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 critical exposition of these words is not necessary. It is their obvious meaning I wish to enforce. They require an intimate communion of all Christians, one with another. They require that such communion and fellowship be unrestricted. Class distinctions must not be allowed to limit it. The high-born and the lowly, the rich and the poor, must meet together in loving intercourse, for God is the Maker of them all, and Christ Jesus, the Saviour, has redeemed them. The words plainly say to us: "Let yourself down to the wretched. Withdraw not from the poor and despised, who as yet know not the Gospel." Self-withdrawal and exclusiveness belong to the religion of the Old Testament. The New Testament requires communion of all who partake of its spirit, even with those in whom the life of Christ does not yet bear sway. The proverb, "tell me what company you [89/90] keep, and I will tell you who you are," is, therefore, true only in the Old Testament, where exclusiveness was a duty. The Son of God teaches the faithful to consort with publicans and sinners, in order to win them for His Kingdom.
It must be obvious that in a well-worked parish provision should be made for the social element in our nature. Human distinctions belong to the world. We admit it in words, we must hold in fact, that in Christ Jesus rich and poor, masters and servants, stand on a perfect equality before God. It follows that individuals of all classes should be socially combined in the Church, and that there should be an intimate, real fellowship among them on the basis of Christian love.
It is clear from the text, and from many other like passages, that S. Paul proposed such an inward and vital union and its practical realization so that it should be seen and known of all men, between those of whatsoever outward conditions, who love, or may be brought to love, the Lord Jesus Christ. The whole life of the Saviour illustrates the value of such union of sympathy and affection, and shows how its necessity is laid in the very nature of Christianity. It was only as He sought the lost, and consorted with publicans and sinners, and found among the lowly His intimate and trusted friends, and won from the laboring classes His first Apostles, that He laid the foundation of His Kingdom.
 Is there no lesson for us in the fact that under the influence of the Pentecostal gifts all worldly distinctions were for the time obliterated, and the ideal society of perfect Christian communion was realized, while all were together, continuing in the Apostles' doctrine and Fellowship, in the breaking of Bread, and the Prayers; all in perfect unity of feeling, in singleness of heart serving God; no man saying that aught of the things which he possessed were his own, but parting them to every man, according as he had need, and so having all things common? This was not Communism, as some have supposed. Each man's property was his own. His bestowal of it was entirely voluntary. What S. Peter said to Ananias, who had pretended to give all, but retained a part, and in such pretense lying to the Holy Ghost: "Whilst it remained, was it not thine own, and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?" proves clearly enough that personal ownership was not discarded. The same is evident from the whole narrative of the wonderful charity and generous giving of those Apostolic Christians in the first days of the Church, who sold all their possessions and goods, and placed the whole price of the things sold at the disposal of the Apostles. Love of Christ, love of the brethren, was simply acting itself out in entire unselfishness. They were voluntarily making the best use possible, each as his judgment so influenced, impelled him, of the means God had intrusted to his stewardship. Christian [91/92] society ought to come, at all times, as near to this grand ideal as possible. It was then for a brief time fully realized, as S. Paul everywhere insists, that all in the Church are "members of Christ, and every one members one of another."
The Church, indeed, is in its very nature a social institution. No man can stand apart from his brother. Whatever there may be in this world to estrange and divide, here there must be a oneness of love and sympathy, of sentiment and belief, of desire, purpose and endeavor. The ties that bind all in one are the most real and strong that can be conceived. This unity and fellowship must be practically attained or the Church cannot fulfil her mission in bringing home the Gospel of temporal as well as spiritual salvation to the great masses of mankind. Our own observation will readily teach us that if the Church does not provide for the social wants of the people, they will seek such provision elsewhere. Man is a social being. He is made for society. He cannot live in isolation. He must have fellowship with others. Persons of like tastes are necessarily drawn together. They find in one another that enjoyment so necessary to all and without which life would be intolerable.
