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Bishop Montgomery: A Memoir

By M.M.

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

Chapter X. The Order of St. Michael and St. George

Bishop Montgomery had been four years at S.P.G. House, and was preparing for the Pan-Anglican Congress, when one day he received a message that the Archbishop of Canterbury wished to speak to him in his robing-room at the House of Lords. The Archbishop said, "The King wants to make you Prelate of St. Michael and St. George; are you willing?" "Of course I was astounded and could only stammer 'Yes'." The last Prelate, Archbishop of Rupert's Land, had passed away. Now at length a chapel was to be devoted to the use of the Order in St. Paul's Cathedral, and it was natural to appoint as Prelate one who had seen service abroad, and who was now at home and free to develop the use of the chapel.

In due time the bishop went with Sir Montagu Ommanney to St. James's Palace on a Levée day. They went with the entree and before the Levée began the bishop was taken into a small room. King Edward came in and fastened the decoration round his neck.

Later, on June 12th, 1906, the service of inauguration was held at St. Paul's in the presence of the Sovereign of the Order, King Edward VII., and of the Grand Master, H.R.H. the Prince of Wales. Nothing could have been more magnificent. Two thrones twenty feet high were erected north and south of the altar for the King and the Prince of Wales. All seats in the nave were removed and the broad space was lined with Life-Guardsmen and Beefeaters. There was a procession from the west door of some 180 Knights Grand Cross in full costume, 100 Knight Commanders and many Companions. The Prelate walked last in the costume of a Knight Grand Cross, just in front of the Grand Master, as senior officer of the Order, and as a member of the King's Household. Among the five other officers was the Duke of Argyll. At the Prelate's last service in 1932 he was the only survivor of the officers present at the inauguration. The Prelate's duty on this occasion was to take the whole service and to give a short address. He had been given two behests--to forget Royalty and to be human. "So I did my best."

The accompanying letter from Canon Scott Holland, one of the great preachers of the day, will show how he succeeded:--

Amen Court,
St. Paul's, E.C.

My dear Prelate,

I must write one word of thankfulness to you for your most touching address.

It was a miracle of grace to have succeeded in saying just what was real and right on such an occasion. You avoided all perils and went straight to the heart.

Yours, W. Scott Holland.

The scene may be imagined. Mr. David Erskine, who was with the King and who had been to innumerable court functions, said it was the finest ceremony he had ever seen--finer than the coronation. This was because the Abbey cannot approach St. Paul's for scenic effect.

It may be guessed how dear this new work was to the heart of Bishop Montgomery, and with what zeal he threw himself into it. He set before himself three aims. First, to make the chapel a worthy home of the Order. He determined to make it as beautiful and as perfect as possible, and the many gifts which have contributed to its dignity and beauty, and the Chapel Maintenance Fund, were due to his inspiration. It was his constant endeavour to make the chapel a real spiritual home and a centre of influence for all the members of the Order.

Secondly, to draw up a worthy form of service. Here he could obtain no assistance from other Orders. At length he went to Bishop Collins of Gibraltar, who drew up the form of service which, with variations, has been used ever since. Bishop Collins also discovered an ancient prayer for St. Michael. Other services for the taking down of banners, the affixing of banners, and services for the departed, were the invention of the Prelate himself. The Order had no traditions or ancient customs. It represented the modern Dominions overseas and the Prelate strove to remember that fact. At first the annual service on St. George's Day was a modest affair; but every year it gained in beauty and dignity, and the stately ceremonial was largely due to his initiative. The Grand Master, the present King, was "very good to us. Once, after one of the services, he went out of his way to thank me for what I had done."

The third aim was to start a tradition of prayer for the Order by the Prelate before the altar of the chapel. In this it differed from all other Orders. The members of the Order had become the Prelate's family and it seemed a natural thing to pray for them. But he found it hard work. It meant attendance from forty to sixty days in St. Paul's, generally at the luncheon hour. An hour at a time was his limit. Sometimes only half an hour. After he left London he prayed partly in the church at Moville or in the chapel at New Park. But the first three months of every year were largely spent in London on the work of the Order, and he found it most appropriate to kneel in the chapel of the Order. Every year, therefore, every member of the Order was remembered before God by the Prelate, separately and by name, and for the most part in the chapel of the Order. He felt that he was called by his office to do all in his power for the members of the Order, scattered through all the continents. The total number of members was 5,172.

There was no lack of money for all purposes. In one year the Prelate, who was hon. treasurer, received over £500 from all parts of the world and from many members who were non-Christians. "I think it is because members know that I pray for them. I often get grateful letters."

In 1911 he was commanded by the King to walk in the procession in Westminster Abbey at the coronation service as Prelate of the Order.

The Prince of Wales became the Grand Master of the Order in 1919, and was installed in St. Paul's Cathedral on June 2nd with ancient and picturesque ceremonial.

In 1928, to commemorate over twenty years' service, the Prelate was appointed a Knight of the Order. In a letter received by him from Lord Stamfordham on February 14th, 1931, after other business he writes: "His Majesty congratulates you on this the twenty-fifth year of your office as Prelate of the Order, and knows what the whole Order owes to you."

His last service, on April 24th, 1932, was attended by the Duke and Duchess of York. The next day he received the following letter from the Duke's private secretary:--

11 Grosvenor Crescent, S.W. 1.
April 25th, 1932.

Dear Prelate,

The Duke and Duchess of York desire me to tell you how deeply impressed they were by the beauty of the service on Saturday, and by the admirable manner in which you conducted it. It was an occasion of which they will always retain most happy memories.

I am further to express to you the sincere hope of their Royal Highnesses that you were not very fatigued by the many and heavy duties you were called upon to perform.

Yours sincerely,

P. K. Hodgson.

To which the Prelate replied:

Chancery of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George.
April 26th, 1932.

Dear Hodgson,

It is difficult to find fit words in response to the message of their Royal Highnesses. It is a full reward for all the years of thought we have given to our Annual Service. It has been of course a combined work of all the Officers. And I should like the Duke and Duchess to know what a delightful fellowship exists between the present group. Their combined labours, based upon those who have passed from us, have made the Service what it is, coupled with the aid of some twenty other Members who marshal into their places all the worshippers. So fine is their cooperation that there is no need now for anxiety about the progress of the Service. One thought helps us greatly as St. George's Day approaches. We are always conscious of the presence of a great many widows of those who have lately departed, and for their sake, as much as for any others, no effort is too great to make the Service tender, human, and comforting, as well as beautiful in its setting.

The joy of such a service eliminates fatigue.

With deep gratitude to their Royal Highnesses,

I remain,

Yours sincerely,

(Signed) H. H. Montgomery,

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