CHAPTER XIII. 1846-1849.
Began Pastorate in New York.--An Educator still.--His Works linked together.--The Locality.--A Congregation formed.--An exceptional free Church.--Its Attractiveness.--Dr. Muhlenberg as a Preacher.--Pentecostal Days.--Festival and Fast.--Care for poorer Members.--A Christian House-warming.--The Pastor's Cloak.--First Idea of St. Luke's Hospital.--Thirty Dollars.--Dearth of Hospital Accommodation.--How to begin a Work of Charity.--No Charitable Organizations in the City.--Dr. Muhlenberg's Influence on Inner Life of the Church.--Opposite Elements.--Leaf from Journal.--What three Years accomplished.--Origin of Fresh Air Benefit.--First Christmas-tree for the Poor.--Church Seats.--Epigram on Pew Auction.--Origin of Pews.--Bishop Burnet and the Court Ladies
DR. MUHLENBERG was within a few months of completing his fiftieth year, when he began his work in the city of New York He was at the meridian of his labors, as it proved, and in the perfection of his powers. ''His hair was already whitening, but his step was rapid, his eyes brilliant, his strong features full of sensibility, and every motion suggestive of physical and of intellectual activity and health." [Rev. Dr. Edwin Harwood.] Together with this there was in his aspect and bearing an undefinable presence, a blending of greatness and humility, with a beaming benignity and sweetness which frequently prompted a stranger to inquire, "Who is that remarkable-looking man?"
Full half of his extended ministry lay yet before him. The greater part of the first half had been given to the instruction of youth; he was now to be an educator of a higher sort with the church at large for his scholars. "He was first a teacher of boys, and last an instructor in charity." [Bishop Bedell.]
At the same time, he never ceased to be "a teacher of boys." To his life's end, he had them always, in one way or another, about him; and if so, then, as a matter of course, they were under tuition both with regard to the learning of this world, and that of the next. And the advancement of such, the consideration of what would be most for their good, was ever paramount to any thought of his own convenience, no matter what the relation they held towards him, even were the lad his hired attendant, as was not unfrequently the case. He educated many a youth after he left St. Paul's College far in the distance behind him. And his different works became linked together by this tie: the Schools of Lancaster to the Flushing Institute and St. Paul's College, St. Paul's College to the Church of the Holy Communion, and this again to St. Luke's Hospital and St. Johnland. His first' three assistants in the Church of the Holy Communion, and his immediate successor in the parish were all from among his pupils.
In removing from College Point to the city, he once gathered around him several young men and boys as his household; the former, students for the ministry, the latter, young choristers, whom after the old fashion he took into his heart of hearts, as his very sons. He, at first, found some difficulty in securing a residence suited to his purpose in sufficient proximity to the church, so thinly settled was the neighborhood; and his domiciling himself in the city was somewhat retarded by having to wait for the completion of two contiguous houses on the south side of Twentieth Street, near the Seventh Avenue, which he had bespoken, while they were in building; the one for his own dwelling, the other, which was divided at his desire, into more spacious apartments, for the Sunday schools and other parish work.
His own home was a very plain abode, the rooms small and furnished with the utmost simplicity; but an interest attaches to it, in that within its homely walls was cradled the first thought of more than one of the noble works which crowned his life. That unpretending house had also another consecration, since Dr. Muhlenberg received into it, and nourished there until his death, a former pupil, who was seized with consumption, while a student in the Theological Seminary. He occupied this dwelling until the year 1850, when he went to live with his mother, and sister, in the newly erected parsonage, which was connected with the church by the Sunday-school house, on Twentieth Street
From the remoteness of the situation chosen for the church, and the sparseness of the surrounding population, Dr. Muhlenberg had thought it necessary, at the laying of the corner-stone, to make some explanation of the grounds on which so large an expenditure of money was to be made, where apparently a new church was so little needed. But the rapid growth of the city, soon justified the locality. The contrast is, indeed, striking between what we see to-day, and what then was. Instead of the "roaring avenue," with its surface and elevated railways, lined on both sides with large stores, and high houses, and crossed by streets of handsome residences, there were vacant grass-grown lots almost from river to river, with only here and there a respectable dwelling, unless it were in the neighborhood of St. Peter's Church. To the north of the site of the Holy Communion, stood an old country mansion buried in trees, where the bishop and clergy robed themselves for the ceremony of the corner-stone. To the rear of that was a squatter's hut, and extending thence along the unpaved streets, large nursery grounds. In the cross-streets below Twentieth, there were groups or alleys of low, wooden tenement houses, "Home's buildings," and the like, and from the Protestant part of their population, the new free church gathered its first poor members, while their fellow-worshippers, the Minturns, the Johnsons, the Hoffmans, etc., came from much lower down in the city, some from as far as St. John's Square.
