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Twenty-one Years in S. George's Mission

By Charles Fuge Lowder

London: Rivingtons, 1877.


THE history of the Catholic revival in England has yet to be written. If it is permitted to find a I worthy historian, it will prove no uninteresting study in the annals of the Church in this country. It will not, I trust, seem presumptuous to connect the history of S. George's Mission with so important an epoch, as forming at least a portion of the greater movement; for it is during the twenty-one years since this Mission was founded, that the fullest development of Catholic life and energy in England has taken place. And even if it be not regarded as the pioneer of Home Mission Work-though its claim to the title is a very strong one-yet it certainly has laboured in the forefront of the battle, and has shared in the danger and toil, in the persecutions and difficulties, as well as in the successes and blessings, which have attended the development of this important feature of the Catholic advance.

[2] It is not easy for younger readers to realize the greatness of this advance. Twenty-one years ago there were but two parishes in London in which any attempt had been made to commence Mission Work in a Catholic spirit. S. Barnabas, Pimlico, was working on the lines which had been laid down for it by its pious and noble-hearted founder with so much self-denial and practical wisdom. S. Barnabas, however, was simply a dependency of S. Paul's, Knightsbridge, its importance indeed accentuated by the residence of Mr. Bennett and his staff of Clergy in the Clergy House. But though services had been commenced for a short time in the Schoolrooms, yet the Church itself burst forth at its consecration in a glory and brightness which, though for a while dimmed by the tears of a loving people losing their faithful Priest, yet by divine blessing was soon permitted to recover somewhat of its first beauty, and to carry on the work which bad been marked out for it by its founder. S. Barnabas then was not the type of a poor Mission cast adrift in a new country to make for itself a name and an abiding-place. S. Mary's, Soho, had more of this character, but at this time was entirely worked by one Priest, devoted as he was, and bringing to his work the experience gained by Mission Work in Scotland, It was not till after-years [2/3] that Mr. Chambers gathered round him other devoted Clergy, and the band of Sisters who made S. Mary's a bright spot in the desert of S. Giles.

In the East of London the only Mission Work of the Church of England, was carried on in a Mission School Chapel in connection with S. Peter's, Stepney. Its founder however, the Rev. T. J. Rowsell, after preaching at the opening of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd in Calvert Street, spoke of this Work as rather intended to bring social influences to bear upon the poor of his parish. It certainly did not profess to make the Catholic Faith, in its teaching and Ritual, the great leavening power and influence.

The Additional Curates' Society had not yet adopted in its programme the name of Home Mission Work, and was simply fulfilling its very useful object of aiding Incumbents in maintaining Curates in large parishes. The idea, in fact, of Home Mission Work was a new one; and when it was first broached by the writer to his honoured superior, the Incumbent of S. Paul's, Knightsbridge, he expressed alarm lest if carried out it should interfere with the Parochial System. We must not forget indeed that the Parochial System had been marvellously developed in Leeds by Dr. Hook, and that the Clergy of S. Saviour's, Leeds, had been working in a [3/4] Missionary spirit in and around their beautiful Church. No doubt good work had been done in Wantage by Mr. Butler; at S. Peter's, Plymouth, by Mr. Prynne; in Kidderminster by Mr. Glaughton; at S. Michael's, Bussage, by Robert Suckling; at S. Paul's, Brighton, by Mr. Wagner; and in other places: still none of these realized the idea of a Home Mission. Again, as to the Ritual and manifestation of Catholic life and teaching, younger readers must be reminded that as yet there was no S. Albans; S. Michael's, Shoreditch, with its sister Churches in Haggerston; S. Paul's, Walworth; S. Mary Magdalene, Paddington; S. Ethelburga; S. Matthias, Kensington; S. James, Hatcham; S. Stephen, Lewisham-in or about London; no S. Margaret's, Liverpool; S. Mary's, Prestbury; All Saints', Clifton; S. John, Bathwick-in the country. S. John Baptist, Frome, was just emerging from the old traditions of a bepewed Parish Church; All Saints', Margaret Street, had not yet burst forth from its chrysalis state in the much-loved temporary Chapel in Tichborne Street. The stouthearted Priest of S. Mary Magdalene, Munster Square, was indeed teaching the faith fearlessly in doctrine and Ritual. Still, the Church of England has made wonderful advances since then, not only in those Churches and parishes which are reckoned the most [4/5] advanced, but in those also which have been attracted upward or borne onward by the rising tide. Special Missions had not been commenced in those days, at least on anything like the scale of the present time. Mr. Aitken's and Mr. Twigg's Mission-preaching had not yet enlisted Catholic sympathy, or surrounded itself with the Catholic associations which have made the London, Liverpool, Leeds, Lincoln, Plymouth, and now the Bristol and Manchester, Missions such great successes.

We must consider also the great advance which has been made in the Ceremonial of the Church; the study and attention devoted to it, and its more accurate and intelligent use, especially in the highest service, the liturgy of the Church; the more orderly arrangement of Processions, and the greater dignity given to them; the wonderful improvement of Musical Services-witness those of the Gregorian Festivals at S. Paul's, and the introduction of such oratorios as the Passion Music for devotional purposes in our Cathedrals. Next, the great improvement in preaching; the more earnest, popular, and moving style of extempore sermons; the addresses, conferences, meditations, and instructions for various classes and capacities; the retreats, not only for Clergy and religious, but for the laity, even adapted to [5/6] the circumstances and convenience of those engaged in business. We must mention the services for children; the increased frequency of catechising; the metrical litanies; the celebrations intended specially for children, and the attention paid to their edification at such times by the use of hymns instructing them in the meaning of the various parts of the Eucharistic Service.

