Project Canterbury


Sermon in Memory

of the

Right Reverend Charles Sumner Burch, D. D., LL. D.

Ninth Bishop of New York

Preached in the

Cathedral of St. John the Divine

at the Opening Service of the

Special Convention of the Diocese of New York


Wednesday, January 26, 1921


by the

Right Reverend Arthur Seldon Lloyd, D. D.

Acting Bishop of New York


Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2007

[2] YOU have assigned to me a grateful task, my brethren, in bidding me express for you the reverence and affection we all share for our late Diocesan.

While the whole course of his life among us, and his quick promotion from service in the Church Militant to service in the Church Expectant is cause for rejoicing on our brother's account, it is fit that we not only make record of our grief and of our sense of personal loss, but of our keen sympathy for those of his own household. At the same time let us render thanksgiving to God for the good example of His servant, who with simplicity and courage accepted the task laid upon him by the Church and with unreserved generosity gave himself to the service to which he had been called.

This diocese has suffered loss which will be felt more and more as men realize more clearly how that unusual gift which may be called "humanness" was so conspicuous a characteristic of Bishop Burch. Though it may have passed unnoted, this was evidently felt and responded to by all whose life touched his life throughout his notable career.

For in truth the career of Bishop Burch was quite unusual. This impresses one the more when one thinks of it from the standpoint of the ordinary progress of the life of men ordained to the Ministry of the Church. Drawn as he seems to have been from his youth to this service, he labored until his maturity in other avocations where of necessity his contacts were with the drama of human life rather than with the mechanical structure of the world's work. He was concerned with the doings of men in their daily life, rather than with their business.

This seems to have had much to do with his development, so that when at last his desire was fulfilled and he was permitted to take Orders, his ministry was characterized by that understanding sympathy to which men so surely respond, whether in their joys or their perplexities.

Wherever he ministered he seems to have been loved, as a man is loved who understands without needing to be [2/3] told. No doubt it was due to this that he was so soon after being made a priest called to the office of Archdeacon, where it fell to his lot to hearten and counsel his fellow servants as these ministered in the priest's office. It is certainly true that all sorts of men were drawn to him then, so that presently it seemed natural that he should be raised to the high office and dignity which were his when his Master bade him come up higher.

Accident brought me near to Bishop Burch during his brief term of service as Diocesan, and it was increasingly interesting to note how consistently the emphasis of his thought and solicitude fell on the human factors in the problems for which it was his province to find solution. It was eminently true of Bishop Burch that whatever concerned men was his concern, and with singular generosity he seemed to give himself to the people, in his Master's Name.

He was essentially courageous, and because courageous, generous. There may have been occasions when solicitude for the welfare of the diocese made him appear to move uncertainly, but when a question concerned only himself and his personal obligation, there was no such suggestion. He recognized, and without hesitation or wavering, went up to meet his obligation. Yet the same grace that made him thus strong in himself showed in his unusual patience with and understanding of the vacillations and pathetic weaknesses of others. Knowing him it was not difficult to understand why all sorts and conditions of men loved Bishop Burch, or to explain why he was sought after to fill the post where he might be a pastor to his clergy.

While we must rejoice for him that his Master saw fit to advance His servant so soon to that service where burden and perplexity no longer hinder, I am sure that I am expressing the thought of many when I say that I had looked forward to seeing Bishop Burch make definite and valuable contribution to the life of the Church by exemplifying in his office more and more that inestimable gift of sympathy by which the Church's Head draws men so irresistibly to Himself.

This diocese has been mightily blessed in that it has constantly had as Bishop, men whose hearts God has touched. But the refined cruelty of the religious is proverbial. It is easy for the Church in the security of her [3/4] order and orthodoxy to separate herself from the misery and heartbreaks of those to whom she was sent to interpret the infinite love and patience of the Father of all men. It will be for the blessing and strengthening of the Church if the gentleness of our late Bishop stirs in us all a divine ambition to strive to exemplify in ourselves the human kindness of our Lord.

Nothing is so apt to make one forget one's obligation to be kind as conscious security from the dangers or suffering of which one is spectator. So it is not to be wondered at that the Church also, being mortal, should in the security of her prerogative seem to lose sight of that which she would be quick to claim as her dearest privilege--the right to make her own the suffering of the most obscure, and to shed tears for the sin of the least one.

