Project Canterbury



In an Address
To the
A.D. 1892
As Reprinted in the Journal of the Same







Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2008

In submitting to you the list of Candidates for Holy Orders, I have, as heretofore, asked your especial attention; and in regard to the matter of the conditions under which persons are admitted to such standing in the Diocese, I must again invoke your careful and impartial vigilance. Some day it may be necessary for me to rehearse some of the very painful experiences which have fallen to my lot in connection with the amiable but precipitate indorsement, by Rectors of parishes and others, of persons seeking to become Candidates for Holy Orders. Is it necessary for me to say that the desire, however earnestly expressed, of any one to become a Candidate for Holy Orders is, taken by itself, no slightest evidence of his worthiness to be admitted to such a standing? Is it necessary for me to remind intelligent men, whether of the Clergy or Laity, that they cannot read their correspondence or go about their daily business without being constantly and painfully reminded of the large and steadily increasing class of persons in Holy Orders who have, only too plainly, gravely misapprehended both the nature of ministerial qualifications, as this Church insists upon them, or the conditions under which, ordinarily, the Ministry is to be exercised in these United States? Is it necessary that I should further remind those to whom I speak that if a man is a fool or a knave, the gift of Holy Orders will work no such miracle upon him as will make him a scholar and a saint? There is, it must be owned, a good deal of unreality in many of the arguments which excuse the admission of incompetent men into Holy Orders on the ground of the sacrifices and self-denials to which they pledge themselves. Those who compare it with other callings decline to admit that the Ministry is any longer, as a rule, a calling of exceptional hardship and self-denial. There is absolutely no other whose material rewards, they tell us, are on the whole so considerable, so early, and, as a rule, so constant. There are, doubtless, men in the Ministry whose earnings would be greater in other callings, but they are not many; and over against such a fact is to be set the more or less adequate provision for old age which, in a great many other callings, does not exist at all. And when you add to these considerations the further fact that, in so many cases, social and other privileges are opened, by entrance into the Ministry, to those who otherwise would in all probability never attain them, there seem to many people to be good and sufficient reasons why Rectors of parishes, and others who are charged with the responsibility of encouraging or assisting young men to enter the Holy Ministry, should be increasingly vigilant in their scrutiny of applicants, and resolute in their discouragement of incompetent or unfit persons. The true glory of a Diocese, or a Divinity School, is in the quality, not the number, of its students or candidates, and just in proportion as there are persons whose way into the Ministry is paid for them, quite independently of their own exertions or self-denials, should vigilance and firmness in regard to their antecedents, their conduct, and their attainments be alert and unshrinking.

And the same vigilance should preside over our choice in the several parishes of those who, as Wardens and Vestrymen, are to administer its affairs. I have already referred at length to this matter in a Charge delivered to the Convention, but I recur to it now in order to call attention to the fact that, from various causes, no united action has yet been taken by the several Dioceses included in this State in regard to the amendment of the law of parish elections; and to suggest that it is much to be desired that concerted effort for the amendment of the present Statute of the Incorporation of Churches, for providing a proper registry of voters, and for a fixed system of rotation in office, should not longer be delayed. At present, parishes are but imperfectly guarded against the possibilities of revolutionary action by irresponsible persons; and, under any circumstances, a condition of things which makes it possible for a few unscrupulous or disaffected individuals, with a little adroitness, so to plan and contrive that in a single year, and at any one election, an entire Vestry may be dismissed from office, and others chosen who may be, for every reason, incompetent to and unfitted for the administration of its affairs, is greatly to be deplored. The eligibility of persons to be elected Wardens needs also to be defined, and local traditions as to the succession of particular persons to that office should be dismissed from the unwarranted place which in the usage of some parishes they have obtained. In a word, the law should be made to provide that the best men for whatever position should be eligible for election, and that tried and tested servants of the Church should not be hastily and unwarrantably displaced from office. These and other considerations make it desirable that our excellent committee having this matter in charge should be instructed and urged to harmonize proposed action with that of our Sister Dioceses in the Federation of New York, and to hasten such action to its efficient conclusion.

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