Project Canterbury

The American Priest at Work
A Symposium of Papers

Edited by the Rev. Edward Macomb Duff, A.M.,
Rector of St. Thomas' Church, Buffalo, N.Y.

Milwakuee: The Young Churchman, 1900.
London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co., 1900.

Chapter VII. The Priest in the Organized Parish
By the Rev. Wm. Prall, D.D., Ph.D.,
Rector of St. John's Church, Detroit, Mich.

"WITHIN the past fifty years," says President Eliot, "there has been developed for the conduct of business, education, and charity, an agency which may fairly be called new--namely, the corporation. Although a few charitable, trading and manufacturing corporations were of earlier origin,--some of which became famous,--the greatest development of corporate powers and functions has all taken place within fifty years." [American Contributions to Civilisation, "Some Reasons Why the American Republic May Endure," p. 56.]

It is true that within the last fifty years there has been a marvellous development of the creatures of law, which we call corporations, and that they now carry on businesses and affairs so numerous and diversified that they practically cover the whole frame-work of the social life of man in the modern state, and especially in the United States; and yet it is wrong to speak of these agencies as "fairly" new. They are new, comparatively speaking, in the evolution of our Western civilization, but they were at another, and much earlier, period, in the affairs of men quite as common and as numerous as they are now, and that period was the time of the later Republic and early Empire of Rome.

Upon the differences between the Roman and our law I do not care to dwell. I merely want to call attention to the fact, that corporations were quite as common in the Roman Republic and Empire as they are with us, and just as free. [It is not necessary to enumerate all the various kinds of corporations that were known to the Roman law; it is sufficient to say that they practically covered the same ground that corporations do to-day--that is, that they were municipal, religious, eleemosynary, business, and social. "Some corporations were established by the state; but the chief mode in which they arose was the voluntary association of a number of persons (not less than three) for a common purpose which was neither unlawful nor immoral" (Smith Dic. Greek and Roman Antiq., 3d Ed., "Universitas," Vol. II, p. 979). Nor did it seem that a special recognition by the state was necessary to constitute the associated persons a corporation. The accepted opinion of those learned in the Roman law now is that an association might be invested with the corporate character by general law or custom; that the rule was that any combination of persons so organized as to create a fund of property distinct from that of the associated persons might be a corporation (Id.). We presume that there was quite as much, yes, even more, freedom to form corporations under the Roman law than there is under ours; for with us there are no corporations which are not the creatures of the state, and created by an especial law or charter, or by a general law permitting corporations to be formed under certain conditions. Whenever the senate or the emperors endeavored to suppress them, it was because they feared that they were, or that they might be, used to further political purposes. (Lecky, Hist. Eup. Morals, Vol. 1, Chap. III, p. 412.)]

And thereout we come to a simple conclusion-- that corporations, or, as we may say, organized agencies--are absolutely necessary to carry on the businesses and other affairs of life in a highly civilized community. We have, indeed, as President Eliot says, "thousands upon thousands" of corporations organized in the United States, and we have thousands of other associations in our social life which are not, properly speaking, corporations, yet which have many of their features, a head which executes, and a common fund to which resort is made to carry out the purposes of the respective bodies.

It is not my purpose to speak of all the corporations and associations in our social life. They do not concern us here. Nor yet of all that are essentially religious, as they, too, are beyond the scope of this article. I desire to speak of but one corporation, the parish, and of but one kind of association, the parochial, or such general ones as have distinct parochial branches. The parish is a corporation, regarded by the law of each State as such when it has been duly organized under the law, of which the rector is the head, the vestry the body, and the various communicants, contributors, and pew-holders, the members. Membership of a parish can only be ascertained when resort is had to the various State laws and the Canons of the Church and of the respective dioceses.

Now let me say that in my opinion, one of the reasons why the various parishes in the Church are not as well administered as they ought to be, is because the rector and the lay members of the vestry do not understand their respective rights and duties as parts of the whole. The rector is not, in consideration of the law, a simple individual of the vestry; nor is he, in any instance, so described. On the contrary, he is always described as the first, and as an integral part of the parish, and he is so designated, as the form of citing a parish will show; "the rector, wardens and vestrymen." "The minister" of the parish "is nominated," says Hoffman, "the rector parochiae, the praeses ecclesiasticus. The vestry is an ecclesiastical meeting of an ecclesiastical district, namely, a parish; it is held in an ecclesiastical place, in the church or in a room which is part of the church, part of the consecrated building, from which the meeting takes its name of vestry, as being held in the room where the priest puts on his vestments."

