"THE POWER AND INFLUENCE OF THE LAITY."
ON THE FIRST ANNIVERSARY OF HIS RECTORATE
PUBLISHED AT REQUEST AND BY ORDER OF THE VESTRY.
Digitized by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2017
With Compliments of the Vestry of St. Andrew’s Church, to its parishioners.
"With other, my fellow laborers."
PHILIPPIANs, IV. CHAP., vs. 3.
Few people, even among our own church members, are aware of the position and influence of the Laity in this branch of the Christian Church. It is well known that the office of a Rector carries with it prerogatives and privileges indicated by the derivation of the title, and that, to a considerable extent, he is the king of his kingdom. But it is not ordinarily understood that his is a constitutional monarchy, and that his subjects, both in legislation and in executive functions, have large powers and extensive influence. The people in the pews do not realize as they ought to do, what are their responsibilities in the work of a parish. Perhaps it is largely because they have not been told. If this be the case, we intend partly to discharge our duty of instruction in this morning's sermon.
If you were to go to any weak, struggling, dying parish in our land (and there are too many such about us), and were to ask the people of such a parish, "What is the matter?" they would most likely say, "We need a Rector who can build us up; the parish will never prosper [3/4] under its present head there must be a change if new life is to be infused in the church." If, then, you were to go to the discouraged and unsuccessful Rector, and ask him, "What is the trouble?" you would find that he would attribute all the difficulty to a lack of general cooperation on the part of his people. Between the two opinions, and their mutual charges of one another's neglect, judging the case impartially from work of similar kind in business, societies, secular corporations, a man wonders why it is that so often it happens in the church, nowhere else but in the church—so often it happens that some little peculiarity of character, or eccentricity of manner, or idiosyncrasy of temperament, seems to neutralize the good traits, and, it may be, the eminent abilities of the leader.
In the church only, co-operation seems to depend upon what are considered in other organizations trivial matters. Isn't it reasonable to suppose that, if a good, honest, earnest man, notwithstanding some little, unimportant peculiarities, were to be heartily supported, his parish work would be successful? Why is it, then, it is often a failure?
I have uniformly found that, where a parish is notably successful, the laity rally to the Rector's support. There is not a clergyman in this or any other country, be he bishop, priest or deacon, loving as St. John, or mighty in word as Apollos, who, against the apathy or the opposition of his people, can make his parish a success. In every instance, therefore, of a successful church, the praise, in largest measure, is due to the congregation. All we clergymen can do is [4/5] to lead; if you do not follow, we make a sorry work of it. It lies with the people at any moment to block the wheels and stop the machinery, or else, contributing cordially their support, to advance the cause of Christ's kingdom. So much for the laity's power—almost unlimited.
It is the same with their influence. Our Church in America, though departing in nothing essential from the mother Church of England, yet grants to the laity a voice in all its councils, looks to them for judgment, advice, and abides frequently by their decision. Before a man can even begin to study for the ministry, a body of laymen must give him credentials.
Very frequently the sage brethren in the pews remark, "How do some men, notably inefficient and without qualifications, get into the ministry?" Well, the truth is, you laymen admitted them. For, before a man can be ordained deacon or priest, some vestry, or else twelve men, communicants of this church, must certify to their religious character, mental fitness, and soundness in the faith. Even in the selection of a man out of the ranks of the priesthood, for the highest office in the gift of the church, the concurrent vote of the laity is required.
If, therefore, this church, with true American spirit, trusts her laity, receives them into her councils, she has the right to expect that they will share with the clergy in all the work of the church. Acknowledging their power, asserting their influence, this church expects the laity's support. In the earliest church, men were set apart by public service, for such positions as sextons, ushers, singers, servers in the sanctuary, and lay ministrants to the [5/6] sick and the needy; women were appointed members of Orders of Virgins, Widows, and Deaconesses. In the early church, it was clearly understood that everybody must work. Christians in immediate post-apostolic days did not attend service on Sundays only, but every day of the week they diligently went about to dispense the grace they got at the Sunday service. It seems to me that, perhaps, in this day we need to emphasize these facts, lest some might come to think the clergy are appointed to do all the work, and be responsible for all the results. So few of our worshippers are workers. No one in the church ought to work less than as hard as he can for the Master, whether he be doorkeeper or bishop; but, if really we were to declare what we ministers were ordained to do, in terms strictly true to the figure of soldiers in an army, we should say the duty of an officer is chiefly to see that the soldiers work. Laity who expect the clergy to do everything, are, therefore, very much like men in the file of a regiment summoning field officers to guard-mount, or to battle. It ought to be settled, and well understood, that as inseparable as are faith and works, are the component elements of a Christian church; the clergy and the laity must work together, if best work is to be done.
