Project Canterbury

Bishop Montgomery: A Memoir

By M.M.

[London] The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1933.

Chapter V. Kennington days

The ten years Henry Montgomery spent as vicar of Kennington were strenuous ones. He had three colleagues, one of whom, his friend Browne, had no salary and lived in the vicarage till his marriage two years later. Each of the three had their mission room, Sunday schools and visitors, as though it were a little parish, and held their own Sunday evening services. This system pulled everything out of the men. Every Monday morning they breakfasted together at the vicarage and conferred. The vicar had a large book in which was entered their work, the number of visits paid, and at the beginning of a year they would consider whether any class of people had been overlooked. "Did we know every publican, every servant-maid, etc.?"

The vicar found that streets in his part of the parish were full of young men lodgers, clerks, medical students, and others. He sent workers to every house with a letter to the landlady, asking for names. Some would not give them, but in the end he got a list of two hundred young fellows unknown to any of the staff. Then Montgomery went away for a week and wrote to all of them, enclosing a card of services. The letters were varied as much as possible. Some of the recipients compared their letters and found they were not alike and were not typed. About ten per cent, answered. Some were very much pleased and certainly the attendance of young men at the evening service increased, but such an experiment could not be repeated. The landladies would not help a second time.

A general principle was evolved that once you got hold of a person you never let go. Sick visits, baptisms, funerals, weddings; all these were opportunities. Confirmation was made a great deal of, with the result that the numbers rose from some fifty to 170 annually. The vicar had his own candidates at the vicarage and made them as comfortable as possible. He never took less than fifteen weeks. They had evening talks about marriage, gambling, etc., and as a result the communicants steadily grew in number. The Easter communicants the year before Montgomery came numbered 236. The year he left they had increased to 720, in spite of the fact that many had left the parish. Three times a year at the great festivals all those who had been confirmed were written to. There was a list of 1,000 communicants. The vicar composed the letter, had it printed, and sent the letters and the book of addresses to two ladies, who sent them back addressed and tied up in streets. The letters were then taken in a big bag to the school. "Church-workers, I want letters delivered." Up would go sixty eager hands, and in half an hour after school the work was done. Many letters went by halfpenny post, some to foreign lands, and these were greatly valued by the recipients, who were glad that their vicar did not forget them.

The church-workers at St. Mark's numbered about 250. There were 125 Sunday school teachers and 1,500 children. About twenty-five teachers were lost every year, and new ones had to be educated. The weekly teachers' class was always taken by the vicar himself, who looked upon it as a great responsibility and gave a model lesson on next Sunday's subject.

Perhaps the most fruitful part of his work was the Sunday evening "after-meeting." The vicar preached in the evening, and the congregation numbered 1,100. Then for some three months up to Easter he held an informal after-meeting. He walked about in a cassock, prayed extempore, carried further the subject of the sermon, and went through a course of Church instruction without calling it so. He also let it be known that those who attended, being adults or old, would find it a preparation for confirmation. Hundreds stayed every Sunday, and the vicar shook hands with them all as they went out. Thus they obtained numbers of adults for confirmation. In Henry Montgomery's last year at Kennington they had forty candidates over forty years old. Both his churchwardens one year were confirmed. Many a grey-haired man as he shook hands at the church door would whisper, "Put me down."

The parish magazine, too, was an immense engine in Montgomery's hands. He wrote it all himself, pages every month, and discussed every parochial topic freely.

He also wrote a series of articles on the history of Kennington. These at length appeared in book form, illustrated with old pictures. The book is now out of print. It had many articles on Oval cricket, and a wonderful account of Vauxhall Gardens.

The threads of organization became so numerous that the vicar used to wonder how long he and his staff could go on, remembering his unfailing principle, "Never let go of anyone you once get hold of." But the strain was great and took every ounce of strength out of him.

Home life--how much was possible in this crowded time? Five of their nine children were born at Kennington, and no press of work was allowed to interfere with his happy intercourse with his family. The children all had meals with their parents, the "baby" lying on a pillow on the floor. Their father had a great power of concentration. He could work in his study with the children playing about the room, and many of his sermons were written in the nursery overlooking the Oval cricket ground, while matches were being played. Every Saturday evening he and his wife dined with his father and mother; on Sundays they had supper with his wife's father and mother at Dean's Yard, and thus in the midst of hard work happy family intercouse was kept up. Monday, as far as possible, was kept as a "day off." And every summer they went over to New Park, where Henry renewed his strength among his beloved hills and the children learned to love their old Irish home.

In 1887 Sir Robert Montgomery died and the property then descended to his son Henry. But the Montgomerys had spent much in improvements on the property, and the charges on the estate were so heavy that when these were paid off by the sale of the Ballynelly farms there was barely enough left to keep up New Park and pay for the summer holiday. This had its disadvantages, for the tenants, seeing their landlord living in a large house, naturally thought he must be "rolling in money." While he and his family were in Tasmania the house was let during the summer months.

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