Project Canterbury

Foreign Service Order

By J. R. Selwyn

Cambridge: J. & C. Clay, at the University Press, 1896.






Oct. 8, 1896.

"Forasmuch as it is better not to begin a good work, than to think of desisting from that which has been begun, it behoves you, my beloved sons, to accomplish the good work which by the help of the Lord you have undertaken [1]." [Footnote: Hook, Abp. of Cant. p. 51. Ed. 1860.]

Such were the well-known words with which Gregory the Great on the 23rd of July 596 finally sent forth the hesitating Augustine on his Mission to the Angles.

1300 years afterwards, almost to a day, the successor of Gregory tells us, the children of Augustine, and of that other line which through Columba and Aidan derives its origin perhaps from Ephesus and St. John, that we are no Church at all, that we hold no Divine Commission, possess no orders, enjoy no Sacraments. The Apostolical care of the English nation belongs to him and not to us, since we have no share in the Apostolical Commission.

Brethren, what is our answer, and how is it to be expressed? Not in word, but in deed. Not in futile argument, but in the power of the Spirit and in the love of our Lord, must we show that we are conscious of a Divine Commission, [1/2] and are working with a Divine Strength. The words of the ancient Pope must be the watchword, wherewith we answer the haughty encyclical of the new.

We have "begun a good work." Where is it to be accomplished?

The England of Augustine lay on the confines of the then known world. A few petty kings, a county or two acknowledged the sway of the Bretwalda, Ethelbert.

The Britain, the Greater Britain of to-day, lies not merely in these sea-girt Isles, teeming though they be with dense population, but it lies on the confines of all the Earth, and is great with a potentiality, of which no human foresight can foresee the bounds.

This year we celebrate the longest and the most beloved reign in all our history, and as we turn from the petty kingdoms of Ethelbert, to the vast empire of Victoria, so shall we understand the work which the Church of England has to do.

For mark--we assume the responsibility. When we broke with the arrogance and the novelties of Rome, when we emancipated ourselves from her control--when we proclaimed that we had gone back to the older and more primitive truths of the Catholic Church, then it became our duty to see to it that none of our children, wherever they might go, should be unable to obtain that teaching which we proclaimed to be so precious. This heritage of ours is no mere benefit to be enjoyed in insulated ease by ourselves, but it is a Divine trust to be handed on, extended, by the most intense self-sacrifice and devotion by all who claim its privileges.

And yet, how slow the Church of England has been to recognise this. Look at the Church in America, and see how almost fatal was the apathy with which its early years were nurtured. Look at the tardy growth of the Colonial Episcopate, which only within the last 60 years has really received the fostering care of the Church. And even at the present day look at the hesitating, fluctuating, stunted income of the S. P. G., to which every Colonial Bishop turns in time of [2/3] need. Or go, as I have gone, into the towns and cities of this land, and find how hard it is to raise the faintest interest in that great tide of our English speaking race, which is sweeping over so many quarters of the globe. And yet this, as all men tell you, is to be, must be, the dominant race of the world. On it, now, can be stamped deep the truths of that pure and reformed, yet Catholic faith which we prize so dearly: neglected it my sink into utter godlessness save in the environs of the great cities, or be won by men of other communions, who are truer to our Lord than we are. "It were better not to begin, than not to finish," and our goal is nothing less than the keeping of the Anglo-Saxon race true to the Catholic faith of Christ.

In the short space of fifteen minutes, I can say but little of purely missionary work, yet would I urge this. There can be no greater missionary work than this. Our sound is gone out into all lands, and our words unto the ends of the world. Our race touches every nation under heaven, it dominates more than a quarter of the population of the world. And no greater aid can be given to the Missionary cause, than that which turns the dominant race into a people which manifests God by its life.

Now what is the demand which is made on us to-day by the Colonial Church, by the Bishops that is, on whom is laid the tremendous care of all these scattered flocks? It is not so much money, though many a man is sent to take charge of a Diocese as large as France, with an income for himself and his clergy which would be rejected with scorn by a second-rate jockey--but what they ask is men--men--with the love of God and of men in their souls--men trained to do the work which lies before them. It is this want which lies graven on their hearts. As Nelson, in the stress of that tremendous watch which he kept over the French fleets, wrote to the Admiralty that if he died the word frigates would be found graven on his heart; so the Bishops amid the sheep-runs of Australia, on the Veldt in S. Africa, in the corn lands of N. America, in the gold mines of Coolgardie, unite in one bitter cry--Give us men--give us men that we [3/4] may reach these scattered sheep, that we may feed the lambs of Christ that they may grow up in the knowledge of their Lord.

And they want real men--not wastrels--men who know what to do, and are prompt to do it. Men who will make Church privileges, not cry out because they do not find them ready made. Men who can put themselves alongside the miner and the sheep shearer, the backwoodsman and the rancher, and show them that they do as much for God and for His people, as these men do in their daily lives for the great world spirit which urges them on.

