Project Canterbury

An Open Church

An Appeal for A Free Episcopal Church in the City of Boston.

Boston: Open Church Association, 1865.


HAS the Head of the Church, the Redeemer of our souls, a further work for His workmen in this community? To ask whether the Gospel is exerting its rightful power here, or whether the kingdom of God is realized, would be almost a mockery of Truth, Reason and Faith. Are the Christian agencies actually in operation among us adequate to the manifestation of that power, and likely to realize that kingdom? In themselves they undoubtedly are; as divinely constituted and providentially preserved, the creed, ministry, sacraments and worship of Christ's Church Catholic are sufficient for the needs of all human souls, in all lands, through all time. But in the trust and stewardship of men, are these divine ordinances so used, so applied, and so proclaimed, as to yield their fruit after their kind and accomplish their gracious design? Are the children of light as wise as even the children of this world?


Saying nothing of regions where Christ has not been preached, there is immediate danger that a practical kind [1/2] of barbarism may grow up where a vantage-ground has so long been given to Christianity as in Boston, and where a poor complacency is felt in the intelligence and religious opportunities of the people. It is not to be denied that thousands and tens of thousands of souls, for which Christ died, continually perish here, or that vast numbers of people, especially of the young, wander through the streets on the Lord's Day, or profane the time indoors, or give themselves up to vice, left destitute of all the regular means of salvation, because the Church does not go out after them, as the Saviour commanded her, or even set open doors for them to come in. It cannot be disputed, that at least till sanctuaries are thus thrown open, where these straying multitudes can take the bread and water of eternal life without money and without price, and where generous sympathies welcome them, the death of their souls will be required in the Judgment at the hands of the professed Christians of this city.

To those who have given even a slight attention to the subject, it is known that of the great multitude of young men and young women, separate from families, employed here, of all grades in society, but most of them coming from respectable homes in the country, a vast proportion are utterly negligent of holy observances, attend worship rarely and accidentally if at all, and spend the sacred time in ways that must distress the heart of the Church and grieve the Holy Spirit who is the Comforter. Much the same may be said of uncounted families--literally uncounted, though careful investigations have been made sufficient to show that this churchless and unworshiping population is far greater than Christians generally suppose. The children may be gathered into some Sunday school, but for want of systematic training, continuous [2/3] impression, attractive services, sound doctrine, or open opportunities, only a very few pass from the Sunday school into a well-ordered congregation, or FAMILY OF CHRIST, where their attachments take root, and Christian habits are formed for maturity. If any one of us will take pains to consider, in detail, step by step, the real obstacles which lie across the path of many a household, however well-disposed, in getting fairly settled in one of our city parishes, with the cost met, he will not question our heavy accountability.

Our present system of pewed churches, held under title-deeds as private property, is a means of benefit to a small part of the whole people for whom Christ died. But the good done is mixed with evil and liable to dangerous abuses; while a large majority of the people are practically shut out of their Lord's houses. The Open-Church system, wisely conducted, would exclude none; it would throw open the sanctuary free to all classes alike; for the presence and interest of the rich are just as important to a true Free-Church movement, as of the poor; the primitive and scriptural order would be restored; and new blessings from the Holy Spirit, on a grander scale, might be expected.

There are certain practical and profound Christian ideas grouped in the Open-Church system; and as the mind of the world is constituted, our religion cannot be said to have had a fair preaching and free course till they are submitted to a patient, generous experiment.


Special measures in the Church ought to have reference to the particular tendencies, tastes, and philosophy of the people at the given time and place, as well as to their needs. This is an Apostolic principle. St. Paul clearly [3/4] avows it. He became as a Jew to the Jew, and as a Greek to the Greek, that he might gain the more.

This community has a settled conviction, fostered by a peculiar culture, that religion should maintain a very direct and practical connection with the every day life of all classes of the people. In part this vital sentiment is a reaction from a former religion of abstractions. In any ministration likely to prove acceptable here, what may be called the humane element must be prominent. The people ask of the advocate of any system, "Do you concern yourself about the common condition of men? Do you care for the poor, the disordered, the unfortunate, the oppressed? If not, we dispute your Christian credentials."

Farther, our community values liberty, freshness, variety, and in a good degree, beauty and dignity also, in worship and preaching. Worse tendencies and sad abuses are intermixed with these traits; but not so as by any means to overbear them. And there is a marked increase, of late, in the desire for order and permanency in ecclesiastical affairs. We have both the Jew and the Greek.

Our Church has singular adaptations to this condition of things; for it has an unequalled practical and working system; a thoroughly catholic spirit; a motherly guidance and tuition through all the Christian year, which the young listen to, love and cling to; services sublimely impartial towards rich and poor, from the cradle to the grave; a congregational and responsive worship; the broadest creed consistent with scriptural foundations, and in a simple form of words; a government exactly analogous to our republican civil polity; fixed standards and usages; a mode of outward presentation so beautiful and majestic as, by almost universal consent, to be beyond blame; and freedom enough, wholly within the limits of [4/5] canon and rubric, if it were wisely and liberally used, to attract and satisfy thousands who are not now attracted and satisfied anywhere.

