Strength and Settledness: The Sermon Preached in S. Stephen's Church, Providence, R.I. on S. Stephen's Day, First Sunday after Christmas, A.D. 1909 in Commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of His Rectorship.
By George McClellan Fiske.
Providence: Snow and Farnham, 1912.
“Thy God hath sent forth strength for thee; stablish the thing, O God, that Thou hast wrought in us.” Ps. 68: 28.
It would seem a perilous thing, spiritually, for men, individually or collectively, to review their achievements. It is so liable to breed self-satisfaction or self-complacency. When David, pleased with his populous kingdom, proposed to number it, he was warned against it by God and man. And we are expressly told that it was Satan who provoked David to number Israel. Even Joab, that hoary sinner, protested, “Why then doth my lord require this thing? Why will he be a cause of trespass to Israel?” When David still persisted God offered him his choice of three calamities: famine, defeat and exile, and a pestilence. When Nebuchudnezzar surveyed great Babylon, which he had built, as he said to himself, by the might of his power, and for the honour of his majesty, there fell a voice from heaven saying, “The Kingdom is departed from thee.”
Such examples and warnings may well make one hesitate to venture on such a review as is attempted now; the review of the past twenty-five years of our parochial life. It is only undertaken in deference to the wishes of others. Let our narrative be as impersonal as possible. No priest, save perhaps the actual founder of a parish, can presume to be otherwise. He is merely one in a line. Many were before him. Many will come after. Soon he will be but a name in a list; a name, most likely, to be unnamed and unknown. He has reaped where others sowed. He has watered what others planted. He has built on other men’s foundations. The priest who has the most to show for his labors has nought to glory in. If, in some evil hour, he be tempted to dream that he has influenced many, let him think of the many whom he has utterly failed to touch and reach; the many who, for all his efforts and [3/4] prayers and entreaties, are as far from the Kingdom of God as ever; who are still unbaptized, unconfirmed, unfed with the Bread of Heaven, without covenant and communion with God. Let him think of them, and be humbled and silent before God.
This parish dates, as you are aware, from 1839. It was admitted into Convention of the Diocese, June 11, 1839, and incorporated by the Legislature in October, 1839. At Easter, 1839, the Rev. Francis Vinton was called to be the First Rector. He resigned that office in January, 1840, to be succeeded by the Rev. George Leeds, who served until May 10, 1841. On September 6, 1841, the Rev. Henry Waterman was elected Rector, continuing such until Dec. 1, 1845. The next Rector was the Rev. James H. Eames, who resigned Sept. 2, 1849. On Sept. 23, of that year, the Rev. Henry Waterman was recalled to the Rectorship, which continued until October 20, 1873. The next Rectorship, that of the Rev. Charles Wm. Ward, extended from March 22, 1875, to October 15, 1877. On April 22, 1878, the Rev. James Windsor Colwell was elected Rector. He resigned on September 1, 1884. These were all unusual men, men of uncommon natural gifts and attainments, and Doctors Vinton, Leeds, Waterman, and Eames, became of National fame in the Church.
On October 20, 1884, the election of the present Rector took place, and was accepted, to date from December 1, of that year, the Rector actually entering upon his duties and officiating for the first time on December 14, 1884, the Third Sunday in Advent.
The Vestry of that day stood as follows: Senior Warden, the venerable Resolved Waterman; Junior Warden, Gen. William Ames; Vestrymen: Messrs. John S. Ormsbee, Col. R. H. I. Goddard, Lyman Klapp, Richard M. Sherman, Edward B. Carpenter, Moses P. Forkey, Freeborn Coggeshall, Charles E. Godfrey, John H. Ormsbee, George B. Burton. During the past twenty-five years, the following have also been or are members of the Vestry: William C. Rhodes, William Wurts White, J. Mason Gross, Joseph Dews, Henry J. Steere, John H. Stiness, Charles C. Nichols, Walter G. Webster, J. L. Webster, Theodore W. Foster, Cyrus M. Van Slyck, Frank H. [4/5] Martin, Edward B. Hamlin, C. W. North, J. T. A. Eddy, and Charles D. Dunlop.