There are many forms of association not evil in themselves, but for the most part needless, had the Church done her duty to the people to whom she is sent. The Masonic fraternity presupposes the Old Testament, and its recognition [92/93] of the Christian Calendar, the principles of Christian morals, and the theologic virtues, shows that it reverences the New. Indeed, the whole Bible is avowedly its greatest light. Odd Fellowship is like Masonry healthful in its influence and beneficent in character. Christian men often feel themselves justified in seeking in one or other of these societies that companionship and social enjoyment which the Christian society has failed to provide. Possibly some who are indifferent or hostile to Christianity encourage themselves in remaining outside the Church, on the ground that such societies, contrary to their intention, do for them all that the Church could do for her members. Many other secret societies have come into existence within the last few years, each having some worthy or philanthropic object, and all alike offering, to workingmen especially, some of the social advantages which they crave. The cost of membership is large, especially when the same men, as is usually the case, belong to several of them. Large demands are made upon the time and labor of their adherents. They serve, among other purposes, on week-day evenings, to provide pleasant companionship and association. One can scarcely regret this when outside the lodge there are generally no pleasant, well-warmed and lighted rooms in which to pass an evening except the bar-room, the saloon or the dance halls, in all our frontier towns. The small, cold bedroom in the boarding-house is too uncomfortable. What [93/94] are men to do who have no homes? The Church does nothing for them. Society does not regard them. It is no wonder that such fraternities grow and multiply, and that the real wants they in great measure supply, and the dues necessary to sustain them are in the way of the Church reclaiming her rightful place and influence among the people.
The late Bishop of Manchester is credited with a saying, as true as it is wise: "It is not so important to Christianize Socialism as to socialize Christianity." This is the problem before us now: how to socialize Christianity? Solve this problem, and all others which so alarm the patriot and the Christian will soon find their solution. Real Christianity, effectively brought to the hearts and minds of the people, in all its power and beneficence, is the sure remedy for the evils which we dread, and which must find a remedy, or the prophets of evil cannot well exaggerate them.
The Church has abundantly proved her ability to meet the social as well as other needs of all sorts and conditions of men. This was pre-eminently the case in Apostolic and primitive times. In the Ancient Church every baptized person was supposed really to have renounced the world for the service of Christ and the brethren. There was, up to the early part of the fourth century, a complete separation between Christian and worldly society. Christians found in the society of one another, in their social [94/95] worship, in their common hopes, common associations and common plans of Christian effort, the satisfaction of all social wants. The well-being of one was the well-being of all. They who were God's stewards in the possession of wealth, held all their means subject to the needs of the community. None could be in want, none could be left to suffer, when all were ready with generous aid and sympathy to minister relief. The charity of the primitive Church is the wonder of later ages. All in the Church were brethren. They loved one another, with a pure heart, fervently. Their mutual affection was so marked as to excite the admiration even of the heathen. "See how these Christians love one another!" was their frequent exclamation.
The Church, in our times, has lost much of this whole-souled communion of all classes. Protestantism rejected all the forms of Monasticism, all the Orders in which the desire for the realization of Christian brotherhood had found expression in evil days, but put nothing in their place. So far as the Church has failed to retain her hold upon the common people, it has been mainly because she has not adequately responded to their social requirements. Some denominations have sought to supply this defect in our modern Christianity, in modes which, though not always successful, have yet served to give them popularity. The prayer meeting, class meeting, conference meeting, have a strong socializing influence. These and like [95/96] instrumentalities are not evil in themselves. They may be good. The danger is in their abuse, in their giving scope to obvious faults of human nature. They could only win approval among Churchmen if kept clear of extravagances, and if so conducted as not to promote fanaticism, the Pharisaic spirit of self-conceit and the humiliation of the diffident and humble-minded.
