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.
1 Peter iv, 11: If any man minister let him do it as of the ability which God giveth, that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ.
THE question has been much agitated of late years, "What is the best mode of working a Parish?" The discussion of this question has led to many valuable suggestions, which have been practically tested with a good measure of success, by some of our more advanced clergy and parishes. We use the word "advanced" in its obvious and true sense, as applying to those who are striving to get out of the old ruts and the beaten ways of Church work, and to adopt more efficient methods. The result has been --and we are seeing it more and more--the abandonment by those "who have understanding of the times to know what Israel ought to do," of the grand ideal of the good Parish which was almost universal till within a few years: that their work for Christ was sufficiently well done by minister and people, if the church was open for those who chose to come on Sundays and perhaps once in the week, and who paid pew rents; if the service was according to the standard of sober and dull monotony, of prayers [198/199] preached to the people, of quartette singing in which no voice of the congregation could join, of subdued and whispered responses and Amens unuttered with the lips, of formal, prosy, orthodox preaching, and general self-satisfaction with the observance of the proprieties of a Sunday worship; if the minister could find time, beyond what was required for the usual tea-drinking and social visiting among the better classes, to make a formal call once or twice in a year upon all the families under his care, with proper attention to the sick and the dispensation of the alms of the Church to the few poor and needy; if the sewing society was kept busy in preparing for fairs as often as they were needed, and the vestry, with such help, succeeded in keeping the Parish respectably self-supporting. But with the gradual disappearance of this well-known type of parochial life, the number of the worldly, selfish, and self-indulgent Clergy, who thought themselves painfully laborious, has greatly diminished, and the brethren of the laity have found that they have a "vocation and ministry" in co-operation with the Clergy in the work of the Parish. Now that it is seen and generally admitted that the instrumentalities hitherto employed to Christianize our own country have to a large extent failed, and that consequently less than a third of the people anywhere attend public worship of any kind, even on Sundays; and fully half of our population, both in city and country, are in a condition of practical heathenism as regards the [199/200] knowledge and the practice of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it is beginning also to be felt that the opportunity of this Church has come; that we must prove the Apostolicity and catholicity of our claims, not so much by writing apologies, as by Apostolic and catholic labors; that instead of being content to minister to a small aristocratic and cultivated class, we must aim directly to reach the masses; that we must popularize our services, and make them warm, earnest, and attractive to all sorts and conditions of men; that we must begin to lay large foundations of education and charity, and develop all our resources in carrying the Gospel in the Church--and not as a sentiment, nor as a system of speculative opinions--home to every man, and make it felt as the power of God unto salvation, to poor as well as rich, ignorant as well as learned, rude and uncultivated as well as elegant and refined. If we are to do this, it is obvious that we must get all our forces into healthy action, and bring into exercise instrumentalities and modes of work of which the primitive Church affords abundant examples, but which have been until recently almost unknown and untried among us.
In the attempts that have been made to set forth better modes of parochial working, the great object to be kept in view has not been sufficiently regarded. That object is to bring to practical acceptance, and realization, the Christianity which the Church presents among all those [200/201] classes of our population who are living without any true recognition of Christ and of His claims upon their hearts and lives; and thus to bring all the people into living and active relations with Christ in and through His Body the Church, and hearty, enthusiastic co-operation in carrying the same Gospel, embodied in Christ's own Institution, throughout the whole world. Subsidiary to this great end are all the means for the care of the bodies as well as the soul3 of men: the organization of charities for greater effect, as well as to prevent the abuses of thoughtless and spasmodic almsgiving, such as the increase of pauperism and systematic beggary; for the establishment and fostering of sound institutions of learning; schools of training for teachers and workers in every sphere in which the Church needs regular helpers, working with system and under authority; and institutions for the support and maintenance of those who in any capacity give their lives exclusively to the Church's service; for securing the free and liberal gifts of all the faithful, according to the Gospel measure of proportion to the gifts and blessings received; and leading all the members of the Church up to that standard of Christian living in which there shall be "no place left for error in religion or for viciousness of life." No object less exalted and thorough than this can lead to the most satisfactory results.
 The first and indispensable requisite in parochial work is the Rector, who is by his office the head of the Parish. Though Parishes may be and often are the result of lay effort with only occasional clerical assistance and oversight, yet generally in established Parishes no more can be done without the Rector than in the army without the commander. The proverb is true, "Like priest like people." Our observation has convinced us that the poor results of most of our old parochial organizations are chiefly due to the bad management and inefficiency of the Clergy in charge. Whose fault, but theirs, can it be that so many Parishes fail to give the practical support of offerings to the great missionary cause of the Church in its several departments, the carrying on of which with efficiency is essential to the Church's life, thus depriving their people of that important means of blessing, and putting them in a position of apparent disloyalty to Christ Himself?
Our clerical brethren will pardon us if we point out some of the most necessary though least often inculcated of the Rector's qualifications for success as a Parish priest, on the assumption, which will not be questioned, that success will depend in a great measure on his ability to enlist the earnest and harmonious co-operation of all the people.
