Project Canterbury Some Archbishops of Dublin
by T. S. Lindsay.
Dublin: Church of Ireland Printing Co., 1928.
THERE is some fear that the reader of the foregoing chapter, if a member of the Church of Ireland, may experience a pleasurable glow of Pharisaic self-satisfaction as he reflects on the superiority of our times to those which are passed. But everything in this world is relative, and if we are better than our predecessors, we are yet far from as good as we should be. And so I desire to direct attention to certain points in which improvement is possible and very desirable. I will not touch on the political, the commercial, nor even on the social sides of our life; much might be said about these, and in none have we reached perfection. I will only, with some diffidence, make a few suggestions about our Church organisation and our people's religion which may perhaps have, at least, the effect of stirring up thought.
We have, undoubtedly, excellent bishops 'to guide and rule the flock. And yet can it be claimed that the method of electing them is the ideal one? The election is made by the Diocesan Synod, which consists of all the clergy of the Diocese and with each of them two lay people chosen by the Parish Vestries. Thus the Synod is a large body--over 600 in the Dublin United Diocese--and of necessity no discussion as to the qualifications of those voted for is possible; and, as many of the lay members are quite in the dark as to the character and suitability of those who are put forward, they have to rely on popular rumours and whispered criticisms, never very accurate, and as they pass from mouth to mouth so distorted and exaggerated that they bear little relation to truth. Then the rules of procedure are so complicated that few understand them, and even the President's legal assessor is sometimes puzzled. And it has frequently happened that, after bringing up all those Synodsmen, many of them busy persons who can ill spare the time, and many from long distances, to spend the day in successive votings with long intervals of absolutely wasted time while the votes are scrutinized, the whole business has failed, and the appointment has had to be remitted to the House of Bishops. In only 29 out of 59 elections since Disestablishment have the Diocesan Synods succeeded in electing their Bishop. Now the addition of a new member to the Episcopal College is a matter of great importance to the Bishops, and one in which they should always have a voice. But under the existing system they either have no voice whatever or too much voice. Further, the choice of a new Bishop is of interest not only to the vacant Diocese, but to the whole Church, and now the whole Church outside that particular Diocese is given no say in the matter.
I venture to suggest a plan which would meet all these objections. Let a Board of Episcopal Nomination be formed, consisting of the Archbishop of the Province and two Bishops appointed ad hoc by the House of Bishops, three clergymen and three laymen elected by the General Synod, and three clergymen and three laymen elected by the Synod of the vacant See. These fifteen men could meet in a room with closed doors, where free discussion could take place. All the interests concerned would be represented, and there would never be a failure.
Possibly, too, some change might advantageously be made in the appointment of Incumbents to our parishes. The present system, on the whole, works well, but it sometimes happens that a clergyman is too long in a parish and gets stale, or perhaps has some difficulty with his people, and, being out of sympathy with them, his influence for good is impaired. Then it appears that another parson in the same or in another Diocese is in the same plight, and neither is willing to resign, with the risk of being left out in the cold. In such a case the Bishop, or the two Bishops, might be empowered to arrange an exchange, after consultation with the parishioners, and both parsons would, at least, make a fresh start.
The supply of candidates for the ministry has, for some time, been giving cause for grave anxiety. One might assign many reasons for this disinclination of young men to enter the highest and holiest of all professions. It is not peculiar to our Communion; I do not know if it is at all felt in the Roman Catholic Church, but it is very marked in Nonconformist bodies both here and in England. One is glad to know that the number of divinity students in Trinity College is increasing, and, of course, owing to amalgamation of parishes and the greatly diminished roll of Curates-assistant, the requisite number of Ordinands is not nearly as great as in former times. Still, the supply is short, and this at a time when "all the gates are thronged with suitors," when there are ten applicants for every secular post, and when lads of energy are going in their thousands to plant tea and run ranches in the uttermost parts of the earth. Our bishops and clergy might do much to turn the thoughts of young fellows at the opening of life towards the ministry, and begin with their own families. The Rectories, in old times, were looked on as one of the chief sources of supply; now that source seems to have dried up, and neither in palace nor in parsonage do we expect to find our future clergy. And it is not only the home service, but also the foreign, that needs recruits. I would suggest that both privately and in the pulpit boys and girls should be encouraged to dedicate their lives to the service of Christ in Missions to the heathen or in our Colonies, and to regard it as the most enviable, the most honourable and the happiest vocation to which they could be called.
