STACY & JAMESON, PRINTERS.
A PASTORAL LETTER &c.
BELOVED BRETHREN IN CHRIST:
You are doubtless aware that the Missionary operations of the Church, within our own diocese, have long been a subject of anxious solicitude with the clergy and the more zealous of our people. This has been manifested in the occasional notices of the annual Episcopal Address, and by the resolutions which the convention, many years ago, adopted. But within the last two years, the topic has acquired a more imposing shape, through the convocation of the Clergy, whose constitution has been approved, not only by myself, but by the unanimous vote of the Convention. Since that period, the Clergy have had quarterly meetings in various parts of the diocese, at which services have been held for several days, and discourses and addresses delivered of a highly useful character. They have also appointed a special committee of five clergymen to obtain information, concerning the field of missionary labor which is open throughout the State of Vermont. And the result has been, that at the annual meeting, held at Woodstock, on the day after the adjournment of our last convention, the report of that Committee was adopted, and it was "Resolved: That the Bishop should be requested, if it met his approbation, to lay the same before the Church in a Pastoral Letter, of which one thousand copies should be published and distributed in the several parishes, according to the number of families in each." Such is the occasion which leads me to address you, and therefore, I shall first proceed to place before you the Report of the Committee in full, and then ask your attention to a few remarks on the duty of prompt and zealous action.
The Committee appointed to prepare a Report on the Diocesan Missionary Field, and to recommend a uniform system for diocesan missionary operations, would respectfully present to the Convocation the following Report:
In accordance with what they suppose to have been the design in their appointment, the Committee directed their attention, in the first place, to the missionary wants of the Diocese. By personal inquiries and by correspondence [3/4] with several of the Clergy, in different sections of the Diocese, they endeavored to ascertain at what points missionary labor and expenditure is now needed, and where there is reason to think it may be advantageously bestowed. As the result of their inquiries, the committee are strongly impressed with the conviction that there are not a few such points. In almost every section of the Diocese they have found places where the Church, with all her means of Grace, is needed, and where there is good ground for confidence that judicious and persevering labors would result in the building up, and the permanent establishment, of flourishing parishes. It is true, there are in the Diocese no populous cities or towns where very large congregations may be gathered at once. And for this reason our missionary work here must be a work not only of labor but of patience also. We must not expect nor be very anxious for any very great immediate results. We must be content to "sow the seed; and to wait, and have long patience for the precious fruit." We must plant the Church where it seems to be needed, and be willing to devote to it thereafter, patiently and perseveringly, our labors and our substance, until, by slow growth from within and accretions from without, it shall be rooted and grounded deep enough, at least, for its own support. Missionary efforts, thus made and persevered in, would not, the Committee are confident, in many of the villages and townships of the Diocese, be expended in vain.
That we are not, as a Diocese, and that we have not long been, engaged unitedly in any such effort, is our shame and our reproach. It is, indeed, a humiliating fact, that we are doing almost nothing for the extension of the Church in our Diocese. We have no missionary system in efficient operation. We are not supporting even a single laborer by our united contributions. It is true, indeed, that we have no less than ten missionary stations, as reported in the Journal of the last Convention. But what are we doing for them? The whole amount contributed from all the Churches in the Diocese, to the Diocesan Missionary Fund, for the past year, as reported in the same Journal, was but $157.91, which, being divided equally among the (so called) missionary stations, gives to each less than $16.00. And this, it must be remembered, was the Jubilee year, when a special effort was made. The Journal of 1850 shows but $83.69 as the sum of contributions for missionary purposes, from the whole Diocese--which is less than $9.00 for each missionary station.
And yet, notwithstanding these humiliating facts, we are not willing to admit that Churchmen of Vermont can be justly charged as being more deficient than others in the missionary spirit. On the contrary, we think that our parochial reports will not suffer by comparison in this respect with the reports of parishes of similar capabilities, in other Dioceses. The whole amount contributed for charitable purposes by all the Churches in the Diocese, as reported in the Journal for 1851, was upwards of $1,300.00--a sum, not large indeed, but yet sufficient, when the feebleness of most of our parishes and the smallness of all is taken into the account, to redeem us from the charge of an entire want of liberality in contributing to the relief of such as are in temporal or spiritual need.