Yes, say some, that is true--but why does not the Colonial Church supply those men herself?

The Colonial Churches will, and to a certain extent do. Every Bishop strives to make some provision for training the men who offer themselves. But in the nature of things is it likely or indeed possible that Colonies can afford an adequate supply?

A colony from its very circumstances has to be progressive. It has to subdue the waste around it, it has to build it self up. And therefore the whole force of circumstances presses men at a very early age into the service of this all-prevailing spirit. At an age when our boys are hardly leaving school, and a large proportion of them are looking forward to further education, the youth of a colony are whirled into the vortex of the life which rushes round them.

And even if men are obtained, the means of training them is very scanty. The Theological Colleges with which each Bishop strives painfully to supply his needs can afford but a very insufficient training. And the energies of the men who work them are too often exhausted in supplying a rudimentary education, instead of putting the finishing touches to an education already gained.

And further--when men are ordained, and come to the practical training of work as distinguished from theoretical training, the opportunities which a colony has to offer are few and far between. Some of the large town parishes may [4/5] be able to afford the luxury of assistant Clergy, but they are rare, and too often the young Clergyman has to learn his profession as best he may, under circumstance which would daunt a well-trained priest.

No greater boon can therefore be given by the Church at home to the struggling Church abroad than a supply of well-trained Clergy full of youth and zeal, lent to them for a time to meet their urgent needs.

The Navy and the Army of England cannot exist without a reserve,--neither can the Church of Christ.

If the work is to be really done, we must abandon the old haphazard way in which the Colonial Church has been manned, and put it on a more defined and assured basis. The spectacle of Colonial Bishops wasting months in beating England up and down for recruits must be abandoned, and things put in a more definite and rational order.

And thank God, the spirit to do this is in the air. The movement has sprung, as so many great movements have sprung, not so much from command, as from the spontaneous enthusiasm of the men whose services are needed. The offer of the 30 men in the Diocese of Durham to go where they are sent, without choice and without reserve, is one of those inspirations which assures us, as I humbly trust, that Christ is working in His Church. And the response of the venerable Bishop, (whose sons scattered through the world show how he has recognised the Church's Mission,) and not his answer alone, but that I believe of every Bishop on the bench, give every reason to hope that this scheme may be brought into full working order. At the ensuing Lambeth Conference Bishops from every part of the world will be gathered together, each knowing his own wants, and the difficulties of his own Diocese, and in consultation they will be able to formulate some plan which many commend itself to the Church at large. I do not think that anything final can be done till they have met and discussed it. All I can throw out now as a practical suggestion is that the Board of Missions of the Church would seem to supply the agency through which this great movement could be most readily [5/6] worked. To it as representing the Church, the Home Bishops could supply in confidence the names of those who volunteer; and to it Bishops would apply for men, and would be put in touch with them. As one of the Secretaries, I can only say that nothing would give me greater satisfaction than to try to make such an arrangement work.

I can but apologise to the Congress for a very inadequate paper on so great a subject. My only excuse is that illness came on just as I was setting to work to put my thoughts on paper--and I have only been able to write it hastily at the beginning of my convalescence. I can only hope that inadequate as it is it may lead others to recognise the greatness of the responsibility which lies on our Church to-day--and then to grasp the opportunity which is now offered to it. For of all the hopes that men can entertain none can be greater than that which looks forward to making the English race throughout the Earth a potent instrument for the spread of the Faith of Christ.

The gift that the Home Church can give towards this work is a supply of men trained in the methods of their work as men are now trained in so many parishes in England. In the towns their work will be almost identical with that they have learnt in England. In the country it will be different. For acres you can often read miles when you compare a country parish in England with a large bush Parish in Australia or Canada. But men of the right stamp, trained in right methods, will not be daunted by difficulties. They will make their opportunity. They will create that which they find lacking, and they will show to the men in the wilds that the Church sends of her best to care for its scattered flock.

Nor will the Church at home only give. It will receive. Those men will have breathed a wider and freer atmosphere than perhaps they could have obtained at home. As they brought with them to the Colonial Church the order and method of the training of the Church at home, so will they bring back a wider insight into men of all classes; they will have learnt in the atmosphere of a voluntary Church to work [6/7] with the laity, not over them; and above all they will come back to inspire others with a spirit like their own. Scattered through this realm of England will be men, who can tell not from hearsay but by practical experience what are the needs, and what the opportunity, of our sister Churches beyond the seas. They will be a link of living union between the scattered branches of our Church. And each link will bind us all more together into that which may now seem a dream, but which we ought to strive to make ever a more living unity--the English speaking branch of the Catholic Church of Christ.



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