This is one of the subjects to which our bishops might call attention in addressing their flocks. In the Roman Catholic Church the bishops adopt an admirable plan. At the beginning of Lent they address Pastorals to their people, which are read in every church in the Diocese on the First Sunday in Lent, instead of a sermon, and in these they offer such advice and such warnings as they think to be most needful. The only approach to this in our Church is when the Bishop addresses his Diocesan Synod. That does not answer the same purpose. These addresses, as a rule, deal with the affairs of the Diocese or of the Church, or of the world at large. What is wanted is the heart to heart talk with the people on the things that really matter to them, the things that concern their spiritual welfare--their observance of the Lord's Day, their attendance at Public Worship, their regular Communions, their Bible study, their part in the war against our national sins, drinking, gambling, swearing, the high Christian character and example that is expected from them. These Pastorals might be read in our churches on the first Sunday of the year, if there might be hesitation about copying the Romans too closely and issuing them for Lent. They would have an immense influence in moulding the thoughts and ways of our people, bringing them down from the high levels of deep theology and difficult finance and world movements to the every-day needs of ordinary folk--our ploughmen, our shop assistants, our nursery-maids--and they would make them feel that their Fathers-in-God really understood them, had a genuine concern for their souls and a desire to lead them, as the oriental shepherd did his sheep, into the green pastures, and to bring them to love and serve Jesus Christ.
Another way of instructing our people, too much neglected, could be done, not by the bishops, but by the clergy. It is by the wider use of pictures, and by the providing cheap, sound and interesting literature. Go into any Roman Catholic house, and you will see on the walls pictures of the Sacred Heart or of the Blessed Virgin. Instruction enters the mind very much through the eye, and religious pictures round the room act as a restraint and insensibly impress the family with the reality of religion. We, too, can have really beautiful pictures of Scripture scenes, produced by the R.T.S. and other firms, by first-rate artists, and if the young eyes were to dwell on these day by day they would never be forgotten. And in most Roman churches you will find a case containing small cheap books on religion, with a slot into which the price can be dropped. One is glad to know that this plan is beginning to be adopted in our churches also; the A.P.C.K. supplies such cases, and also stocks a good selection of little books to fit them. It may be found that a too great familiarity with these cases in the church porch breeds, if not contempt, indifference. It may, therefore, be advisable to produce them, with a fresh set of books, only through one month of each quarter, including Lent and Holy Week.
Another matter in which there is room for improvement is the care of our churchyards. Often these are in a deplorable state of neglect, long grass, weeds, briars and thistles growing round the graves unchecked, the walks green with moss. This is a heritage from the bad old times; the parishioners have been used to it from their childhood, and regard it as part of the established order of things, never to be changed. A higher standard of how God's House and God's Acre should be kept has to be formed in the parish, and the idea has to be instilled into the people's mind--it can only be done gradually--that the graves of those who have passed to the heavenly home, and whose memory still is dear, ought to be cared for very tenderly and very lovingly. There are sometimes difficulties, for in most of our old churchyards all parishioners, including Roman Catholics, have rights of sepulture, and dislike what they may regard as interference with their graves. And in former times, little care was taken, when erecting headstones, to build a proper foundation, so that many lean like the Tower of Pisa, and others have fallen down flat like the walls of Jericho. But in most cases, with a little tact and friendliness, these difficulties may be overcome. And if it is outside the agreed work of the Sexton, a Guild of men could be formed, whose pride and pleasure it would be to keep the churchyard in well-ordered neatness or even make it beautiful with flowers.
And another legacy of the bad old times we inherit. It is the neglect of the Holy Communion. A great many, indeed the vast majority of our people, are content to join in that holy Feast twice or thrice a year. Now the Presbyterians' use is to have a quarterly Communion, and they consider that infrequency lends solemnity to the rite. And certainly their Communions are very solemn and impressive, and the addresses and observances connected with them are very edifying. But our Church tries to train her children in a somewhat different way. It is the teaching of our Prayer Book--and we believe it to be Scriptural--that the Holy Communion is a means of grace, that for the faithful communicant it is really the feeding of our souls with the very life of our Divine Lord, that it brings us closer to Him than any other means of approach, and that, therefore, if our spiritual nature is to be nourished, we should follow the practice of the Apostles and the primitive Church and partake of the Lord's Body and Blood on every Lord's Day, and make it the great central act of worship. Our bishops and clergy should never rest satisfied until every confirmed person does this. It may be objected that if all communicated on every Sunday the Services in large parishes would be inordinately long. And so it would be if the words of administration were said, as at present, to each. But that is not essential; our Lord did not do it at the institution, and if they were said to each railful, or even to the entire congregation at once, the time occupied would not be unduly prolonged. It may be feared, however, that it will be long before there is necessity for that, except on the Great Festivals.
There are, no doubt, many other directions in which religious improvement is possible. God forbid that we should imagine that we are perfect. God forbid that our hearts and consciences should be deadened by that dreadful spirit of self-satisfaction which kills all progress. The ascent of a mountain is always slow and difficult, and if we sit down and look superciliously on the plain below, we shall never get higher.
"Let no man think that sudden in a minute
All is accomplished and the work is done;
Though with thine earliest dawn thou should'st
begin it, Scarce were it ended with the setting sun."