JOHN W. AMERMAN, PRINTER,
No. 47 CEDAR STREET.
NEW-YORK, July 22d, 1874.
REVEREND AND DEAR BRETHREN:
Your communication of July 17th, conveying to me the first direct information that it was proposed to hold a "Church Congress "in this City the first week in October, the week in which our General Convention opens its session, and asking my "co-operation in the capacity of President of this first Church Congress," has been received. I recognise, in the names signed to your letter, a number of friends and brethren for whom I have much respect and regard. It is therefore with great pain that I find myself constrained to withhold the co-operation you ask of me, and to express to you my strong disapproval of the design to hold such a meeting at such a time and place.
If I have delayed for a few days my reply to your request, it was not because I had a moment's doubt as to what answer I was bound to return, but because it was a matter which so seriously concerned the whole Church throughout the country, that I felt it right to consult at least one or two of my brethren at a distance, in order to be fully assured that my view of the case was sustained [3/4] by the judgment of eminent Bishops who were far removed from this, the proposed scene of action. The expressions of condemnation received in answer to my note; the exposure of the mischiefs sure to result from such a meeting in the face of the General Convention, and of the improprieties involved in holding it, were even stronger than those contained in Bishop Coxe's note to you, declining your invitation to him to act as one of the Vice-Presidents.
It seems, from a printed paper just received from you, that the design of holding such a Church Congress was definitely formed at a conference of some fifty clergymen, held in the latter part of May, that is, nearly two months ago. Nothing but the vaguest rumor of such a design, through a casual remark of a clergyman, ever reached me.
It seemed so extravagantly improbable, and it came to me in the midst of so much domestic anxiety and sorrow, and in a time when I was so much pre-occupied with a crowd of official engagements, that it quite faded away from my recollection, until suddenly brought distinctly before me by a note from Bishop Coxe, in which he had the kindness to apprise me of the position he had taken with regard to the proposition to hold a "Church Congress "in this City in the very week of the opening of the General Convention, and his position also with regard to all such measures as attempts to carry Church Congresses into any Diocese without the approval of the ecclesiastical authority thereof. Seven days after the date of Bishop Coxe's note of refusal and remonstrance to you, and six days after the date of the publication of that note, i.e., five days ago, you address to me the first [4/5] communication I have received with regard to a design formed two months ago, to hold a Church Congress in the chief city of my Diocese, and. in the very presence of the gathering General Convention.
Had some one of your number had the kindness to communicate with me in private, and informally at an early day, I trust I should have been able, before you had taken any formal steps, to give you conclusive reasons for selecting some other place, or at least some other time for holding the proposed Congress. Such private informal communication with me before any public steps were taken might have saved me the pain of writing, and you the pain of reading this present note, to say nothing of the chance of thus avoiding many now possible inconveniences and scandals.
And moreover, if at the time of such private interview you had had in view any thing like a general Church Congress, similar to those that have been held of late years in England, I should have urged you to take special care to ascertain, before committing yourselves to such a measure, that it was approved and earnestly desired by a very large portion of the Bishops and Clergy of the Church, and especially that it was sanctioned by the Bishop of the Diocese in which it was proposed to be held. For I cannot help feeling that such a measure as a first meeting in this country of a general Church Congress, is one not proper to be undertaken by any partial or limited association of clergymen, however respectable; that it is a measure not to be set on foot without the fullest and most open communication with the leading Bishops, Clergy and Laity of all parts of the country.
