The Best Mode of Working a Parish
Considered in a Course of Lectures Delivered in Denver Cathedral, January and February, 1888,
and in Some Sermons Prepared for Various Occasions.
THE Psalmist calls upon all people of all ages, classes and conditions to praise the name of the Lord. Praise is here to be taken as inclusive of every kind of worship. Worship is necessarily public. It is not worship on special and extraordinary occasions that is referred to. It is stated, regular, habitual. It is the outward expression of the inward feelings of the heart rightly disposed. It is the open recognition of God's greatness, and power, and wisdom, and love. It is not so much to ask as to give. "Honor great our Lord befitteth." "Unto Him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen."
True worship unites all hearts and voices. It cannot be individual only. It cannot be extemporarily framed. It must be the voice of the Church. It is the result of [56/57] pre-arrangement and concert. It necessarily involves a religious training, that it may be done so as to subserve its great purpose of honoring God, as is His due, with the sacrifices of our lips expressing the devotion of our hearts and of all our members. To render such a service of worship to God manifestly requires earnest thought, study and teaching.
Worship was secured in the Jewish Dispensation by the Temple services, and later also to some extent in the Synagogue. In the Christian Dispensation it is secured by the Christian services which have grown up in the various branches of the historic Church, according to Apostolic norm and precedents, under Episcopal direction and oversight, and conciliar enactment. The Liturgy proper, which is the office of the Holy Communion, has come down to us in different families, each family preserving through the ages its distinctive family type, but varying largely in accordance with the spiritual and intellectual tone and spirit of the peoples using it, in successive ages. Our own is the Reformed Gallican, which is Johannine or Ephesian in origin. The offices for daily Morning and Evening Prayer have grown in like manner from early types, their modifications and transformations in the course of history not affecting the character of their essential elements; the use of the Psalter, Versicles, Lessons from the Old and New Testament, the Evangelical [57/58] Hymns, the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, being constant through all mutations.
Our national Church has its own Use, both in the Liturgy, and Matins and Even Song, as well as other offices. In respect of fulness of Scripture, accuracy of catholic teaching and freedom from doctrinal or practical error, we are better provided for than any Church in the world.
Wherever the Church plants Christianity, she gathers her congregations in parishes and missions, and establishes public services, and trains her converts to their devout, intelligent use. This training in the use of the offices of worship is so very important, that it is required to be begun in the earliest years from the time the baptized child is made conscious of its Church relations, and carried on through youth and manhood. Constant use confirms devout habits. Christian life finds its fit expression in the hallowed services of the sanctuary. True worship has a wonderful educational influence. The best training in the Christian life is impossible without it. It is intended to be the antetype of the heavenly worship, and to prepare us therefor. We must begin here if we would be qualified there, to sing the "Song of Moses and the Lamb."
The parish or mission is organized to bring men to Christ in membership of His Church, and then to edify and train them to render acceptable service to God. The parish or mission in any place, theoretically embraces [58/59] all the souls within its limits who do not disown it. Practically, it embraces all who can be brought under its influences. All who are not gathered in Christian bodies, not of the Communion of the Church, are the proper subjects of the parochial or mission work. "Young men and maidens, old men and children," who are outside of the pale of Christianity, as organized in some form or other, whether they be living in unbelief or indifference, are to be sought out, and by every effort that can be prompted by the love of Christ and of souls, are to be won to Him, brought into the corporate life of Christianity, and trained in holy worship, and fitted for the heavenly citizenship and its employments.
The question now is, as to the mode and agencies by which men and women, young and old, rich and poor, can be led to join with heart and voice in the stated, habitual worship required in the Church of Christ, and be trained thereby in the spiritual life.
