Project Canterbury

William McGarvey and the Open Pulpit
An Intimate History of a Celibate Movement in the Episcopal Church,
and of Its Collapse, 1870-1908.

By Edward Hawks
Priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia

Philadelphia: The Dolphin Press, 1935.

Chapter 2. The Church of the Evangelists

THE NEW CHURCH of the Evangelists was opened in 1886. Dr. Percival was proud of his work and always spoke of it as a basilica. It was not a large edifice, but its well-proportioned dimensions gave an idea of loftiness and space. It was characteristic of its builder in not being of the Gothic style. The Gothic style suggested Ritualism and provoked an antagonism in which Dr. Percival shared. He wisely chose the Italian Romanesque; so that cheaper materials could be used more effectively. That he passed by the beautiful Colonial architecture, which is to be seen at its best in Philadelphia, was probably due to his needs, and also to his desire to decorate the interior with frescoes. When these were completed at a later date the church presented a most attractive and prayerful appearance. Exteriorly it was of plain red brick, well built, with campanile and extensive parochial buildings attached. The whole group harmonized with the neighboring houses and seemed as though it had grown up with them as the centre of their religious life. Unfortunately it was already hemmed in by an immigrant population, and its usefulness for Episcopalian needs was beginning to pass away. Dr. Percival had hardly completed this work before he thought it well to seek a new field in a more promising neighborhood. The building still stands, but it has long since been abandoned by the Episcopal Church. After years of neglect and desecration it was purchased and made to serve the purposes of a neighborhood Art School. It is still possible to get a good idea of its original arrangement. The delicate health of Dr. Percival made it impossible for him to do much active work. He never resided in his parish.

He drove to it each day from his house in Spruce Street. Fortunately he was able to draw to himself a small circle of devoted young men through whose assistance he realized his plans. The first of these was William McGarvey. It is said that they met casually in a bookstore. A friendship grew up between them, which developed into a mutual reverence. William McGarvey was born 14 August, 1861. He was a native of South Philadelphia, from which he was never away without a feeling of uneasiness. His father was of North Irish stock; who is said to have been a Presbyterian, attending the Westminster Church on Broad Street, then in charge of the famous Dr. Hunter. The son had little attachment to the Orange "cause" which the father supported by an annual participation in the processions of the 12th of July. William McGarvey was nineteen years of age when he first met Dr. Percival, in the year 1880 or thereabout. For the next five years he was a lay assistant at the Evangelists' Church, doing a great deal of clerical work for its rector, and being especially active in the promotion of the building of the new church. Through the help of Dr. Percival in his studies, and, it is said, in pecuniary ways, he was able to enter the General Seminary in New York. He was ordained in 1886 and was therefore available as the first curate in the new church. Rooms were fitted out for his accommodation in the tower of the building. Until the death of his beloved patron he was his constant cooperator and loyal friend.

Another young man who was attracted to Dr. Percival was William Walter Webb, a Philadelphian of good family, and a descendant of the Tory rector, Dr. Walter, of the North Church at Boston, made famous by Paul Revere. This ancestor was from the same stock as Cotton Mather, the witch-hunter of Salem. William Webb had completed a brilliant scientific course at Pennsylvania University when, falling under the attraction of Dr. Percival, he decided to devote himself to the ministry of the Episcopal Church. As a theological student he entered Berkeley Seminary at Middleton, Conn. This institution was the heart of the old High-and-Dry school of Episcopalianism. The Anglican Church in Connecticut contested with Philadelphia and Virginia the honor of being the birthplace of the American daughter of the Church of England. Its first bishop, Dr. Seabury, had not waited for an Act of Parliament to be passed in order to receive the laying on of hands of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. With the support of the clergy who elected him, he sought episcopal consecration from the Non-Juring Church of Scotland; an incident that has left its mark on the liturgy used by the Episcopal Church in this country.

At Berkeley Mr. Webb, as a disciple of Dr. Percival, found himself in opposition to the traditional teaching of the "High Church" party. He became the leader in a circle of students who were like-minded with himself. These men relieved their isolation by close fellowship. They observed the Friday fast, received Holy Communion without eating breakfast, went to confession, and met each evening for the recitation of Compline. They were nicknamed "The Orioles" in memory of the famous members of Oriel College, Oxford, amongst whom were Newman and Keble. The fruit of this association was the life-long friendship between two men--William Webb and Maurice Cowl. They were inseparables. Maurice Cowl came from New York. He was a gentle soul who never thought of himself, and, though not in any sense unstable in character, was always willing to take the second place. I shall have more to say of him later. On both of these men Berkeley made little impression, except that they always spoke of it with veneration, and they had a deep reverence for the sturdy ideals of its teachers. Their contact (through Mr. Webb) with Dr. Percival exposed the inconsistencies of Connecticut Anglicanism.