Long service makes it easy for, the servant to lose sight of the fact that he is a servant, and to assume the attitude of master and dispenser; so it is not to be wondered at if the Church has at times acted as though she might in her own power pass judgment on human life; thus finding not excuse, but necessity for hardness and cruelty.

We think of such things as belonging to the far away past, and happily the pushing back of mankind's horizon may be safely relied on to put an end to evil deeds receiving Christian sanction. And yet the same tendency will be present in human nature until the day dawns when all shall have come to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, and it will be likely to find expression as long as there are timid or weak men who may find themselves clothed with authority; or where there may be one whose stupid ambition tempts him to appropriate the honor which belongs to his Lord. For, it is pathetically true that the shortest road to unquestioned authority is by way of the ruthlessness which makes the weak ones afraid.

Evidence that such evil things have no essential part in human nature is found in the contempt that they stir in men's hearts even while they are acclaimed. So also the conviction that they must pass away is confirmed by the revelation of the truth about human life showed us by our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not without reason, therefore, that we may confidently look forward to the day when the Church shall have finally outgrown those limitations [4/5] which hinder her mission as they contradict the truth which she was sent to proclaim.

As her life becomes more developed she will express human nature more truthfully. As she is able to draw all men unto her by the same cords which made our Lord irresistible, those ugly things will disappear which seduce men into believing that divine gifts may be attained by evil means. Yet there is only one way by which this which we know shall be, can be attained--the same as that revealed by our Lord when He showed how beautiful is human nature and how all that is evil in it shall pass.

In drawing them near to Himself by the understanding love He poured out on them, our Lord made the first Christians able to desire those things which He showed they were able to possess. Through the ages since, the same understanding love has led men to abhor the evil, until today, though many refuse to receive them, those graces which the Christ revealed as expressing truly human life, are recognized as the ideal which mankind must attain before a right social order can be established.

It is in the person of those set in high places that men have a right to look for the exemplification of those things which are thus the foundations of human society, since to their leaders they must look for the interpretation of that which is beautiful because true. And it is delightful to be reminded that behind all else in the beauty of life lies that trait which we have called "humanness;" even as this was--and is--that quality in our Lord which has drawn men of all ages and of all races to give themselves to Him in loving devotion as their personal Saviour.

The truth of what has been said becomes more interesting as one considers what traits must show themselves in a man who would commend as Lord and Revealer that One Whom we worship:--that kind of faith which cannot be afraid for the truth; the courage that cannot be cruel; self-control having no need for violence; the understanding which awakens hope; integrity which never bends; the strength which is ever gentle; the sympathy which needs no explaining; the love which is patient through all. These are the marks of the man who set in high places will bear true witness for the Master of men, and in proportion as he lacks these (and what mortal can attain them?) will his witness be incomplete.

[6] Yet no man need despair because he has not already attained, since these are all traits of human nature. We have seen them exhibited perfectly in the Word of God Incarnate. We have seen their faint reflection in the lives of His faithful ones. We ourselves, striving as we may to be His faithful witnesses, have attained to this--that we know no man may possess them till he is filled with the Holy Ghost. So we have learned at least how they may be made our own.

And indeed it is a quest worthy of the highest, to strive after those traits which together help display the "humanness" which the Apostle called charity, since what our Lord waits for will be accomplished once those whom He redeemed understand the revelation which showed men that human nature cannot be wholly articulate until every man is filled with the Spirit of His Father.

Your own imagination is enough to make you able to see the beautiful flower that would blossom in this great, and wonderful, and pathetic city if God's Church could completely exemplify this greatest of divine gifts. The multitudes that are striving so hard to be right, yet falling so constantly into evil practices; so courageous in their struggle against life's contradictions, yet so pathetic in their weaknesses: all would draw near with joy to His Body, the Church, as men pressed upon our Lord in Galilee, if the Church could pour out on them His loving kindness. And she may, if she will, for He has inspired His Body with His own Spirit.

The sorrows of men are His appeal to us. His glorious beauty the challenge He throws down, that we give our lives to our brethren.

As you stand confronting your most solemn obligation to choose a successor to our late Diocesan, your hearts softened meanwhile by thoughts of Bishop Burch's large-heartedness; lift up your eyes and see the Living Christ. Be very courageous and claim that which is yours already in Him. Guided by His Spirit, do what you may to choose that one for this office who possessing gifts of administration, and made wise by fellowship with our Lord Christ, will in the power of the Holy Ghost show forth evidently in His Church the "humanness" of the Son of God.

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