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A Servant of the Church: A Sermon Preached in S. Stephen's Church, Providence, Rhode Island on the Feast of the Purification of S. Mary the Virgin A.D. 1903 in Memory of Mrs. Susan MacPherson Sibley (Williams) Crouch.

By the Rector the Rev. George McClellan Fiske, D.D.

Providence: Printed by Her Friends and Fellow Members of the Parish Work Association, 1903.

“The Ornament of a Meek and Quiet Spirit.” 1. S. Peter iii: 4.

The greatest evidence of the truth and Divinity of Holy Scripture is its continual fulfillment in human lives. This makes it always a new book. We are forever finding in it people whom we know. In this lower sense it is the Book of Life. These lives, which it has moulded and formed, become in turn the interpreters and illustrators of Holy Scripture.

We are here to speak to one another of a life and character which opened to us, in a very real way, the Word of GOD. St. Paul said of some Christians to whom he wrote, “Ye are an epistle, written in our hearts, known and read of all men.”

“Ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the Living GOD.” Of this sort was the good and holy woman of whom I esteem it an honour and a privilege to speak. I have never been asked to eulogize her. No one suggested it to me. It is entirely of my own motion that I have ventured to do so. I am quite sure that she would not have wished it—and would have shrunk from the thought of its being done. And so in doing it I feel that perhaps I take a liberty undue. Yet I feel that I ought to do it, and that its being done will be for the edifying of the faithful.

“The Lives of the Saints.” How sweet they are, those stories of holy lives. Many have been written out, and are famous in the world of literature and of books. We think of the Saints of the Bible, whose lives are written by the Finger of GOD, in the Histories, Prophecies, and Gospels of the Sacred Volume. But the Lives of [3/4] the Saints do not stop with them. We go on to the records of the Martyrs, and Confessors, and Doctors of the early Church, of Lawrence, and Pancras, and Polycarp, and Ignatius of Antioch, of Chrysostom, and Augustine, and Ambrose and Jerome—of Agnes, and Perpetua, of Vincent, and Agatha, and Faith.

We come down the line to Alban, and modern Saints. We think of those minds of learning and brilliancy, like Newman, and Butler, and Montalembert, and Neale, and Baring-Gould, who have felt that one of the noblest uses to which they could put their talents and their erudition was the telling of the honour of the Saints of GOD, to celebrate them in song and story. And then, we think of the Lives of the Saints as told in art, in music, in sculpture, in painting, in shrine and Sanctuary, in Church and Cathedral. Oh, how men love to dwell upon the holy life, how they are fascinated by the beauty of holiness.

The Lives of the Saints,—they have filled the world with light and melody, and colour, and pictures of all kinds. And yet—only a few, a very few, of those lives are known. Why, the Lives of the Saints are innumerable. They shed their lustre and their perfume, but the source is concealed. There are a multitude of Saints whose lives are not written and read of men’s hands and eyes, but which are written, as all good lives are written, in Heaven, and which will be read out, heard, and known at the Judgment Day and in the Eternity of the Heavenly Kingdom. We can always then be looking, and if we observe we can always be finding, the Lives of the Saints, for they never cease, because the Holy Ghost, according to Christ’s promise, abideth with the Church forever. And each saintly life has a distinct beauty of its own. Let me, then, take up my parable of our Saint, and recall her life, as it appears in the annals of time, place, and incident.
Susan MacPherson Sibley Williams was born in Providence, April 3, 1813, in the same ancient homestead whence her soul went forth, on December 1, 1903, to her true home. She was the daughter of Jason Williams and Sarah Rose, his wife.

[5] Mrs. Williams was of a South County family of repute. Jason Williams was long a respected and well-known citizen of Providence. When he died, on June 6, 1863, at the very advanced age of eighty-eight, it was publicly noted of him that he had all through his long life enjoyed, to an unusual degree, the esteem and confidence of the community. He was very prominent as a Freemason, serving as Treasurer of Mt. Vernon Lodge for fifty-three years, and for almost as long a time as Treasurer of the Grand Lodge of the State, of which, at the time of his retirement from office, he was made a life member, the first instance, it was said, of such a distinction.

This Williams family was of Connecticut and Massachusetts antecedents, and to it belonged many distinguished personages, such as the Rev. Elisha Williams, Rector of Yale College, and in later days the Rt. Rev. John Williams, D. D., Bishop of Connecticut, and presiding Bishop of the American Church.

They were ecclesiastically Congregationalists, and Jason Williams with his family were members of the First Society of the denomination in Providence, when it was, not merely in name, but in reality, a Congregational Society. Though most of those here present knew Susan Williams only in her mature and later years, and I only in what we call “old age,” yet it is not difficult for any one who knew her, however late in life, to imagine how fair and lovely, as it has been described to me, by one of her contemporaries who saw her grow up from a child, her girlhood was.

There was something of the freshness of eternal youth about that sweet, calm face and shapely head, which told unmistakably of abundant youthful charms which no lapse or ravages of time could, by any means, destroy. That was a remarkable personality which greeted men’s outward, and inner sight. Gentleness and firmness, dignity and repose, were all combined in her, so that one might exclaim “Mercy and Truth are met together: Righteousness and Peace have kissed each other.”

