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 13. The News from Richmond

IT IS DIFFICULT after the passage of so many years and with the changed attitude of average Episcopalians toward Liberal opinions, to understand the fears and questionings of the days of 1907. It must be remembered that the Anglicans in America had always been most exclusive in regard to other Protestants. The thought of opening the pulpits to ministers who were not episcopally ordained was something which seemed revolutionary. It is true that invitations to do this had sometimes been extended by individual rectors, here and there, but not without protest and resistance. To legalize such abuses was almost unthinkable to most Episcopalians, especially to those who, at personal sacrifice, had left another denomination for the Anglican Church. These were quite numerous. At the time at least forty ministers of the various sects passed into Episcopalian-ism each year. We therefore awaited the news from Richmond with apprehension.

On 29 September the seminary year began. Great changes had been made in the appearance of the chapel. The alterations necessitated by the new scheme of decoration, which has already been referred to, seemed to symbolize the disruption of our common life.

At the beginning of October the early reports from the General Convention were received. We first heard of the warm approval given to the Shanghai conference. The delegates expressed their delight that the various sects working in China had been able to organize what they called the Chinese Church. Then we heard of the defeat of the anti-divorce proposals. It was evident that the Convention was in the power of the Broad Church party. Regarding the Open Pulpit we were somewhat confused. We understood
that the matter was left in the hands of the bishops, and this appeared to be satisfactory, until we learnt exactly what the bishops had done. We did not appreciate the situation until Fay returned on 22 October. Then we realized that our worst fears had been justified. The Broad Churchmen had gained their point. The principle which they were contending for had been conceded. There would still have been some encouragement left if an alarming thing had not happened. It was conclusive and overwhelming. The High Church bishops, including our own Bishop Webb, had actually voted for the Open Pulpit! It seemed impossible of belief. It was useless to make any protest, for the decision had been practically unanimous. We were stunned. It was the High Church party which had betrayed the cause; and those bishops, clerics and laymen who ranked as "Anglo-Catholic" had supported it. The Churchman was under no delusion when it said that: "The Episcopal Church is changed," It took some time to realize the full extent of this change. We were not left in doubt, however. Pulpits began to be opened everywhere, and the victorious Broad Churchmen were in triumph. Bishop Webb returned to Nashotah shamefaced. "I voted for the alteration in the Canon," he said, "because I feared something worse." What that alternative was he did not tell us. We guessed that pressure had been brought to bear upon him. The bishops had been given to understand that the wealthy laity would not take "no" for an answer.

Father McClellan tells me how the news was received by St. Elizabeth's Community. The brethren had subscribed for a Richmond paper. They, as ourselves, watched the news with apprehension. At last the amendment to Canon XIX was introduced. It contained the Open Pulpit proposal. Its fate was really decided on the floor of the lower House by the impassioned oratory of a delegate from Philadelphia, a communicant of St. Mark's Church! When it reached the bishops, it was verbally altered, but remained intact as to its purport. On the testimony of its proposer in the upper House, every single bishop voted for it. In those days there were no stenographic notes taken of the proceedings, but there were no denials. Father McClellan says:

I shall never forget the effect which the news produced upon us. It was like a flash of lightning revealing indeed the whole landscape in an instant, yet only to blind and stun the beholders. It seemed to me that we went about our duties that morning like men half-dazed, acting mechanically while our minds endeavored to grasp the conclusions to which the events seemed to point. McGarvey was too overcome to say much about the matter. I can only remember his saying: "If this measure goes into operation, God may speak to men's hearts very soon." This sentence faithfully sums up the impression which the situation made upon us as a body. That return to Rome was to be the ultimate end of the Oxford Movement we had already quite concluded. The action of the convention had now forced the issue to a death's struggle between Catholic principles and those counter-principles which it had just introduced. Messrs. Sanborn and Fay, the clerical delegates from Fond-du-Lac to the General Convention, stopped at our house on the way back from Richmond. Bishop Weller, the coadjutor, stopped a little later.

As Fay only stayed at Nashotah one day on his return from Richmond, being called back to the East again by the sudden death of one of his aunts, we had to wait until his reappearance on 12 November to hear the exact news of the Convention. Meanwhile The Living Church was trying to belittle its importance in regard to the Open Pulpit legislation. We were told by Fay, however, that the Broad churchmen were so insistent, and so completely in control, that if something had not been done to propitiate them, there might have been a schism. Bowles and the Rev. Wilfred Douglas were with us on the evening of Fay's return and the conversation was concerned with the Uniate theory of The Lamp. Douglas, who was an authority on plain chant, and our visiting instructor in regard to it, seriously discussed the possibility of Mass in English being permitted by the Pope! For myself the Uniate idea was beginning to become evasive and tedious.

Two days later I met a woman who had been a delegate to the Auxiliary, which was accustomed to bring a Thank-Offering for Missions to the General Convention. She gave me first-hand news from Richmond. She was delighted with what had happened and told me that it would put an end to Ritualistic Romanism! As she did not mean to be offensive, not knowing my religious opinions, her report was confirmatory proof of the popular feeling of those who voted for the Open Pulpit. It was a revelation of the true significance of the Broad Church victory. Its purpose was to put us out of the Episcopal Church, or at least make our position in it intolerable. The whole movement had really been anticlerical and anti-Catholic. It was an indication of the growing opposition to revealed religion. There seemed to be no doubt about this.