The office of Secretary of the Corporation and Vestry has been filled by Messrs. Lyman Klapp, Walter G. Webster, Josiah L. Webster, and William H. Phillips. The important office of Treasurer has been held by Charles E. Godfrey, John H. Ormsbee, George C. Noyes, Moses P. Forkey, and William H. Phillips.
In 1884, the choir was substantially in the same able and excellent hands as it is to-day. Mr. William Harkness Arnold, Organist, had just begun the quarter-century which he has rounded out with so much distinction, and Mr. William Conrad Rhodes, as Musical Director, was already well on in that monumental record which excels in faithfulness and self-sacrifice almost anything else connected with the parish. Mr. William M. Skinner was Choir Master. Richard Conway was the Sexton.
At Advent, 1885, the offices of Morning and Evening Prayer began to be said daily, as the Prayer Book orders, so that twenty-four years have now elapsed since that beginning. From Christmas Day, 1886, the Holy Eucharist began to be celebrated daily, and has so continued for, now, twenty-three years. May it become perpetual!
The Parish Register shows, in 1884, 325 registered communicants, and the visiting list, handed to the new Rector, contained the names of about ninety families.
Early in 1885, steps were taken to erect a Guild House on the lot at the east end of the Church. The result was a small frame building, after a plan by William R. Walker & Son, Architects, and which probably did not cost more than $1,500. This enterprise, in which the parishioners heartily co-operated, was largely due to the energy and personal attentions of Mr. Lyman Klapp. This modest building, the first, it is believed, of such buildings in the Diocese of Rhode Island, was blessed and opened by the Rector on July 2, 1885.
On October 11, 1885, the Vestry voted provision for a Curate. On January 1, 1887, the Rev. Evelyn Pierrepont Bartow became Curate, serving most usefully and holily until failing health compelled his resignation in September, 1895. His [5/6] attachment to the Parish was such, that on his death in 1902, he bequeathed to it the sum of $1,000. An account of his life and character, preserved in a printed sermon, is part of the literature of the Parish. The Rev. Francis Milton Banfil was Curate from 1895 to 1898, then becoming Rector of S. James’ Parish, South Bend, Ind., in March, 1898. Succeeding him came the Rev. Simon Blinn Blunt. Just at this time, the Bishop-Coadjutor of the Diocese had placed the important Mission of the Holy Nativity, Thornton, in charge of the Rector of S. Stephen’s. In addition to his duties here, this work was cared for by Fr. Blunt with such energy as to constitute a new epoch in the history of this interesting Mission. Fr. Blunt, in December, 1903, became Rector of the Church of the Redeemer, Chicago, where his striking abilities as priest, pastor, and preacher, have won him a foremost place in that great See City. The Rev. Charles Everett Oswald followed as Curate, earnestly serving until March, 1906, when he was added to the staff of Trinity Parish, New York. On February 1, 1904, the Rev. Edward Rogers Sweetland was appointed Curate, and on June 1, 1906, the Rev. A. George E. Jenner became Curate, and we are still so fortunate as to be enjoying the efficient services of these two able priests.
From 1887 until Easter, 1905, the Rev. W. F. B. Jackson was Priest-Assistant and Curate, serving without salary, and rendering most acceptable aid in the public worship and in the pulpit. For the one all too brief year 1897-1898, the Rev. Walter Gardner Webster, name ever to be loved and cherished here, was also numbered among our clergy. The noble pathos of his life and death, you know.
During the period under review, we have had at different times, the Rev. Alfred Evan Johnson, the Rev. S. C. M. Orpen, the Rev. Charles H. Wheeler, and the Rev. George Herbert Patterson, resident among us, as regular worshipers or as occasional assistants.