Berkeley was proud of its High Churchmanship, which was very largely theoretical, for in ceremonial and practice it adhered to the universal customs of Episcopalianism before the Oxford Movement. Its students were taught that it was lawful to pray for the dead but very unwise to do so, lest the doctrine of Purgatory might creep in; that "priests" had the power to give absolution but that the dangers of auricular confession were so great that it was better not to make use of the power except in the general absolutions in the liturgy; that the saints could hear the petitions of the faithful, but to invoke them publicly might lead to terrible abuses; that Christ was present in the Eucharist, but that it was inexpedient to adore him there for fear of idolatry being directed to the bread. [See Dr. Joseph Barry's autobiography. "Impressions and Opinions." Edwin S. Gorham, 1931.] Such teaching reduced the Connecticut churchmanship to a very arrogant sect, bitterly opposed to the Oxford Movement.

When Messrs. Webb and Cowl were ordained, they both came in 1886 to Philadelphia to be curates, together with Mr. McGarvey, of Dr. Percival. There was another member of the "Orioles" who might have come with them. It was something of a tragedy that he did not, for there is no doubt that such a thing was in his mind. This was the Rev. Joseph H. Barry, perhaps the most brilliant of the three. Unfortunately he was too much of an individualist to place himself under the direction of another strong man. Although he was never associated with Dr. Percival, he was unable to escape from his influence. He may be accounted as belonging to the Percival school. In his posthumous autobiography, which exposes his own defects of character unmercifully, he refers to two visits that he made to Philadelphia in the early days of his ministry, when he was still drawn to the ideals maintained at the Evangelists' Church:

One of the outstanding figures of the High Church party was the Reverend Henry Percival. [He uses the term "High Church" in its broader sense as inclusive of the Anglo-Catholics.] He was a Philadelphian of considerable wealth, who had taken over the rectorship of the Evangelists, a run-down Low Church parish in one of the poorer quarters of Philadelphia. At the time of my visit the staff consisted of William Walter Webb, now bishop of Milwaukee, and the Reverend William McGarvey, a protégé of Dr. Percival, who later left the Episcopal Church and lately died in the Roman Communion.

Dr. Percival was a very interesting character. He was somewhat of an invalid and lived far from the parish of the Evangelists with his mother and sister. He was driven down to the church daily to say his Mass and usually preached at High Mass on Sundays. He was very widely read, an expert theologian, and a brilliant writer. To me his limitation was that he was a little too clever to be always convincing--there is a type of argument which impresses one as being over subtle: one would not have to be quite so subtle if the facts were clearly on one's side. However, such writing is always amusing even if in the end one lays it down unconvinced, Mr. Chesterton is the outstanding type of that class today.

Dr. Percival's principal work was a volume on the General Councils contributed to the series of Nicean and post-Nicean Fathers. He also published a volume on the Invocation of Saints, and numerous pamphlets. It was, I think, a little later than my visit to Philadelphia that there arose one of those stupid controversies to which the Episcopal Church is so subject, this time on the matter of attendance at Mass. The late Mass was becoming more frequent and being stressed as the chief service of the day. One consequence of this appreciation of the place of Mass in public worship was that people ceased to go out after the prayer for the Church and stayed on to worship. Now protests arose, not so much from the Low Church side as from the "high and dry," against what they called non-communicating attendance. No one should stay through Mass, they contended, except such as were to make their communions. It was arrant Romanism--and the usual tosh. The leaders of the "high and dry" party were Bishop Williams (of Connecticut), Bishop Coxe and Bishop Doane . . . Dr. Percival really gave it its deathblow in a tract which he published, the real force of which lay in the very clever title "Non-communicating Attendance vs. Non-communicating Non-attendance ". . . .

I, of course, was taken to see Dr. Percival. He was a fascinating talker and I enjoyed my visit very much. I remember that we crossed swords on one point. Lux Mundi had lately been published and was creating a good deal of discussion, expecially Dr. Gore's chapter in which he expounded the Kenotic theory. Dr. Percival was very severe on Gore, whom I was inclined to defend. Naturally I should have said nothing, as my theology was still elementary. But the chief influence that Dr. Percival exercised upon me was to induce me to shave off my moustache, which hitherto I had cherished.