Besides the socializing effect of public worship, which cannot be what it is intended to be and naturally would be in this regard, unless all are brought into relations of acquaintance and mutual interest and sympathy, there is scarcely any provision in the Church for combining all classes of the people socially on a religious basis. The various guilds and societies which are found in different parishes, sewing societies, mite societies, sociables and the like, seldom answer the purpose here in view, whatever good in other respects they may accomplish. In the organizing of missions or new parishes there is much combination to secure temporal prosperity, and often for true spiritual growth. All are drawn closely together by common plans of work. Every stranger is at once visited, introduced, and made to feel at home. All whose interest can be secured receive due attention. Seats and Prayer Books are provided for all who come to the place of worship. No effort is spared to gain their attachment and secure their help in the common work. Class distinctions are scarcely perceptible. Societies are formed for various [96/97] purposes. All join them and co-operate for their success. The unity and cordial co-operation of all is irresistibly attractive to many who are without.
If the spirit that pervades such new organizations could be made continuous and constant, the Church would make wonderful progress. She would do much to win the masses of the people to her allegiance. But as parishes increase in numbers and become pecuniarily strong, as populations become dense and Church buildings large, the methods which have proved financially, and in their social and religious influence, so successful, are discontinued. Many who come to Church are entirely unacquainted. They are not looked after and visited unless they are people of position. The poor straying into the Church are too generally unrecognized. Members of the same congregation have no interest in one another. After years of common worship they remain strangers. The non-Church-going classes are not sought out, and invited and shown by practical proofs of interest in their welfare that they would find in the Church a welcome and a spiritual home.
Why should this be so? Why could not all, through the long years of the life of every parish, be bound together in the same close bonds of fellowship? But we know too well that this is not the case, and the result is everywhere disastrous.
In every good class in the Sunday-school there is a [97/98] strong social feeling. The class is a little Christian society Mutual acquaintance ensures interest in one another. They strive to keep up the good character of the class for contributions, scholarship and good behavior. Their fellowship leads to strong friendships, often lasting through life. The like results should be found in the Sunday-school as a whole. It is promoted by common worship and instruction; by frequent meetings for practice in singing; by catechizing and recitations, and by the great Christian Festivals and their proper observance. Picnics and excursions, if properly conducted, are useful expedients. At all events, they are eminently socializing.
But when boys leave the Sunday-school, which is generally too soon--when their only connection with religious institutions is to be maintained by attendance at Church, they sadly miss that element which had retained and made them happy in the Sunday-school. The Church is to them formal, unsocial. Its atmosphere is to them cold; repellent rather than attractive. Scarcely any one seems to be interested in them; there is nothing to draw them except duty. Though they had once learned to love the services, their social instincts are not satisfied. They seek their companions out of the Church. They learn to frequent places of vulgar amusement. Vice, seen often in those with whom they associate, loses its hideousness. Their companionships are found in forbidden places of resort. It is a marvel if they do not learn to practice the [98/99] vices of those about them. Indifference leads to infidelity. Thriftlessness, profanity, intemperance, licentiousness, come of evil associations, and entail hopeless ruin of body and soul.
There is great fault, no doubt, in families. Every home should be made attractive. The little home circle should be made so pleasant, so genial, so full of affection, so abounding in social gratifications, that there could be no temptation strong enough to draw the virtuous young man strong in Christian principles, into dangerous associations. But it is to be feared such homes are very few, even among professing Christians. Rarely, indeed, do we find them among those not yet Christianized, in the middle and lower classes. Still more rarely, perhaps, in mi-christianized families of the wealthy.
As so many homes are unworthy of the name, and the Church does not do her duty in satisfying the social wants of the people, not only are boys led to resorts for pleasure that are not always free from vice, but men of all ages and classes consort together for the social excitements of drinking, and playing, and gambling. One of the modern institutions for social purposes among the socially respectable, is the Club. I would not altogether condemn it. I would like to see here a Church Club, like those already in operation in some cities. The Club meets a demand not otherwise provided for. It may be purely literary. It may be for innocent and healthful [99/100] amusements. It may subserve the cultivation of good fellowship. But it may degenerate. The secular social club may, under influences not likely to be excluded, be characterized by drinking, playing, and other social sins. The Church club, or the workingman's club under Church auspices, would not be liable to these abuses.