 Why, then, it may well be asked, are we doing so little for the missionary wants of our own Diocese? Why have we no means for the planting of the Church in the towns and villages where it is now so much needed, and where we are assured it would be thankfully received? Why are half of our nominal missionary stations abandoned, and the other half thrown upon their own insufficient resources? Why, throughout all the length and breadth of our Diocese, on its mountains and in its valleys, are there members of our common household scattered abroad "as sheep without a shepherd";--their children growing up unbaptized, and themselves losing their love, and almost their recollection, of the church and the faith, because there is never a pastor to visit them and to claim them as members of the fold?
The answer to these questions is to be found, the Committee are persuaded, not so much in the want of a willingness on the part of the Church's members to give of their substance towards its extension within our borders, as in the want of an efficient system in the conducting of our missionary operations. Let the wants of the Diocese be known, and let the mode and means of supplying those wants be clearly pointed out, and we doubt not they would be supplied.
To this point the Committee have, therefore, felt it incumbent upon them to give their most thoughtful attention. Concurring in the opinion expressed in the vote of the Convocation that the efficiency of any system of operation will be promoted by its being uniformly adopted throughout the Diocese, they have desired to find and to present for the acceptance of the Convocation such a plan as may be so adopted, and may enlist the hearty co-operation of all the Church's members,--a plan, in which the offerings of the poor may be received on the same terms, and presented on the altar of God, with the same acceptableness as those of the rich. Several plans have been suggested, and discussed, with this view, no one of which lacked some peculiar excellency to recommend it for preference. But, as the result of their deliberations, and in concurrence with the opinion expressed in the vote of the clerical brethren assembled in the Convocation at Windsor, the Committee unanimously recommend the following plan, as, on the whole, the best adapted to our circumstances, and the most likely to secure efficient and reliable means for our Diocesan Missionary work:
They propose that in every parish the Rector of the same shall draw up a subscription list on which all the members, including not only adults but the youth and the children also, shall be invited to enter their names as contributors, on the following terms: the amount pledged by each to be so much per week, which weekly subscriptions shall be collected once a month. The Committee recommend that this collection be made in the several churches on such Sunday in every month as shall be deemed expedient by each Rector, and that due notice be given so that it may be understood that while the offerings of all who may be present will be thankfully received, yet that a claim is made only on those who have subscribed their names and pledged the sums which they regard it as both their duty and their privilege to give.
The Committee do not deem it necessary to enter into any lengthened statement of the advantages which they confidently hope, by God's blessing, will [5/6] result from the general adoption and faithful carrying out of their plan; but they may be permitted briefly to suggest the following considerations in its favor:
I. It will not interfere with stated or occasional contributions for other objects.
II. It gives the distinct prominence which is its due, and no more than its due, to the obligation which rests directly upon us to supply with the means of grace the destitute within our own borders.
III. It enables all to contribute--each according to his several ability--to this important and obligatory work.
IV. It encourages, and tends to induce, all thus to contribute--habitually, systematically.
V. It secures a fund which is reliable, because pledged.
And VI. It accords, at least in its principal feature, with the direction which was given by the inspired apostle "concerning the collection for the saints":--"Upon the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him."
These are some of the considerations which have influenced the Committee in its recommendation, and some of the advantages which they hope to see resulting from its adoption.
They now submit it to the Convocation with the fervent prayer that He, without whose aid we can do no good thing, will so "direct, sanctify and govern us in our work, that the Gospel of Christ may be truly preached, truly received, and truly followed, till the whole of his dispersed sheep" within our borders shall be gathered into His fold, and be made partakers of His everlasting life.
All of which is respectfully submitted,
G. C. V. EASTMAN,
GEO. B. MANSER,
C. R. BATCHELDER,
JOEL CLAP, D. D.
This able and interesting Report, my brethren, has treated the whole matter so fully, that little might seem to remain for me beyond the expression of my cordial approbation. Nevertheless, it may be useful to notice briefly, the difficulties and objections which may be presented, in the way of the effort proposed.