These distances, however, did not interfere with the immediate formation of a large congregation, and from its commencement the church was filled with a body of worshippers composed of the rich and the poor more promiscuously mingled than had hitherto been common in our communion. As a free church, this of the Holy Communion began under auspices so extraordinary as hardly to make it an earnest of the success of others. Several wealthy and devout families united with Mrs. Rogers in supporting the church at its outset, and in sustaining Dr. Muhlenberg in what were supposed to be his peculiar ministrations. These, such as the Daily Service; the division of the Offices on Sunday morning; the Weekly Communion, and Weekly Offertory for the support of the church in the morning, for the relief of the poor in the afternoon; the congregational singing; chanting the Psalter; preaching in the surplice; the matins of Christmas and Easter; the especial solemnities of the Holy Week; the celebration of the Epiphany with its large offerings for missions, given chiefly in gold, and amounting sometimes to several thousand dollars; the Employment Society, for the assistance of the poor women of the congregation; the Thanksgiving provision for such in their homes; the parish children's Christmas-tree; the Fresh Air Fund, and the work of the Sisterhood in their Church Dispensary, Church Infirmary and Church Schools,--all these things, many of them now grown into common use, were original with Dr. Muhlenberg, and naturally gave to the Church of the Holy Communion a character and attractiveness of its own. ,
The attraction was legitimate; for besides the impressiveness of its external order, through Dr. Muhlenberg's deep and delicate liturgical feeling, and the beautiful harmony and heartiness of the worship thence resulting, there was a fresh, simple preaching of the Gospel, which, with his unaffected sincerity of voice and manner told powerfully upon the hearts of the hearers. Many, who came just for once to see the new church, and hear the new preacher, could never afterwards be content to worship elsewhere. He aimed at no distinction in the pulpit, cultivated no grace of rhetoric, and in his lowliness of mind, greatly under rated himself as a preacher; yet he scrupled not to say, "I always read the Bible in church as well as I could." "I never preached a sermon except with a view to save souls." "He preached to achieve results, and not to win applause. To him the pulpit was not the throne of the orator, but the chair of the preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ In fact he possessed the prophetic spirit, for he was a fearless preacher of the word and will of God." [Rev. Dr. Edwin Harwood.]
Speaking himself of the services of the Church of the Holy Communion he said--"I was never so taken up with the chancel as to forget my great duty was in the pulpit; and those who discerned Puseyism in my ministrations, always quoted the proofs of it, in what they thought they saw, never in what they heard. I have never been charged with unsound doctrine, certainly not by Low Churchmen. In all the ministrations of the church, the objective and subjective in religion were elements in due proportion; in other words it was Evangelical Catholicism."
There was something Pentecostal in the first years of that beautiful church, at least to its devout communicants, and there were very many such. Undoubtedly, with the Episcopal world outside of the parish, Dr. Muhlenberg and his doings were the subject of much remark and criticism; for he was not generally well known, and those were excited and unhappy days as to church questions. But the best part of the congregation did not come much in contact with these elements, or if they did, gave no heed to them. Some yet remain who will recall, with rekindling emotion, the effect of those ministrations upon their inmost souls. How the clear, luminous words of the prophet pastor set forth to them, almost as a new gospel, a Christianity of active personal love, and brought to bear upon their every-day lives, the plain uncompromising maxims of this Christianity, with a simple and forcible directness hitherto entirely unknown to them.
They will recall, too, the wonderful reality of the worship in that little sanctuary, the edifying and animating observance of the church's holy seasons--the sweet hallowed mirth of Christmas; the solemn charm of Passion-tide--so solemn and impressive, not by any scenic effect, but by the especial devotions and teachings of the week, that on Good-Friday evening there was always a sense of relief, as when after long watching the death-bed of a beloved sufferer we give thanks that the worst is over. And then the rapturous joy of Easter, with its perfectly accordant music, and sweet resurrection types of bud and blossom. Not flowers of a hired gardener's arranging, or even producing, as to the choicest of them, but of private cultivation and raised for the purpose; and these again always properly disposed in the font and in front of the open Bible by the hand of reverent devotion. He used to say that those who had this pious duty in charge were the women, bringing the spices to the sepulchre at Easter dawn. When, in later years, he saw the excess to which "Easter Flowers" were carried, the lavish expenditure and decorative character attaching to them, he regretted his introduction of these, in themselves beautiful symbols.