[NOTE BY THE EDITOR: In this and the few following paragraphs the writer of this paper ably develops a principle unfolded with equal ability and along much the same lines, by the author of Paper No. VI, namely, that which should govern the relationship of rector to vestry. The reader, we trust, is aware that these papers were written without any mutual consultation between the several writers thereof; and if there is any blame to be attached for repetitions occurring in this book, the Editor cheerfully shoulders it. The latter, however, feels that an undesigned coincidence of treatment, such as this, on the part of two parish priests of long experience, is to be welcomed; for if a given principle be true and also important, its emphasis is not regrettable. Conversely, if two pastors of ripe experience, without mutual consultation, agree as to the truth and importance of a given principle, does not this raise a presumption that the latter is a point to be well considered by the American Priest at Work?--Ed.]

And again Hoffman says: "The law of the Church at large, and especially the law of the Church of England, the common law itself, vested the right over the church edifice and its employment, in the rector. The authority of churchwardens was subordinate to his. When the Church avails itself of an act of incorporation, or other statute of the civil power, it is bound to take it in its true extent and meaning, but no further. The title, then, to the church and all church property, is in the trustees, collectively, for all corporate purposes; but there is another class of purposes purely ecclesiastical, as to which the statute did not mean to interfere or prescribe any rule. These are controlled by the law of the Church."

It is to be observed, however, that the spiritual affairs of the parish and the conduct of the services are in the hands of the rector, not because he is rector, but because he is the minister or priest of the parish, as reference to Title I., Canon 18 of the Church, will show. The law may constitute a layman a rector, as is sometimes the case in England, in which case the minister or the priest becomes the vicar, with control over the spiritual concerns of the parish. Yet it ought always to be kept in remembrance that the minister or priest of the parish, though he have control over the spiritual concerns, does not have it as an individual and absolute right. His right is always qualified and limited by its end, and as the end is the cure of souls, he should see to it that he so orders his parish and so conducts his services as will tend to the edification of his people, and not to the exaltation of himself.

The business affairs of the parish ought, if possible, to be brought into harmony with the spiritual, but they ought not to be confounded and mixed up with them, and a wise rector and a loyal vestry will keep these things distinct and apart And so when this distinction is made, the meetings of the vestry ought to be conducted upon the highest ethical principles of business known to Christendom. The rector should ask for and expect no "benefit of clergy," and the vestry should be free to discuss and to determine every matter that comes properly before it, according to its best judgment, due regard being had, as far as possible, for the views of each and every member thereof. The presumption is that all the members of a vestry are actuated by the spirit of Christ, for that spirit must be invoked at the beginning of each and every meeting, for where the spirit of Christ is, there is liberty and there is truth. Let liberty and truth then be never lost sight of, for where they are forgotten, antagonisms will arise, and out of antagonisms, factions, and the good of the parish will be lost to view, and the ascendancy of some individual or individuals will usurp its place--and the end will be destruction.

But have the lay members of the vestry no duties other than the charge of the temporalities of the parish? Certainly they have. The wardens are to distribute the alms, care for the poor in the absence of the rector, and in his presence they ought to help him to look after the afflicted and the oppressed of Christ's flock; and they and the vestrymen generally ought to have a regard and a care for the welfare of all the members of the parish. It is one of the weak things in the Church that vestrymen seem to think that they have no obligations other than attending the vestry meetings, looking after the finances, seating strangers, and taking up the alms. The vicissitudes of churchwardens and vestrymen have been very great in the long web of history, and many duties have been placed upon them, as new and unforeseen exigencies have arisen. [Vide "Historical Vicissitudes of the Churchwarden," Saturday Review. Reprinted in The Living Age, August 5, 1899.] The churchwardens and vestrymen in the United States can never have the same duties they have, or have had, in England, where Church and State have been, and are, united by law. Their duties have been changed with the changed condition of things. They should, with us, come forward as volunteers for work in a land where membership of a parish is, in practice, voluntary. They ought to welcome every newcomer into the parish; they ought to call upon them and make them feel that they are desired. They ought, moreover, to be kind and affable towards all, and to know and to be on pleasant terms with every member of the parish. The burden of making all the "social calls" that is put upon the rector in so many modern parishes, is one that they are not able to bear, and very often it robs them of all their spiritual power and ability to aid their flock in the way that Christ intended His pastors to feed His sheep.