We take it for granted that he is to be a man of prayer and devout holy life; that he is to be thoroughly conversant with Holy Scripture, and sound theology, and good learning; and qualified to meet the doubts of the people, [202/203] which are insinuated in the multifarious secular literature of the day, as well as by books of more pretentious character upon science and philosophy. He ought to be a man able to command respect for weight of character and solid acquirements. Even as a man, he must let no man despise him.
But he must be above all things a minister of Jesus Christ. He must have a full consciousness of what was meant when it was said to him, "receive the Holy Ghost," or "take thou authority," in his ordination to the priesthood. He must feel that a gift of God is in him by the laying on of hands, to be stirred up by constant prayer and effort. He must magnify his office, not by word only, but by deed; not by arrogant claims, but by arduous and unremitting labors in humble, self-denying ministries in the name and for the sake of his Lord and Master. He must beseech men, in Christ's stead, to be reconciled to God. He must fulfil his public duties in the Church, as one who realizes that he is a Minister of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God. In his visitations among the people, whether the sick or the whole, he must not go merely as a friend, with the ordinary sympathy which every Christian heart must feel for ignorance, spiritual insensibility, and physical or mental suffering. He must go officially; he must go as sent, in the fulfilment of functions divinely given. Such a consciousness of ministerial character will give him confidence and courage. When he thinks of [203/204] himself, he will say, "Who is sufficient for these things?" But when he considers that he is the representative of Christ Himself, he will say, "I can do all things through Christ strengthening me."
This constant realization of his ministerial character is necessary to his influence. It will insure obedience to his counsels. It will enable him to get work done. It belongs to human nature to recognize legitimate authority. So strong is this tendency that people do not always stop to ascertain whether it be legitimate. They recognize it as claimed. A man born to command may, with a firm will, a steady eye, and the voice of authority, rule and control the mob. He who is qualified both by nature and office will, like the centurion, "say to one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh."
We are well aware how surely the Rector will frustrate his own endeavors and defeat his ends by the appearance of undue self-confidence, and an overbearing disposition and self-complacency of manner, as well as by lack of good sense and sound judgment and discretion. He must be really humble and self-distrustful, and he will be so regarded. At the same time he must act habitually upon his commission. He must assume the functions he is sent to fulfil. He must be in all things Christ's Minister, not as one self-appointed and self-qualified, but empowered for his work with all needed grace, that he may go forth humbly, and yet boldly and courageously, to all the duties [204/205] of his ministry. Then he will inspire confidence. His own single-heartedness, and earnestness, and enthusiasm will attract and inspire others; and when they are led to see the work to be done and to feel their own responsibility, he will be able to set them in ways of Christian activity and usefulness.
Some Clergymen are apparently very earnest and indefatigable in labors, and yet they lack in effectiveness. They are constantly busied in hurrying from place to place, visiting, preaching, becoming acquainted with everybody, giving kind words, and doing many things which are not so necessary, and which others might do as well; but yet their work does not tell; they see no permanent results. It is but a tread-mill sort of labor, or moving about in a circle, as the progress of their thought is apt to be in preaching. Thus they spend much of their strength for naught.
He is but a poor captain who undertakes to do the work of his under officers and his privates. The Rector should never do himself what he can legitimately put upon others.
We spoke of the great end, with its subordinate parts, which every Rector should have in view. We believe that it is necessary, in order that all that is done in parochial work may help in the promotion of the end of the increased godliness and of the growth of the Parish and of the growth of the Church, that the Rector should have a [205/206] plan or policy to be steadily held and consistently acted on in all things. It should not be formed suddenly. It must be the result of mature reflection, in view of all the conditions. He may grow up to it. It may take shape gradually in his mind. But without it, his success can only be partial and temporary.
Of course, we can only speak of it in general terms, because it will differ as the conditions and circumstances differ in which Parish work is to be done. It is sufficient to say that it must be broad, comprehensive, embracing all that needs to be accomplished, and looking far into the future. It must have many subordinate parts, but all its details must be such as to subserve the great end, the building up of the kingdom of Christ in all human hearts, and as a visible institution which shall be able to bring Christ's redemption of soul and body, in every sense in which He came to redeem us, to all whom the blessed Gospel can reach.
But this plan or policy must not be talked about. The Rector must not tell beforehand 'what he is going to do, if it is of an unusual character. Many a Minister has brought defeat upon some wise and noble purpose by disclosing it prematurely and exciting opposition and violent dissensions. The Clergy, much more than other men, must learn to keep secrets, their own as well as those of other people. They must also learn to be patient and to wait. What cannot be done now may be by and by. What cannot be [206/207] done in one way, or by one class of instruments, may still be possible in other ways or by other means. The Rector is required to prepare the way of the Lord. He must create, or choose and mould his own instruments. He must bring about the emergencies for which his plan is to provide.