The Rector’s charge of Holy Nativity Mission, Thornton, continued for upwards of ten years, when, in Easter-tide of this year, 1909, he gave it again into the Bishop’s hands, with a greatly enlarged property, a beautifully ordered worship, and a well-organized congregation. Beside Fr. Blunt, there [6/7] served at Thornton, as Curates of S. Stephen’s and Vicars of Thornton, the Rev. William Howard Davis and the Rev. Herbert William Barker.
On August 25, 1900, the corner-stone of the new chancel of the Holy Nativity, Thornton, was laid, with memorable ceremony, by the Vicar, Fr. Blunt, in the unavoidable absence of the Bishop-Coadjutor and the Rector. On the Feast of S. Simon and S. Jude, 1902, the completed Church was consecrated by Bishop McVickar.
In the years 1899 and 1900, out of the crushing sorrow of Fr. Webster’s tragic death rose the Webster Memorial Guild-House, the “munificent” gift—as the resolution of the Vestry so truly said—of the united Webster family. The estate adjoining the Church on the west was purchased as a site by the Parish, and on July 22, 1899, ground was solemnly broken by the Rector. On September 14, of that year, the corner-stone was laid by the Rector, in the presence of an unusual concourse of clergy and people. An address by Bishop Clark was read, and other addresses were made by the Rector, the Hon. Elisha Dyer, Governor of the State, the Hon. Mr. Justice Rogers, of the Supreme Court, the Rev. James W. Colwell, former Rector, and the Rev. George Herbert Patterson. On the Feast of the Circumcision, 1901, the Guild-House, completed after the plans of Mr. Frank H. Martin, architect, of this Parish, and fully furnished, was formally presented to the Corporation, blessed by the Bishop-Coadjutor, and opened for use.
This fair tribute of parental and fraternal love, so meet for its manifold uses, so stately, beautiful, and dignified in appearance, is a treasure for which we cannot be too grateful, and there ought never to be any, even the slightest, difficulty in maintaining it.
On February 6, 1900, the tower of the Church, after nearly forty years’ delay, stood at last complete, after the designs of Mr. Howard Hoppin, architect, of this Parish. The departure from the original plan of Mr. Upjohn, architect of the Church, was necessitated more by limitation of proper material than by lack of funds.
A Service of Thanksgiving was held on February 27 of the same year, at which an address was read from the Bishop of [7/8] the Diocese, and other addresses were made by the Bishop-Coadjutor, the venerable Dr. Henshaw, and the Rev. James W. Colwell. I may say in passing that these addresses of Bishop Clark, read at the functions which age and infirmity forbade him to attend, form an exceedingly interesting series of Memorabilia in the history of his association with this parish. They have been carefully preserved in the pages of S. Stephen.
On September 29, 1902, the Feast of S. Michael and All Angels, a full set of tubular chimes, installed in the tower by Mrs. Mary Dorr Ames Sayles, as a memorial to her parents, Capt. Sullivan Dorr Ames, U. S. N., and Mrs. Mary Townsend Bullock Ames, were blessed by the Bishop-Coadjutor of the Diocese. The Rector made an address. This was a very inspiring service, on a day most beautiful, both in Nature and in Grace. Bishop McVickar was accompanied, as guest of honour, by the Bishop of Fond-du-Lac, and attended by a notable array of vested clergy.
Thus recalling, one after another, the additions to the fabric of the Church building, we realize that in 1884 this edifice was still, virtually, an unfinished structure. What is now called the Church of the Saviour, was, as some may not know, the first church home of this Parish, the corner-stone having been laid April 15, 1840. It was consecrated by Bishop Griswold November 26, 1840. Rhode Island was then a part of what was called the Eastern Diocese, and in our Sacristy hangs the Sentence of Consecration, with the autograph signature of Bishop Griswold, as Bishop of the Eastern Diocese. This document is of peculiar interest, and is one of the historical treasures of this Parish. This present S. Stephen’s Church dates from the early “Sixties.” The corner-stone was laid on S. Matthew’s Day, 1860, by Bishop Clark, and the Church was consecrated by him on February 27, 1862. The architect was Richard Upjohn, the most noted Church architect in the United States in his day, and who might with truth be styled the Father of American Church Architecture. In 1884, the building had been in use a little over twenty-two years. Under our feet was a damp, dark, unsanitary dirt cellar. Above our heads stood the mute torso of the tower, reminding one, as such sights always do, of the Lord’s parable of the man who [8/9] began to build and was not able to finish. What we have been at work upon during the past twenty-five years, is the gradual completion of the Church. Most of what has been done is of the sternest utilitarian character, and of the most strictly practical value. The basement of the Church has been properly and thoroughly drained, cemented and ventilated. First-rate heating, lighting, and fresh air plants have been installed.