 As to the benefits to be expected from Church Congresses in this country, I am free to say that I am by no means sanguine. The differences between our circumstances and those of the Church of England are great. We have in each Diocese our annual Diocesan Conventions, composed of Bishop, Clergy and Laity. In the interior of most of our Dioceses there are local Convocations of the Clergy--meeting quarterly or semi-annually. We have our triennial General Convention, with its House of Bishops and its House of Clerical and Lay Deputies--continuing in session for nearly or quite three weeks. In these Bodies there is room for probably quite as much discussion as in that form is useful. In the Church of England, on the contrary, there was, until recently, scarcely any such thing as a Synod, affording opportunity for discussion. It was not surprising, therefore, that an effort was at length made to gain some expression for the mind of the Church of England on certain subjects of general interest through such voluntary gatherings as these Church Congresses. Managed with extreme caution, guarded with many restrictions, and placed always under the Presidency of the Bishop of the Diocese in which they were convened, they were for the most part orderly and safe, and have been, probably, productive of some good. There has been within the sphere of each Congress more or less of an exhilarating influence. Some earnest and able addresses have been delivered. But I am not aware that from any one of these Congresses any new, marked and permanent impression has been made upon the life and work of the Church of England.
With regard to the Church in this country, I entirely [6/7] concur in the opinion expressed by one of our most venerable, learned and thoughtful Bishops, that what we need pre-eminently is not talk, but work.
Nevertheless, if it should be clearly ascertained by proper inquiry throughout the Church in this country that there is an earnest and general desire among the Bishops, Clergy and Laity for a fair trial among us of the experiment of holding Church Congresses, and should an application be made to me to sanction such a gathering in this city, and to take the Presidency of it, I should be far from yielding an unwilling compliance with the wishes of my Brethren.
I say all this on the supposition that the time selected for holding such a Congress would be liable to no such objections as those which, in my judgment, as in that of Bishop Coxe, are absolutely fatal to the proposed meeting the first week in October, in the face of the General Convention. If I may judge from the opinions expressed to me, or in my presence, there will be throughout this country, among conservative and thoughtful Churchmen, so soon as the subject shall have been thoroughly understood, a very strong feeling of dis-approbation at the attempt to call together such a body at such a place and time. The measure will be judged by its own obvious capabilities and inherent, unavoidable tendencies, and not by the professions of its originators, however respectable they may be. It is conceivable that a number of excellent persons, acting from pure motives, though with mistaken views, may recommend a certain course of action in the hope of some beneficial results in one direction, without perceiving that in another direction there must be results much more certain and much more [7/8] immediate--results so injurious as to outweigh more than a hundred fold all those remote possible benefits contemplated by the persons who favor that course of action.
This is a question so vital to the peace and well being of the Church that we must not stop to consider the motives or professions of those who recommend the measure. We must look at the inherent and essential character of the measure itself. And I do not hesitate to declare my judgment, that for any set of persons whatsoever, be they all the Bishops and the ablest of the Clergy and Laity, to presume in a time of agitation and suspense in the Church like the present, (agitation which I hold to be in large measure factitious and without adequate cause, yet in some measure real, and which certain parties are seeking to exaggerate and exasperate, and that for a very definite purpose,) I say, for any association of individuals to call together at such a crisis such a body as this proposed Church Congress must necessarily be--to call it together in the very week and two days in advance of the opening of the General Convention--with no security whatsoever as to the subjects to be discussed, or as to the manner in which they are to be discussed--a body which must and will discuss questions which are just about to claim the attention of the General Convention--(for without such a purpose the first Congress might as well and better be called together at any one of a hundred other times and places)--to call together such a body to forestall the calm, unbiased deliberations of the General Convention, to fill the atmosphere of the city, and the mind of the Church throughout the country, with inflammatory, disturbing [8/9] harangues--to create, if possible, a popular demand for something which the General Convention cannot in conscience concede, and which therefore must end in popular disappointment and irritation--I repeat, to presume to be instrumental in calling into existence, at such a time and place, an engine, so capable of mischief, so especially calculated to work mischief to the extent of its influence, would be an imprudence, to use no stronger word, which no weight of character, no amount of authority would be adequate to excuse or extenuate.