The first of these may arise from the fact that we possess the avails of certain lands, belonging to the English Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, and originally set apart for the benefit of the Church, previous to the revolutionary war which established our national independence. And it may be supposed by some, that this fund, which is enjoyed by no other Diocese except New Hampshire, supersedes, or ought to supersede the necessity of any other, so far as the missionary wants of the Diocese are concerned.
 In answer to this, it is enough to say that the whole of the avails derived from this source amounts to little more than three thousand dollars per annum, of which eight hundred are reserved for the support of the Episcopal Office, and the remaining twenty-two hundred are divided among the several parishes, in proportion to their necessities, making on an average, a fraction more than sixty-eight dollars a year for each. The result is very plain: That in the first place, you are relieved from the payment of any thing for the services of your Bishop, which usually must be paid for, by the people of the Diocese. That, secondly, you have the rest of the fund applied, so far as it will go, to the support of your own clergy, exempting you, to that amount, from the contributions which would otherwise be necessary. That, thirdly, inasmuch as you have this relief actually afforded to this extent, saving you from the burden which, every where else, the people are content to bear, you can afford to contribute an equal sum for the benefit of your own Missions, and even then not be on an equality with the other Dioceses, who have to sustain their Bishop and their Clergy, without any extraneous aid, and who are expected, besides, to contribute to the missions of the church, not only within their own borders, but also in the Western States, and even amongst the distant heathen. Surely, then, it is manifest, that the existence of this fund, instead of being an argument against the proposed effort, furnishes a powerful argument in its favor. Because I cannot do you the injustice of believing that you would desire to give less than your brethren give elsewhere, for the same religious privileges; nor can I suppose, for a moment, that the cause of the Gospel could suffer in your judgment, or the duty of its advancement seem less precious in your sight, because the Providence of God has favored you with an annual amount of assistance, which the Church enjoys in no other quarter.
The second objection may be derived, and with some plausibility, from the fact that our State consists of villages, the largest of which does not exceed a population of 7,000 souls, and that is divided amongst seven denominations of Christians, besides the considerable number, probably one-half, who take no interest whatever in religion. Of course our congregations are small, and experience frequent difficulty in supporting their own expenses. Consequently it may be argued that to put any effort upon them, beyond their present liabilities, is quite unreasonable, and that therefore the plan must be unavailing.
 Much of this, my brethren, is undoubtedly true. It is true that we have no large and wealthy cities in Vermont, no large congregations, no large salaries. It is true, likewise, that the Churches almost universally find it troublesome enough to keep up their own income, and that they often fall into arrears. And yet I cannot admit, for all this, that Vermont is either unable or unwilling to come up to the common average of effort, in the support of the Church. I am quite satisfied, on the contrary, that our people will bear a fair comparison with any other, in this respect, and that the evils of which we may think we have reason to complain, are just as common in every other part of our country, with the exception of the large city parishes. The real difficulty does not lie in the want of means, for there is hardly a State in the whole Union where there is less pauperism, or more general competence and comfort in the style of living, or a larger spirit and practice of cordial hospitality. Neither do I know of any, where intelligence is so universally diffused, or where there is a more steady and reliable support of all public institutions. Nor can I turn to any other quarter to find better examples, or more numerous, of individual liberality. I concur, therefore, with the Committee of your Clergy, in the opinion that the practical evil does not flow from any causes of inherent incapacity, or the absence of good will, but rather from the want, as yet, of any efficient system for calling out, in a regular way, the actual means and disposition of our people on a broad and practical scale, which shall bring home the duty and the privileges of supporting the cause of the Gospel to every man, woman and child belonging to our congregations; instead of leaving the burden, as now, on the minority, who are supposed to be more wealthy, or more zealous, or more thoughtful, with regard to their obligations in the matter.