So much, then, for the parish itself as an organized body; but the body has many members. What members are the most efficient? The parish naturally divides itself into two parts of one whole, the males and the females. Now, while these two parts must be kept in touch and sympathy in order that the whole be sound and do its proper work, it seems to me that the custom that prevails in our branch of the Church of having distinctively male and female societies is a wise one.' Something is lost, of course, as one sex always interests and attracts the other, and the great enthusiasm of such societies as the Christian Endeavor Society and the Epworth League is not awakened and maintained; yet, as I believe, more is gained; the societies work easier and more harmoniously. Besides, man's work is distinctively man's work, and woman's is woman's, while unity is preserved in the parish as a whole. It is wise to call all the people together from time to time for the discussion of parochial affairs and for social purposes.

Looking at the organizations of a parish from another point of view, there are again two kinds, namely, those that are parochial, and those that are general with parochial branches, and there is room in every parish for both kinds. The greatest and most efficient Church society in the Church, and the one that has the highest and noblest aim, is the Woman's Auxiliary to the Board of Missions. I do not see how any parish can live without it. Embracing as it does in each parish all the women communicants, it lifts them up out of a narrow view of their duties to the Church, and makes them to know and to understand that its field is the world, and that Christ's Church, and they, as members thereof, owe a duty to every man, woman, and child who has not heard the name of the Saviour of mankind. But not only does this society do this great service for the women; it does equally as great a one for the men. Most men are influenced by their wives to a degree that would be comical if it could be ascertained. The women who learn in the meetings of the Auxiliary the things pertaining to the missions of the Church, must necessarily impart their knowledge to their husbands; and knowledge invariably makes people generous. We complain of a lack of interest of our Church members in the domestic and foreign mission fields. It is, as I believe, chiefly because of the lack of knowledge of their needs. Let the Woman's Auxiliary be primarily a society for the education of its members in the great story of missions, and only secondarily a society for the gathering of money and the making and collecting of garments, and money will flow into the treasury of the Church as freely and as steadily as water flows through the river of Detroit.

The next great society which claims our attention is the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, an organization for young men, and old men with young hearts. Narrower in its plan and scope than the Auxiliary, it yet has the same great end in view, the expansion of the Kingdom of God. It is impossible to see how any modern parish can exist without a branch of this admirable organization that sprang up almost as quickly as Jonah's wonderful gourd, yet which has not, like it, so soon passed away. The work that has been done by the young men of the Church, by and through their brotherhood of Christ's earliest disciple, cannot be named; it can hardly be explained. I have listened with amazement to the reports of the various committees, hotel, visiting, vestibule, hospital, Bible class, etc., and have thanked God for the simple rules that bind these young brethren in loving links to one another and to all the children of men, that make them to understand so fully the meaning of the two great branches of duty portrayed in the catechism of the Church. The success of the organization of a branch of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew depends, of course, greatly upon the character of the director; but granted that a high, spiritual-minded man can be found, one who is faithful in all his undertakings, and the chapter will soon grow big and strong.

Of the other great inter-parochial society, the Girls' Friendly, I cannot speak with the same assurance that I have of the two above named. It ought always to succeed, for its scheme is admirable and its aim most worthy, but I cannot help but feel, in view of my experience, that it is in some way contrary to the genius of the American working-woman. In England, where the difference between class and class is strongly marked, and where patronage is not resented, the Girls' Friendly Society does a great and remarkable work for the welfare of young women. The same thing can be said of the Society in some of our Eastern cities, and occasionally in some parish of the West, where a head or controlling spirit is found that makes things live and grow. On the whole, I think that working girls' clubs, where there are any working girls in a parish, are more calculated to succeed with us, because they are more democratic and closer to the thought and ideals of American womanhood. In the Girls' Friendly, the associates for the most part manage the affairs of the society, while in the clubs they are managed by the girls themselves, and this enlists their interest and helps their self-respect.

Before proceeding to the study of the distinctively parochial organizations, let me say a word in regard to the organization itself. Red tape must always be avoided. It is well, if possible, to get along without any constitution, nor are many by-laws necessary. A few rules, and these flexible, are all that is required. There is the work, and here are the people to do it. Have a president, or chairman, a secretary, a treasurer, and some sort of executive committee, and your organization is effected. The work can go on with ease and freedom. Too many provisions of all sorts in a written constitution make difficulties and impede progress. A Christian organization, and especially a parochial society, should have in view the spirit and not the letter of the law. And again I desire to remark, that the rector should, when he deals with a society, deal only with its officers, and never discuss its affairs with outsiders.

