Chapter X. The Priest outside His Parish
By the Rev. Clinton Locke, D.D., Chicago, Ill.
WE ARE now to consider the Priest in those Church relations which do not come under the head of "Parochial," such as his relations to the General Church, to the Diocese, to his brother priests, and to the ministers in the religious bodies around him. Not one of these can any clergyman afford to neglect, and very often, from his turn of mind, he may be able to do much in these for his parish, for the whole Church, and (let me say once for all) for his Divine Master.
Of course, none of these things must ever be allowed to obscure the sentence written up in the priest's heart, "I am the servant of the parish. I am the pastor of this flock, here lies my duty;" but I question very much whether any parish priest can do his full duty to his flock without linking himself in the chain of outside relations which I have indicated. In the first place, if a man shuts himself within the walls of his parish, his views of things, his judgments of men, and his ideas of God in His dealings with men, will shrivel up; contract and be measured by an inch and not by a yardstick. I have noticed often in country clergy, rarely leaving their parishes, and with few clerical associates, how very different their standard waa from that of men moving in the city world. Rabbits appeared lions to them, and, on the contrary, the elephant of the city, took on the dimensions of a mouse. You may read all the Church papers you please; they will not for a moment take the place of actual intercourse with men, or of personal participation in Church movements. Of course, your parish, unless it has been well trained, will object to your being much interested in outside matters, or your trying to interest it. "We pay you," will be the coarse, but very natural gossip, "and we are entitled to your full time."
Let us, however, leave generalities and take up this subject more in detail.
The Priest and the Church at large. You are not only a parish priest, remember, but a Catholic priest. You may be a captain of a company, but companies are related to regiments, and regiments to brigades, and brigades to army corps. A company acting on its own hook will soon get into trouble. You may say that you know priests who fill their churches and have great success, and yet keep entirely aloof from the Church world. The Bishop comes once a year to confirm, and that is about all the people ever see or hear of the general Church life. The great missionary, philanthrophic, and educational causes are never pleaded in those parishes. The dues enjoined by canon are paid, but beyond that (and very few ever know what those dues are for, or why they are paid) their knowledge of the Church begins and ends in the scanty notices the Rector vouchsafes them. I grant that such parishes are not unknown, but it no more proves that their priests are in the right, than a fine carriage and a splendid house owned by a quack proves that quackery is a better calling and more commendable than the practice of sound medicine. It is not a question of what success a priest might have in a certain parish, and yet shut out from it the claims of the general Church, but whether such a course is not a shameful violation of duty and an utter shortcoming in the fulfilment of ordination vows. I say, unhesitatingly, that unless a, priest fully identifies his parish with the Church at large, he is not doing his proper work. He is blameworthy, no matter if every sitting in his church be taken, and he be the idol of a worshipping multitude.
Now, unless you are yourself interested in these matters, your people never will be. What Horace said about writing poetry is just as true about working a parish: "If you want to make people weep, you must cry first." You should study the reports of the great Church societies and read diligently that most useful paper, The Spirit of Missions. You should attend missionary and other meetings. You must not allow yourself to say that the speaking is often poor and that such meetings bore you. Pray that you may be more aroused on this subject. Force yourself to take an interest. Say constantly to yourself, "This is my Church. I belong to it. Its life is my life. I must enter into that life, or else it will cease to flow through my veins." Of course, I do not mean that every small parish can take up and consider in any one year all the general work of the Church; but let such a parish take one branch one year, and another the next year, and so on. Sometimes a rector will be thoroughly engrossed in some one department of the general work, say, for example) Foreign Missions. It is astonishing, then, what his zeal and interest will bring out from even a very small parish: large contributions, young men offering themselves as missionaries, devout people praying for missions. All these things in obscure country parishes even, have often been the fruit of the parish priest's own awakened interest. One caution is, I think, necessary. If any particular cause does arrest your attention, do not allow it, like Aaron's serpent, to swallow up all the rest. Restrain your notice of it, let it have only its due place. I knew a priest once, who, deeply interested in the Free Church system, preached seven consecutive sermons on the subject. Of course the parish was soon vacant.