In this, as in every thing else belonging to the Gospel, our best model will be found in the primitive Church, as it was when it had come fresh from the hands of the inspired apostles. And here we find that there were no pew rents, no subscription papers, and no collectors to go round twice a year and gather up, from house to house, the contributions of the people. Instead of this, it was the universal rule that every professed believer should bring up his offering on each Lord's day, and give it to the deacons who were appointed to receive it as a gift for the House of God. The duty was expected from all alike, according to their own conscientious opinion of their circumstances. The [8/9] poor as well as the rich, the young and the old, the male and the female, did what they could, as to the Lord, and they could not begin the service of the day with a mind at ease, until they had made their offering. There was no dictation as to the amount, no fixed and stipulated sum, no bargain and sale of special seats, or of special rights and privileges. But the contribution was regarded as an act of simple religious duty, and as such, was offered on the same ground as any other part of the worship and homage to which the Lord, in whom they lived and moved and had their being, was entitled from all his people.
The contributions thus collected by the deacons, were divided into parts. One portion was appropriated to the maintenance of the clergy, another to the expenses incident to public worship, another to the support of the poor and the entertainment of Christian strangers who came with letters of recommendation from their own pastors, and the remainder to any work of piety which the Bishop approved. And so abundant was the supply obtained in this simple manner, that we read of no deficiencies for many centuries, nor until the purity of the faith had been dimmed by superstition, and the priesthood had become corrupted by the pride and ambition of the world.
It is certainly to be desired, my brethren, if it were possible, that the Church should return to this primitive system, because it is not to be doubted that it was far more sure, more equal, and more accordant with Christian simplicity than any which has succeeded to it. Nor do I see any reason why it might not be adopted and carried out just as effectively in our own day, since it is not only in excellent accordance with our republican institutions, but is applicable under any form of government, where the people are at liberty to regulate their own religious affairs, by the principles of the Word of God. It requires, however, the restoration of the Deacon's office, which has been, for many ages, entirely deprived of one main branch of its original destination. The apostolic Deacons were evidently appointed to take upon their hands the distribution of the Church offerings, with especial regard to the daily wants of the poor. Besides this, they were also allowed to preach and baptize, as we find expressly from the examples of Stephen and Philip, two of the seven Deacons of the Church in Jerusalem. For this reason it was, that they were required to be men "full of the Holy Ghost and of wisdom," and were ordained by the hands of the apostles; and therefore, we see that we have a very good statement of [9/10] their duties, as they were afterwards understood throughout the whole of Christendom, in the Ordination Service of our Prayer Book. But in practice, unhappily, the office of the Deacon has long disappeared, and it is now regarded only as a step towards the office of the priesthood. The Church of Rome introduced the innovation. First, she established the system of tithes, instead of the voluntary offerings of the primitive ages. And she committed a much greater error by giving the compulsory collection of them to the hand of the civil magistrate, which does not appear to have been ever authorised by the Mosaic Law, for, under that law, the payment of the tithe was a voluntary religious duty, a failure in which was punished by the hand of God, and not of man. This change took away one main part of the Deacon's office, whose business it was, as we have seen, on every Lord's day, to receive the contributions of the people. And next we find that the other branch of the office, concerning the relief of the poor, was assumed by the monasteries, which never could perform it so regularly nor effectively as was done at first, upon the primitive system. And thus the true idea of the Deacon's office has become so lost that there is but small probability of our seeing it restored to its original plan, on account of the extensive prejudice which even good men, through the force of long habit, entertain upon the subject.
