The Church and the Children:
PREACHED ON WEDNESDAY EVENING, APRIL 18, 1868,
By HENRY C. POTTER,
PUBLISHED BY THE BOARD OF MANAGERS.
Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2014
THE CHURCH AND THE CHILDREN.
"Behold, I, and the children whom God has given me."
Heb. II. 18.
THE traveller in the West of England will not soon forget the lovely vale and lake of Grasmere, and the bold, blue hills of Westmoreland that rise beyond it. As you pass on through the quiet village, they will show you on the distant hillside the site, and, if you will tarry long enough to hear it, will tell you the story, of the cottage of Blentarn Ghyll. In that rudely thatched dwelling, amid the fiercest of those northern winter storms, there were imprisoned, for five weary days and nights, six helpless little children, left by their parents under the care of their elder sister,--in years and strength a mere child herself. The father and mother had gone from home for part of a day's absence, and, overtaken by the storm, perished before the day had ended, miles away. And there those little ones were left; the snow piling its huge drifts higher and higher around their frail and tottering tenement, and their scanty stock of food and fuel soon exhausted. The villagers will tell you [3/4] how that eldest sister, scarcely nine years, fulfilled her trust; how, with her childish hands, she fought her way through the snow to the distant out-buildings, and bore back again to the helpless ones she had left behind her the stores that, during those five dreary, bitter days, replenished the dying embers and fed those hungry mouths; and how, when at length the storm was over, and the neighbors came to succor the desolate household, they found her and the little brotherhood and sisterhood, with whom, during that eventful week, Providence had so mysteriously intrusted her, able, in her brave young orphanage, to look up into her heavenly Father's face, and say, "Behold, here am I, and the children whom thou hast given me,--all safe; aye, saved!"
Could there be an apter picture of what the Church of God ought one day to be able to answer also?--one day when, among the multitude whom no man can number, there shall be gathered those weak and defenceless little ones whom her love has sought out and succored, and led safely and securely into the Master's wide and welcoming fold?
As you will remember, the words of the text refer, primarily, to Him. They are words of prophecy, of which, as the apostle reminds us in the whole argument of which they form a part, Christ was himself, in His divinely fraternal relation to the race, the high and bright fulfilment. But they are scarcely less appropriate as descriptive of what ought to be alike to-day, and in the greatest day of all, the appeal of [4/5] His Church to Him who is her Lord and Head. What could the Church urge, as practically vindicating, more clearly and unequivocally, her claim to be her Lord's representative and household on earth, than to point not merely to her historical order, to her scriptural worship, to her orthodoxy of dogma, but to her all-comprehensive and all-compassionating embrace and guardianship of untaught, unloved, unregarded childhood?
To the Church's motherhood of care and constant service rightly appeals every childish life among us, no matter how loving the vigilance, or how faithful the teaching, or how generous and tender the offices of parental affectionateness in any sunniest household that may be its home. But if this be so of those who know no neglect, who have been stung by no penury, who are orphaned by no bereavements, how much more is it true of that large class in every community such as ours, to whose tenderest years a loving, prayerful, patient care is utterly unknown; who, it may be, have no home, because really they have no one worthy of a father's or mother's name dwelling in the miserable tenement which shelters them, to make it at all deserve a term so sacred; and who are oftenest cast out upon the world's great tide, to seize or lose their chances as they may? The Church is verily to preach the Master's gospel to every adult ear that has not heard it, to every wayward and alienated life that has grown up to man's or woman's estate, outside the law of His love and unenlightened by the message of [5/6] His truth. But the world is not made up of men and of women merely; and what, therefore, is the Church's duty to orphaned, untaught, unprotected children? Into whose keeping has the Master, by all the loving emphasis of His divine example and instruction, given the young lives that early find themselves adrift upon the current, with no benignant parenthood to shelter them, with no home influence to nurture and upright them, or, if there be any, with an influence which is all away from truth and purity and Christ; into whose hands, I say, has God given every such young life as this, if not into the arms and care and love of that great society which is His family on earth, and to one of whose foremost Apostolic founders He himself, with such pathetic earnestness, enjoined, "Feed my lambs"?
