most gracious working of that overruling love which often yet turns 'the hard rock into a standing water, and the flint-stone into a springing well,' and which makes the very 'fierceness of man' to contribute to 'His praise.'

"First, then, as to the parish itself. You know far better than I to what extent the reaction from the outrages committed against the mere decencies of divine [230/231] service at the Parish Church has tended to raise the tone and spirit of the service in every single Church in the parish; whilst in the Parish Church itself, where even the chanting of the Canticles and Psalms used to be resented by the infuriated howlings of a mob, the services on High Festivals have recently been celebrated by the accompaniment of a full band.

"I shall not readily forget my amazement when staying at the Rectory of an adjoining parish, about eighteen months after leaving S. George's, my friend took me into his Church to see the improvements and decorations of the Altar and its precincts which he had just effected; and when in reply to my question, `How has all this been possible in such a parish as this?' he replied, 'Through you; for whenever a whisper of complaint was uttered in the Vestry or elsewhere, every respectable person replied, "'Oh, we are not going to have any S. George's ruffianism here!"

"Next as to the result upon many of those who had taken part in the riots. You then were with me on that evening, some few years ago, when I had preached at one of your anniversaries; and you saw the greetings which awaited me on leaving S. Peter's, and how many pressed forward to seize my hands, avowing that they then regarded me with very different feelings from those with which they used to look upon me. You heard the round of hearty cheers with which a crowd took leave of me as I left S. Peter's gates. You were a witness [231/232] of this scene; but you did not know then with what difficulty I restrained myself from crying as a child at the thought, `This is the parish in which, but a few years ago, a band had been hired for the purpose of accompanying my departure from the place with exulting music'--a purpose only prevented by my leaving home unexpectedly at a very early hour in the morning.

"Then I have heard of several instances of men acting as choristers in different Churches, or assisting Priests in Mission work, who originally had joined the scoffers at S. George's, but whose very profane recklessness had been made the means of their being brought to their 'right mind;' whilst three of those young men (and there may have been others besides) who were in the habit of coming from other parishes to afford some protection to myself from mob-violence, and to render such services as were in their power, were induced to give up their situations in commercial houses in order to seek admission into Holy Orders, from the conviction that the cause which excited such deadly hostility from the profane was one above all others demanding the devotion of the servants and soldiers of CHRIST JESUS. And many perhaps may agree with myself in the conviction, that the S. George's riots would have been even cheaply purchased if the only beneficial result had been the enlistment into the ministry of the Church of the present Vicar of S. Stephen's, Lewisham.

[233] "And now I come to the bearing of the S. George's riots upon myself personally. I had always then been a lover of the country. Of course I had never felt justified in gratifying this feeling by seeking for an exchange from the post of duty in London in which I had been placed, and I should have indulged in a second day-dream had I ever permitted myself to encourage such aspirations. But ever since I first read Longfellow's poem on The Carillons of Bruges, I had felt an earnest wish to reside in that city, the quaint antiquities of which offered so many charms to my' appreciation. Of course any such prospect seemed utterly hopeless, and I never allowed myself to indulge the wish; but, strange to say, my sore trials at S. George's were made the direct means through which both these results were brought about. No sooner had Dean Stanley, in his chivalrous sympathy for one who seemed to be suffering from oppression, and whose health had utterly given way, arranged with the Bishop of London for my prolonged absence from S. George's, than the Rector of an adjoining parish said to me, `Now, King, take my advice; go and live in quiet Bruges, where I lived for some time. Let me write to a person whom I know there, and beg him at once to take a furnished house for you.' I consented to this proposal; and in a fortnight's time I was domiciled with my family in 'that quaint old Flemish city,' where I spent three most happy (and I trust not [233/234] unprofitable) years, forming many of the most valued' amongst the priceless friendships which have gladdened my life.

"And now for the realization of the second of my heart's yearnings. At the expiration of three years from leaving S. George's, the Bishop of London effected an exchange of livings between myself and the Vicar of Avebury; and here I thankfully record that I have ever found a most happy home.

I should have shrunk indeed from making these revelations respecting myself and. some of my most inmost feelings, were it not that I gladly avail myself of this opportunity of reminding those of my brother Clergy who, in these days of trial, may be called upon to suffer in the cause of that truth and worship of the Church which is dearer to us than life, that we serve and suffer for a most gracious Master, who will never fail to return blessings an hundredfold upon those who serve and suffer for Him in His Church even though such service and suffering should be marred by infirmities and shortcomings as miserable as were my own.

"Believe me, yours very sincerely,


"Tuesday in Holy Week,1877."

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