He will open his plan little by little; first, in some of its subordinate details, to those in whose co-operation he relies. Their sympathy with him in these will qualify them for further disclosures and fuller confidence. Some will be set at one part of the work; some at another, as they show the needed qualifications. They will be fully instructed, each in his own work and its nature and purpose, so as to be able to do it well. But it may be all preparatory to something more and higher, which the workers will at the proper time be prepared to see, which will perhaps suggest itself to them as necessary, and will secure their earnest and efficient aid. They will often take up, as their own, lines of action to which the Rector's instruction has led them. Thus he works with their hands. This is always most encouraging.
Suppose it were in the Rector's plan to establish a cottage hospital, as it might be and probably should be in most large Parishes, except in the great cities, where the workers in the several Parishes should combine in one general effort of larger character and upon a grander scale. To speak of his purpose at the first would frighten people in rural [207/208] Parishes. Hence, he instructs his congregation by preaching and pastoral intercourse in their duty in relation to the aged, and the sick, and homeless. He awakens their sympathies in behalf of the classes of sufferers for whom he would have them provide. After such preparation, two or three persons will be found to visit and report such persons as require assistance. As many others can be secured to spend a certain portion of time, pledged beforehand if possible, in reading to sick, or aged, or other disabled people at their homes. By and by they will venture, after reading and instruction, to kneel for prayer. Others will collect hospital stores for distribution as needed. In due time a family may be found, the lady of which will be willing to receive an occasional homeless person who needs food and shelter, and perhaps others who are sick or helpless. The occasion will thus be made to rent, purchase, or build, and to provide a matron, beds, and all things necessary. And the work will be set in full operation, with increasing income for growing necessities. In this way there will be no place for opposition, and all will be led on in harmony. We give this simply as an illustration. In a like way, from small beginnings, with right direction, permanent agencies, and modes of charity and of education, with brotherhoods and sisterhoods, and schools of training for such as can give themselves wholly to work for Christ may be established, with untold results for good in the future.
 No Rector of a Parish can rest satisfied till he has found some work for all his people to do on whom God has not already laid sufficient burdens of care and duty in which to promote His cause. For we should not forget that they who are called to suffer with Christ, who endure afflictions from His hand, in His spirit, and for His sake, and they who are employed in the care and Christian nurture of His children, given by Him and placed under their guidance and training; and even those who serve Him in fervency of spirit by diligence in business, who rightly regard their stewardship of His gifts, are all doing His work, helping to extend His kingdom, and promoting His glory. But there are many in every Parish who have time which God's service has the right to claim, and which otherwise would be given to selfish work or pleasure, or mere sloth and listlessness. There are many ways in which the discreet and efficient Rector can enlist the help of all such members of the Church as are not hindered by duties which are providentially imposed. But an important and necessary caution should be suggested. Young clergymen, in their zeal, often make haste to devise a system of machinery into which to organize as parts all those whose co-operation they hope to secure. The result is that they must themselves supply continually all the motive power, or it ceases working, and becomes disordered and disorganized. They are themselves exhausted in the effort to impart life and movement, and the work accomplished [209/210] is small. It is, therefore, necessary, first to awaken and to deepen the spiritual life of the people; to show them and make them feel how much there is to be done, and which, without their assistance, must be neglected; to impart a deep sense of their own individual responsibility in the Church's work, and of the need that they should stir up and employ all the gifts of God, whether of nature or of grace. When they "have a mind to work," not till then, can their labors be organized effectively. The life must be first, then there will be growth; and growth is necessarily organic. The life of a Parish, as of the Church at large, will manifest itself in healthful and beneficent organization. The Rector is in a position to cultivate and direct it, be as to make it subserve his ends. His wisdom will be shown in knowing how, and being prompt and timely to give this direction. He must not allow any force to go to waste, or to expend itself destructively. There are many good people whose zeal and energy would seek manifestations of a one-sided and partial character, and in ways destructive of order, harmony, and unity. By care and forethought such persons may be used with good results, if put in the proper place, in work for which they are fitted. It will not do to leave them to themselves. It is not safe to give them time to produce disorder and conflict. Put them at the work which they like, but rule them with delicacy, with tact, with a firm and strong hand. They are strong-minded, but will yield gracefully to the [210/211] direction of superior strength and wisdom, combined with rightful authority.
These remarks are for the Clergy as well as the laity. The value they claim is not theoretical. They are the result of experience. They are intended to be only suggestive. A word to the wise is sufficient.
This Church is now feeling a mighty impulse of revival. Not only is she moving forward with rapid strides upon ground hitherto unoccupied; she is feeling the pulse of a more vigorous life in her members. The very eccentricities of extreme opinions and action are symptoms of a living and not a dead or decaying body. There are better symptoms, especially in the founding of homes and hospitals and sisterhoods, and the organization of lay helpers, and in the efforts put forth with much success at so many points to reach those whom God has not blessed with wealth, the great middle class, from whom will come, in the next or following generation, by right of power, both politically and socially, the rulers of the people.
It becomes all our Clergy and laity to be alive with the life of the Church; to let it call forth and determine their activities; to help to increase its mighty volume and power, and thus to have their own part in bringing on the glorious days which are in store--if she is faithful--for this American branch of the Catholic and Apostolic Church.