We can afford, it may be, to be in doubt about a great many other enterprises to which, with such undiscriminating summons, as it may sometimes sound, the Church is called to set its hand; but verily there cannot be any doubt here. If this work,--the work in whose interests we are gathered here to-night; the work, in other words, of seeking out and taking home, home out of the sin and shame and misery that make so many darkened tenements in our midst no veritable homes at all; home out of the early taint of foul and pestilent surroundings, where every solicitation that puts forth its hand to the young and wavering feet is beckoning them on to vice; home up from and away from the hard, stern fight for bread and warmth and [6/7] shelter, unrelieved by any voice or touch of love or sympathy, that, in other lives, makes that struggle bright, and often easy;--if this be not a work to which the Church of Christ is called, then surely we may well begin to doubt whether it has any business in the world at all!
And all this gains added emphasis when we remember, that, in the wise plan of that Communion of which we are members, the home-idea lies at the basis of all her systematized endeavors for the rescue of human souls. It is not the way of her dealings with the individual heart and life, to set it off in its tenderer years to be a growth and experience by and for itself; and so, uncared for by any riper love and strength and wisdom, to grow up into increasing alienation from all gracious habits, inclinations, and aspirations; and thus to become at length an Ishmaelitish nature, against which, as against a sort of enemy to its authority, the Church is to go out, when the erring one has reached manhood or womanhood, and beat down in it the hostile principle, and so make it captive to her law. As an organized and divinely endowed society on the earth, with a message to every home upon it, and a law for every household, into which society has grouped itself, she discloses within herself a plan of Christian nurture, which takes the children very early in her arms, and holds them, with the first faint flutterings of their infant lives, close to her Lord's great heart, there to feel the warmth of a new and [7/8] holier life, and in the atmosphere of such a life to grow up and ripen into every saintly grace and attribute of Christ-like character. If there be any one idea that interpenetrates all the most sacred offices of that volume which we name as our "Book of Common Prayer," uttering itself in baptismal promises, in catechetical instruction, in confirmation vows and prayers, it is the idea of religion as a power in human character, because of the earlier influences, which we express by the terms Christian nurture.
Yet is it not to be feared that we have but a most imperfect estimate of the importance of that mighty instrumentality for the uplifting of our fallen humanity, which is expressed in this simple phrase? Nay, is it not here, in fact, that we touch the root of so much of that waste of forces, which many of us have so constantly occasion both to see and to deplore? We have manifold institutions, in these times, for social and moral and spiritual reform. There is no life so low in its wayward apostasy from integrity or purity or self-restraint, that the hand of some good Samaritan is not near to reach down, and lay hold upon the fallen one, and lead the erring feet back again out of the mire into which, naked and wounded, sin has hurled it, and start it, if it be possible, upon holier errands. Do I complain of such zeal, or fault their motives who exhibit it? God forbid! Of such real, yet modest and undiscouraged, work and workers, we have not half enough. But, after all, had we not done better [8/9] to have begun much farther back? Need we wait until the lawless lad of the streets grows up to be a law-defying man, sold under his low appetites, an adept in every minor if not major vice and crime, a companion of coarser natures than his own,--run down, deteriorated, morally poisoned; and unnerved by the sin-acquainting life which he has been living,--need we wait, I say until this or worse has come to pass, before we make one effort for that imperilled life, one struggle for its rescue? Must we stand aloof until some tottering child, at first of pure and modest instincts, grows into a hardened, brazen girlhood, and thence, goes on to woman's maturer estate, having lost, by the time she reaches it, every attribute that dignifies and ennobles the name of woman, and then strive to recall the erring feet and win back the wanton life into purer and more peaceful paths? Let us thank God that, when this is done, His grace is often powerful enough to subdue the most stubborn will and uplift the most fallen lives. But those who have been concerned in such endeavors toward reform will tell you that the rooted habits of a long-neglected childhood and youth are obstacles against which they struggle, only to encounter, too often, most mortifying and disheartening failure. Our great want is not so much the multiplication of manifold and various institutions of Reform, as a cordial and practical recognition of the Christian principle and method of Prevention. If religion is to be a power in our midst, we must begin with it [9/10] in that oldest of God-given institutions, the home. Could we but genuinely Christianize the parents, and put our American households everywhere under the law of a God-ward love and Christ-ward obligation and discipleship, our reformatories might close their doors, and abandon their superfluous endeavors altogether!