There remain vast possibilities of embellishment in the decoration of the interior, the placing of windows in porch, chapel, and clerestory, the rearrangement and proper fitting up of the chapel, and the elaboration of the porch, which a distinguished architect has pointed out, might be made a striking feature of the Church. The realization of these possibilities belongs to the Future, for none are likely to be actualized in this generation. One solemn word ought to be recorded here and now, a word of earnest hope and entreaty, that, as none of these things are matters of necessity, none of them may be attempted except under hands of highest artistic merit and with the outlay of adequate cost. Better, far better, that these things should never be done at all, than that they should be done in a commonplace, cheap, and inexpensive manner. This Church is too beautiful, it has too great intrinsic merit as a work of art, its purpose as the House of the Lord God Almighty is too sublime, the people who worship here are too well off, to admit that which costs but little. One thing which has been already initiated, we may well hope, will before many years be an accomplished fact, as a matter not merely of ornament, indeed scarcely that at all, but of solid, practical desirability, and that is, the laying of a permanent stone floor, as demanded by the principles of strength, safety, and good taste. This should be literally the groundwork, oasis, and starting point for any future improvements in the interior of this Church.
In 1888, with the hearty approval of the Bishop of the Diocese, the Sisterhood of the Holy Nativity was located in Providence. While not connected in any official way with this Parish, the Sisters attended Church here, and the Rector, who, for some time, acted as their Chaplain, welcomed them and invited them to work among our people, which they continued to do with the most edifying results, in visiting all sorts and conditions [9/10] of men, the sick and the whole, in private and public teaching, and in finding and instructing candidates for Baptism and Confirmation, until the Community deemed it for its best interests to remove to the Diocese of Fond-du-Lac. When this change occurred, in June, 1905, such deep root had the Community taken here, and such deep impression had it made, that it was resolved by the Lady Associates of Providence, Boston, and elsewhere, to make a determined effort to secure and maintain a force of Sisters to continue their work and influence among us. Accordingly, in the autumn of 1905, the House of the Holy Nativity was opened for two Sisters at No. 63 John Street. In the early summer of 1907 the way was providentially opened for this brave company of Associates to acquire the property No. 117 and No. 119 George Street, directly opposite the Church, for the use of the Sisters. The purchase was made and the Sisters took possession in the autumn of the above year, 1907. The mortgage on the property is being steadily reduced. God has raised up friends for this purpose, and there is every prospect that the property will soon be free from debt and be permanently established as a centre of consecrated life and work. Such a centre it already is, and the wonderful way in which it has been brought about compels us in awe and gratitude to cry: “What hath God wrought?”
In the winter of 1885, the estate No. 43, afterwards No. 86 George Street, was purchased for a Rectory, a possession then for the first time acquired by the Parish. The house was occupied by the Rector from May, 1885, until June, 1902, when the property was sold to Brown University. A lot at the corner of Brook and George Streets was then bought by the Vestry, and the present handsome and commodious Rectory, after the designs of Mr. Norman M. Isham, architect, of this Parish, was erected. It was formally blessed by the Rector, June 15, 1903, and occupied on October 1st, of that year.
