Project Canterbury

A Bishop Among His Flock

By the Rt. Rev. Ethelbert Talbot, D.D., LL.D.
Bishop of Bethlehem, U.S.A.

New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1914.

Chapter XIII. Our Church Machinery

THE Church has not only a spiritual side, but in order to do its work in the world and accomplish results its various forces must be organized. A certain amount of machinery is necessary. In the days of the Church's infancy this machinery was very simple. Our Lord called around Him twelve men, designated as Apostles, whom He commissioned and to whom He gave power to ordain others. So we read in the New Testament of Bishops, Elders, and Deacons. These three orders have been continued to the present time. To the Bishops alone the power of ordaining other ministers has always been confined in our Church. As the Church grew and spread over the nations of the earth these three orders of the ministry, as originally appointed, are uniformly and invariably found. In the process of time Bishops were assigned to certain well-defined geographical limits within which they exercised their jurisdiction.

These divisions over which a Bishop presides are called dioceses. A diocese, under the general Canon Law of the American Church, cannot be set apart until it has a certain number of self-supporting parishes and can give a reasonable assurance of its ability to support a Bishop and maintain itself. Until that period of development and strength has been reached such territory is known as a missionary district. We have at the present time thirty-three missionary districts, of which twenty-three are domestic and ten are foreign. The Bishops having jurisdiction over these districts, as well as the missionary work under their care, are supported by the Church at home through the agency of our General Board of Missions.

The domestic missionary districts are gradually becoming self-supporting, and as the more sparsely settled and newer sections of our country fill up they will become dioceses, and not only be able to take care of themselves, but to contribute toward the support of other fields. Indeed, many of our dioceses were once missionary districts.

In the foreign field, such as China and Japan, it is unreasonable to hope that this condition of self-support will be attained until after the lapse of some years, although the growth of Christianity is such as to assure us that ecclesiastical independence cannot be far distant.

There is a small book, easily accessible, called The Constitution and Canons of the Church, with which every intelligent layman ought to be familiar. There the fundamental laws of the Church's government are to be found. We may state, however, for our present purpose, that the highest lawmaking power of the Church is that which is known as the General Convention. This body meets once every three years, and is composed of two houses known respectively as "The House of Bishops" and "The House of Clerical and Lay Deputies."

In this respect this central legislative body suggests the Congress of the United States, composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Indeed, there are many interesting points of resemblance between the government of the Church and that of our American Republic. The two Houses sit and deliberate separately, and in all discussions freedom of debate is allowed. Either House may originate and propose legislation, and all acts of the General Convention must be adopted and authenticated by both Houses.

The House of Bishops is composed of every Bishop having jurisdiction in our Church, and of every Bishop who by reason of advanced age or bodily infirmity has resigned his jurisdiction. A majority of the Bishops entitled to vote is necessary to constitute a quorum for the transaction of business. The Senior Bishop, in the order of Consecration--that is, the Bishop who has held office longest--is the Presiding Bishop of the House and of the Church at large.

The House of Clerical and Lay Deputies is made up of four clerical and four lay representatives from each diocese which has been admitted into union with the General Convention. To constitute a quorum in this House for the transaction of business, the clerical order must be represented by at least one Deputy in each of a majority of the dioceses, and the same rule applies with reference to the lay order.

Bishops are elected for self-supporting dioceses by the clergy and laity of such dioceses in a convention called for that purpose. For missionary districts Bishops are nominated or chosen by the House of Bishops, but both in the case of diocesan and missionary Bishops such election or choice is subject to confirmation by the House of Deputies during the session of the General Convention, and at other times by the majority of the standing committees of the several dioceses.

In" every diocese or missionary district there is an annual convention or convocation held, presided over by the Bishop, and composed of the clergy and lay representatives, canonically resident within the diocese or district. The lay Deputies to such convention are chosen by the parishes and missions within the diocese, and the clerical and lay Deputies to the General Convention are elected once every three years by the conventions of the respective dioceses.