He was a fascinating I remember that we Dr. Barry has other interesting things to say about Dr. Percival and his church. He mentions his susceptibility to colds and the arrangement that was made by means of a glass screen surrounding a side altar, where the temperature could be raised beyond what was considered desirable by other people. A movable pulpit is also described. It could be rolled into the centre aisle at sermon time. It is said, on the authority of Dr. Barry, that on one occasion when the preacher became energetic in his delivery, the pulpit began to move and progress down the centre of the church, whilst Dr. Percival continued his sermon and finished it standing in a reverse position.

The congregation at the Evangelists' Church was too small to absorb the activities of four men. They had abundance of time to mature plans that had been long in their minds. They realized from the difficulties with which the ministers of the Episcopal Church were faced that the first need of the Anglo-Catholic Movement was a large body of celibates, who could do battle with the entrenched laity. If it were possible to obtain such a body, amongst whom there must be bishops, their cause would eventually be successful. The communicants as a whole were inarticulate; they might be taught to support their clergy against the control of the front pews. Unlike married ministers with families they could not be intimidated. Moreover, apart from any questions of expediency, celibacy was the most effective manifestation of the self-sacrifice that should mark the lives of God's ministers. The Cowley Fathers at St. Clement's Church had already shown that this was true. They had dealt a heavy blow at the Episcopalian tradition that a clergyman should be a married man with a wife who would be able to mix in good society. The increase of the number of celibates throughout the Church was the first necessity for a victorious campaign.

Neither Dr. Percival nor his assistants ever thought in terms of parish achievement. They also desired to contribute something to the standardization of the ceremonial expression of religion. There was danger of anarchy when the ministers of different churches introduced customs for which they had no authority but their own opinion. This was especially necessary in view of the inability of General Convention to enforce any unified method of worship. Its one attempt at doing so had been futile. On all sides there was a fussiness of ritual which was becoming more and more congregational. There was also need of well-informed confessors to hear the increasing number of confessions. The seminaries had heretofore ignored this ministerial function. There were other plans to be considered which were more personal. The Evangelists' Church would soon be engulphed by a deluge of foreign immigration. Another centre of parish life must be found as soon as possible. Beyond this lay the ultimate hope of founding a religious order, or at least an association of celibate clergy. The four men accomplished all their plans, as we shall see.

One of the first extra-parochial activities was the formation of "The Catholic Club ". Its members were clergymen who were of the same mind as Dr. Percival. Among them was Dr. Nicholson, afterward bishop of Milwaukee. It is true that he was a married man; but in spite of a happy domestic life, undertaken before he was fully converted to the Anglo-Catholic cause, he had come to believe that he would have been able to do better work as a celibate; an opinion that he frequently expressed when speaking to his candidates for ordination. Another member was the Rev. Robert Ritchie, who did most of the writing for The Catholic Champion, a publication long since defunct and never replaced. "The Catholic Club" became an unofficial censor of Anglo-Catholic orthodoxy and it encouraged the literary abilities of many young writers who would otherwise have had no opportunity for self-expression.

The expansion of parochial work resulted in the founding of another church, which was dedicated to St. Elizabeth--the mother of Saint John the Baptist. [In spelling the name of this church I have adopted current usage. Although the clergy and parishioners were not always consistent, the usual practice was to spell it "Elisabeth." The dedication was not in honor of the Queen of Hungary, but the mother of St. John the Baptist. The spelling was that employed by the lady whose name suggested the dedication, and of whom it was a memorial--Dr. Percival's mother.] The training of confessors was provided for by William Webb, who wrote the first American treatise on Moral Theology for the use of Episcopal clergymen. He was later to carry the influence of the Evangelist circle to the Seminary at Nashotah, and eventually to become the successor of Bishop Nicholson. William McGarvey occupied a great deal of his time in the study of Liturgies and produce a work of great value on the text of the American Book of Common Prayer, and also a manual of ceremonial. His reputation as an authority on the forms of Christian worship was soon established. Meanwhile preparations were made for the foundation of a religious congregation which was later to have the direction of the important community of the Sisters of St. Mary. Thus it was that the circle of Dr. Percival's influence widened. It is impossible to appreciate the unity that underlies the story I have undertaken to tell unless one sees everywhere in it evidences of his directing hand.