Another event of the first magnitude in the life of the Parish, as a worshiping body, and in relation to its obedience to the precept “Let the congregation of Saints praise Him,” was the setting up of the fine Roosevelt organ. This was done in the year 1891, and its first actual use was on Christmas Eve of [10/11] that year. On the Feast of the Epiphany, 1892, the organ was solemnly offered to God, and blessed by the Bishop of the Diocese. During that year additions, at a cost of $1,500, were made, fully completing the instrument in tone and power. This outlay of $7,500 was peculiarly gratifying in this respect—it represented, perhaps more really than any other object undertaken here, the offerings of the entire people. Everybody, rich and poor, old, young, men and women, boys and girls, the little children, gave something, and no one subscription was over $250.
On Easter Even, 1892, the Bishop of the Diocese blessed the Tabernacle and Paintings of the Reredos, the offering to God of Mrs. Lyman Klapp in memory of her husband. This great work, golden, glorious, and in divers colors, signalizes this Altar as one of the most marked and beautiful in the American Church.
Such have been the main events and features of what is outward and visible, temporal and material, in the career of S. Stephen’s within the last twenty-five years.
In the first number of our Parish chronicle, “S. Stephen,” issued December, 1885, the Rector gave a list headed “Things greatly needed.” It ran on this wise: “The Sanctification of our Lives, a New Organ, the completion of the Tower, the Decoration of the Interior of the Church, a permanent Parish Building.” The first of these things will be always needed. But the other things have virtually all come to pass. The Organ, the Guild House, the Tower, are before us. While the decoration of the Church still waits (perhaps, as I have intimated, better that it does) yet the Altar and Reredos are almost a sufficient decoration in themselves, for an Altar as beautiful and Catholic as ours covers a multitude of surrounding defects, and would redeem the shabbiest and ugliest building. So that in these respects, exterior though they be, is it not true, “Thy God hath sent forth strength for thee.”
There are many other things which might be mentioned, that have ministered to parochial strength. There are the various societies and organizations, each in its own line developing interest and effort in Church extension, otherwise called Missions, in works of mercy and charity, in social fellowship, [11/12] in brotherhood service, and in personal piety and devotion. And these groups have been possible because of the many-sided constituencies of the Parish. There might have been a temptation—as this Church is situated—to build up here, in this quiet, refined, well-to-do neighborhood, a Parish socially homogeneous—what would popularly be called a fashionable Parish. But far from this has been the ideal before the eyes of those who have watched and worked in this field. Before their eyes has been the vision of a Church wherein the rich and poor meet together, for the Lord is the Maker of them all; the vision of a Church, so far as local conditions allow,, free and unappropriated, and where all are welcome; the vision of a Church reflecting the picture drawn by the Holy Ghost, the Finger of God, where “there is neither Greek, nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond, nor free—but Christ all and in all,”—a Church where a person is never rated according to the size of his purse, nor considered according to the colour of his skin.
We might speak of the line of benefactors which has marked these five and twenty years—those who, in departing from this world, have left behind them sums of money for carrying on the life of the Parish which was their spiritual home on earth. That line includes the names of Henry Jonah Steere, Jane Anthony Eames, Henry Crawford Dorr, Walter Gardner Webster, Evelyn Pierrepont Bartow, Anne Ives Carrington Dwight Ames, Ada Geraldine Metcalf, Mary Georgianna Ormsbee, and Emma Jones Forsburg, and with especial honour it records the name of George Henry, a man of colour, formerly Sexton of this Church, who bequeathed to the Parish the sum of $50—a lesson to the humble and the meek that small gifts are great before the Lord.
We might also speak of the named funds, modest in amount, but most useful for their purposes,—the “James Hayden Coggeshall Library Fund,” the “Eucharistic Fund,” and the “Alfred Jameson Miller Fund.” Each of these was begun with $100, to which from time to time the founders add such offerings as they may and will, so that the principal in time yields sufficient income to furnish distinct annual aid towards its specific object. Thus the spirit of gratitude for God’s mercies, and of underlying love for the Departed, becomes a perennial spring of praise and benefaction. Parish of S. Stephen’s! In these ways “Thy God hath sent forth strength for thee.”