But, above all, in the Church of the Holy Communion, was the blessedness of a new intercourse with the poor and needy. The same, surely, in kind, if not in degree, as that which followed the first effusion of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, when there was not "any that lacked" for want of what a wealthier fellow-communicant could supply. This was instinctive with the pastor, and under his inspirations became an elemental part of the life of the parish. It was customary in those days, if any of these humbler ones were in sickness or distress, for the pastor, and one or two of the more able of his flock, to visit such in their homes, after the church services, "nourishing and cherishing them," as members with themselves of the one Body of Christ. "They that believed" were truly "of one heart and one soul," and thus soothed, helped, and taught, the first poor communicants of that church became more respectable and self-respecting than most of their class.
Sometimes, in that parish, there would be a literal enacting of some Scripture precept not common to our day. This one, for instance: "When thou makest a dinner, or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich acquaintance, less they bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. But when thou makest a feast call the poor," etc. One of the wealthier members of the parish, having built himself a large new house, in the neighborhood of the church, invited to it, at its first using, all his poorer fellow-communicants, some thirty in number; he and his wife entertaining them at a bountiful supper, and giving them each, as the party broke up, generous packages of good things to carry to their homes. The unwonted circumstances induced at first a little shyness, but it soon wore off when the Minister, and other well-known friends of the church, mingled among them in friendly talk They were regaled in the dining-room and library, thrown together for the purpose, but were not shown over the beautiful mansion as is common in house-warmings; that would have been to suggest, perhaps, discouraging comparisons. They were cheered and enlivened by attentions and amusements suited to their taste, and left, after a brief service of prayer and praise, with their heartiest blessings on the new home.
One winter, a poor woman, who lived up an alleyway near his house, came to evening prayer to be 'churched." It was cold weather, and as the pastor left, after the service, he threw around him a large cloak that a friend had given him. The woman, with her new-born babe, too scantily clad for the season, was going in the same direction. He did not know that a parishioner, walking behind them, saw him draw the poor mother and her infant within his own cloak, which he made thus enfold the three, and so walked with them to their home.
[It has been the author's privilege, thirty-five years from the late of this beautiful incident, to see its after-fruits. At St. Johnland, shortly before my resignation of the superintendency there, some visitors were announced as desiring to see Dr. Muhlenberg's grave. I went to meet them. The party consisted of a very respectable elderly couple, some bright, refined young people and a little child. The elderly woman accosted me eagerly as an old and dear friend. "I think you must be mistaken," I said; "I do not at all know you.'' "You will know me," she rejoined, and made some allusion to Dr. Muhlenberg and the Church of the Holy Communion, but to no purpose so far as my recognition of her was concerned. Presently she said: "Let the rest of them go on to the grave. I want to speak to you alone." And then, I know not why, a thought dashed across me and I said: "Are you the woman Dr. Muhlenberg took under his cloak one coldnight?" "I am, I am," she said, overcome with emotion; "you put it into his 'Life,' but you did not tell all his goodness to us." An interesting conversation followed, from the period of Dr. Muhlenberg's care for them better times set in. They had prospered in every way. Her husband became a God-fearing man. As years went on he throve in business and was now so well off, that they were living on their property. The infant of "the cloak" had died, but they had other children, all well to-do, living in the fear of God, and bringing up their children the same way. And so, the holy influence, brought into that humble home more than a generation ago, still lives and energizes, t has widened, is still widening, in children's children, and who ball say it will not continue to widen to the world's end f A. A.]
Dr. Muhlenberg was never occupied with the question what to do next, though perhaps amid the mountains of wretchedness looming up to his pitiful vision in the poorer quarters of the great city in which he had come to dwell, often he may have sighed that he could do so little.
The circumstances of the moment sometimes sufficed to inspire the noblest design, and it was thus that in the very first months of the Church of the Holy Communion, St Luke's Hospital came into his thoughts, though not until much later into active operation. In his pastoral visitations among the lowly ones of his flock, he became painfully impressed with the distressing condition of such in the places they called their homes, when sickness overtook them. "That cold, damp basement," he said with indignation, "about as tenantable as a coal-vault for a sufferer from rheumatism." "That close apartment, heated to stifling in preparing the evening meal on the shattered stove, where the poor consumptive mother lies coughing away her life amid the smoke and smell of the coarse cooking, and the noise of the family.--Do you call those homes?" It was probably a sufferer of this last class, poor F. S., whom he constantly visited for many weeks, that stirred his earliest impulse towards a church hospital; for he had not yet said the last prayer over her remains, when, on St. Luke's Day (Oct. 18th) 1846, he proposed to the congregation that half of the offerings of the day should be laid aside as the beginning of a fund towards the founding of an institution for the relief of the sick poor, under the auspices of religion, and that on each return of the festival of St. Luke the Evangelist and Physician, the object should be kept in view, and the proceeds of the offertory so appropriated.
