Project Canterbury

The History of the English Church Union

by the Rev. G. Bayfield Roberts

London: Church Printing, 1895.



IN itself this proved to be one of the least eventful years in the annals of the E. C. U., but it was ominously marked by the beginning of the Bell Cox prosecution.

In consequence of the resolution adopted at the last Annual Meeting, an "Evangelization Committee" was appointed by the President and Council in order to consider in what way it would be most advisable to carry out the objects contemplated. A Report, embodying proposals for future action, was presented by the Committee in November, 1884, and sent to the Officers of District Unions and Branches, and information was requested, with special reference to two points--(a) What works the several Branches can be encouraged and assisted to undertake in their own localities; (b) What special work or works the Union can undertake as a whole with the co-operation and support of its several Branches.

A large number of replies were sent, and received careful consideration from the Committee; but so far the Committee had been unable to consider the replies as a whole, and any definite proposals by the President and Council were necessarily deferred.

In connection with the Parliamentary election of Professor Stuart at Hackney, and of Mr. Sampson Lloyd in Warwickshire, an attempt was made to fasten a political character upon the E. C. U. by the statement, widely circulated, that the organization of the E. C. U. had been employed in these elections. The Secretary of the Union, under the instructions of the President and Council, once wrote an official letter to the papers, dated November 26, 1884, in which he gave his "emphatic contradiction of the statement," and added--"Whatever line individual members may choose to take in regard to politics, the Union itself and its Council have always on principle kept entirely outside all political action in their corporate capacity,"

At the Ordinary Meeting on December 11, 1883, when the chair was taken by the Earl of Devon, a paper was read by Mr. Josceline Courtenay on "Church Music and Congregational Singing." At the other Ordinary Meeting, on April 28, 1885, business of a purely formal character was transacted.

The Branches vigorously exerted themselves during the year in organizing parochial meetings, as well as meetings on a larger scale in some of the principal towns, in opposition to the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill. The President and Council, in support of these efforts, made grants of money towards the expenses of these meetings, and two special grants of £50 each to the Marriage Law Defence Union.

It was announced in February, 1885, that proceedings were about to be taken against the Rev. James Bell Cox, Vicar of St. Margaret's, Prince's Road, Liverpool, by a Mr. James Hakes. There were twelve charges, including the use of altar-lights, Eucharistic vestments, &c. The church, which had originally been built by a layman who occupied an influential position in Liverpool, was thrown into the market, owing to certain circumstances, before any incumbent had been appointed. It was bought by a band of laymen in order that in it Catholic ritual and worship might be thoroughly carried out, and the first incumbent was the Rev. C. Parnell, who at that time was working in one of the poorest districts in Liverpool. The church was consecrated, but it was not deemed advisable to attach to it any parish whatever, the effect of this decision being that the parish of St. Margaret's practically consisted of the ground upon which the church and vicarage stood. The prosecutor was not a parishioner, for the only parishioners were the Vicar and his family; nor did Mr. Hakes live even within the limits of the old parish in which St. Margaret's stood. The Bishop asked Mr. Bell Cox to make certain concessions "for the peace of the diocese and his (the Bishop's) comfort," such as he had requested Mr. Bell Cox to make five years before in the character of "Bishop and friend." It should here be stated parenthetically that the Bishop, on and after the former occasion alluded to, had punished Mr. Bell Cox by declining to license a curate. His lordship also intimated that unless these concessions were made he had no alternative, but must allow the case to proceed; and in a reply, dated June 13, 1885, to a resolution from the Cleveland and South Durham District Union, expressing regret that the Bishop should have allowed proceedings to be taken, his lordship said:--

Your Branch appears not to be aware that on principle I entirely object to the exercise of the Episcopal veto. When a complaint is made to me against any Clergyman 1 have no Court to which I can send it except that of Lord Penzance. When you and your friends can provide me with another Court instead, I shall be happy to use it.