In another way that strength has been sent forth. The Rectorship of the last twenty-five years has been blessed with the co-operation of a Vestry of high-minded, high-bred, and devout gentlemen. Too high praise cannot be bestowed on this noble and generous body. It is doubtful if a comparison of all the parochial authorities of the land could show a Vestry equalling in courtesy, delicate consideration, and liberal spirit, the Vestry of S. Stephen’s. This unity of spirit in the Vestry is the expression, too, of the unity of the congregation. Our people have been willing to trust and follow the Rector. The life of the Parish has been marked by harmony. With one mind, of one accord, has been the movement of this flock of Christ. And where there is mutual trust, mutual forbearance, there will be unity, and in unity is always strength. These thoughts lead me to ask, in what consists the identity of a Parish? It certainly does not consist in the people, for they do not continue the same. The congregation of to-day is a far different one from that which faced the new Rector on December 14, 1884. The identity consists rather in the identity of the Faith professed and practiced—in identity of principles of action and of maxims of conduct, in the identity of Christian love. Blessed be God! S. Stephen’s shows through these swiftly-accumulating years a marked identity. It has stood, and it stands, for the Faith once for all delivered to the Saints. It stands for the proper and reverent recognition of its Pastors, accounting of them as Ministers of Christ and Stewards of the Mysteries of God, calling them Priests of the Lord. It stands for the Bible and the Prayer Book. It stands for the Catholic Religion. It is conscious of itself as a Catholic Parish. As such it is known throughout the United States and all over the Church. It has been insisted on by those who have been responsible for the teaching here that none need take thought to be “High,” or ‘Low,” or “Broad”—but that every Churchman should take thought to be, that he should intend and try to be, what the Creed of the Ages, what the Faith [13/14] in which he was baptized pledges him to be—a “Catholic”; that he should believe in the Holy Catholic Church. I am reminded just here of some words of the venerable Fr. Stanton, of S. Albans, Holborn, London. Last June, All Saints, Margaret Street, London, a parish far famous in the Anglican communion, and which many of you have visited, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. One of the notable sermons was preached by Fr. Stanton, one of the greatest and most admired preachers in England. He said in that sermon—what may with equal appropriateness be said here—of this Church and this Parish:
“This Church has ever stood for the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Immanence has never been taught in this place, for the Incarnation; Evolution has never been substituted for Redemption; the Holy Ghost has never been treated in this place as an illuminating process. Never from this place has it been taught that we who believe in the Catholic Faith need a permit to be given us by Science. The Lord Jesus Christ has never, in this place, been remodelled to suit the exigencies of modern thought. He has ever been taught here as the Saviour, Who comes to us, not as our equal, but as our God, to pity us, and by His Precious Blood to redeem us to Himself—a chosen people. And so the sweet message of the Gospel is the sound which has ever been heard from this place—praise the Lord!
“And this place ever stands for the maintenance of the great Catholic Faith. ‘I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy, Catholic Church.’ If you have been baptized, you have never been taught that you are baptized into the Roman, or the Anglican, or the Greek, but into the Catholic Church, into Christ.
“And this Church stands for Catholic Ritual—the expression of the Catholic Faith. Many come, and will come here, and this will not appeal to them. They will say that our doctrine is Romish; they will say that our ritual is show; the incense we burn is to them nothing but smoke. They never see the Mercy Seat sprinkled with blood; and if they look into the chalice they will tell you that there is nothing in the chalice of the Lord’s Sacrament but wine. But others come, and will come, and will go away, as those have done over and over [14/15] again, in the days that are past, who have gone away blessed and blessing, and have never forgotten the Church where they learned what sin was and what the Saviour was, how deep is sin and how glorious is salvation.”