[6] I went, not long ago, to see, in Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, a famous monumental statue, by St. Gaudens, of a female figure. It is called the “Peace of GOD.” It is most impressive, and not unfitly named. But in looking upon it I am reminded that the living types and ideals by our side often surpass in truth and fidelity the loftiest conceptions of genius. Our sister might have served as a transcend-ant study for just that thought, the “Peace of GOD” keeping heart and mind. She went in and out among us as a living, visible example of just exactly that, the “Peace of GOD,” in watch and ward over heart and mind. On October 11, 1832, this young girl, of only nineteen years, was married to Hasell Wilkinson Crouch, M. D., of Charleston, S. C. Dr. Crouch was a graduate of Brown University, and a physician of bright promise and prospects. The young couple settled down in Charleston, but their wedded happiness was of short duration, for on December 6, 1836, Dr. Crouch died, a martyr to professional duty and sacrifice, in an epidemic of yellow fever. Two children, a son, who died in infancy, May 26, 1836, and a daughter, a beloved member of our parish to-day, were the fruits of this union.

In 1837 the young widow returned to her New England home, and to her father’s house, remaining thenceforth “a widow indeed,” and desolate, but trusting in GOD, and continuing in supplications and prayers night and day, until on the first day of December the wean-days of her six and sixty years of mourning were ended, and she rejoined her loved ones and renewed her youth in the land of the living. The pathos and heroism of those long years of loneliness and anxiety are a lesson of the power of Divine grace to sustain and sanctify a soul. Without repining, without murmuring, without standing still and looking backward at what once was, at all which might have been, this girlish matron set her tear-stained face bravely toward the future, reaching forth unto things which are before. Some might have stopped, sullen and cast down, to sink into the [6/7] indolence of living without present interest, without effort, and without hope. Some might have deemed their life spoiled so utterly at its outset as to absolve them from any further concern as to responsibility. Some might have grown bitter and rebellious and apathetic. But not so this intrepid and undaunted spirit. With fortitude and patience she took up life’s burden and went her way, true pilgrim of the New Jerusalem.

She turned to GOD, and stepped Heavenward, for where her treasure was her heart went also. Sorrow is a great test of intrinsic worth. The choicest natures it refines and purifies. So with her.

She was of the precious metal and the Refiner and Purifier of silver and of gold tried in the fire, stood over the furnace of affliction and as the dross was purged away, His Image was mirrored in the shining depths. The experience of suffering revealed to the sufferer her GOD.

Soon after her return to Providence, Mrs. Crouch was baptized and confirmed in Grace Church. I suppose this to have been under the pastorate of that priest who turned many souls to the service of GOD, the Rev. John A. Clark. With earnestness and unflagging zeal this soldier of Christ’s Cross continued His faithful soldier and servant unto her life’s end. During Dr. Clark’s Rectorship, and through that of his successor, Dr. Alexander H. Vinton, Mrs. Crouch was foremost in every good word and work. Those were days of great sincerity and devotion. There were lectures on Holy Scripture, Bible Classes, quiet conferences, preparatory to the Holy Communion, Prayer Meetings, and classes for Sacred Study. They were days, also, of an ardent missionary spirit. Systematic visiting, methods of charity and mercy, were established, the children were sought out for Baptism and for the Sunday-school, and out of these sowings and foundings came the great growth of the Church’s life and activity, which followed later. The faithfulness and energy of Mrs. Crouch and other labourers like-minded stand out in the [7/8] remembrance of all familiar with those days of the Church’s “Second Spring.” I have heard Mrs. Crouch publicly praised, by one of the oldest and most eminent clergymen of this Diocese, as one to whom the Church in Rhode Island owed much, for what she had done.

In the process of time, somewhere, it seems probable, about 1857, Mrs. Crouch became connected with S. Stephen’s Church.

The rise and progress of this East Side Parish, begun as a mission from Grace Church, by Dr. Francis Vinton, and so happily continued under his immediate successors Drs. Leeds, Eames, and Waterman, had been rapid, and the Church had become a centre of spiritual life. Under Dr. Waterman the public devotional system of the Church had been more fully put in operation, and his saintly character and unusual preaching were attracting wide attention, and making deep impression. Here Mrs. Crouch became a distinct element in the parochial life, and a leader in all that was good.

She was a teacher in the Sunday-school, and the instinctive friend of the friendless and the needy.

During those days of the high, fitful fever of the Civil War her administrative ability and philanthropic sympathies secured her a position as Superintendent of the Providence branch of the Sanitary Commission. This was a post of responsibility and usefulness, and Mrs. Crouch filled it in a manner which heightened the confidence and regard of all her former friends and gained her many more.