Before I attempt in the next chapter to give a brief resume of the actual proceedings in General Convention, it is important to understand exactly how the General Convention is constituted. It is really the result of an experiment which was made in America by those who had belonged, before the Revolution, to the Church of England.

Until 1784 there had never been any bishops resident in America, which was treated as a part of the diocese of London. This was in a measure due to indifference; but there was another reason. On the part of many of the colonials there was a strong objection to what was stigmatized as "Prelacy;" it was considered to be out of place in a newly settled country. Bishops in those days were associated with pomp and dignity, and it did not seem possible to maintain the episcopal office amongst those who professed strong democratic opinions. There had been one or two "non-juror" bishops in America, but their position was not recognized, since they were perpetuating a succession from those who had refused to take the oath to William of Orange, and the Hanoverians.

When peace was declared after the war of Independence the Anglicans found themselves in a difficult position. Some of them cared little or nothing for episcopacy; most of them desired changes in the mode of worship, and even in the form of belief. Had it not been for the action of those who lived in the former colony of Connecticut, there was a possibility that the whole body would drift into moderate Unitarianism, then much in favor. There existed, however, a strong attachment to episcopacy in Connecticut, where, some fifty years before, several professors of the University of Yale had left Congregationalism and become Anglicans, being convinced of the necessity of there being bishops in a properly constituted church. The "High Church" party in this new State, provided with a bishop consecrated in Scotland, as has been already stated, threatened to separate themselves from other American Episcopalians unless their action were confirmed. This was in 1784.

It was not until three years later that the Archbishop of Canterbury was empowered by Act of Parliament to consecrate a prelacy for America. In 1787 two clergymen, Messrs. White and Provost, were made bishops in Lambeth Chapel, the London residence of the archbishop. There was, however, still trouble and delay. After the assembly of several conventions, local and general, the clergy and laity outside of Connecticut, issued a prayer-book which deviated in many ways from the one which had been previously used both in England and America. Amongst other changes, the Athanasian and the Nicene Creed were omitted, because of their Trinitarian definitions, and the Apostles' Creed was shorn of the clause, "he descended into hell." There was another radical innovation which had to do with the constitution of the Church, and one to which Connecticut would not at first agree: laymen were given equal authority with the clergy in legislation, and were empowered to decide matters of faith and practice without the presence or consent of the bishops.

At the request, not very strongly urged, of the English bishops, the Nicene Creed was restored to its place in the liturgy, and the clause in the Apostles' Creed was made optional (for public recitation). So strong was the difference of opinion between Seabury, Bishop of Connecticut, and the others, that the latter refused to cooperate with him, and another bishop had to be consecrated in England, before the necessary three bishops were able to extend their number to meet the requirements of the various States. Bishop Provost positively refused to take part in any consecration with Bishop Seabury. At last the matter was settled by a compromise. To propitiate Bishop Seabury the Scotch Communion Office was introduced into the liturgy--he having promised the non-juror bishops of Scotland, who consecrated him, to attempt to do this--while Connecticut agreed to allow laymen to sit in the convention of the Church. At the general convention of 1789 the final accord was established and the new Prayer-Book was published in 1790.

The general convention, which became, by a process of evolution, the legislative authority of the Episcopal Church in the United States, was a new departure in Anglicanism. It took the place of the Royal Supremacy. It has assembled at intervals of three years since 1789. It is composed of two houses; the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies. The first house was due to the insistence of the bishops themselves, who were in a position to demand this right of private conference. For many years, and indeed until recently, the minutes of its meetings were not made public. The second house is made up of clerical and lay delegates, four of each from each diocese. These sit together, although each "order" may demand a separate vote. Legislation may originate in either house, but no laws can be made until there is a clear affirmative majority vote in both houses. In the lower house the voting is by dioceses, not by individuals. Where a diocesan vote is equally split it counts as a negative vote. It will be seen from this that the bishops are unable to pass any laws without the concurrence of the lower house, and that the clergy of the lower house cannot pass anything against the veto of the bishops. There is still another difficulty. If the clergy or the laity in the lower house demand a vote by "orders," the laity can nullify the clerical vote; and vice versa. By this means the laity can prevent any legislation it does not like, despite clergy and bishops. The same deadlock can, of course, be created either by the .bishops or the clergy. Nothwithstanding these disabilities the bishops have in the past acquired considerable influence.

They have a better acquaintance with the workings of the convention, and their position is permanent. An abiding body has a great advantage over one whose personnel changes every three years. Many of the bishops have shown a disposition to act independently in the government of their own dioceses; but they do this at the peril of defending themselves before the general convention, with which all ultimate decisions rest.

The General Convention of 1907 met at Richmond on 2 October. Its sessions lasted for three weeks. Its place of meeting was very favorable to the Broad and Low parties, since Richmond is near the dioceses of the Protestant South, and the populous cities of the East where Liberalism was strong. The Anglo-Catholic influence was largely in the West, especially the Middle West.

Bishop Grafton of Fond-du-Lac, who was an impressive figure, led the Anglo-Catholics. He had rented a house in which "mass" could be said by their delegates. Such a thing would have been out of the question in any of the Richmond churches. Fay was one of the clerical delegates from Fond-du-Lac, and Professor Fosbrooke, of Nashotah House, was one of those from Milwaukee. We therefore had two of our faculty present.

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