Suppose a new Church-enterprise to be started in this city. A church edifice should be put up, capable of seating about twelve hundred persons, of materials and construction consistent with a thoroughly ecclesiastical rule as to symmetry, proportion, sincerity, symbolical signification, and general architectural effect, as well as light, air, and access. It should be of such a style and model that all the worshipers could see well, and so furnished that every worshiper could literally kneel without difficulty. It should have no pew-doors. It should be placed near some principal central course of general travel, without being greatly exposed to street-noise, and should have either its face or its tower conspicuous to general observation. It should be provided with a deep-toned bell which should be used for all its devotional services.

In immediate connection with the main edifice should be a chapel, a parish school-room, a work-room for the poor, accommodations for Sunday and evening schools, a library, reading-room, a charity-depository for clothing and stores, and the various apartments necessary for carrying on the benevolent work of the Church.

The Church itself should never be shut, during the light of day, on any day of the week. It should be a place of prayer, perpetually, for all people.

The seats in the Church should be altogether and invariably FREE. In order to secure the proper juxtaposition of members of the same family in worship, thus preserving the family relation in the House of God, seats should be assigned to regular attendants in the order of their application, proceeding backward toward the door till all should be taken. A sexton, or usher, should be [5/6] at the foot of each aisle, or wherever the engaged seats should be, at every principal service, to signify this arrangement, until the organ-voluntary should begin; but then all restrictions of every sort should cease. Every other part of the House should be without any restriction whatever.

The Offertory should be used at every regular service and principal Feast or Fast, and at such other times as the Rector should appoint.

The regular public services of Sunday should be both shortened and multiplied, to accommodate all classes of God's people, by a careful and authorized division of the parts of the Liturgy, admitting two brief, pointed Sermons at different hours in the forenoon; by exercises of Biblical and Church instruction and devotion for persons of different ages in the afternoon; and by a Sermon of greater compass in the evening.

The worship should be rubrical in all respects, and according to those common usages which, being without peculiarity or extremes, in one way or another, secure the grand effect of uniformity. Only the Hymns, Psalms, Trisagion, Glorias, and Scriptural Anthems, should be rendered in music. The singing should always be simple, and, whether led by the minister or a volunteer choir, or the organ, should be largely congregational and without pecuniary compensation.

Public worship should be held on all holy days recognized by the Book of Common Prayer; and at such other seasons, daily or otherwise, as the Rector might see fit to appoint.

The Church, through various departments of practical operation, should prove itself the prompt, diligent, brave and tender friend of every needy child of God. It should be made to appear that patriotism, liberty, [6/7] philanthropy, and every great social movement in harmony with the spirit and doctrine of Christ, should expect the quick and hearty sympathy of this Church, in the interest of Him whose Incarnation and Passion are the source of all true reform and all true benevolence in the world. Employment should be sought for the idle, protection for the weak, relief for the wretched, asylums for the homeless and the orphan. Means should be provided in some part of the manifold apparatus for ministering to the mind as well as the heart and conscience of the people, by week-evening lectures, books, a reading room, and whatever social agency might elevate the tastes, increase the knowledge, strengthen the principles, or profitably employ the leisure of those vast classes among us, of both sexes, who have no home and few real friends in the city,--young men and young women who are fast losing their interest in Christianity itself, as well as its ordinances, and partly because they suppose the Church has no place for them. The most vicious and abandoned should be pitied, welcomed, and aided in every effort to return to the Good Shepherd and Bishop of their souls.

Connected with the Church edifice should be a rectory, provided with a number of chambers, not large, and plainly furnished, designed especially to furnish lodgings for clergymen visiting the city who otherwise would be left to hotels, and for such other guests as the Rector might consider it charitable or honorable to the Church to entertain.

The ministry would require at least two clergymen,--the Rector and his assistant, probably two assistants. There should also be a large staff of lay laborers of both sexes. Indeed, one parochial principle should be, that every stated worshiper should bear some part in the practical beneficence of the Church.


In order to erect, open and conduct such a Church, there is wanted, chiefly, faith,--faith in God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. To avoid presumption, and pay a proper respect to the laws of human prudence as well as the direct precept to "owe no man anything," there should be a pecuniary foundation created at the outset by the free and absolute gift of those who are the favored stewards of God's bounty, securing the following objects: 1. A prompt payment for the land, and for the materials, erection and furnishing of the buildings: 2. A fund, of a few thousand dollars, thirty or forty would be desirable, to protect the enterprise from embarrassment during its initiatory stages. The current expenses {with this exception) should be expected to be met by the weekly offertory; and if any deficiencies should appear, they should be provided for, quarterly, by the additional and private offerings of the wealthier class.