You have now been reminded of certain things accomplished. But that the true perspective and proportion of the survey may not be obscured, the two most important things accomplished shall now be named and pointed out. Let them sink down deeply into your hearts and minds—and let the young Churchmen and Churchwomen, who will so soon take the places of us older ones, remember them when the voice which now pronounces this opinion is heard no more. The two most important things accomplished have been these: First, the establishment of the full public devotional system of the Church. By this is to be understood the daily services, Holy Eucharist, Matins, and Even-Song—the open Church, the Blessed Sacrament always kept here, the administration of the Catholic Sacraments, constant access to the Sacrament of Penance, and readiness for the ministration of the Unction of the Sick. What a haunt of peace and pardon the presence of these ways and works of God makes of the Church. There is a certain spiritual property about this Church, as many testify. There is an indescribable quality of mystery that lingers here. This is from time to time remembered by those who visit this Church. There is the atmosphere as of another world. One familiar with it perhaps is absent for awhile; he comes back and re-enters these courts, exclaiming to himself, “O, how amiable are Thy dwellings, Thou Lord of Hosts!” It bursts upon one as a fresh vision of beauty and of grace. There is something here which touches the heart and appeals to the soul. This is a place inhabited. It is an abiding place of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a Home of Jesus. The Spirit says, “In this place is One greater than the temple.” The devotional system of the Church makes this a House of Prayer. It is where Prayer is wont to be made. It is a place of meeting between man and God. It is a rendezvous of the Living and the Dead. Yes, here the voice of the Church as a Body is lifted to God. Here the members of Christ pray corporately, as Christ bade, agreeing in what they ask, and so inheriting [15/16] the promise of a favorable answer. Here the Infinite Merits of the Lamb of God are pleaded in the Holy Eucharist. Here the Holy Scriptures are read and re-read in the ears of all the people. Here the Blessed Sacrament is kept. Here the rites of Sacramental Grace are performed. To have set in motion here these forces of Life Eternal, these powers of the world to come, is a stupendous work. In the doing of it God hath sent forth strength.
The second greatest thing is the planting here, the Church beside, of a Religious House, in the shape of the House of the Holy Nativity. When one considers the pervasive influence, day by day and year after year, of such a household, its tender touch on the hearts of young and old, doing its work like that done by the falling of the dew or the beaming of the sunshine, a work and method of work akin to the work and method of the Holy Ghost Himself—of the wisdom that is from above, first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits—it must be seen and felt to be a power for lasting good, which cannot be over-estimated. It will be a sad day for this Parish, should such day ever come, which God forbid—when the Church with all that is therein is closed to the prayers and adoration of the Faithful, or when the meek, hallowed forms and faces of the Lord’s consecrated children depart and return, go in and out no more. Cherish these great gifts of God, and fix them in your minds as treasures never to be parted with.
During this period of twenty-five years there have been
Nine members of the Parish: Richard Mitchell Sherman, Jr., Frederick William Davis, Arthur Rogers, Lucian Waterman Rogers, Walter Gardner Webster, Henry Morgan Stone, Augustus Hugo Wells Anderson, Charles Mason Gross, and Wilbur Scranton Leete, have received Holy Orders.
There are now registered 1,103 Communicants.
After all, the text comprises just the two things which this [16/17] anniversary calls us to say,—one about the Past, as we look back, “Thy God hath sent forth strength for thee”—one about the Future, as we look forward, “Stablish the thing, O God, which Thou hast wrought in us.” One word of gratitude, and praise, and acknowledgment of the Source of whatever prosperity has come—one word of hope, and ardent wish and prayer for the days that are to be.
Is there anything to be pleased with, to be glad of? God hath sent forth strength to work it. There has been nothing brilliant or exceptional in the workmen here. There have been no sensational methods, no advertising, no blare of trumpets. There have been no bids for popularity. There has been simply the firm conviction that the Catholic Church is a living organism, that the Prayer Book is a working charter, and that if the Church’s system be thoroughly put in operation, and kept in operation, resultant blessings will not be lacking. There has simply been the dauntless determination to do the Church’s work in the Church’s way, and leave the rest to God, to declare the whole counsel of God, whether people will hear or whether they will forbear. There has been no concern to set an easy, a comfortable, or an up-to-date religion before them. The concern has been to tell the “old story,” as “this Church has received the same.” People have not been drawn here by eloquence, or by any other accidental instrument. The nearest approach to such motives is when we hear people say that they come “to hear the music”—but that can hardly be avoided, nor can they be blamed for that. The principles on which the human agents have acted have been right and true, “patient continuance in well-doing,” “holding fast,” and “standing fast.” And so, morning and evening, winter and summer, week after week, month after month, year after year, day after day, prayer has gone up, the Sacrifice has been offered, souls have been sought and searched out and gathered in, and God has sent forth strength, working with us, and confirming the word with signs following. That is the sum and substance of the five and twenty years—”God hath sent forth strength for thee.” That for the Past.