Throughout his rectorship of the Evangelists' Church, Dr. Percival, despite his miserable health, labored at his desk producing books and pamphlets, or spent his hours of comparative leisure in conversing with his many associates on the absorbing subject of religion. Some of his writings have already been mentioned. Of others the best known were those directed either against the Williams-Coxe-Doane school of High churchmen or against the Ritualists who were introducing Catholic ceremonies without the concomitant Catholic teaching. The Glories of the Episcopal Church was an attempt to set forth the distinctive features of Anglicanism that might be overlooked in the craving for novelties. The Thirty-Nine Articles Vindicated against the Aspersions of High Churchmen has been referred to already. Its title is indicative not only of its contents but also of his own distinctive attitude. He allowed himself to be carried away by the brilliance of his genius in this small book--it was little more than a pamphlet; but it is the most characteristic thing he ever wrote. His Digest of Theology is a condensed, but very accurate synopsis, of Catholic dogma that could only have been compiled by one who was a deeply-read theologian. It might, with very few corrections, be used in one of our own seminaries. The Doctrine of the Episcopal Church, although less known, is a clever attempt to form a lex credendi from the lex orandi of the Anglican Prayer-Book and its appendices. His most important undertaking was a contribution to Bishop Coxe's Post-Nicene Fathers. Here he was not quite ingenuous. In his translations of the Acts of the General Councils, his footnotes betray an astonishing anti-papal bias. One has the feeling in reading them that he was arguing against his own suspicions; indeed against opinions that he sometimes expressed. He once told a man who was doubtful of his position as an Anglican that even if the claims of the papacy could be established, it would be no reason for leaving the Anglican Church. He should answer in the words of St. Paul, "I am made all things to all men, that I might save some." Then he added what made a lasting impression on the memory of his listener: "I am willing to be Anathema Maranatha if I can bring others to salvation." One must allow for rhetoric, but the suspicion remains that he was never completely convinced that the Catholic Church could exist out of communion with the Pope. Certainly many who have read his contribution to the Post-Nicene Fathers have felt that there is some uncertainty there.

The history of Dr. Percival's active connexion with the Evangelists' Church came to an end in the fall of 1896. He remained the legal rector until his death, but from this date he placed the administration of the parish in the hands of a "priest-in-charge." William McGarvey left at the same time to become rector of St. Elizabeth's Church. These changes are announced in the All Saints number of the parish magazine of the year. Henceforth our story must find another background, for the Evangelists' Church was destined to gradual extinction.

Before closing this chapter it may be of interest to add an extract from The Evangelist, the parish magazine, which is filled with the most intimate revelations of Dr. Percival's character. In my possession is a treasured file of all the numbers from its beginning until he ceased to be acting rector. The extract refer! to the friendship which existed between Bishop Stevens and himself. It must be remembered that to other Anglo-Catholics in Philadelphia, their bishop was regarded as their most active adversary, who did everything in his power to prevent the spread of what he honestly thought to be a menace to the church he loved. To Dr. Percival, who understood his point of view, he was something quite different, as I shall show. There are in my possession letters written by Bishop Stevens to Dr. Percival which are expressive of the most gentle piety and kindliness. He was a man of outstanding character, whose sincerity, courtesy and intelligence were everywhere recognized. This is how Dr. Percival spoke of him in announcing his death:

The last time we had any conversation with him, now some months ago, as we shook hands he said, "One day we shall come to that country and the inhabitants of that land shall not say, I am sick." How often, no doubt in the time of pain, he had been comforted by those words of the Prophet Isaiah! How often he had longed to be found in that country, and to taste of its rest and peace. Of Bishop Stevens's kindness to our parish we need not speak. From the time of his consecration to the episcopate, that deep interest has been shown not only in words, but also in most substantial acts, even coming forward at one of the times of its financial embarrassment and lending money, looking for no return again. In the troubles of the parish, before the present rector received the benefice, the bishop was ever found bravely defending and boldly asserting the powers of the Spirituality; and in the last years, that we may speak of ourselves, year by year we found him visiting the parish to confirm our children and converts; year by year we heard his kind words of encouragement and blessing; year by year we admired his lordly bearing and his graceful rhetoric; and, as if to set his signet after many years of labor and watching over the portion of the flock which the Lord had committed to his trust, at the visitation of last year he cancelled the judgment note which he had held against the corporation. Bishop Stevens was one of the most admired of all the American bishops in England. Wherever he went he was courted and sought after, and at the Lambeth Conference was chosen by his Grace, the Archbishop of Canterbury to preach the sermon before the bishops of the whole world in communion with the See of St. Augustine. ... Of ... petty insubordination the bishop had much to bear during his episcopate, but after more than a quarter of a century of prelacy, he can stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ and present his diocese stronger, more united, more learned, more holy, more rich in this world's goods; he can point to churches built; others adorned; to shrines raised; to altars once deserted now thronged by faithful souls; to penitents restored; to fallen recovered; to careless roused; to those in error converted, and can say in the words of Divine Scripture, "Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God and for the offices thereof."

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