The Clergy should feel that upon them rests the highest degree of responsibility in bringing about such result. They are to set forth the Scripture teaching on this subject. They are to show that all people are called upon by every consideration to worship God, and to praise the Lord with the voice, and with the mind and soul, and all the members. They are to strive earnestly to win them to this delightful employment, and show the ways in which the Church, after the example of Christ, teaches [59/60] them how to pray. Publicly and privately they are to set forth its blessings, and recommend and enforce their teaching by their example. In establishing missions and new congregations, it is well to make a business of instructing the people in the use of the Prayer Book, in "finding the places," and making the responses. Meetings are held for this purpose, and for practice in chanting. Such exercises will be found interesting in themselves, and will tell wonderfully upon the heartiness and effectiveness of the services.
The Clergy must be leaders in this, as in all other teaching and work. But what can the brethren do? How can all Christian people of our congregations lend their aid in training people of all ages, ranks and conditions, to unite intelligently and heartily in the public service of prayer and praise?
The Church has set forth a service admirably adapted to the end in view. It is interesting in itself. It is full of Gospel truth. For the instruction of the ignorant, no other form of service can be compared with it. Let these prayers and praises, these Creeds and hymns, these Scripture lessons, and the teaching with which they are full, be well stored in the memory by habitual use, and the worshipper is thoroughly furnished as to all needful doctrine and duty. The most illiterate, by constant attendance in the Church, by devout attention, joining in the words as heard and remembered, will soon be able to unite verbally [60/61] as well as heartily in all those parts in which the tongue is called upon to express the inward devotion. Many who could not read have been in this way taught, with the same effect as when John the Baptist and our Lord, after his example, taught His disciples to pray. They have learned the true objects of prayer, praise and thanksgiving. They have gained the inspiration for worship, and have found the fittest expressions therefor, which, without such instruction, had been beyond their attainment.
Consider, too, the great variety in the service. With its many parts, each in its due place, it forms a complete, harmonious whole. Nothing could be well omitted. Nothing needs to be added to make it better subserve its purpose. Whether it be the Morning or Evening Prayer, or the Litany, or the Holy Communion, each is in itself complete. No attentive, unprejudiced worshipper can look upon it as bald or unattractive, if there be that warmth of devotion in its reading which is requisite. It is lack of that familiarity which comes of study of it and training in its use that makes it appear so to any. Those who rightly use it, it can never weary. Familiarity only discloses new fitnesses and new beauties. With every repetition it becomes dearer. It is hallowed by the sacred memories of the past. It is associated with loved ones of whom the thought is precious. As when you hear some old hymn, of which the words and tune were caught from the mother's voice in childhood, in which father and [61/62] mother and brothers and sisters, now separated perhaps by death, joined with glad hearts around the hearth and at the altar of prayer, you are carried back to the happy days of youth, and in the old familiar scenes of home are joined in spirit with the departed; so in the dear old service of the House of God, giving yourself up to the inspiration by which thought and devotion are quickened, entering into full sympathy with the spirit of the words, and the influences of the gathered associations of years, thoughtless of self and of the world without, time and space are annihilated; associated with you are Martyrs and Confessors, Fathers and Reformers, and those whom you have known and loved are with and around you. You realize the glorious Communion of the Saints in Christ. You sit with them in the heavenly places. This is particularly be as you join in the service of the Holy Communion, the principal service of the Lord's Day.
Such experiences are especially for those who were taught to love the service by the precept and example of paternal love and piety, whose kindred have loved it, and whose ancestry in a long line have equally loved it, and have been fitted by its use for Heaven. Still there are none to whom it does not, rightly used, become more loved, more sacred, and more effective. To all it is a glorious service, fitted, as well as it can be, to engage the heart, to instruct the understanding, and to assist with the greatest effectiveness in the preparation for the worship of [62/63] Heaven itself, the perpetual joy of the Saints perfected. If we set aside the Bible, of which it is so full, and to the understanding of which it is the best key, the Prayer Book is the richest treasure we inherit from the past. We should not be without safe guidance in faith and duty were all else of Holy Scripture lost to us.