For the Future! “Stablish the thing, O God, that Thou hast wrought in us.” Let it not pass away. Keep, O Lord, the [17/18] identity of S. Stephen’s. Keep it firm in and loyal to the Faith! Let its priests be clothed with righteousness and let its saints sing with joyfulness! Fix here, O Lord, and continue Thy Sacramental Habitation! Let Thy Presence ever go with us. Keep here the open Church, the Daily Eucharist, the Daily Offices, the tarrying of the Blessed Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ! Keep here the Sisterhood of the Holy Nativity! Increase their numbers. Pour upon them the spirit of love and the spirit of prayer. Extend Thine own interior life in them. Empty them of self and fill them with Thyself. In them convert sinners, enlighten the ignorant, relieve the suffering, comfort the sorrowful, and direct all their ministrations to the fulfilment of Thy holy will. Give us with them rest and peace here, and joy with Thee hereafter, for Thine own merit’s sake. Amen.
As we look forward, there are in the foreground of our view two things of which the past period of twenty-five years has seen the rise, and which ought not to go unfinished.
Nearly twelve years ago, the coloured communicants of this Parish presented an important petition to the Vestry for the establishment of a chapel for their people. That petition was favorably received, and steps were taken to comply with it. Circumstances, however, have seemed to put difficulties in the way, so that nothing as yet has been accomplished. Meanwhile, much thought and deliberation has been expended on this subject, the counsel of those experienced in such work has been had, and to-day the need of such provision, and the wisdom of making it are more strongly in evidence than ever. It is to be hoped that the way may soon be opened for the granting of what was so long ago asked. The coloured people in our Parish are numerous, and by their piety and good living have shown themselves entitled to our highest respect. For this may God send forth His strength for us.
Some years ago, by the generosity of a devoted communicant of this Parish, a lot of land at Saunderstown, in this State, and the sum of $500 in money, were given towards providing a summer holiday house which could be available for the use of some of our poor people. This is a project which [18/19] ought not to be allowed to languish. For this may God send forth His strength.
As one attains the summit of the years, he gets, like Moses, a distant prospect of a Land of Promise. He sees the land he is so rapidly leaving behind, and the land beyond.
“Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood
Stand dressed in living green.
So to the Jews fair Canaan stood,
While Jordan rolled between.”
He sees, too, things here which might be, which he cannot but hope will be. Two such objects are before me now. One is a Choir School. This Parish has stood for Worship and for Praise. Its musical fame is of long standing. It has few equals, few superiors. In this quiet, academic neighborhood, where are many people of comparative leisure, in this Parish which has a name for sacred song, a Choir School, such as those which are so common in England, and which are becoming known in our own country, might most appropriately find a home. Such a school would be a modest one, giving to a select number of boys a simple English education, training them at the same time thoroughly in Church music. Such an establishment might provide a daily choral evensong which might grow to be a feature of the Parish and of the community.
The other institution for which this Parish seems peculiarly adapted is a Home for the aged, indigent, and devout communicants, who by their piety and attachment to the Church had proved their fitness for such association, and who, like Simeon and Anna of old, would find their highest joy and delight in frequenting the Temple of God.
These institutions would necessarily be limited, but they would be a blessing. They are referred to as offering splendid opportunities for endowed memorials. They may be only dreams. It is the function of old men to dream dreams. Sometimes they come true. And they have been known to be the Voice of God.
People of S. Stephen’s! Yours is a goodly heritage. Yours is a noble birthright. Be proud of them. Be jealous and watchful of them. Add to them by bringing to the service of God the best forces of your lives.