The Chronicle of Christ Church
By Deaconess Josephine A. Lyon (1862-1939)
New Haven, Connecticut: Quinnipiack Press, no date.
CHAPTER III. DR. ERASMUS VAN DEERLIN
FROM Mr. Brewster's resignation until 1882, the parish was without a rector, with the consequent falling away of many faint-hearted parishioners. The visiting Priests who ministered to us and gave us, as far as it was possible, very real pastoral care were of a beautiful and rare quality; and on the third Sunday in June, the Rev. Dr. William G. Spencer accepted a call to the Rectorship and entered upon his duties with a salary of $I,500. Later, in consideration of the meagre revenues of the parish, the new Rector with self-sacrificing devotion accepted $10o a month; and the understanding was, that if the income of the parish warranted it, the former amount would be restored.
In commencing the work, Dr. Spencer naturally encountered the many obstacles which invariably follow the severing of pastoral ties that have endured through nearly two generations; but he gave himself manfully to his difficult undertaking, and Trinity Church, seeing the discouraged condition of its offshoot, kindly contributed for three years towards its support. The Rector bent every effort to bring back the scattered sheep. As a preacher he was a clear and convincing teacher of Divine Revelation, giving his listeners thoughtful, well-directed instruction and earnest exhortation. His warmest friends were those who wisely broke through [42/43] the shell of his reserve and found the patient, gentle, kindly heart within.
During his rectorship, much efficient work was accomplished in the parish: long-needed repairs and improvements were made without and within the church, and the important work of securing pledges and contributions for paying off the church debt, was then inaugurated and carried far along towards a successful result.
Dr. Spencer, however, failed to realize immediate success in his efforts for a larger and stronger congregation. He became disheartened in the second year of his rectorship, and tendered his resignation, which was regretfully accepted.
After he left, the ministrations of the parish were again weakened by the necessarily inadequate services of temporary supply. The parish, having sustained the loss of some of the oldest and most active members, offered no alluring prospect of development, nor any gratifying promise for clerical enthusiasm.
Among the available clergymen who had visited the parish and had impressed the congregation by the force and character of his sermons, and the reverence and dignity shown in his way of rendering the services of the church, was the Rev. Erasmus J. H. Van Deerlin, of the Diocese of Rhode Island. He courageously accepted a call to the parish and began his ministrations on December 1, 1884.
Dr. Van Deerlin was born in England on August 27, 1846. Educated at Christ's College, Cambridge, he had been ordained by the Lord Bishop of Worcester in Worcester Cathedral, on St. Luke's Day in 1871. He had served in the dioceses of both Birmingham and Winchester, and had been for several years a missionary [43/44] in British Guiana, but Christ Church was his first cure in America. He soon endeared himself in many ways to those with whom he was brought into close contact, and his gentle, unassuming manner and thoroughly cultivated and scholarly attainments, together with an impassioned mode of utterance in the pulpit, constituted a charm which marked him at once as a man of more than ordinary gifts. In his parochial duties he possessed all the qualifications which go to make up the ideal parish priest.
On December 17, 1884, the Parish gave a reception at 48 Howe Street, to welcome the new Rector and his wife. At the end of fifteen months he had not only established the character and the trend of the worship in Christ Church, teaching the faith both boldly and eloquently, but he had cleared the parish of nine thousand dollars of indebtedness.
An important parochial undertaking marked the beginning of his rectorship. In February, 1885, the Budington property, which was a dwelling house and lot on Broadway adjoining the church, was offered for sale on favorable terms. When put on the market some six years before, it had been appraised at $7,000. The church now bought it for $4,375, since among the reasons assigned for the apparent undesirability of the property and the difficulty in selling it was the provocative one of its "proximity to a church." An active and devoted member and officer of the parish, Mr. George Miller, generously and successfully undertook the purchase of this property as a home for the new rector. With the help of friends outside the parish, sufficient funds were secured for the property to be conveyed in trust for the church, until the mortgage debt incurred [44/45] in the purchase was fully paid. The dwelling was at once repaired and refitted for the occupancy of the Rector and his family.
In recommending the purchase of this property, the committee had suggested several ways of raising the money to pay for it, among them a fair or other entertainment. It was said that "under active management and in a central location, your committee thinks that an Easter fair would produce not less than $500, and this without any gambling." More than five hundred dollars was raised by an entertainment given at the Atheneum on February 12th and 13th, by local talent within and without the parish. Prominent among those assisting was Miss Justine Ingersoll, whose niece and namesake has been so efficient in her services to our recent dramatic association. The ladies of the parish gave the first turkey supper on record, the proceeds of which also went to the rectory fund.