The Church has done her part. No forms of words could be better adapted to train persons of whatever class to a devout, hearty and intelligent worship. But there are conditions of its effectiveness. It must not by the Minister only, but by the people, be properly rendered. It must be the channel for the devotions of living, loving hearts, united by the electric chords of interest and sympathy. Its responsive utterances must be warm from hearts that have been quickened by the Spirit of Christ. The whole soul of the worshipper must speak in every word that comes from the lips. The full Amen must be the heart's endorsement of every petition.
Now, the suggestions to be made are not theoretical, but might be reduced to immediate practice. It is not the purpose to give merely a beautiful picture of what might be and ought to be ultimately realized in every worshipping assembly, but a plain statement of what is practicable and necessary to the end proposed, which is the training of both young men and maidens, old men and children, of every class, to intelligent and cordial worship. It is the duty and privilege of all who are, or who can be incorporated [63/64] into the fellowship of the Church, that is to be set forth.
Suppose, then, that you come regularly to service, never defrauding the Lord of any part of the sacred time, the morning and evening of the Lord's Day, and the Holy Days and Seasons appointed for your observance. You bring your children, all who are old enough to lisp the name of Jesus and to say "Our Father." You bring, if possible, your man servants and maid servants, if such you have, for their souls are as precious as your own, and you are, to some extent, responsible for their religious training. They sit with you in the same or contiguous seats, for all are equal in the House of God; and the Church does not obliterate, but sanctions and hallows the family relationships. The congregation is made up of families as such, with the individuals not thus included, all contributing to form the larger family of God. So, too, you bring all others whom you can reach. You go out into the highways and compel all you can influence to come in, that God's House may be full. All the men and women, if any, in your employ; the laborers, if any, in your fields, in your mines, in your manufactories and stores. It is required of you that they shall keep and hallow the Lord's Day, and by your intercourse with them, you have won them, some of them, at least, to appreciate and love its holy services. So, too, your friends; those whom you often meet in society, those with whom you have business [64/65] relations, those with whom you are in frequent intercourse; all, in short, who come within the sphere of your influence, are to be attracted, persuaded and led, by all the means God has given you to use, to share with you the privileges of the Lord's Day and the Lord's House. You will, of course, fail to bring as many as you would. There are other influences counteracting your efforts; there are many adversaries. But you will bring some; you may bring many by judicious persistence in the effort. They are mingled in the congregation with a total oblivion, for the time being, of all class distinctions. The seats are all free, though families and individuals sit in their accustomed places. None can have any property rights in God's House. All are supplied with Prayer Books and Hymnals. All have been instructed in the order of service. You have explained beforehand its purpose and meaning. All now must find a voice. All hearts in whom is God's Spirit are attuned to worship. There is no time for languor or inattention. The mind must be intensely active, compelling earnest attention, and taking home the full import of the words of prayer and praise. The affections must be kindled with living fire, as if every heart were touched with a burning coal from off God's altar. A warming, enlivening influence will go forth from every true worshipper, pervading the holy place. Few can remain indifferent. They will catch something of the inspiration. There will be no waiting [65/66] for the Minister to indicate when to kneel for prayer, nor for the organ to give the reminder to rise and join in the praises. There will be no gazing about, no whispered conversation. All true Christians will be intent upon their work. The responses will be made in full, audible tones, instinct with the impulse and power of devotion. Children's voices will be heard with those of men and women, all in a grand, sonorous unison. No single voice will be distinguished; all voices will blend; each contributing to the power and volume of sound with which Heaven's gates are assaulted; and the Spirit of God will descend as in cloven tongues of fire upon the head of each, as on the First Pentecost. Few can resist the impulse to join in such worship. As in the primitive assemblies at Corinth, "if there come in one that believeth not, or one that is unlearned, he is convinced of all; he is judged of all, and thus the secrets of his heart are made manifest. And so falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is in you of a truth."