Now, let us see how these principles severally apply to the three departments of parish effort 1, Instruction; 2, Devotion; and 3. Charity.
Our Saviour says to you, as well as to me, "Ye are the children of light." "Let your light shine." The law of divine knowledge, as of human, is that, to grow, it must be communicated. The wisest of the clergy cannot keep [6/7] the church to its standard of faith, if the laity remain ignorant. To prepare instruction, formulate dogmas, pronounce on doctrine, is the prerogative of the ministry; but to teach the things that are prepared and set forth by authority, is the duty of sponsors, Sunday-school teachers, heads of families, and the laity generally. I am constrained to say that if, to day, the absorbing cares of business, society, and other things entering in, are choking the Word, and the church is blamed for its time-serving spirit, you must share with us the merited rebuke; for if you, Christ's own brothers and sisters, surnamed with His name, marked with His sign, would only in your business, social, family and political life, far more than you are accustomed to do, disseminate the knowledge of God's law as you have been taught it, the church's power would be more felt in worldly courts and market places. Appreciating all that is being done by godly men and women, I still think that the laity have it in their hands to-day to advance the cause of the Gospel to a marvelous extent. If only you men would have the bravery to cut against the grain of godless prejudice, speak out your minds, do some witnessing for Christ, not think it beneath your dignity to stand fixed and fearless for your religious principles, speak out boldly for the orthodox faith, you could do more to stem the tide of worldliness and unbelief than all the ministers put together; but to teach others, you must be learned yourself. It is not necessary that you be theologians, but you should at least be able to give reasons for your faith; understand that submission to sacraments is the best test of obedience to God; know what constitutes a church. [7/8] In this way the laity can be teachers—not only in the Sunday-school, but everywhere.
Now, let us see our mutual obligation in the matter of worship. Divine service is the offering of priest and people to Almighty God. Whenever a service is held, this is its idea; no more the idea on Sunday than on Monday. The act of frequent worship generates a spiritual power, that permeates every department of parish life and work. The holding of week-day services and the faithful attendance of clergy to minister at them, is a reproach to so many of the congregation, who, without excuse for staying away, never consider it a duty to go to church except on Sunday morning. It is no more my duty to go to church on week days than it is yours (I will not lower myself nor my office by regarding my work in the light of labor for pay), and, while willing to concede that very reasonable excuses keep many away, it cannot be far from true that some have no conscience in the matter of attendance.
Beyond any doubt, frequent worship calls down rich blessings on church and home. Many who wait for the minister to call on them, would do well to adopt a new plan, come oftener to church, and with him, call there upon GOD.
Those who frequently meet at the altar know how intimate we become, and how it would be almost impossible for us to be other than "brethren, dwelling together in unity." We shall not be able to conform to the requirements of our Book, and have our daily public services, until the laity come better to appreciate their [8/9] responsibility in helping to offer the sacrifice of prayer and praise. Herein see your duty, and let each, in the measure of his ability, strive to fulfill it.
