Project Canterbury

The History of the English Church Union

by the Rev. G. Bayfield Roberts

London: Church Printing, 1895.



IN the interim report, dated 14 Dec., 1871, the President and Council urged Churchmen to be warned in time, and to be active to defeat the attempts of Secularists and Dissenters to deprive the Church of the education of the people. Especial attention was called to the formation of 109 new Branches by the Education League "for the purpose of destroying all the practical safeguards left in the interests of religious education by the late Education Act." The two points against which the agitation was being directed were--the provision which permitted school boards to pay the fees of poor children in parochial schools, and that which left the formation of school boards to the free action of the parties concerned. The object of the Secularists was obvious--viz., to force the children of poor men into secularised schools, and to create centres of opposition to Church schools, with the view, ultimately, of wholly secularising the schools which Churchmen have built.

The third Report of the Ritual Commission contained suggestions respecting the revision of the Table of Lessons, and the final Report was characterised by suggested alterations in the Prayer Book of serious import. Amongst others were a proposed note to the Athanasian Creed--"Note, that the condemnations in this confession of faith are to be no otherwise understood than as a solemn warning of the peril of those who wilfully reject the Catholic Faith"; the insertion of a rubric--"And when by reason of numbers it is inconvenient to address to each communicant separately the words appointed to be said, .... it shall suffice that the words be said once to as many of those who shall together kneel for receiving the Communion at the holy table as the minister in his discretion shall see fit....."; the insertion of a fourth rubric after the first three in the beginning of the Divine Liturgy--"But note, the foregoing directions are not to lie held to authorise the refusal of the Holy Communion to those who humbly and devoutly desire to partake of it"--in evident reference to the sacrilegious communion at Westminster; a new rubric prohibiting the use of wafers; the permissive omission of all that precedes the Collect; and the condemnation, by implication, of non-communicating attendance. What was remarkable was that there was not one Commissioner who did not dissent from some portion of the Report, which contained no less than 26 protests, signed by 58 names. Of course, a Report thus protested against could carry little weight. A recommendation, however, was transmitted to Convocation by the Archbishop of Canterbury, in consequence of resolutions adopted at a meeting of 23 Archbishops and Bishops, to consider the desirability (1) of providing a third service for use on Sundays; (2) of authorising the shortening of Matins and Evensong on week-days; (3) of removing doubts as to the lawfulness of using the Morning Prayer, Litany, and Communion Office as separate services; (4) of adopting any of the other recommendations made in the fourth Report of the Ritual Commissioners: and the Royal license and letter of business were issued to the two Convocations, authorising them to consider and report on these matters. A lengthy Memorial to Convocation was at once drawn up by a Committee, which subsequently received the general assent of the Union, suggesting that materials for the new offices should be sought from ancient sources, as well as from the Book of Common Prayer; that another Litany for special occasions might be compiled; that additional Canticles, Introits, and Proper Prefaces should be added; that reservation of the Holy Eucharist should be permitted for the sick; and that, in general, any changes should be made in accordance with the First Prayer Book of Edward VI. The Memorial also deprecated any tampering with the Athanasian Creed; the suggested relaxation of the rubric which requires that in the administration of the Blessed Sacrament the words be said severally to each communicant; the proposed note to the Daily Office, to the effect that it was not meant to be a rule, but only a witness to the value of prayer; the proposed prohibition of any commemoration of the black-letter days; the power of specially disallowing hymns and anthems; the omission of the preparatory portion of the Office for Holy Communion; the proposed addition, which might seem to imply that it was obligatory for those not about to communicate to withdraw after the Church Militant Prayer; the prohibition of wafer-bread; and the apparent permission for the omission or mutilation of the Office for the Visitation of the Sick.

The only legislative result was the Act of Uniformity (Amendment) Bill, giving legal effect to the decisions arrived at by the Convocations of the two provinces as to the use of a shortened form of Morning and Evening Prayer; a special service for special occasions; an additional service on Sundays and Holy-days; the separation of services; and the preaching a sermon without previous service.

Mr. Purchas, having disregarded the monition of the Judicial Committee, was suspended ab officio for twelve months by that tribunal. The following resolution was therefore adopted at the Ordinary Meeting on Feb. 13, 1872:--

Protest against, the Suspension of the Rev. John Purchas by the Privy Council.

Moved by Mr. Pritchard, and seconded by the Earl of Limerick--

That this meeting records its solemn protest against the recent sentence of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council suspending ab officio the rev. John Purchas, believing it to be in direct invasion of the jurisdiction of the episcopate, and considers the said sentence to be spiritually null and void.

Mr. Purchas continued his ministrations, on the ground that the Judicial Committee could have no authority whatever to deprive him of the use of those powers which were conferred upon him by spiritual authority. In the Annual Report, subsequently adopted by the Union, the President and Council stated:--"In this view the members of the E. C. U. will no doubt agree, and will feel that Mr. Purchas has courageously discharged his duty."

At the same time the following resolution was adopted:--

Revision of Prayer Book.

Moved by Rev. T. W. Perry, and seconded by Mr. J. D. Chambers--

That this Society desires to express its earnest conviction that any alterations in the rubrics and directions of the Book of Common Prayer should be based on the First Prayer Book of Edward VI. rather than on any subsequent revision of that book; and, further, that such alterations should only be made after mature deliberation and solemn ratification by the Convocation of the two Provinces of Canterbury and York.