The first and noblest parochial society is the Altar Guild, that organization that has the beauty of holiness in view, which so modestly and carefully assists the clergy in the maintenance of the things of the altar. Of this society the rector should not only be the honorary, but the controlling head, and all should serve under him directly; the chairman of each committee being responsible to him for the particular work assigned to the same. Any female communicant in good standing should be made a member of this society, upon application, by appointment of the rector. There should be a small sum for dues, and the offerings of the faithful at holy day celebrations should be at its disposal. The Altar Guild, though its province is not the raising of money, should, however, not forget that the work of the Church is necessarily missionary, and to this end it should endeavor, from time to time, to help furnish and decorate the altars of the mission chapels and struggling parishes throughout the diocese and the Church at large. Such a work helps to keep the members together and gives them a sense of unity.

The next parochial societies we will notice are the Women's Aid Society and the Young Women's Guild. The Women's Aid has charge of the sewing schools for women and children, and incidentally cares for the welfare of many of the poor whom the clergy cannot reach. The object of the Young Women's Guild will depend always upon local circumstances, and I will not attempt to name the things to which the energies of the young women of the parish can be directed, but this I will say: the object ought to be a close and intimate one, one that comes immediately before the eyes of the rector. Its members can easily be induced to call upon the young women, married and single, who serve a secondary purpose most helpful to the young, for such excites at once their enthusiasm. The Young Women's Guild, too, can be made to come into the parish and neighborhood, and who are thus made to feel at home among their youthful companions. Without this aid of the Young Women's Guild in my own parish I do not know what, often, I should have done.

With the societies which I have named in activity, any parish might well be said to be fully organized; for I do not believe in too many kinds of organizations; and yet demands will constantly arise for more, some of which may live and go on and develop, some of which will soon pass away with the set of boys or girls who demanded them; and such are the various "circles" of the Daughters of the King, the Knights of Temperance or Cadets; the Ministering Children's League, the parochial branches of the Junior Department of the Woman's Auxiliary, the Boys' Club, and the Girls' Guilds of St. Agnes or St. Elizabeth, and the like. All new societies must be carefully organized, and only after the ground is cleared so that there can be no infringement of one society upon the territory of another. And they must be constantly looked after and nourished, while endeavor is made to bring them to maturity; but if they droop and die, no rector should be discouraged, if only their young members have received some training in Church work. Indeed, when children grow too old for this or that society or junior guild, and the guild has not developed, it is best to let it die. The members thereof will go on to other societies; and when a new set of boys and girls comes up, let them start a new guild of their own.

There are two branches of the work of a parish of which I have not spoken: the Sunday School and the choir. The choir certainly should not be too highly organized, because it is always in a fluctuating condition and the reason why its members are brought together has relation only to one sort of work. It will necessarily, however, be called together from time to time in a committee of the whole, when the rector, or in his absence, the choirmaster, should be chairman. It should also have a treasurer, for the offerings of the choir ought to be kept separate from those of the congregation, and ought only to be expended by vote of the choir itself. A Bible class for the younger members of the choir is an indispensable thing. It should be in the care of the curate, where there is one, and he can undertake the work. Its success, of course, will depend upon the teacher that is secured for it. The rector would do well not to say who should or who should not be admitted to the choir, except, of course, where there is a question as to moral fitness, but leave the selection of all singers to the choirmaster, throwing the responsibility for the execution of the music upon him, and holding him to strict accountability. The rector should select the hymns, in consultation with the choirmaster, but leave the selection of the other music generally to him.

It is difficult to speak of the Sunday School as an organized branch of the Church work. One thing, however, must be remembered before all other considerations. The rector is primarily responsible for the religious education of the young, so far as the parish is concerned in their education, and the curate and the superintendent of the Sunday School should be regarded as his lieutenants. With this principle understood, the curate should have the care of this most important work. The responsibility for the execution of the plans and methods of teaching adopted should be placed upon him, the superintendent and the other officers should make their reports to him as the executive officer, and he should only give up his charge when the rector appears; for the rector is the captain of the ship, the parish. Indeed, I know of no simile which will so exactly describe the rector's position in his parish as that of a captain of his ship in the navy. And I am convinced that if it were well remembered, the rector would never become, as is so often the case, a jack-of-all-trades, or a mere nonentity. The lazy and the indifferent, as well as the bumptious and usurping members of the parish, would be put to rout and shame.

The parish is one of the oldest units in the structure of society in Christendom. It has done a wonderful work for the welfare of men in the past, especially among the Anglo-Saxon peoples. It has a great work to do in the future, and this work in and for the future is not only positive, as in the ways I have indicated; it is also negative. Its negative work is to show to the people of the United States the power and value of a highly articulated organization, and thereby to counteract the individualism of a degenerated Congregationalism.

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