It is certain that an earnest conviction has already spread to a considerable extent, among Christians, that the time is ripe for such a measure as has here been imperfectly sketched. If the Lord will, it will be made a reality. Could any effort be devised more sure to bring a legitimate honor and spiritual strength to our Church in Boston? The measure appears to be one of those, not infrequent in the history of the Divine Kingdom, for which God himself silently prepares the way, by planting a ready mind and a believing desire beforehand in some of his people. It has repeatedly been said, with a religious earnestness that leaves no doubt of the sincerity of those that spoke,--"This is what I have long hoped I might live to see; praise be to God! It is so right in itself, so true to the Bible, so sure to prove [8/9] an unspeakable spiritual blessing, that, whatever the obstacles in a worldly view, or however unlikely it seems, on worldly principles, that so large a sum will be given at once purely for the honor of the Lord, it must come to realization 1" This is said of the enterprise as a whole, in its essential character, irrespective of subsidiary details capable of modification as the work advances. And it is said most reasonably, as it is said in faith. From the first inception of the plan, it has been understood that, if it becomes a work at all, it must be, more than most modern undertakings, a work of faith. The ordinary calculations of human wit and self-interest can not be relied upon, for they have little in common with the spirit of the design. At every step God's will and guiding hand must be humbly waited for, and implicitly followed. On the one hand, there must be no running before He sends; on the other, there must be no tarrying or holding back after He gives the errand, and no indolent or presumptuous neglect of the ordinary human instrumentalities by which, in the things of this world, beneficent and holy ends are brought about.

The following suggestions respecting the increase of the fund are respectfully made:

1. That all members of Christ's family, men, women or little children, who desire to help the object, should begin at once to save and lay aside sums, weekly, for its benefit.

2. That those who have a regular income should devote a certain fixed proportion of it in this way.

3. That occasional gifts, such as special thankofferings for special mercies, should be so appropriated.

4. That bequests should be designated for it in last testaments.

5. That particular labors should be undertaken, when it is practicable, to earn the means of contributing to it.

[10] 6. That favored stewards of God's bounty, doing a prosperous and profitable business, should solemnly fix on some amount in their increasing gains at which accumulation shall stop, with a religious vow that all acquired beyond that mark shall be consecrated to the Lord's Open House, where his glory shall dwell.

7 That unfailing supplications and intercessions should be offered, both daily and at specified seasons, by true Christians, for the accomplishment of this blessed purpose, and that the Lord will "hasten it in his time."

"Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God." Should faith lay hold of the promises and use these methods, the "Possible Church" would soon become actual, and God would surely set His NAME there.

In consequence of an interest appearing in relation to the Plan presented above, a meeting of its friends was called and held at Nassau Hall, November 14, 1865, J. E. Kettell, Esq., being Chairman, and E. P. Dutton, Esq., Secretary, at which, after earnest and favorable discussion, a Committee, consisting of the Rev. Dr. Huntington, the Rev. Mr. Coolidge, J. R. Kettell, Esq., C. H. Dorr, Esq., S. H. Gregory, Esq., and Samuel Bachelder, Jr., Esq., was appointed to prepare the form of an organization.

At an adjourned meeting, on the first Monday in Advent, December 4th, a Constitution was presented and adopted, as follows:


This shall be called the OPEN-CHURCH ASSOCIATION.

All persons worshiping in the Protestant Episcopal Church, who desire to work together for the objects of [10/11] the Association, shall, on notifying the Secretary, be considered its members.

Its officers shall be a President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, and an Executive Committee of seven,--of which Executive Committee, the President, Vice-President., Secretary, and Treasurer shall be, ex-officio, members.

The object of this Association shall be to promote the building and opening of churches, in the Protestant Episcopal Communion, where the sittings shall be free alike to rich and poor, where all classes of persons shall be welcome as children of one Father, as redeemed by one Saviour, as visited by one Comforter, and where free-will offerings for the support of the worship and preaching of the Sanctuary shall be received from the congregation at every regular service of the Church.

Every member of the Association shall be an agent for gathering funds, by all honorable and practicable means, for this end, and for setting it forward in the minds and hearts of men.

All sums of money or other value contributed to this object shall be placed in the hands of the Treasurer, to be by him paid or invested, at the direction of the Executive Committee.

Whenever a sufficient amount shall have been thus received to justify the, erection of a substantial and suitable Free Church, centrally situated, in the city of Boston, or the purchase of land for the purpose, the Executive Committee may proceed to purchase the land and to erect the edifice,--subject to all the laws, standards and usages of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America, provided that the Parish of said Church shall consist of regular worshipers in it for the time being: and provided further that the Trusteeship [11/12] and control of said property, under the Divine Head of the Church, shall be transferred by this Association only to such Parish regularly constituted, (said Parish to hold and use it only for a free and open Church,) or to the Corporation known as the Trustees of Charitable Donations; but in case it shall cease to be so used for a free Church, it shall revert to this Association.

There shall be an annual meeting of alt the members of this Association, properly notified, on the first Monday in Advent, when its officers shall be chosen, by ballot. The officers shall always continue to hold their offices until their successors are elected.

The officers were then filled, as follows:

J. B. KETTELL, President.
S. H. GREGORY, Vice President.
C. H. FROTHINGHAM, Secretary.
C. H. DORR, Treasurer.

Members of the Executive Committee.


All offerings, of whatever amount, may be sent to C. H. DORR, No. 18 Commonwealth Avenue, by mail or otherwise.

Any communications can be addressed to the Secretary, C. H. FROTHINGHAM, 57 Federal Street, Boston.

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