Project Canterbury

The History of the English Church Union

by the Rev. G. Bayfield Roberts

London: Church Printing, 1895.



EARLY in the year the President and Council sent to each Local Branch, as well as to all clerical members of the Union, two forms of Petition to Convocation against the proposed new rubric on non-communicating attendance. The forms were as follows:--

Proposed Discouragement of Non-communicating Attendance.

A. We, the undersigned clergy and lay communicants of the Church of England, learning that it is proposed by the Lower House of the Convocation of Canterbury to enact a new rubric to encourage the departure from church at the time of Holy Communion of such worshippers as do not then intend to communicate, desire respectfully to submit to your House the following objections:--

1. It is an innovation unknown to the Book of Common Prayer in all its revisions, and to every other Liturgy in the world.

2. It sets up a new and unnecessary barrier between the Church of England and all other parts of the Church Catholic, and even the leading sects of English Nonconformists.

3. It is a serious abridgment of the reasonable liberty always hitherto enjoyed by the laity of the Church.

4. No plea of necessity can be set up in its behalf, since those who now desire to withdraw are not compelled to remain by any existing law or custom.

5. It is a direct discouragement to spiritual communion and to worship, and, at a time when the universal complaint is that so many who ought to attend Divine Service absent themselves therefrom, it attempts to drive away from God's House those who ask no more than to be permitted to continue their devotions.

B. We, the undersigned.... of the Church of England, humbly intreat.... House not to pass the new rubric proposed by the Lower House of the Convocation of Canterbury to discourage the attendance throughout the Communion Office of worshippers who do not intend to communicate, because such a rubric would be a novel inroad on the liberties of the faithful laity, and would interfere with their devotions without being necessary to afford relief from a grievance to any other person.

A considerable number of these petitions from parishes, towns, rural deaneries, and Branches of the E. C. U. were sent direct to individual Bishops and Proctors in Convocation for presentation.

The Athanasian Creed.

On Jan. 31, 1873, a great public demonstration, convened by a Committee consisting, amongst others, of Dr. Pusey, the Dean of Ripon (M'Neill), Canon Kingsley, Canon Liddon, and Archdeacon Denison, in order to prove to the authorities that the lay mind of the Church of England was sound upon the Athanasian Creed, was held in St. James's Hall, Piccadilly, and energetically supported by the E. C. U. The room was densely packed with men only--over 3,000 being present--and an overflow meeting was held in the Hanover Square Rooms, presided over by the Marquis of Bath, supported by Earl Beauchamp, Earl Nelson, Canon Gregory, the Hon. C. L. Wood, Admiral Eyder, and others. Owing to severe indisposition, the Duke of Marlborough was unable to preside at the principal meeting, and his place was taken by Mr. Hubbard. It was announced that delegates, to the number of 560, had been sent by 100 towns and thirty-six counties. Letters expressive of regret at being unable to attend were read from the Duke of Marlborough, Right Hon. Gathorne Hardy, M.P., the Dean of St. Paul's (Church), Rev. Charles Kingsley, and others.

Upon the motion of H. H. Gibbs, Esq. (a director of the Bank of England), seconded by the Rev. Berdmore Compton, it was resolved:--

That this meeting fully and unhesitatingly accepts the teaching of the Church of England, contained in the Eighth Article of Religion--"that the three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius's Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles' Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed; for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture."

The next resolution, moved by the Marquis of Salisbury, and seconded by the Rev. H. Temple, Vicar of St. John's, Leeds, was as follows:--

That this meeting earnestly deprecates, as fraught with danger to the preservation of Christian truth throughout the world, any mutilation of the Athanasian Creed, or any alterations of its status in the Book of Common Prayer.

The next resolution was moved by Sir Percival Heywood, Bart., and seconded by the Rev. Lord Alwyne Compton (now Bishop of Ely):--

That this meeting pledges itself to employ all lawful means for the maintenance, in its integrity, of the Athanasian Creed, and of its prescribed use in the Church of England.

It was also resolved, upon the motion of Mr. Alderman Bennett, of Manchester, seconded by Dr. Liddon:--

That petitions embodying the foregoing resolutions be signed by the Chairman, and respectfully transmitted to their Graces the Presidents and to the Revs. the Prolocutors of the Convocations of Canterbury and York, for presentation to the respective Houses.

As is well known, this powerful demonstration had the greatest weight with the authorities, and decisively influenced public opinion. Humanly speaking, it saved the Athanasian Creed in England.

At the Ordinary Meeting on Feb. 18, 1873, the subject of education mainly occupied the attention of the Union, in consequence of the sustained efforts of the Birmingham League to cripple existing Church schools, and to make the teaching of any religion whatever impossible in Board schools.

The following resolution, proposed by the Earl of Devon, and seconded by the Rev. P. N. Oxenham, was unanimously adopted:--

The Attack on Religious Education.

That this meeting, considering the persistent and determined attitude assumed by the Birmingham League and the Nonconformists generally against certain clauses of the Elementary Education Act of 1870, urges the members of the E. C. U., and all friends of religious education, to lend their most vigorous support to defeat an attempt which avowedly aims not only at depriving all existing denominational schools of the grants now made to them with respect to the secular instruction which they supply, but seeks to impose upon the maintainers of those schools, however efficient such schools may be, the additional burden of supporting a system of education of which, in that it necessarily ignores all definite Christian teaching, they conscientiously disapprove.

At the Ordinary Meeting on April 29, 1873, it was resolved, with reference to the Reform of Convocation:--

"Reform of Convocation.