In view of the determined attack upon the Athanasian Creed the following Memorial to both Houses of Convocation was circulated, and received 18,441 signatures;--

The Athanasian Creed.

We, the undersigned Communicants of the Church of England, thoroughly receiving and believing in its plain and full meaning the Confession of our Christian Faith commonly called the creed of St. Athanasius, and being also persuaded that it is especially necessary in these times to uphold the same, earnestly pray you to maintain the said Creed in its integrity, and not to consent to any proposal for its disuse in the public services of the Church.

Another Memorial, on non-communicating attendance, received 11,682 signatures. It was in these terms:--

Memorial, on Non-communicating Attendance,

We, the undersigned communicants of the Church of England, believing that, as Bishop Jewel said in 1565, it is not "the doctrine.... of our Church" to dismiss "all the people" who do not "receive" the Holy Communion, earnestly pray you not to agree to any direction which may express or imply that it is obligatory or desirable for persons to leave the church on occasions when they do not intend to communicate. We beg leave, moreover, to represent to you that, since those who may wish to withdraw can do so now, such a direction would restrict the rights of the laity, and would be the adoption of a proposal which was rejected in 1563 by the Convocation of Canterbury.

This Memorial was drawn up in consequence of the adoption of a rubric, almost forbidding the presence of "those who do not intend to communicate," which, without warning, was suddenly proposed and carried in the Lower House of the Province of Canterbury, by the bare majority of 4, when only 28 out of its 146 members were present or voted. The President and Council also felt bound, under these circumstances, to present to Convocation a fuller and more argumentative petition, which was accordingly done.

With reference to Mr. Salt's Public Worship Facilities Bill, and Mr. Cowper-Tomple's Occasional Sermons Bill, it was deemed sufficient to draft and circulate a series of objections to these Bills. The former Bill proposed to make the Bishop, mero motu, the sole arbiter of the advisability of interference with the parochial rights of incumbents, and to give the Bishop the power of absolute revocation of licence, where granted. The latter provided for the intrusion of Dissenting preachers into the pulpits of the Church of England.

At the Annual Meeting on June 18, 1872, the subject of the Reform of Convocation was discussed, when the following resolutions were adopted:--

Reform of Convocation, and Revival of Diocesan Synods.

Proposed by Mr. Walter Lea, and seconded by Mr. Gambier Parry--

I. That this meeting, while fully recognizing the desirability, under existing circumstances, of providing some means for the legitimate and formal expression of the mind of the faithful laity on the questions affecting the spiritual or temporal interests of the Church of England, is nevertheless opposed to their admission into her Synods (properly so-called) as constituent members thereof.

Proposed by the Rev. T. W. Perry, and seconded by the Rev. M. W. Mayow--

II. That this meeting, though not complaining of the present composition of Convocation, and being grateful to the Lower House of the Convocation of Canterbury for its recent vote on the subject of the Athanasian Creed, nevertheless desires to see adopted the recommendation of that House, dated Feb. 11, 1871, in favour of a somewhat enlarged representation of the beneficed and licensed clergy.

Proposed by the Rev. E. S. Grindle, and seconded by the Rev. F. N. Oxenham--

III. That this meeting considers that the restoration of properly constituted Diocesan Synods is urgently required as important to the welfare of the Church of England.

A short statement, drawn up by the Council, was also read by the President, on the Bennett Judgment, which was delivered after the Report had been drawn up. The statement was in these terms--"Since the Report of the President and Council was published in the Church Union Gazette the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council has given judgment in the case of Sheppard v. Bennett. The President and Council do not enter into any examination of the judgment, however open it may be to theological or other criticism, and however liable the Court may have made itself to its own censure of extra-judicial dicta upon the part of the Judge. Nevertheless, they cannot refrain from an expression of gratitude to Almighty God for the failure of the appeal, while they deem it all the more necessary to remind Churchmen that this failure does not in the least mitigate the objections which exist to the present constitution and powers of the Court as a Court of Final Appeal in Spiritual Causes," Subsequently, the following resolution was unanimously carried:--

Moved by the Rev. W. J. Knox Little, and seconded by Mr. Brett--

That this meeting expresses its full concurrence in the observations of the President and Council upon the judgment of the Judicial Committee in the case of Sheppard i\ Bennett.

Other matters dealt with during the year included the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill, against which numerous petitions were presented to both Houses of Parliament; the Burials Bill, against which 73 petitions were presented in the House of Commons, and 300 in the House of Lords; and Evening Communions.

A case was drawn for counsel as to the legality of fees for baptism, and Dr. Stephens and Mr. Arthur Charles gave it as their opinion that the demand for such fees was unlawful.

During the year 1,001 members were enrolled; five District Unions and six new Branches formed--bringing up the total of District Unions to 18, and of Branches to 154. The number of Parochial Associations remained at 14, as before.

The system of District Organizing Secretaries, which had been tried for three years since the retirement of Rev. R. R. Bristow, was discontinued, and the Rev. T. Outram Marshall, who had taken over the Western District in addition to the Southern since Michaelmas, 1871, was appointed Organizing Secretary for the whole of England from Easter, 1872.


That this meeting of the English Church Union, assembled for its Annual Commemoration, while fully admitting that ornaments, ritual, and ceremonial not sustained by decisions of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council are commonly in use, solemnly repudiates the charge that such use involves disobedience to the law of the Church of England, and further wishes to express its deep sense of the injustice of such imputations.

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