That husband and father has but a poor idea of his duty to his family who leaves them habitually to seek his society elsewhere. Let him spend his evenings at home. Let him do his part to make his home so delightful that he will feel no need to go from it for genial companionship. How large an increase of happiness might he not thus secure, to himself and to those who should be nearest and dearest to him!
One of the first duties of the Church is to make pleasant Christian homes among the working classes. Let those Christian women of social position, intelligence and refinement, who have made their own homes what they ought to be, seek to extend their influence for the forming of others on the same model: Let them put off all conventionality of manners. Let them learn that outward station does not necessarily make character. Let them seek and find sterling qualities in all, independently of outward surroundings. Let them learn to go among the humble and poor, without patronizing airs, which would nullify all their influence for good. Let them make frequent and regular visitations at the homes of the poor, [100/101] and of those who depend for support upon their daily labor. Let them win the confidence of, these, by manifest solicitude for their good. Having done this, let them patiently try to elevate them to their own standard of Christian feeling. Let them give kindly instruction in household duties, in the virtues of tidiness, economy and thrift, in family government, in the ways of making their homes pleasant to husbands and children. This is the way to spread Christianity, and to win the people to Christ and the Church. We have seen grand success crowning such efforts. They must succeed, if the perseverance and wisdom with which they are attempted are equal to the discouragements to be overcome.
The object, then, to be had in view in every parish, should be to bring about a social feeling between all the people of the Church, and especially between those who constitute "society," so-called, and those whose life is one of manual toil. By socializing Christianity we are to make the Church the power of God it was intended to be among the masses of mankind.
To make the Church the social force contemplated, various modes are used by those who would carry on Christ's work in His spirit, and who see the necessity of real brotherhood among divers classes, in order to effective, aggressive work among them. Among these may be mentioned: Sewing or industrial schools for girls; girls Friendly societies; mothers' meetings for women; St. [101/102] Andrew's Brotherhoods, or like organizations for young men; Bible classes for men; cottage lectures for working people; reading-rooms and workingmen's clubs, in connection with the Church, and fostered by Church people.
"Where there is a will, there is a way." You who give serious and prayerful consideration to the work to be done, will readily find means and modes of doing it. The wisest planning, the most perfect details of an organization will never of themselves accomplish the results. Rise to something like an adequate conception of what needs to be done. Consider it till you adequately feel its importance and necessity. Then undertake it with prayer and reliance on the Divine blessing.
Plans of organization are only useful as supplying instructive hints, and showing the results of experience. You can find in the Church periodicals sufficient information in regard to the starting and carrying on of any of these instrumentalities. The Pastor who has decided upon any one of them has but to inform himself thoroughly about it, find the suitable place for its meetings, and then select and instruct his agents. It is of little use to give notice from the Church that he wants helpers. They will not generally volunteer. We must assume, if we really believe in the Church and her work of evangelization, that there are fit persons for any work she is called to do, and that all her members must have some part in it. It is the function of the Pastor to call upon the [102/103] workers and distribute the work among them. The difficulties are not to be disguised. But Church people will do Church work, if shown how. They must be individually asked, and urged, encouraged and instructed. They cannot but respond to the urgency of the call, when perseveringly, lovingly presented. For responsible positions, let those be selected who are most competent, for piety, intelligent love of the Church, and good social position. Teach them their duties. Place upon them and hold them to their responsibility, then trust them. Give them wide discretion as you find them worthy of it, not interfering in petty details, nor seeming to take their work out of their hands. They will generally reward your confidence. In a parish in a poor but populous neighborhood, a woman of tact, practical good sense, earnest devotion, love of girls and power to win their love, starts a sewing-school. She first canvasses the whole district. She secures the attendance of half a dozen girls. She provides materials for needle-work, for making up plain garments. The girls are interested. The short prayers, the spirited hymns, the familiar talks, the work assigned, are thoroughly enjoyed. One, two or more assistants are employed. The visiting is kept up and extended. The school grows. The interest increases. In a few months, on every Saturday afternoon the place is full. They are beginning to come to the Sunday-school. Here they are welcomed by their teachers, who have made them friends. The mothers [103/104] cannot but appreciate what is done, and the unselfish interest taken. The fathers are not unaffected. I need not picture the change for the better soon observable in the tone and manners of the scholars and in the home life of the families reached by the blessed influences coming to pervade the district. The congregations increase. The socializing influence from such a simple agency is telling wonderfully in the building up of the parish.