Let us pass on now to the relation of the parish priest to his diocese. A great deal of what I have said about his relations to the General Church will also apply here, but in a much closer and more binding manner. The priest's diocese comes much closer to him than the Church at large. If esprit du corps is to be shown anywhere outside of a regiment, it is among the priests of a diocese. They must pull together. They must stand by the ship. The diocesan undertakings must be theirs also, or else the diocese will suffer and their own characters will deteriorate.
You may say that you do not sympathize with the diocesan work; that you think differently and desire another course of action. Does it ever occur to you that your diocese has a right to expect that you will subordinate your own private "think" to the course the united diocese has seen fit to inaugurate? I have often been in the minority in some proposed scheme of diocesan work and have strenuously opposed its adoption, but when by a constitutional vote it was adopted, I have felt it my duty to support it, though it was much higher or lower than my standard. The priests of a diocese must be like the officers of a regiment. The good of the regiment must override individual good.
There is one thing our priests ought to fight in our dioceses, and that is the multiplication of Sundays with special offerings. Take six or eight canonical collections and superadd six or eight special Sunday collections, and it makes a burden too heavy for ordinary parochial shoulders. Any good brother intent on starting some benevolent or religious scheme ought to think over the burdens of this kind his fellow priests already have to bear, before asking his Convention to set apart a Sunday on which it recommends collections to be taken up for it. His brother priests must not allow their good nature or fear of hurting feelings to prevent their sitting down hard on his poor judgment Remember, if you are a low man in a high diocese, or vice versa, you ought to grin and bear it like a gentleman and a Christian, and not make slighting and scurrilous remarks about the majority who have a perfect right to the carrying out of their views.
We come now to the relations of a priest to his Bishop. How close they ought to be, how formal they often are, how strained even in some cases. I know very well that putting on lawn sleeves does not by any means imply putting on wisdom and patience and brains. I am aware that with some Bishops a man of intelligence and independence can only live in tranquillity by keeping away from the palace. I have known Bishops so narrow that they could not even tolerate, or behave with courtesy towards priests whose views were opposed to their own; but, after all, are not these exceptions? Is not the great majority of the episcopal college composed of fair-minded, reasonably intelligent, educated men, anxious to advance the Gospel of Christ in their dioceses and welcoming all priests whose chief anxiety is also that same thing, even if effected in a different way from the Bishop's way?
Then consider this: Your Bishop is your superior officer. Do majors and captains and lieutenants, because they differ from their colonels in many points, or because their colonels are not very gifted men, decline for a moment to give them a hearty obedience such as they have solemnly promised to give? Are they not always respectful, always careful to carry out orders, always punctiliously remembering that he is their colonel and they are his officers, and must, no matter what their private opinions may be of his fitness or agreeable-ness, uphold his hands? Are your vows any less binding than theirs? Let me call your attention to them. "Will you reverently obey your Bishop and other chief ministers, who, according to the canons of the Church, may have the charge and government over you, following with a glad mind and will their godly admonitions and submitting yourselves to their godly judgments? Answer. I will so do, the Lord being my helper." Certainly these words are not dead letters, although some priests act as if they had never heard of them.
Of course, a Bishop might give directions entirely ultra vires, on points which have been adjudicated as not in his province. I do not say that you are bound to heed those; but you are always to "strain a point," to swallow down your disgust and your objections in order to gratify your superior officer. I should, for example, consider it very petty in a Bishop to forbid flowers on my altar, or my having an altar without legs, or black stoles, or evening communions, and I should have my own opinion of the mental calibre of the meddler with such things; but I would obey.
There is one thought more, and do not despise it. Unless you are a very exceptional man, such as is found once in a hundred cases; you had better get on well with your Bishop, or else leave the diocese; for sooner or later you will have to do so. He is a "permanency;" you are not. One of the two positions will prove intolerable, and certainly it will not be his. I have seen this come about at least five hundred times in my long ministry. Do not run to your Bishop with every little thing. Many a Bishop has groaned to me over this habit in many priests. One of my professors used to say, "When you are in doubt, consult the Ordinary, but never be in doubt." This is not a bad "rule of thumb" for your guidance. Bishops often have felt obliged to forbid things which they never would have noticed, and perhaps greatly approved, if the priest had not submitted them for his approval. I will not be guilty of the cant of saying that a company of priests ought not to discuss their Bishop. They will do so and it is natural that they should. It matters not in little things, but when it comes to things of importance, and the talk becomes disloyal or derogatory, it is your part as a good soldier, to defend the absent or at least to show your disapproval of the conversation.