Mr. Bell Cox decided neither to appear in person nor to be represented by counsel in Lord Penzance's Court, the secularised Court of the Province of York. In a letter addressed to his congregation, Mr. Bell Cox stated the reasons for adopting this attitude, viz. (1) That Lord Penzance had no spiritual authority whatever, for he had never taken the oaths of office, and was bound by the decisions of the Privy Council; (2) that the Privy Council was a purely secular Court, whose judgments therefore in spiritual matters have no force. Not only was Mr. Bell Cox's action heartily endorsed by the Union, but leading Evangelicals, such as the Revs. Canon Cadman, Sir Emilius Bayley, and P. P. Groe (now Bishop of Melbourne), strongly deprecated the prosecution; the Rock and the Record demurely withheld their imprimatur, whilst the Church Association hastened to wash its hands of the matter. Only the English Churchman was found faithful. On April 23, 1885, Mr. Bell Cox was summoned to appear before the Parliamentary Judge, and ex-Judge of the Divorce Court, Lord Penzance.

At the Annual Meeting on June 10, 1885, the Earl of Devon proposed, and Canon Body seconded, the following resolution, which, supported by Mr. J. Shelly, the Rev. F. J. Ponsonby, and Mr. J. A. Shaw Stewart, was enthusiastically carried:--

Vote of Sympathy with Rev. J. Bell Cox and His Congregation.

That this Union desires to convey to the Rev. J. Bell Cox and the congregation of St. Margaret's, Liverpool, the expression of their deep sympathy, and the assurance of their united support, in his refusal to acknowledge the authority of the Privy Council, and the Courts subject to its jurisdiction, in Spiritual matters, and in his efforts to maintain the rights and liberties of the Church of England.

At the Evening Meeting Sir Walter Phillimore proposed, and Earl Nelson seconded, the following resolution:--

Provincial House of Laymen.

That this Union commends to its Branches the consideration of the report of the Convocation of Canterbury as to the formation of a Provincial House of Laymen.

The Report referred to was as follows:--

(1) That it is desirable that a House of Laymen, being Communicants of the Church of England, be formed for the Province of Canterbury, to confer with Convocation.

(2) That the members of the House of Laymen be appointed by the lay members of the Diocesan Conferences of the Province, and that they continue to hold their seats until the dissolution of Convocation next ensuing.

(3) That ten members be appointed for the diocese of London; six for each of the dioceses of Winchester, Rochester, Lichfield, and Worcester; and four for each of the remaining dioceses.

(4) That additional members, not exceeding ten, be appointed by his Grace the President.

(5) That the House of Laymen be in all cases convened by his Grace the President.

(6) That the said House be convened only, and sit only, during the time that Convocation is in session, and be opened by his Grace the President.

(7) That the said House may be requested by his Grace the President to confer with Convocation upon such occasions and at such place as his Grace the President may think fit.

(8) That his Grace the President, in opening the House of Laymen, or at any other time in their session, may lay before them any subject on which he desires their counsel, and that the results of all the deliberations of the said House on any subjects, whether this referred to them, or originated by themselves, be communicated to the President.

(9) That if the above resolutions be adopted by Convocation, a joint Committee of both Houses be appointed to confer with any Committee that may hereafter be appointed by the House of Laymen, in order to frame such rules as may be found necessary.

Provided that nothing in this scheme shall be held to impair the right of this Sacred Synod to pronounce finally for the Province on all questions of Faith and Doctrine according to the ancient usage of this Church and Realm.

The resolution having been put to the Meeting and carried, a vote of sympathy with, and of assurance of support to, the Rev. J. Bell Cox, in the terms of the resolution drafted by the Council, and unanimously adopted at the Afternoon Meeting, was proposed by the Rev. Newton Mant, seconded by Mr. Shelly, and carried by acclamation.

The Rev. C. L. M. Hinde, Vicar of Flockton, was appointed Assistant-Organizing Secretary for Lancashire shortly before Easter, 1885.

During this year the unusually small number of 832 persons joined the Union. This was less by 295 than the total of deaths, resignations, and erasures for non-payment of subscriptions, and so reduced the total on the Roll to 20,870. Two new District Unions and twelve new Branches were formed. Total: fifty-one District Unions; 300 Branches.

Since 1865 there had never been less than 1,000 accessions in the year, and the average for the nineteen years had been 1,723, and never in any year previously or since has the number of accessions been exceeded by the number of deaths, resignations, and erasures. Probably the small number of enrolments was due in great measure to the fact that both Colonel Hardy and Rev. T. O. Marshall were laid by with ill-health for great part of the year, and the withdrawals due to an idea, which now and then recurs, that the work of the E. C. U. is over.

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