Address Delivered at the Laying of the Cornerstone of the Free Church of the Holy Sepulchre on 74th Street,
New York, November 16, 1868.
By George H. Houghton
New York: The Church Journal, 1868.
The cornerstone of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on Seventy fourth street, near Fourth avenue, was laid on Monday afternoon, November 16, with appropriate ceremonies, by the Right Rev. Horatio Potter, D.D., Bishop of the Diocese, assisted by a number of the clergy, and in the presence of numerous friends of the undertaking.
At three o'clock the procession started from the residence of Mr. James B. Davis, on Seventy-third street, in the following order: the officers of the church, preceded by a robed chorister carrying a purple silk banner with the name of the church inscribed upon it; the Rector's Bible Class of young ladies, one of whom held a blue and gold sceptre surmounted by a gilt star, the emblem of the class, which is styled the ''Star of Bethlehem"; a very handsomely illuminated cross was borne before the choir, some of them from S. Chrysostom, twenty in number vested; another banner of rich silk, with the Maltese Cross and name of the church worked in gold colored silk, was carried immediately before fourteen of the clergy in surplices, the Bishop in his Episcopal robes closing the procession.
The 122d Psalm was chanted as the procession moved towards the church. On reaching the chancel the usual ceremony was gone through with; and the Bishop made a few impressive remarks, expressive of his interest in the enterprise from the outset, and his lively satisfaction with the progress of the work in which the Rector and his co-laborers were engaged.
The Rev. G. H. Houghton, D.D., Rector of the Church of the Transfiguration, then spoke as follows:—
FRIENDS AND BRETHREN: The partiality which has assigned me my present place in the service of today is indeed most gratifying. But with all my heart I could wish, for your sakes, that one in every respect more competent—more familiar with the required duty—more accustomed to find out and set in order acceptable words—gifted with a prompt and elegant utterance—having somewhat at least of the attractive grace of extemporaneousness—one who (Exodus iv. 14) can speak well, were to address you.
But the occasion, I believe, is not for many words. An address is not regarded as an essential part of the service. It is rather an occasion for thanksgiving and prayer, and for indicating and hallowing, by a most significant ceremony, the work begun and to be completed in this place.
While at the same time I am entirely sure that, lack what I may in other respects, no one, my good brother excepted, brings to the present work a heartier good will than I do—has a livelier interest and a deeper concern in the building of this church than I have; or is more truly and thoroughly in sympathy with the present occasion than I am.
Permit me to say one word in regard of the ground of this sympathy and good will, before proceeding to give expression to them, which, indeed, is all that I propose to do.
The Rector of the church here to be built [The Rev. J. Tuttle Smith.] has been an intimate friend and companion for a number of years. As a pupil in the General Theological Seminary; as an associate in my own parish; as chaplain to our sick and wounded soldiers in one of our city hospitals; and as the minister of the Free Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre, he has approved himself as remarkable for faithfulness, earnestness, and untiring zeal. He is a man whom I have always found to be thoroughly reliable—one upon whom you can always depend.
The manner in which the present work has been begun and thus far continued, has thoroughly commended itself to my judgment and to my taste. It has been characterized by quiet, unostentatious, practical self-denial and perseverance. Our good brother has gone about his business in the field of his choice, day after day, and week after week, Summer and Winter, employing every means in his power for the accomplishment of his one single end, viz.: the building of this church and the gathering of its congregation, without doing anything to attract special observation or even attention.
His purpose and plan for the future are such also as have my fullest sympathy and respect. It is his intention, I believe, to carry out the Church here pure and simple—to take the Prayer Book for his guide—to inculcate the teaching of Holy Scripture, as interpreted by the Book of Common Prayer:—not to speak in a mixed dialect (Nehemiah xiii. 24.), but in the correct and classic tongue of primitive and apostolic doctrine and practice.
The Bishop of the Diocese has now laid the cornerstone of the church in which, God grant, for many years, my good brother is to officiate, viz: The Free Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This church is to commemorate by its name the resting of our adorable Lord’s body in the grave, while His soul was fulfilling its mission in the realm of departed spirits. It is to be a free church, open alike to all. Rich and poor, high and low, one with another, are here to meet on a perfect equality, to worship Him who is the Saviour and Judge of all.
Its cornerstone, as I understand, is to be somewhat more conspicuous than is usually the case with the cornerstone in most of our churches. It will be within the chancel, marked with the cross, and visible to the eye of priest and people. The purpose of the cornerstone is, I believe, to bind together the two walls of the building, while itself forming part and parcel of the building. It is to prevent those walls from separating, and, in fact, to unite and compact them, as it were, into one. Hence, it is sometimes known as the binding stone. In Holy Scripture, and in the Book of Common Prayer, the cornerstone is the fit and chosen symbol of our only Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. In Him the two walls, the one coming from the Gentile, and the other from the Jewish world, originally met and were united in one. In Him all sorts and conditions of men are to be united and bound together in the brotherhood of the One Holy Catholic Church—and he, by His good Spirit, is the God that maketh men to be of one mind in one house. Therefore is it that the blessed apostle S. Paul says to the Ephesians, when brought into the unity of the Holy Catholic Church: "Now, therefore, ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone; in Whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord; in Whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit."
While, then, the work upon this church, so auspiciously inaugurated and consecrated today, shall go on, as we trust, to its speedy completion, may its cornerstone ever afterwards speak to priest and people, when gathered here, of our only Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the aspect in which it symbolizes Him; and may all that it would fain set forth and indicate, be fully realized in their separate and in their mutual relations. May Christ indeed be all in all, in that chancel and in that church, ever present, ever conspicuous. Here may He be presented, and here may He be received on the foundation—the one foundation—of the apostles and the prophets: that is to say, as the Church holds and teaches the faith concerning Him. Here may pastor and people, fitly framed together in Him, grow year by year continually, unto an holy temple in the Lord—being builded together in Him for an habitation of God, where God shall indeed dwell, through the Spirit. May Christ, through their incorporation into Him, bind together the pastor and the people, and bind together the people one with another—be their condition never so various—in an holy concord and an heavenly zeal.
May this church be a free church in manifold more senses than one. Not a church whither people shall come merely to be relieved of the burden of the charges elsewhere imposed; not a church where the freeness is only that of free sittings and of free ministrations; but where there shall be a freeness in all holy labors and self-sacrifice—a freeness in good works and abundant offerings; where there shall be free hearts and free hands on the people’s part, as well as free ministrations on the part of the pastor.
And here may many of the Holy Sepulchre’s blessed associations be found and illustrated. Here may there never fail to be found a Nicodemus and a Joseph of Arimathea, who shall bring their choicest offerings for the Lord’s Body, which is His Church. Hither may there ever be gathered a company of holy ministering women. Here may good angels delight to descend and keep daily and nightly watch and ward. Here may Christ, not on Easter morning only, but on other mornings as well, early comfort the heart of the mourner and the penitent. And finally, may all who are permitted to worship here lie down at last to an holy, peaceful, angel-guarded rest in the grave, and thence arise to the life immortal and the glory everlasting.