Each diocese has the right to adopt its own constitution and enact its own canons, provided they do not contravene the General Constitution and Canons of the Church. It would be well if our lay people would familiarize themselves more fully with the laws and canons by which their diocese is governed, and which are published every year in the Journal of the Convention.

The missionary work of the Church at home and abroad is conducted by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, which embraces in its membership every baptized member of our communion.

It is an incorporated body under the laws of the State of New York, and its meetings are generally held quarterly in the City of New York. An Executive Committee, chosen from the Board, meets monthly, and to this Executive Committee large discretionary powers may be delegated.

The Board itself is composed of forty-eight members, of whom sixteen shall be Bishops, sixteen presbyters, and sixteen laymen. Of these one half are chosen triennially by the General Convention, and the other half by the Provincial Synods into which the whole territory of our Church is divided.

The President of the Board of Missions is elected by the General Convention, and holds office for six years, but is eligible to re-election. He may be a Bishop, presbyter, or layman. When he reaches the age of sixty-five he may be retired and placed upon a pension. He must have his headquarters in the Church Missions House, now located for convenience in the City of New York. There is a treasurer and assistant treasurer, various secretaries, and other necessary officers.

To this Board, thus organized, and representing the whole Church, and having every baptized member of the Church as an integral part of it, is committed the management of our missionary work. The chief business of the Board is to collect funds for carrying out the Church's missionary program and to distribute what is collected as wisely and effectively as possible. To this end its managers keep in close and sympathetic touch with the work and workers throughout the entire field. They are familiar with the conditions social, political, and religious which prevail, and are thus enabled, with a wise statesmanship, to administer their trust to the greatest advantage.

At the beginning of each fiscal year the Board informs the whole Church of the work it proposes to undertake with their co-operation, and how much money it will require to accomplish it. In other words, it lays before the members of the Church its budget, setting forth the appropriations to each field and the sum total required to meet it. This sum, at the present time, amounts to about one and a half millions of dollars.

This gross sum is then distributed by the Board of Missions among the various dioceses after consultation with the Bishop and other representatives. A fair and equitable basis of apportionment is adopted, giving to each diocese such a share of the whole amount as it feels able to assume. When a diocese receives from the Board of Missions its allotment it proceeds in turn to distribute the bulk sum among its various parishes and missions, giving to each the opportunity to modify and readjust the amount apportioned until it is satisfactory. It then becomes the duty and privilege of the individual parish to secure from each communicant such contribution as he can make toward meeting the apportionment. It has been found that for the rank and file of our people the method which secures the best results and appeals most strongly to their interests is that known as the Weekly Duplex Envelope System. The great advantage of this system is that it makes our offering for the Kingdom of God at home and abroad an act of worship, enabling us to place on the altar each Sunday our gift. In the second place, it is a Scriptural method, and complies with the Apostolic injunction, "Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store as God hath prospered him"; and, thirdly, its educational value is very great, as it cultivates the habit of systematic giving on the part of all our people, young and old, each according to his ability.

The apportionment plan for securing funds for our missionary work is comparatively recent among us; but it has already resulted in a very large increase of revenue for that purpose. Along with the increase of money there has naturally come an enormous increase of personal interest in the cause of Missions. The plan commends itself more and more as it is adopted, because, when faithfully carried out, it enlists the individual in the campaign and keeps him in touch with the Church's conquering march, and intelligently alive to the heroic efforts of our missionary leaders. More and more as the genius and spirit of Christianity spread throughout the Church it is becoming evident, as some one has well said, that any man who has no use for Missions is as much out of date as an old flintlock gun. Life moves too rapidly in these days for us even to stop and look at such a man.

In the last resort all our organizations have one great object in view--namely, the hastening of that great day when the whole earth shall be full of the knowledge of God, as the waters cover the sea.

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