And now let us look at the third department, that of charity—what is the laymen's duty here? And by charity, as here used, we mean everything done by a parish, that is not instruction or worship. Either within the church or without the church, among fellow saints or fellow sinners, to engage in some work that will help our brethren (and everybody is our neighbor) bear their burdens and get to heaven, is the bounden duty of priest and people. Nobody doubts that this is the work of the clergy. In caring for the saved and seeking the lost, so vast is his charge that no one attempts to observe geographical limits; so boundless are his labors that nobody thinks to define them. The constant round of parochial visitation, private as well as public exhortations to be given constantly, advice and counsel to be furnished upon every imaginable subject, ranging from the best school in which to place a child, to the most available site for the conduct of a business enterprise; the sick to be visited; negligent to be aroused; the poor relieved of distress; the impostor to be borne with; society and guild work to be devised, planned, watched, encouraged; Sunday-school to be carefully supervised, ready at any time to nominate a teacher for a vacancy; addresses to be supplied on all sorts of occasions; and, with all these things, to be always the patient, mild, unruffled creature in every emergency, wearing ever a smile that will be a benediction; besides all this, to be always glad to see people and to converse [9/10] as long as they like it, then to furnish sermons on Sunday, not too long nor yet too brief; not too doctrinal, yet doctrinal enough; sufficiently stirring, yet not goading; see that the music is good, but not so good that we have too much of a good thing—in addition to this, to attend to the many details of temporal concerns, invariably occurring—these constitute a part of the clergyman's work. I say a part, for I have not mentioned diocesan duties nor work of a general nature, some attention to which every public man is bound to give. Do you wonder that we plead for help from the laity in the things the laity can do better than we? I confess I never come so near losing my temper as I do when some worldly man, who does nothing on Sunday but read his newspaper and sleep, meets me on a Monday morning and says, "What an easy time of it you ministers have." So opposite from the truth is this, that a vestry who starts out to-day to look for a Rector, seeks most diligently for the man who, in addition to every other qualification, has physical strength enough to do the work of three men, and then never be weary in well doing.
I am not complaining; God forbid. I have no reason. No man was better blessed with workers than myself though it is true, even here there are some who worship and do not work. The thing which most a manly clergyman despises is maudlin sympathy for him because he is in orders. We are ordained to work. We hope to die working, and in the yoke. The only thing we are aiming at, by a recital of the details of our labor, is to show you we need your co-operation. We do not mean to do less, [10/11] but we desire that you do more work. Join our working organizations let not one be an idler in the vineyard. I wish our bishops would put forth an utterance something like this in their next pastoral letter; it would do a vast deal of good "If lay hands are held off from the work, if lay hearts are cold and unsympathizing, if lay mouths are silent, or open only to criticise, never to bless, if lay energies are repressed, or indifferently supplied, it is easy to tell why, in many places throughout the land, there are brave hearts sinking under the burden, and it comes to pass that he who, without the help of his laity, is a dead failure, might, with their help, have been a marvelous success."
Dear friends, it is not necessary for me to go on talking of the power and the influence of the laity, except to urge those of you who worship at our altar, to work in our societies. An application of the fundamental principles I have mentioned is out of place. If it had not been for the hearty acquiescence in these principles you have shown in word and in deed, I could not talk about them, as I do to-day, with a light and thankful heart. I begin with you this Lord's day another year of work as your Rector. The imperfections of my labors in the year past, it is too late now to rectify. Along with other faults and weaknesses, and I know them, they have gone on to confront me in the judgment. If I have neglected souls, or dared in any way to feed myself and allow the flock to go unfed, the Lord forgive me, and grant me His mercy in the day of strict accounting.
The manifold blessings of the year make me, at this [11/12] moment, devoutly thankful that my lot is in such a goodly heritage. Your uniform kindness, your courtesy and readiness to receive me, to accord to me every right and prerogative of priest and rector, not, I know, an easy thing to do with a stranger, have touched me deeply. The influence of such treatment is beyond your power to comprehend. Our Year Book, recently published, gives you the statistics of such temporal and spiritual work as could be tabulated; but it must be remembered that most of the work done for God's glory and man's salvation is of such a nature that figures fail utterly to give an idea of it. Those who know best are conscious that God has abundantly blessed us in all our doings. Those who do not know this, know too little about our parish really to care to know more. It is useless, therefore, to enter into details. Merely to mention the organization of our Guild, and Brotherhood, call attention to the increase in the number of communicants, the large attendance at early celebrations, the excellent congregations at the Lord's day services, the condition of our Sunday-school, the great improvement in our music, the solution of the problem how best to enlarge accommodations and do our work for the future, our excellent fortune in securing a capable successor to a capable assistant—all these things indicate causes for mutual rejoicing this anniversary day. Let our sacrament be a genuine eucharist, a real thanksgiving for parish blessings. And, while thankful for home blessings, let us not forget the work of the church elsewhere in this country, and abroad. That church prospers most that gives the most to missions. [12/13] Show me a dead church, and I will show you a church that never gave to missions, city, diocesan, domestic or foreign. I do hope that there will be sufficient response to my appeal, and enough of a conformity to the system approved by the House of Bishops to make our combined voluntary mission offerings, this year, at least equal to our collections in the years that have passed. Few, comparatively, have yet troubled themselves about the missionary pledge. I am certain the system is right in principle, and will, in the end, be found eminently successful in practice. Let every communicant give something, give it regularly, give it conscientiously, give it gladly, be the gift little or big. By missionary enterprise, our own country and other nations are fast being Christianized. You ought to see to it that you have a hand in such a work for God.