The consequence is, that we have now no proper officer, belonging to the ministry of the Church, to attend to these important matters:--the collection of the voluntary offerings of the people, and the distribution of those offerings in the service of religion and of charity. Hence they have fallen upon the priesthood, whose other duties do not allow time to attend to them; and upon the vestrymen, who find it, in the country parishes, quite too troublesome a task, and who could hardly be expected to accomplish it satisfactorily, when the collector has to go round from house to house, at distant intervals, instead of having every christian bring his contribution, on the morning of each Lord's day, in the primitive manner. And hence comes, of necessity, the irregularity, the uncertainty and the unfairness with which the whole subject is embarrassed. A large number of persons, who are both able and willing to give their share, attend the church without giving anything. A considerable proportion of those who have subscribed, find it inconvenient to pay the amount, when it has run on for six months or a year, although they could have paid it in small sums, every week, [10/11] without any difficulty. And thus the parishes fail in their collections, and fall into debt; and this debt they are obliged to wipe off by a spasmodic effort from time to time, through the liberality of a few, who feel that they are called upon to make up for the deficiencies of others, and who, therefore, are very apt to meet the exigency, not in the spirit of piety, which should dictate an act of religion, but in the spirit of murmuring and discontent, which naturally arises when men think their benevolence imposed upon. Nor is this the whole of the evil. For on our modern plan, the income is apt to be deficient, and the cutting off the thousand little rills of the ancient weekly supply, deprives the stream of its proper fullness. Hence the means are not in hand to do the same amount of good. The people are often in a state of trouble and dissatisfaction. The clergy are discouraged. The poor are neglected. The practical precepts of Christianity become a dead letter. The Gospel is stripped of its power, and the benevolence of the Masonic and Odd Fellows' Societies is placed, in general estimation, far above the effective product of religion. No mind can conceive and no tongue express the evil results of the change, on all the interests and aspects of Christian duty.
While I grant, therefore, the fact assumed by the objection, since it is undeniable that our parishes do find it troublesome enough to keep up the income required for their present wants, yet I cannot admit that this difficulty arises from the lack of means, because I am fully persuaded that it rather arises from the defects of our modern mode of supplying them. And therefore I believe that the plan suggested by the Convocation would find no real obstacle on this score, inasmuch as it is based, in a great measure, upon the primitive principle of having the sums paid once a month, upon the basis of a weekly calculation, and of the contributors bringing the amount to the House of God, and giving it in as a public religious offering. Nor can I see any reason why the same plan should not be extended so far as to embrace, in one whole, the entire circle of Christian benevolence, as it stands in connection with the Church. The same trouble which secures from every man, woman and child, an engagement to pay, monthly, a certain sum for our domestic missions, would suffice for the primitive purpose of providing for all the contributions of the congregation. And this might be divided, as of old, into parts, and after the maintenance of the clergy, and the other expenses incident to public worship were provided for, [11/12] the remainder could be appropriated, according to the discretion of the Pastor and the Wardens, to the work of missions. This plan, carried into full effect, would render unnecessary the whole machinery of collectors, with all their unavoidable delays, losses and uncertainty besides the vast advantage of giving to every Christian worshipper the same opportunity of performing an act of unquestionable religious duty.
And this brings me to the last topic, namely, the character and force of the obligation which rests upon you all, to promote in every practicable way the extension of the Saviour's Kingdom.
When the blessed Redeemer had finished His glorious work, in giving Himself as an atoning sacrifice upon the Cross, for the redemption of mankind, and was about to ascend unto His Father, He delivered, as you all know, this command to His apostles, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature." They went forth, accordingly, in obedience to His will, planted His Church in all quarters, and appointed their successors to continue the work, after they should have accomplished their task, by a triumphant martyrdom.
The bishops and their clergy were bound, thenceforth, to carry on the object of the same high Commission, and every believer, of every grade, was expected to assist, in proportion to his means and opportunities. The primitive Church was constituted with especial reference to this very duty, for the dioceses were small in extent, and there was but one Church in each, called the Cathedral, where all the clergy lived, and from which they were sent forth, in due rotation, to every quarter of the diocese, preaching at various stations, and baptizing if need were; but not establishing distinct parishes. That custom did not arise for several centuries, and it has often been doubted whether it was, on the whole, an improvement on the original system. But be this as it may, it is certain that the Church, for many ages, kept up a constant work of regular domestic missions, making continual assaults upon the heathenism and false philosophy which surrounded it, and in this way the knowledge of saving truth was disseminated in every diocese, until at length, the altars of paganism fell prostrate before the heralds of the Cross.