Something should be said of the singing which will render the praises of the Church most interesting and most effective. Nobody can contend for "operatic" music without first forgetting or ignoring its purpose. The Canticles and "Psalms, and Hymns, and Spiritual Songs" are not to be listened to, not for display. "Let all the people praise God." Better have no choir at all than one that would take the words of common praise out of the mouths [66/67] of the people by rendering it impossible for them to join in it. There must be no trills, no notes for which there is no place, no useless slurs, no superfluous quavers and semiquavers; the words must be spoken out in clear, full tones in a grand melody to which all can contribute. There should be no drawling; chanting and singing should be quick, lively, spirited, imparting life instead of weariness and lassitude. The veriest children should be encouraged and taught to sing. To the youngest members of the congregation the service may thus be made marvellously attractive. They will love it enthusiastically and their delight in it will grow with their years. The choir may, indeed, have its anthem, provided it be worthy. No music can be too grand and lofty for God's service. But every choir must be taught its place. Its office is not to appropriate, but to lead the people's praises.
If you are to have congregational singing you must have congregational practice. The Sunday-school can do much to promote it. In many places the best choir to be had would be formed of all the best singers in the Sunday-school; and they would take delight in the practice necessary, if properly conducted. But all the people who sing in the congregation might be often called together for so delightful an exercise. The leader, with the help of the organ, might so instruct all willing learners, that they could chant and sing the best tunes, such as ought to be made familiar, with such correctness and such spirit that [67/68] the musical part would be rendered with a simplicity and grandeur of which you now have little conception.
Besides the endeavors each member of the congregation must feel it to be an imperative duty to make, to invite, persuade, and win the people who are without to attend the services of the Church, there should be organized effort. Systematic visiting to this end is requisite. Bands should be formed to call regularly at every house, through all the streets and precincts, with the loving invitation to come to the service. The St. Andrew's Brotherhood, or some similar organization of men, will be found to be a most invaluable help. It is composed of the young men, who are each admitted by taking a solemn pledge to bring, each, some one person at least, to every service, and to pray for the extension of Christ's Kingdom. So the congregation, Sunday-school, Bible classes, schools, and agencies of various sorts are to be built up. By the harmonious action of all who are interested, the Church will be enlarged, and the "Word of God will grow mightily and prevail."
So we may gather in the people, young men and maidens, old men and children, those who live by the labor of their hands, and of their brains, making all of equal importance, all essential in the congregation. Thus we shall make it truly a worshipping assembly, realizing the idea of the popular hymnodist:
 "Lord, how delightful 'tis to see,
A whole assembly worship Thee;
At once they sing, at once they pray,
They hear of Heaven and learn the way."
The result of such efforts would be marvellous. The spirit of worship diffuses itself resistlessly. There are no listeners, no spectators. If any come to scoff they will remain to pray. Worship would assume its true place in the Church. It would be no longer a mere preliminary to preaching. Souls would be converted. The Church would be edified. Living stones would take their places, polished and bright, in the spiritual temple. It would be, in truth, the building of God.
It would be a delight to preach to such a congregation. They would hear only to learn. The matter would be more important than the manner. They would grow by the sincere milk of the Word. They would soon relish the strong meat, and digest and incorporate it into their spiritual fibre. They would become strong to labor for Christ and the Church.
But, alas, how far we are from doing our duty and realizing our privileges! In how many of our congregations such work is not even begun! Vainly we expect our churches to be filled and our people trained to worship, and the many without to come of their own accord to worship with us, without any effort on our part to bring them. Look around you in your Church. Your children are [69/70] not there. Your domestics and servants are not there. The laboring classes are but poorly represented. The vast multitudes to whom the Gospel is to be preached, where they are you know not, but they are not with you in the Church. 0, how much we have to learn! When will we conceive adequately our responsibility towards the poor, perishing souls around us? When will we understand that all souls bought by the precious blood of Christ are as dear to Him as our own; that the only aristocracy in the sight of God is one of virtue and piety, and that we can only belong to it as we give and work, according to our ability, for Christ and the salvation of men?