Moved by the Rev. H. E. Baker, and seconded by the Rev. Rhodes Bristow--

That this meeting is of opinion, in order to secure a better and more complete representation of the clergy of both provinces in their respective Convocations, that the diocesan proctors should be elected in each archdeaconry by all priests holding the Bishop's licence, whether beneficed or unbeneficed, in such archdeaconry, that the proportion of proctors so elected should be in accordance with the number of the clergy in each archdeaconry, and that similarly the chapter proctors should be elected by the whole of the cathedral clergy, including the honorary and the minor canons.

The large number of petitions against the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill had considerable effect in reducing the majority by which it was carried in the House of Commons, as compared with that in 1871, and in securing its rejection by the House of Lords.

The second reading of Mr. Osborne Morgan's Burials Bill was carried in the House of Commons, on March 26, by 280 to 217. Out of the 212 petitions against the Bill presented by Mr. Disraeli, fifty were sent from the Office of the E. C. U., besides others sent by various Branches through their local representatives. The subject was brought before the Evening Meeting at the Annual Meeting on June 18, 1873, when it was resolved:--

Burials Bill.

Moved by the Rev. Newdigate Poyntz, and seconded by Mr. Walter Phillimore--

That this Union is determined to use every effort to uphold the right of the Church of England to the exclusive possession of her own consecrated churchyards, and pledges itself to oppose vigorously the Burials Bill introduced by Mr. Osborne Morgan, and any other measure of similar character.

The Occasional Sermons Bill, which had been opposed by the Union, was rejected in the Commons, on May 15, 1873, by 199 to 53. In the preceding year the numbers 1 -were--against, 177; for, 116. On the following day Mr. Miall's motion for the disestablishment of the Church was rejected by 356 to 61. In the previous year 94 members voted in the minority. The Public Worship Facilities Bill was temporarily dropped in consequence of a technical irregularity.

On May 5, 1873, a Memorial, signed by upwards of 60,000 members of the Church of England, was presented to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, at Lambeth Palace, urging their Graces "to exercise all the authority vested in" them "for the entire suppression of ceremonies and practices adjudged to be illegal," and "to afford all other needful facilities for the due enforcement of the law"; not to allow, in the consecration of new, and in the restoration of old churches, any form of architectural arrangement or ornaments which might facilitate the introduction of "superstitious practices and erroneous doctrines"; and, "in the admission of candidates to Holy Orders, in the licensing of curates, and also in the distribution of patronage," to protect the petitioners and their families from teaching "subversive of those truths to which our Protestant Church, as keeper and witness of Holy Writ, has ever borne its faithful testimony." This Memorial was considered at the Annual Meeting, when, in order to correct the many mistaken and erroneous statements and unadvised requests which it contained, the following manifesto was adopted:--

Manifesto of E. C. U. re Church Association Memorial.

1. Whereas, in a Memorial lately presented to the Archbishops by a body called the Church Association, the Memorialists declared their resolution to retain unchanged the distinctive truths that were restored to us at the Reformation, without specifying what are the particular truths thus supposed to have been restored,--


1. That, with the 76 Archbishops and Bishops who at the Lambeth Conference, in 1867, declared themselves as "professing the faith delivered to us in Holy Scripture, maintained by the Primitive Church, and by the Fathers of the English Reformation," we, the members of the English Church Union, adopting their words, "do solemnly record our conviction that niiity will be most effectually promoted by maintaining the faith in its purity and integrity--as taught in the Holy Scriptures, held by the Primitive Church, summed up in the Creeds, and affirmed by the undisputed general councils "; and we do further desire to regard the exhortation of the said Bishops to "hold fast the Creeds and the pure worship and order which by God's Grace" we "have inherited from the Primitive Church."

And whereas in the aforesaid Memorial it is assumed that the late decisions of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council are the law of the Church of England and possess spiritual or ecclesiastical validity:


2. That great dishonour and danger would accrue to the Church of England if the Archbishops and Bishops were to involve the Church in responsibility for the measures prayed for by the Memorialists.

(a) Such action would admit a spiritual validity which does not exist in the decisions of the Privy Council.

(b) "The entire suppression of ceremonies and practices adjudged to be illegal" by the Privy Council, as required by the said Memorialists, would be dangerous to the peace, and subversive of the liberties, of the English Church.

(c) The most important decisions of the Privy Council, both on doctrine and discipline, upon which the Memorialists rely, having been given in undefended cases, and having been notoriously condemned by high legal authorities, are not entitled to the weight which the Memorialists would attach to them.


3. That this meeting earnestly trusts that, in the exercise of such "faithful diligence," the aim of the Archbishops and Bishops will be that which is expressed in the Preface to the Book of Common Prayer--viz., "not to gratifie this or that party in any their unreasonable demands, but to do that, which.... might most tend to the preservation of peace and unity in the Church; the procuring of reverence, and exciting of piety and devotion in the public worship of God."

Copies of the resolution were ordered to be immediately sent to the Archbishops and Bishops of the provinces of Canterbury and York.

It is worth recording that the Memorial of the Church Association was termed by the Guardian--"a very impertinent address from an extreme and violent partisan Society, whose proceedings have certainly not tended either to peace or edification."

During the year 1,741 persons joined the Union, which now numbered 9,806 members; six new District Unions, 17 new Branches, and 12 Parochial Associations were formed. Total--20 District Unions; 167 Branches: 23 Parochial Associations.

Project Canterbury