Let me finally speak a word about the new church building, and the changes in our services that we are about to make.
So soon as legal difficulties are removed—and they are now in process of removal—we shall be ready to begin excavations upon our newly acquired property, corner Fifth Avenue and 127th Street. The time that has elapsed since first the project was brought to your attention, has confirmed in every way the wisdom and the business prudence that have so far devised and executed. When this building, enlarged and improved, shall be upon a permanent site, acknowledged by all to be a superior and appropriate location, where, with its increased accommodation, we can provide for those who desire to worship [13/14] with us, when, with canonical consent, we shall have our Mission House and Chapel, suitably located on Second Avenue, near to 125th Street, it can then be said St. Andrew's is in a condition to do the work providentially at its doors. To provide for this, in my judgment, any expenditure, or the assumption of any reasonable debt (and a debt that can be provided for out of a surplus income, based merely upon present pewholders, and present applicants for pews, is a reasonable debt), must be regarded as eminently prudent and reasonably safe. Whatever shall be done will be done with the same careful, sober, prayerful reflection, that has characterized past actions. Few churches are blessed with a vestry of such prudence, conservatism, and energy, as is ours. Nothing that is hasty, or ill-advised, or hazardous to the parish, we may rest assured, will ever be undertaken by the present corporation.
It is not necessary, I take it, for me to tell you that, in the ordering of services in a parish church, the rector, acting under the bishop, has sole jurisdiction nor do I believe it is necessary to tell you that in service appointments your rector is influenced solely by the desire to promote the spiritual welfare of his people, laying aside his own taste or preference. Before I came to you I was accustomed to very different services from those I found here. During the year I have been with you I have purposely followed the use I found established. Nothing is so unfortunate for the work of a church as a want of confidence between people and priest, and few things produce this sad condition so [14/15] quickly, so effectually, as covert changes or unnatural surprises constantly occurring in the service. If changes are to be made, I prefer to tell my people about them beforehand: explain why, if need be, and establish the use from year to year. Such action induces confidence, removes fear of constant changes, and settles for a time the order of service. Since I am to be absent for a fortnight, the following changes will not be made until the first of February; then, and thereafter for the year, on other than first Sundays in the month, Litany will be read at 10.15 a.m., and omitted from the mid-day service; on first Sundays of the month morning prayer will be read at 10.15 o'clock, and omitted from the mid-day service. The desire to shorten the principal Lord's day service is the reason for these changes. In order to have a uniform use for the choir, and to insure a heartiness in responses, all Amens and responses of the Versicles will be sung at morning and evening services. Since God caused the Psalter to be written for the church's Hymnal, and except when other psalms cannot be sung, to read them is manifestly inappropriate, the Psalter will be sung at morning and evening services. It would be well for the congregation to get the inexpensive copies of the Cathedral Psalter, and by a little practice they will very soon come to take part in singing the psalms. The principal morning service of Sundays and Festivals shall be read, and at mid-day celebrations the old chant, "Gloria in Excelsis," will be sung. The evening services shall be chorally rendered whenever ordered, and on Christmas and Easter days there will be a full choral celebration at an early hour. [15/16] During the Lenten season, on week day evenings, when feasible, the Litany may be sung. Our desire has been to read the morning service on Sundays for those who prefer it, and to sing the evening prayer, when practicable, for those who love the choral rendering. I am glad to say that my Vestry have with unanimity expressed confidence in my judgment to order the services as best to minister to the many people of many minds attending them, and I do not believe I risk much in saying that my people, with cordial assent, will do likewise. May the God who has blessed us richly in the past, guide us through the future, bringing peace within our walls, and in our palaces, prosperity.