The committee then proposed the solicitation of pledges amounting to $250 annually, payable in October. They estimated that the rectory could be paid for in three years, and that zealous work for a common object would unite the parish as nothing but work ever does. The parish put its full strength into raising the necessary funds, with the result that within a year, not only was the rectory paid for, but the entire property was cleared of debt (amounting to $9,000), so that on Epiphany, the patronal festival, the second Christ Church was ready to be consecrated. During these months all the efforts of the congregation had been ably assisted by the Rector's preaching, and from a newspaper clipping at that time we glean that "Dr. Van Deerlin's sermons attract larger congregations [45/46] than the church has ever known." One Sunday morning, a lady whose name is not on our earthly records, "dropped in" for the service. Afterward she sought out the Junior Warden, Mr. Lemuel A. Austin, and told him that she was so impressed by the sermon that she wanted to make a contribution to the debt fund. She gave two thousand dollars; and in after years Mr. Austin often gleefully referred to "that $2,000 sermon."
There were two other outstanding gifts: one was from Mrs. Boardman, ever a staunch friend of the parish, who gave three thousand dollars, the other of one thousand dollars from Trinity Church. These made up the amount needed to call in the pledges, many of which had been given only on condition of the whole indebtedness being removed, and an effective guarantee given that debts should not again be contracted; also that the property should be perpetually devoted to church purposes. There seemed no alternative to secure the desired end but in some safe way to constitute a permanent trust. The only corporation within the jurisdiction of the diocese competent and willing to assume this trust, without inconvenience and expense to the beneficiaries, was "The Trustees of Donations and Bequests for Church Purposes." On the 22nd day of December, 1885, therefore, the church and rectory property was conveyed to these trustees by deed of the parish.
The Service of Consecration and Thanksgiving took place on the morning of the Feast of the Epiphany at half-past ten, and all who had in any way, or at any time, given Christ Church their aid were invited to attend. The Consecration Service was read by the Rev. [46/47] Dr. Vibbert, of St. James' Church, Fair Haven; Morning Prayer by the Rev. Dr. Lines, of St. Paul's Church, and the Rev. H. P. Nichols, the curate at Trinity Church. The First and Second Lessons were read by the Rev. Dr. O. H. Raftery, of St. Peter's Church, Cheshire, and the Rev. T. H. Fitzgerald, of St. Peter's Church, Milford. The Rev. George Williamson Smith, D.D., President of Trinity College, Hartford, preached the sermon; and the Right Rev. Bishop of Connecticut, John Williams, was the celebrant at Holy Communion, assisted by Dr. Beardsley and Dr. Van Deerlin. Before the sermon an historical sketch of the parish, prepared by the clerk, was read by the Rector, and the hymns and chants were rendered by a double quartet from the choirs of Trinity and St. Paul's Churches.
That evening marked the beginning of the first parochial mission ever held in the Diocese of Connecticut. It was conducted by the Rev. Father Basil W. Maturin, S.S.J.E., the Rector of St. Clement's Church, Philadelphia. It lasted a week, with the Holy Eucharist daily at 8 A. M., Bible Reading at 4 P. M., and preaching, or rather Teaching, at eight o'clock in the evening. On the last Sunday of the Mission there was a service for men at 3 P. M., and for women at 4:15 P. M. Father Maturin was beyond question the most eloquent and effective mission preacher in the Church. He had that strange invaluable faculty of finding immediate and intimate touch with his audience. He impelled them to concentrate with his opening words, and he held them to the last with flashes of delicate humor and with moments of tense earnestness. Large numbers came to hear him, in fact the crowds were so great that there was danger of the floor sinking, and the Rector was [47/48] offered the use of Trinity Church for the evening services; but he refused this offer as he had hoped and prayed that the mission might be of richest spiritual benefit to his own parish, and he was of the opinion that there would be more lasting results if all the services were held in Christ Church.
A marked change in the services of the church was inaugurated by Dr.. Van Deerlin, whose school of churchmanship was far in advance of the type to which the diocese and parish had been accustomed. He gave the Service of the Holy Communion its old historic place in the worship of the Church, and his chief desire was to leaven the parish with the essentials of catholic faith and practice, and in so doing to stir up the dormant spiritual energies of his people. He strove in the face of opposition and prejudice to keep radiantly before them the basic realities of the sacramental life; but he moved very slowly in the direction of ceremonial and ritual.