But what, meantime, shall we do for those who are without homes,--for those whose home-ties are ties to what is only bad and base, and those others where penury or bereavement early turns the young life astray, to be a mere waif upon the restless surface of a busy community's hard and merciless activities? There are cases where we can hope for almost nothing from efforts among the parents, and where the best service which can be rendered to the child is to withdraw it early from the baleful influences of parental teaching and example. There are other cases, where widowhood or orphanage makes the home life no longer possible, and where children are left to the accidental mercy of any atmosphere that may surround them. What is to be done for them, if the Church will not step in and create a home for them, and be herself their mother, in the persons of the kind and loving hands, and wise and reverent hearts, to whose keeping she commits them? If they are ever to have such a chance as Christ came into the world to offer to every human soul, it must reach them through some such organized instrumentality.
It was in a wise recognition of this principle, that, [10/11] in June, 1854, a clergyman of this city, with the cooperation of some of the members of his parish, hired a house in North-Russell street, where parents and children were admitted, food and clothing furnished, and rooms leased, at low rents, to the poor. In June, 1855, the house in Charles Street, now occupied for the Home, was hired for three years, and seven children were received. [* First Report of the Board of Trustees] Later in the year, an appeal was addressed to the several Episcopal congregations of Boston, inviting them to co-operate with the parish in which the enterprise had originated; and, on the evening of Nov. 23, a meeting was held in the vestry of this church, at which the bishop of the diocese presided, and at which a number of ladies and gentlemen associated themselves as "Trustees of the Home for Orphan and Destitute Children in Boston," which, from that day to this, has had a prosperous and increasingly useful history.
And here may I not turn aside to speak of one whom I myself never saw, but to whose fragrant memory, as so indissolubly associated with this enterprise, I may venture to add a stranger's grateful tribute. As it has fallen to my lot, in connection with my own parochial duties, to go to and fro in the streets of this great city, threading its lanes and alleys, and passing in and out of its crowded tenements, I think I may declare, that no name has met me so frequently, or been mentioned with such tearful love and reverence, as that of Dr. Charles Mason. [11/12] Some one has said, that "the poor never forget;" and sure I am, that, as long as any human name will linger in their recollections, he who to so many of them was, in all the manifold exhibitions of his unwearied love and charity, so true and tender a friend, will never be forgotten. There are homes among us where his discriminating sympathy with the unfortunate, his timely generosity to the needy, his pure and patient charity with the erring, his affectionate ministrations to the bereaved, and, above all, his sweet, benignant, and yearning love of little children, still live as influences that have transformed them from the abodes of wretchedness and irreligion into orderly and Christian households, and where to-day his name is a spell of enduring power and of deep and potent magnetism. As I have said, I never saw him. But even I, "a stranger of another generation," have felt that spell, and have been quickened and refreshed by the touch of it!
From such a character, such an institution as the Church Home was a natural outgrowth; and, looking back to-day, we may well thank God, that so wise a formative hand as was its founder's should have been moved to begin the work.
That work advanced from year to year with steady and beneficent footsteps. From the first Report of the Trustees, issued in October, 1856, it is evident that it had to encounter something of that criticism which confronts every new enterprise, and, in this [12/13] land, those especially which are under any distinctively religious or ecclesiastical supervision. Such objections are met, in the first Report of the Trustees, with eminent candor, moderation, and conclusiveness of rejoinder. The insufficiency of the more general institutions then existing to meet the urgent want which the Home had undertaken in its measure to supply, as well as their limited range and number, is clearly demonstrated. There was then no institution (to use the language of the Report) "to meet the requirements of that larger class, who, often worse than orphans, are the victims of parental abuse and neglect." The Home, on the other hand, was organized upon a broad and comprehensive basis. In the words of an early circular, emanating, as I presume, from the pen of its founder, its design was "to provide a Christian home, during their childhood and youth, for orphans who would otherwise be homeless and friendless; for children of poor widows, or women deserted by their husbands; and for children, one or both of whose parents may be living, but under such circumstances, or with such habits, as to render them unfit guardians of the young." It is further declared, that the institution was also designed to be a temporary home to this extent: that, in certain cases, children will be received for a period as short as one year, or for a longer term, to give relief to a parent under sudden or heavy trial, and to return to the parental care when such special emergency was ended. This feature in such an institution, so far as I know, was [13/14] and is unique, and one at once of manifold advantages and of the truest charity. It violated no impulse of natural affection, by depriving any mother of all claim upon her child; it gave parents a stimulus to industry and painstaking, as opening the way for their children's