Turn now to your relations to your neighbor priests and to the clergy in general. Like all other men you will have your preferences. You will have intimates among your brethren and probably your choicest friends will be in that class. This is just as it should be. You can have no greater blessing in your life than a true, devoted clerical friend. But even if the great body of the clergy cannot be ranked under the title of your friends, they are all your brothers, bound to you by a tie much closer than many priests seem to realize; a tie so close that their interests must be your interests, whether you wish it or not, for just as a very holy priest is a crown to his brethren, so a very unworthy priest is their shame and lessens the public estimate of their profession. The character and standing of your brother priests are to a certain extent in your keeping; see that you guard them well. You are liable to hear gossip about almost any priest; the more brilliant his talents, and the higher his position, the greater the liability. Are you to be the one to retail this gossip, repeating ita unsavory details in gatherings of the clergy, and in coteries of listening women? I could relate some sad stories of this kind, where innocent priests have had to suffer tortures because their brothers, instead of keeping their mouths shut, had done all they could to spread the unfounded charge.
I know very well that it is your duty to defend your order against unworthy members and to sacrifice yourself even, to keep your Church pure. When a case is thoroughly known to be true, and when you are thoroughly convinced that publicity will do the Church less harm than silence, then your course is clear. You ought to speak. But be sure, oh, be very sure! Stretch the mantle of charity to its utmost limit. Be anything rather than an accuser of the brethren.
In the priesthood, as in the army, as indeed in every association of men, there is a certain professional etiquette which cannot be violated with impunity. It may often seem petty and unreasonable, but believe me when I say that no rule of etiquette was ever generally adopted without the greatest reasons in its favor. I know it often causes great personal discomfort, but it will generally prove the best possible thing to do. Let me advise you scrupulously to adhere to clerical etiquette, even with your dearest friends. When it seems doubtful whether you are called upon to ask permission of another rector to perform a certain baptism, wedding, funeral, etc., be sure and ask it, even if it be in a city where parochial bounds are not fixed. Only a churl will refuse a polite request. I once asked a parish priest, whose church was two miles from my choir camp, for permission to hold a public service in that camp. He declined. You may say, "You were foolish to ask." Yes, but I did it because I was so strongly convinced of the necessity of a strict adherence to etiquette.
I advise you strongly not to visit much in families belonging to other parishes. The rectors may not seem to care, but they do care. I hope no one who reads this will ever be guilty of the meanness of endeavoring to supplant a brother priest, suggesting, for example, "that you would be glad to do a certain service; that you are such a dear friend; that you feel you ought to be asked," etc. How despicable this is.
There is one more point I wish to cover, and that is your relations to the ministers of other religious bodies. It is a delicate question and it is not to be disposed of à la Alexander and the Gordian Knot by just saying, "Have no relations whatever with them;" though I have heard that advice given by very distinguished Churchmen of all shades of opinion. I am not speaking now of private friendships, for why should a ministerial connection with another religious body debar you from the closest friendship with a man, if he be congenial? Does he not believe in the same Saviour that you do? Is he not, as you are, endeavoring to lead men to Christ? I have had some very close friends among Roman priests and Presbyterian preachers. It is when we come to meetings and public services that the path becomes thorny. The rule of your Church, even loosely construed, seems to me to forbid your asking them to take part in your Church services, and common politeness ought to prevent you from taking part in theirs. Why should you accept a favor you cannot return? If by any chance you feel obliged to accept such a favor, you ought to make it clearly understood that you cannot reciprocate it, because your Church law forbids it. Have the manliness not to say that you deplore such a law, for it is a very wise law indeed. The whole conception of Christianity and the Christian Church as held by ministers outside the Church seems to me to be so different from our own, that any other rule would work very badly.
Apart, however, from the regular services of the sanctuary, are there not a vast number of meetings