The weekly mothers' meeting may soon follow. Secure the room in connection with the Church, if possible-- every parish that is able ought to have a Parish House for Church work and social purposes--though this is not absolutely essential. Find a competent lady who will give herself heart and soul to the work. Her own heart full of the work, she will inspire others and find assistants. Incessant visiting will by and by bring in a few women. Let work be provided, the materials furnished at cost. Teach the processes of cutting, fitting, as necessary. They may work for their own families. They may help to supply clothing for the destitute. They may earn something for missions. Cultivate their self-respect and self-dependence. Let useful conversation, adapted to teach, enliven their work, and read occasionally something interesting and with a profitable lesson. The labors over, the Bible lesson is read, and there is singing and prayer. Books are lent to those who will read. Church papers are supplied. A real affectionate interest is taken in the [104/105] temporal concerns of all who are visited, and represented in the meetings. In large parishes there is usually more than one district where mothers' meetings may be organized. Such work once begun will grow. One method of socializing and reaching the people will suggest the need of others. The fathers interested through their children and wives will be brought into Bible classes. The workingman's club, the free reading-room, the St. Andrew's Brotherhood, will come as the demand for them is felt. One of the greatest advantages of free seats in Church is that all may find a welcome and a home in the House of God.
It will serve a good purpose to have an occasional evening meeting for refreshments and social intercourse, at which all the families, fathers, mothers and children, even to the youngest of those reached by such works of love, shall be present. They will be served by the Rector and others, gentlemen and ladies prominent in the parish, committees for various subdivisions of the work. Short addresses will be made. The Bishop, if he can be present, will add his congratulations. Thus you would have a social gathering, such as Christ enjoined upon those who would make a feast, which would give joy to His heart and cause rejoicing in Heaven.
I need not go into further detail. It is sufficient to suggest how the older girls in the Sunday-school, employed in shops, and stores, and offices, may be brought [105/106] into social relations under Christian ladies, who would strengthen their moral and religious principles, and protect them at a time of life and in the midst of surroundings full of the greatest perils; how boys of various ages may be organized socially for healthful amusements, and secular combined with religious instruction, under Church influence; how all classes may, through fit agencies, be brought into social relations, the end and outcome of which shall be membership in the Divine Society of the Church of God, and the blessedness of its communion.
In small places, most of the special forms of work here suggested are inapplicable. Common sense must judge what is most likely to succeed. Because in large towns or cities an elaborate machinery with many branches of work is successful, it does not follow that the same thing is to be everywhere attempted. The plans must be suited to the special field. But in all parishes and missions, even the smallest, something may and should be done, though it be but by a guild for girls or women, or a boys' or men's society, to bring to bear a social influence, to help those who are within the Church, and to win others and increase the membership, and build up Christ's Kingdom in the community.
Are not such works worth attempting? To those who shall thus seek to fulfil their "vocation and ministry" as Christians, shall there not be a great reward? Shall they [106/107] not win an approving conscience and the smile of Heaven, and the glorious reward of those who turn many to righteousness? Let us begin thus to fulfil our bounden duties, and go on, as God shall lead and guide us.