I cannot help noticing, that while you send to me (in response to my hint of a wish for more light) a vague general outline of the times of meeting and modes of proceeding of the proposed "Congress," you say nothing of the questions to be discussed, and, of course, nothing of the particular topics to be dealt with by particular speakers or writers. All that is yet in the dark, perhaps not yet arranged. Now I beg to call your attention to this serious view of the matter. I have already stated in this letter my belief that whenever the inconveniences and improprieties of this first Church Congress, (considered as a meeting to be held at such a time and place,) come to be generally perceived and understood, as they unquestionably will be by a large portion of the conservative and candid Churchmen of the country, the "Congress" will be by very nearly all that class of persons repudiated and discountenanced. Will not the Congress be left to be carried on for the most part by those who favor changes, who rather think well of agitation, who for one cause or another are discontented, generally on not very reasonable grounds, with things as they are? Will that be a Congress, dear Brethren, [9/10] with which you will care to be identified, or which you will be willing to be responsible for? Will it be a Congress of much weight in the Church at large in this country? Will it be a Congress whose predominant temper, tone of thinking and speaking, whose ideas and schemes will give it a healthful influence over the public sentiment of the Church, or over the deliberations of the General Convention sitting almost next door to it? It will, of course, contain many good men: no one questions their piety. There may be some moderate, and very sober and modest men. But will they not be likely to be overborne by a crowd of excited and declamatory spirits who scoff at and denounce all objections, and all apologists of existing order and administration? It may be said, that the President will have the control of the discussions, and that his decisions are to be accepted without appeal. But is it probable that a quiet, sober-minded chairman would have power to restrain improper sentiments, unbecoming outbursts of passion, plausible disparagements of recognised order and authority in the general system of the Church? Should the chairman interpose in the interests of truth and law once in twenty times where he sees good reason for doing so, he would be in danger of being stigmatized, if not by a member of the Body, yet by some correspondent of a newspaper as an obstructionist. At the only Church Congress in England which I have had the honor of attending, there was for the preservation of order and strict propriety, besides the venerable Bishop, who presided, an energetic clergyman, placed near the speaker at the front of the stage, who timed the speaker, and who, when absurd and irrelevant matter was introduced, checked and extinguished [10/11] him. Would such severe discipline be tolerated in a Church Congress in this country? I fear not; and yet such restraints would be very desirable.
If it be said that the themes to be selected for discussion in the proposed Congress will be very general and far removed from the sphere of the ordinary work of the General Convention, then I reply, that if that be the case, it would be far better to select another time for the meeting of the "first Church Congress." The weeks of the General Convention are already over-crowded with work. So soon as the Bishops and clerical and lay Deputies can reach town, they begin to meet in Committees to finally arrange their reports which they have been directed to prepare during the recess. The work of Committees goes on in private from days before the meeting up to the very close of the General Convention. Besides, the Board of Missions has its vast and complicated work; its daily and nightly sessions, whenever it can possibly hold them; and it has strong claims upon the attendance of all Churchmen who can find or make time to wait upon their reports and deliberations.
At such a period men's minds are too much pre-occupied to leave them at leisure for that sort of calm attention which should be given to a "Church Congress," whensoever it may be assembled.
In conclusion, I beg to suggest, my dear Brethren, this very obvious, and, as it seems to me, important consideration. The General Convention, from its very constitution, and from the varied tone of the Dioceses, which send Deputies to it, contains a representation of all the different phases of thought in the Church in this country, much more full and much more equitably [11/12] adjusted than can possibly be obtained by any voluntary and partial movement, such as that which originates this proposal for a Church Congress.
(P. S.)--August 4th.
VERY DEAR BRETHREN:
I need scarcely refer to the sore visitation which has detained the foregoing reply to your letter for near a fortnight. That visitation has made it, if possible, still more painful to me to differ from you and to withhold the co-operation you requested. But it has done nothing to weaken my conviction of the justness, and indeed necessity of my decision, and of the importance of the views which I have had to present to you--views which I fear I have no alternative but to give to the Church at large.
Dear Brethren: No words that I could use would convey an adequate assurance of the warm affection with which, in this day of sorrow more than ever,
I am your faithful servant in the Lord,
Bishop of New-York.
The Rev. Dr. DYER,
Chairman of Com. of Arrs. for Church Congress..