Add to these manifold and manifest tokens of advance the helps to the spiritual life of our people in the restoration of more frequent celebrations of Holy Communion, weekly or even daily (as lately restored at S. Paul's Cathedral); the consequent vast increase of communicants, and their more careful preparation by the help of improved manuals and regular classes; the greater regard paid to self-examination, and above all, the revival of frequent, even of habitual, Confession.

We must not surely omit among the signs of Catholic revival in the last twenty years the growth of our Religious Houses, especially of Sisterhoods; the development of the spiritual life in their own Communities, and the influence exerted by them over others; the varied and important works of mercy undertaken by them-hospitals, convalescent homes, penitentiaries, upper, middle class, parochial and industrial schools, [6/7] the visiting of the poor and sick, and the nursing of them in their own homes; and now their work abroad in Missions among the heathen. Thanks also to the Fathers at Cowley and Stoke, opportunities of entering the religious life are not wanting for our men; and the blessing of such Communities has been abundantly proved in special Missions, retreats, and conferences, not to speak of the work of the Evangelist Fathers in the United States and in India. Next to these comes the institution of Guilds and Confraternities, which are now become a recognized organization in a well-ordered parish, and have greatly tended to deepen Evangelical piety and primitive zeal in the hearts of their members, binding them together by close religious ties, and providing a band of Missionaries among their friends and neighbours, of the greatest service to the active parish Priest.

There are other signs of progress on which stress might have been laid, such as the great development of Educational energy in the Church of England; her activity in the cause when other bodies were listless; her national and training schools, already established before the attention of the country had been seriously drawn to the subject, which have enabled her to maintain the lead, and provide to so large an extent for the [7/8] wants of her own children, even in the face of the rate-assisted schools under the School Board system; then the opening of the schools for the middle classes in connection with S. Nicholas College, founded and carried on by the energy of Canon Woodard and his Fellows; and the great increase of theological colleges for the training of Clergy. Or, again, mention might be made of the restored Cathedrals (no less than three were opened after such restoration in last year), and of that which belongs especially to Mission Work, the opening of the naves of Cathedrals for popular services such as those which are so crowded at S. Paul's, and of the provision made by classes, lectures, and other instructions for the spiritual wants of the large population working in the City. Such a sign of the times as the foundation of Keble College in Oxford, and the great success attending its commencement, must not be passed over in silence.

And what have been the result and outcome of this varied machinery, but the marvellous change which has come over the face of the Church of England, and of the people in respect of her? The Church, alive and active as she has never been since the Reformation, is bearing bravely the attacks made upon her, not fearing even disestablishment itself, because she is strong in [8/9] the hearts of the people. And this not merely among the upper classes, who are either influenced by conservative feelings of attachment, or family connection; or the educated and intelligent, who were attracted by the teaching and arguments of the Oxford school in earlier days; but among the middle classes, who have appreciated the hearty services and earnest preaching of the later school; and the very masses of the people, the working classes, who have been touched by the Missionary Work of the Clergy living among them, and of the Sisters who have devoted themselves to them and to their families.

It should also be remembered that twenty years ago there was no Bishop's Fund, and that although the generous heart of a City merchant had been moved to assist Bishop Blomfield in building no less than ten Churches in Bethnal Green, yet there was little active sympathy in the West of London for the spiritual or temporal wants of their poorer brethren in the East The present Archbishop, at that time Bishop of London, took occasion at the consecration of S. Peter's Church (i.e. ten years after the foundation of S. George's Mission) to use the following language: "East and West must be united. In the West there was already a strong sympathy with the East. There was a growing union [9/10] between all classes, and a desire to help and understand one another; and he believed that this tie between the West and the East, this interest felt by the former for the amelioration of the condition-especially the moral and spiritual condition-of the latter was owing in no small degree to one who, before he migrated to labour there in the East, had ministered long in the West, and had carried with him the personal affection and esteem of many." Now, however, the large contributions from the Bishop's Fund to Eastern districts, from the Sunday Hospital Fund to our London hospitals and dispensaries, and the institution of Mrs. Gladstone's Home for our convalescents, have evinced the great sympathy which is felt by our richer brethren in the West. Sisters also, like those of the Holy Cross, of S. Saviour's Priory, or S. Michael's, Shoreditch, have set so noble an example in devoting their lives to the poor in these districts, that many ladies, as well as gentlemen, have become regular visitors among the poor, giving their own personal help in parochial work.

Such are a few among the many marvellous developments of religious life which the last twenty years have witnessed in the Church of England, and specially in this great Metropolis. It cannot of course be intended for a single moment to claim for S. George's Mission [10/11] the commencement of half of these great reforms; but it is hoped that a perusal of the following pages will show that the origin of many may be traced not indistinctly to the influence of this Mission, while in most, if not in all, it has borne its share not only in utilizing these helps when they have been introduced and become popular, but also in the labour and difficulty, as well as in the odium and even danger, which have attended their introduction. At least it is necessary, in order to estimate the work of S. George's Mission during these twenty-one years, to reflect on the actual state of the Church at its commencement, and to consider the changes and developments which have taken place during its progress from a struggling Mission to a permanent Parochial Organization.

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