return to them; and it restored to many families children in whom the benignant influences of the Home shone out to instruct, encourage, and elevate those to whom they returned. In conclusion, it was distinctly announced, that children were received without reference to their religious creeds or connections, but that all the inmates of the Home would be trained in accordance with the standards of the Protestant-Episcopal Church; and it was frankly and earnestly urged upon the sympathy of Churchmen, as likely to promote among them the habit of a more healthful concentration of effort, at the same time that it opened a "pure fountain, from which future generations might receive the truth as we have received it, untainted by those errors which might find an entrance were it to remain uncontrolled by any standard, and subject to the shifting opinions of those who might from time to time influence its destinies." [First Report of the Trustees]
The second Annual Report announced that, though there were accommodations in the Home for only twenty children, there had been, during the current year, fifty applications for admittance. It soon became [14/15] evident, therefore, that the capacity of the institution must be increased; and, in 1860,--though in the meantime accommodations for five more children were provided,--the house in Charles Street, together with a small building in the rear, was purchased, connected, and adapted for the uses of the Home, thereby furnishing dormitories for more than thirty children. Even this additional provision, however, was soon seen to be inadequate; and in November, 1863, the question of the erection of a suitable building was agitated, and a subscription for that purpose begun. The Report for the year ending November, 1864, announced that a lot in South Boston had been secured, a building committee appointed, and plans adopted, involving an outlay of $66,000. The whole of that amount has since then been contributed; and in a few weeks the new Home in South Boston, with accommodations for one hundred children, will be ready for occupancy. [* Since these words were spoken the building has been completed and occupied. See note at the end of this discourse.] I would that those to whom I speak might see it,--its healthful and attractive situation, its ample arrangements for the comfort and welfare of its inmates, its most tasteful and beautiful chapel, all alike conspiring to make it an inviting and Christian Home.
But have the Churchmen of Boston and of the diocese, in erecting this structure, discharged themselves from all further obligations to the Home? [15/16] Have they not, on the contrary, incurred enlarged responsibilities, which, as it would seem, can only be ignored by a course of conduct at once inconsistent and cruel. They have reared an ample and beautiful structure, but there is as yet no provision for its maintenance. To enable it to do its work, there is required an annual income of at least ten thousand dollars; an expenditure, in other words, more than twice as great as that at present incurred. It is true that the matron, with thirty children, can soon move into the new Home, and the work, within its present narrow limits, can go on there with much the same expenditure as heretofore. But meantime there will be in the Home seventy vacancies,--more than twice as many as the present number of occupants. Are there no children who ought to be filling these vacant places, no orphaned or neglected little ones whose feet ought to be welcomed across the threshold of those ample but inhospitable portals? Shall those fresh-reared walls frown down upon the childish wanderer, who, homeless and uncared for, shall linger near them, telling him, practically, that there is no room for him in a building which is more than half empty? Shall seventy empty dormitories look up into the searching eye of God, as witnesses of our neglect, while the little ones, that ought to be sleeping there are vainly striving to snatch their feverish rest amid an atmosphere made heavy and unwholesome by the stifling hand of want, or, fouler still, by scenes and sounds of drunkenness and crime? [16/17] You will not let it be so. You will resolve,--may I not confidently pledge it for you?--you will resolve that, by some timely and effective plan, the Church Home shall have an assured income competent to keep the vow, which, in yonder just completing structure, you have registered in stone, to do a larger, worthier work for unregarded childhood; so that, when we move from our present straitened limits, a hundred children may march in procession within the walls of the beautiful chapel which awaits them, and there may kneel down to thank the Master for your loving thoughtfulness?
It does not matter so much what the plan is through which this result is reached, though it would seem that one that brings you and the objects of your efforts closest together will be the best. Every Sunday school in the vicinity of Boston ought to take it upon them to have, among their other objects of missionary interest, one or more children in the Home, and who shall be their wards,--known to them by name, cared for by their gifts, and followed by their sympathy and prayers. And no better plan can be adopted by individuals among us. Ought it to be very difficult to find ten or fifteen or twenty persons in each of our city and neighboring parishes, or a proportionate number according to their proportionate ability, who will promise, each one of them, to be answerable annually for the $100 or $120 which will be annually needed for one child's maintenance; with whose name and history he will undertake [17/18] to acquaint himself, in whose welfare take henceforth a personal interest, and, for whose future, while in the Home, will pledge himself, by God's help, to be responsible? With one hundred such patrons from our twenty city and suburban parishes, or an average of only five to each parish, the work would be done!