The training and experience gained from these years so far referred to were now brought to bear upon a work pre-eminently congenial to Mrs. Crouch, and one which endeared her permanently to S. Stephen’s Parish. She became, under Dr. Waterman, the official Parish Missionary and Visitor. No happier selection could have been made. Sanctified by the grace of GOD, schooled in the trials and sorrows and struggles of life, this truly consecrated woman went forth to be, in no perfunctory fashion, sympathizer, consoler, advisor, and almoner. The light which in these manifold [8/9] capacities she shed upon dark places and saddened hearts, the relief she brought, the judicious aid she bore, the cheer which she diffused, form a record with the Most High. When the Parish Work Association, the first Parochial Society of this Parish, was formed in 1862, Mrs. Crouch was one of the Directors. Subsequently she became President, holding the office, for many years, until the day of her death. Her house was, literally for long, a Parish House. From it went forth the vested array of Bishop and Clergy, on September si, 1860, to lay the Corner-stone of the new S. Stephen’s. In it the Parish Work Association held its working meetings. To it were coming, and from it were going constantly, the giver and the receiver, the distressed and the benevolent. It was a refuge and a rendezvous, and its venerable walls, if they could speak, would be eloquent with tales of Christian love and service.

In 1878 the Woman’s Auxiliary was organized in this Diocese, and in Mrs. Crouch found an instrument, ready and waiting. In the work and prayers of this great fellowship Mrs. Crouch was prominent as long as her health and strength permitted. The particular branch of its work with which she was identified was that of the Indian Aid. In fact, the Indian Aid Society may be said to have been the ancestor of the Woman’s Auxiliary in this Diocese. It was older, and formed a nucleus for the organization of the later and larger fellowship.

For many years the workers in this circle were wont to gather annually at Mrs. Crouch’s house to emphasize the bond of attachment in which their common interest had welded them together in a hallowed friendship. In other organizations for Christian work in this city, Mrs. Crouch was also interested. She was an efficient and leading member of the Young Woman’s Christian Association, and for two years took charge of the Seaside Cottage, which it maintains on Conanicut Island.

Having thus enumerated the external and more public positions occupied by Mrs. Crouch, I would now wish to dwell more [9/10] particularly on the profound spirituality which accompanied and lay underneath all this objective and outward side. Some who are full of energy and rich in ostensible achievements are poor toward GOD, have a meagre and scanty inner life. Not so with Mrs. Crouch.

She had the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, and the meek and quiet spirit is never a surface one. It never consists merely of words and works. It is a deep, calm spirit. So with her. Mrs. Crouch was never a fussy, bustling Martha, she was Martha and Mary in one. She was concerned about many things. She did many things. But all her life long she sat at JESUS’ Feet and heard His word. She read her Bible, and her devotional books. She said her prayers. She thought on holy things, and reflected on Divine things. She lived on the Bread of Life. She had a devotion, and I believe that to the end of her life it was a growing devotion, to the Blessed Sacrament.

As long as she was able, every Sunday morning at seven o’clock she received the Blessed Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, as well as on Holy Days and at other times. Up to her very last days, she came to the Altar as often as she could. It was her strength and her refreshment. For many years she took charge of the Sacred Vessels and the Altar Linen, and one seeing her reverent movement about the Altar saw at a glance that she was a holy woman. I do not believe that Priest or Religious ever went up to the Altar of GOD with more thorough reverence of body and spirit than Mrs. Crouch.

And as she lived, so she died, meek and quiet, yet deep and firm and earnest. As she felt the end approaching she sent for the priest. She received the Viaticum, and those who stood by, and marked her fervent declarations of Penitence and her strong bracing accents of Faith, were mightily awed and gladdened as they witnessed her triumph over weakness, sin, and death, and they glorified GOD in her. And so she passed, pure, sweet, simple soul, a loyal heart and true, into the Light.

[11] This is a day of holy women, round the Lord. The Blessed Virgin, and S. Anna. Our Saint was a kindred spirit. A true follower of the Mother of the Lord was she, her heart uttering the Virgin’s statement, “Behold the Handmaid of the Lord.”

A true S. Anna, of a great age, greater by nearly five years than Anna herself, like her in her long widowhood from early youth, like her in departing not from the temple, like her in serving the Lord with fasting and prayers, night and day, like her giving thanks to the Lord, and speaking of Him to all who looked for redemption in Jesus. Our Saint belongs to the choir of holy women of old, who wore the ornament of the spirit, meek and quiet.

We think of Phebe, a servant of the Church, who had been a succourer of many, even of S. Paul himself. We think of Tryphena and Tryphosa labouring in the Lord, and the beloved Persis, who laboured much in the Lord. They all come forth to greet her, the Saints of all the ages. The lessons of this lovely life are many. Many have been suggested as we traced it on its course.

Another lesson is this. Here was a person—without wealth, compassed a long life through with harsh temporal anxieties, but whose heart was wholly with GOD. And behold what she accomplished! What a power she was! What an influence she exerted! What an abundant love she evoked! What works she wrought!

Friends, a luminous personality has disappeared from the visible life of this Diocese.
Parishioners, one has gone from us who was, indeed, salt of the earth, and a light within her orbit. But let us not for a moment deem our path dimmer, or that we are poorer or weaker. This Diocese is rich and this Parish is rich in their treasure thus laid up in Heaven. She shall be counted His, in the day when He shall make up His jewels. Her name is written in the Book of Remembrance, before the Lord, wherein are inscribed the names of those who feared the Lord, and thought upon His Name.

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