The priests who have fought the battle of the Catholic Faith in their churches have always had some time of stress and strain in parochial affairs; but being men of sterling character, they have ever commanded the respect, and often gained the love of those who differed from them in certain matters. In Christ Church there were many defections, especially among the older members: possibly due to an innate conservatism and a deep attachment to their accustomed forms of worship. One unhappy member of the vestry offered to contribute two hundred dollars a year if the Rector would resign. The loss of membership, however, appeared to be made good by an increasing earnestness of spirit and a more devoted service on the part of the [48/49] remaining parishioners. Among the women whom Dr. Van Deerlin remembered some years afterward as especially faithful and helpful were Miss Edwards, Miss Linzee, and Miss Prescott, the sister of Father Oliver Prescott.
The Rector bore the full brunt of the struggle in bringing the parish from eighteenth-century standards to the full appreciation of the faith. The Evening Communion on Maundy Thursday was discontinued in 1885, and caused considerable comment as it had been the long-established custom of the parish and of the diocese. This example was followed by Dr. Lines at St. Paul's. A "Quiet Day" was held during Lent by Father Grafton, rector of the Church of the Advent, Boston, and later Bishop of Fond du Lac. The first Sung Mass was on Trinity Sunday that same year, and on Christmas Eve the first sacramental confession was heard, and the first Midnight Mass took place. On Good Friday, 1886, the first "Three Hours Service" was held, and the addresses were given by the Rev. James O. Davis, curate of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, New York. Eucharistic vestments of linen were first worn on the following Easter Day. The introduction of white veils for women and girls at Confirmation gave the local papers an opportunity for startling headlines about the "Climax Being Reached In the High Church Innovations At Christ Church." The eastward position for the Creed and the Gloria was another cause of scandal, and people questioned the Rector's manners, saying that neither Dr. Harwood nor Dr. Beardsley would turn their backs on their congregations. One parishioner, who objected to the sung Litany, said afterward that when the Litany was first [49/50] sung he felt so indignant that he could scarcely keep his seat; but after he began doing his share and taking his part in singing the responses, he began to see the added beauty of it and then to like it.
It was during Dr. Van Deerlin's rectorship that the question arose of whether or not the women in the parish should be allowed to vote, and this was referred to the Bishop for his dictum. The canon read "all baptized persons" are eligible, but the powerful pronouns referring to it were every one of them masculine, and the Bishop ruled that he considered this exclusive.
Notwithstanding all the difficulties he encountered and overcame, the Rector twice declined calls to other churches; but his health began to give way under the strain, and this was aggravated by malaria, which for years had been prevalent in New Haven. He tendered his resignation on March 21, 1886, planning to take a much needed rest; but the parish was unwilling to accept it, and so he was persuaded to withdraw it. His continued poor health prevented him from giving the parish those active pastoral ministrations which he felt the condition of the work made almost indispensable, so again in September he urged his resignation, which was regretfully accepted.
Dr. Van Deerlin preached his farewell sermon on the 26th day of September, and took his text from Ephesians: "That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things." The Vestry gave him the unusual privilege of nominating his successor, as they wanted the work continued [50/51] along the same lines on which he had conducted the parish. He chose the Rev. Percy C. Webber of the diocese of Pennsylvania; but the call was declined. A farewell reception was given at the home of Mr. L. R. Gildersleeve at 182 Whalley Avenue, and the retiring rector was presented with a purse containing gold.
When his health was reestablished, Dr. Van Deerlin ministered to churches in Coxsackie, New York; Kenosha, Wisconsin; Reno, Nevada; and St. Augustine's Church in Honolulu. After his retirement in Los Angeles, he was far from being inactive, frequently assisting his brethren in the pulpit or at the Altar. On the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of his ordination to the Priesthood, Father Gushee was moved to exclaim:
"Sixty years a Priest of the Most High God. Sixty years a Priest! The astounding honor of it!
"‘What king can consecrate the Body and the Blood of Christ?' said Hildebrand, ‘What ruler can absolve?'
"Here, today, we honor this man who, as St. Paul says ‘In the Person of Christ' for sixty years, week by week, often day by day, has sacrificed, absolved and blessed. For sixty years, my brothers, (and it is harder for a Priest to be saved than any other man) he has taken his soul's life in his hands for those for whom Christ died, and has lived the terrible and lonely sacerdotal life, so that on this anniversary of his crowning we can say: ‘Hail true Priest of the Most High God'."Dr. Van Deerlin died on Ash Wednesday in 1936. [Appendix C.]