Now it cannot surely be pretended, for a moment, that we are not under the same obligation to continue this work of mercy to the world, by sending forth the preachers of the Gospel and striving continually to [12/13] enlarge the borders of the Saviour's kingdom. For even in our nominally Christian land, we know full well that there are thousands upon thousands living without hope and without God--thousands upon thousands who are utterly careless, reckless and unbelieving--worse off than the heathen themselves, for they, at least, had objects of mistaken faith, which they worshipped, while there are multitudes in our day who do not think it necessary to have any religion whatever. But in truth, every fresh generation of men must needs renew the call for this work of evangelism, and therefore the Church, in every age, is bound to answer it. And just as the Cathedral Church of the diocese, in the primitive days, supported a body of the clergy to go forth on this constant errand of divine benevolence, so the settled parishes of our own diocese, which have taken its place, are bound to support the clergy for the same work still. Nor do I know of any excuse which the Christian mind can offer to the Lord for refusing to perform the duty, except the plea of absolute impossibility, which will never be admitted as satisfactory, until we have first done what we can.
The Committee have stated what we all know to be true,--that there are many friends of the Church scattered abroad over the Diocese, anxious for the services of our ministry, surrounded with carelessness and unbelief, and looking to us for help in their necessity. What is to relieve us from the obligation of furnishing the means for clergymen to go round amongst them, like the preachers of the primitive ages, and establish stations where the Word of God should be proclaimed and the sacraments administered, until, by and by, these stations should become established Churches like our own? If the primitive Church was able to carry on this blessed work of domestic missions, are not we able also? If they had neglected it, would they not have been responsible for the heathenism which must have continued to brood over Europe and the East? And if we neglect it, shall we not be responsible for our share of the infidelity and misery of future generations?
But it may be supposed by some, my brethren, that there is no danger of such a result, because the Gospel is too firmly established through the land, and must hold its proper influence, whether we perform or neglect this duty. That, however, permit me to say, is more than we can tell. Hundreds of Churches existed in Africa, and in Asia Minor, before the seventh century, which have disappeared from the earth; some swallowed up by Mahometanism, and many sunk into pagan idolatry. [13/14] Nay, even Churches which were planted by Apostolic hands, have been annihilated. Where are the Seven Churches to which the Spirit of God addressed those solemn warnings in the Book of Revelations? Their candlestick was removed, and the light of the Gospel transferred to others. And if we look at the infidel tendencies of our own age, we must certainly acknowledge that at no former period in the history of this land, was there as much ground for apprehension. There are at this hour, evil influences abroad, of the most varied and fearful character. Spiritual delusions, false philosophy, heretical doctrines, wrestings of Scripture, and open, clamorous unbelief, are all around us, attracting the attention and increasing in the favor of multitudes, to say nothing of the march of Romanism, on the one side, and a growing of schismatic separations on the other. This is no time for the Church to fold her arms, in supineness and apathy. This is no time to withhold the only counteracting power of Apostolic truth, and pure Biblical instruction. And if ever it was the duty of the followers of Christ to "contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints," that duty is ours now, by the strongest motives for exertion.
Finally, my beloved brethren, I would earnestly beseech you to lay these subjects to heart, as those who are the enlisted soldiers in the warfare of the Lord of hosts, against the powers of darkness. The time is short, and it behooves us to improve, with far greater zeal and diligence, the portion that remains to us. The laudable efforts of your clergy, and the plan which they propose, have my warm and cordial approbation. That plan is certainly worthy of a fair and thorough trial, accompanied, as every good work must be, by the earnest prayer of faith, and by every other manifestation of consistent piety, which becomes our profession. May it indeed be acceptable, not only in your sight, but in the sight of that glorious Saviour who died for your redemption, and who has promised to reward our poor labors in His service, with a heavenly and eternal inheritance. May He enable us all so to use the means and the substance which His Providence has bestowed upon His people, that no portion of the ruin of mankind may be charged to our remissness in the last great day. And in this, and every other work of a living faith, may His spirit guide us to the best result, and crown our humble efforts with an effectual blessing.
Commending you fervently to the direction and favor of the Almighty Redeemer, Sanctifier and Preserver of the faithful,
Your affectionate Bishop and servant in Christ,
JOHN H. HOPKINS.
BURLINGTON, Vt., Nov. 8th, 1852.