But any particular method is of less importance than the definite and assured result. I ask you to record to-night your vow, that the future of this institution shall no longer be imperilled by a doubt; but that, by some comprehensive and effective plan of maintenance, it may reach out its arms to do the larger work to which it now is called. That work will demand of some of us, perhaps, a more openhanded generosity than has yet distinguished us, and a heartier impulse of self-sacrifice. But we may well remind ourselves, to-night, for Whom the work is done, nay,--to Whom we shall minister, supremely, in the doing of it! When Elizabeth of Hungary met on one occasion a poor leprous child, whom no one else would touch or help, tradition tells us that she washed it with her own hands, and placed it in her own couch. There, as the courtiers told her husband, he would find it; but when, burning with indignation, and hastening to rebuke her for an act that seemed to him so vile and so unqueenly, he went to verify their story for himself, "suddenly," says one of the early historians, "as he drew back the covering, the eyes of his soul were opened, and instead of the leprous child he saw Jesus Christ himself."
 And even so it shall be in every ministry we render now and here; for, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto Me!"
THE Church Home for orphan and destitute children is built on land on N Street, South Boston, extending from Broadway to Fourth Street. It consists of a basement floor, with sub-basement under a portion of it, a first floor, a second floor, and an attic floor, with steep-sided roof. It has a facade on Broadway 80 feet long, one on N Street 76 feet long, and one on Fourth Street 78 feet long. The surface of the land being irregular, and the level of Broadway several feet above that of Fourth Street, the design has been adapted to these conditions; the entrance to the first floor being in a tower at the angle of the facades on Broadway and N Street, where the level of the ground is the highest; and the entrance to the basement through a porch in the centre of the Fourth-street facade, where it is the lowest. The basement walling is all above ground, except near the tower, which portion of the basement is used for a cellar. The walls of the tower are built one story higher than the rest, and there are gables on the Fourth-street and Broadway facades. The chancel end of the chapel, with triplet window and gable with belfry, projects from the N-street facade. The dressings of the doors and windows, the external angles of the building, the coping and finials and chimneys of the gables, the entrance to the first floor, and portions of the altar and projection of chapel and the porch, are of New-Brunswick freestone; and the rest of the [20/21] walls of basement are of Roxbury rabble-stone, and of the walls above of brickwork, the mortar of which is darkened. The style of architecture is adopted from that of the mediva1 architecture of England, in which so many buildings for conventual and charitable purposes were then built and now remain, and whose style is better fitted for adaptation to the requirements of similar modern buildings than the Roman style, which is more frequently adopted here.
In the basement, which has an entrance through a porch on the Fourth-street facade, is the dining-room, 46 feet by 24; the laundry, 24 feet by 31; the kitchen, 30 feet by 24; the pantry, and a bedroom,--all above the surface of the ground; and cellars, in front of which the level of the
ground rises to give the entrance to the first floor. The subcellar, which is constructed under about one-third of the basement, is used for furnaces and coal.
The first floor is entered through the tower on the N-street facade, and contains the schoolroom, 36 feet by 24; the chapel, 36 feet by 24; a committee room, two rooms for the matron, and two dormitories, with bath-rooms. The entrance hall and vestibule are 12 feet 6 inches, and 9 feet
wide; and the staircase hall is 14 feet wide, and extends from basement to attic where it is completed by a skylight and ventilator. A back staircase extends from sub-basement to attic. The second floor has two dormitories 46 feet by 24, and two 35 feet by 24, with two lavatories and bathing-rooms.
The attic, whose gables and steep-sided roof form very good room walls, is divided into two large play-rooms, wardrobe, and cistern-room, a large dormitory with nurse's bedroom attached, which can be used for an infirmary, and servants' bedrooms.
 The windows of the chapel are fitted with stained glass, the gift of R. M. Mason, Esq.; one window being a memorial of the late Rev. Charles Mason, D. D., the founder of the Institution.
The lectern and kneeling-stool and organ in the chapel, and a stone inscription slab on the N-street facade, were supplied from the proceeds of a fair held by the Misses Jeffries; and the bell for the chapel was presented by Miss Salle Whitmore. Messrs. Snell and Gregerson, the architects, contributed the ornamental cross on the ceiling of the chapel; and Mr. Mooney, plasterer, and Mr. McPherson, painter, contributed work in the decoration of the chapel; and Messrs. Standish and Woodbury, the masons, and Mr. Edward Means, who supplied the freestone work, contributed work on the principal entrance. Messrs. Blodgett and Rhoades have evinced much interest and care in the performance of their contract for the carpenters' work.