He announced this arrangement, without any pre-intimation to the congregation, immediately after reading the Gospel for the day. Something over thirty dollars was the result; a sum so small that a brother clergy, man, assisting him that afternoon, asked with something of scorn,
"Pray, when do you expect to build your hospital?"
"Never, if I do not make a beginning," Dr. Muhlenberg replied. He could wait. He knew what he was doing.
But to appreciate how good and how necessary was the work that day begun, we must understand the utter dearth of proper hospital provision that then existed in the city of New York, not only for the incurably ill, but for worthy, needy sufferers, whatever their malady. Apart from the provision for emigrants on Ward's Island, there were but two hospitals in the metropolis; first and best was the "New York," or "Broadway Hospital" as it was sometimes called, which had three hundred and fifty beds, mainly appropriated to seamen, whose expenses were paid by the government, and to sufferers from casualties, with a sprinkling of patients able to pay for themselves. None were received whose cases did not appear to the physicians and surgeons to admit of some probability of cure or of substantial relief. The other hospital, "Bellevue," was devoted entirely to paupers. It had in use five hundred and fifty beds, and was in reality the sick ward of the Almshouse, and was always crowded, the provision being quite too small for the accommodation of the class who were its sole beneficiaries, and who, it may be readily conceived, made the place more to be dreaded by the decent Christian poor, than the worst privations and disqualifications of their own garrets and basements.
These facts, and the suffering with which he was brought face to face among his own sick poor, might well prompt a man of Dr. Muhlenberg's noble sympathy and prayerful faith to make a venture for a church hospital. And his quiet, simple method of initiating this great undertaking, as well as the spirit with which he carried along his project, illustrates the habitual tenor of his mind in all his creations. In reply to an inquiry, "How to begin a work of charity," he once gave the following characteristic counsel: "Don't begin by announcing your object, and calling 'a meeting of all who are friendly to it. Some will come who think they know all about it as well as yourself. They will give advice, propose plans, suggest methods of proceeding, etc., which may seem very encouraging, but will end in taking the matter out of your own hands, or in making it altogether another thing from what you intended; or, through a division of counsels, it will come to nought. No; begin in a quiet, natural way. Let the thing grow by its own life under the fostering care of the few who understand and entirely sympathize with. you. It may be small and weak, but if it is a germ of genuine charity, it will take root and vegetate. Then ask all who will, to supply the nutriment for its further growth; but not to trim and fashion it after their own notions. If they help you, thank God and take courage. If not, have patience--it will not die if it be a plant which your Heavenly Father has planted. If it be not, the sooner it dies the better."
At the beginning of the Church of the Holy Communion, not only was there no such thing known amongst us as a church hospital, but there was not, at least in the city of New York, a church charity of any kind, unless we allow the Sunday school and its concomitants to be such; not a single orphanage, home for the aged, house of mercy for the fallen, or shelter of whatever sort; and it is not too much to claim that the new life breathed not only into the church, but into the community at large, with the conception of St. Luke's Hospital, sent its pulsations far and wide, throughout our borders, giving birth at no long intervals, to a multitude of affiliated charities; while of his own communion it has been truly said that, "Every movement of spiritual life within it, for the past fifty years, may be traced back in some way, to Dr. Muhlenberg as its point of departure." [Rev. Dr. P. E. Lawrence.]
He was most felicitously endowed for that which it was given him to do; possessing a very unusual combination of the ideal and the practical With all his creative gifts, he could throw his fine intelligence, when necessary, into common details, with the patient attention of a dutiful scholar; and together with the eagerness of his sanguine temperament there was an underlying calmness and quiet waiting, which gave him a power for steady work such as few have trained themselves to. There were in him, also, other mental and moral contrasts. He was modest, and diffident to a degree, yet bold to go where others would not dare. He was indulgent, yet strict He had the simplicity of a child, with the wisdom of the sage.
A leaf from his journal affords an interesting glimpse of the tone of his mind and of church matters of this date:
"Oct. 19th, 1847. The General Convention is in session, and probably engaged in a most exciting debate on Bishop Onderdonk's case, and yet I am sitting at home, having little or no inclination to be present. Am I tired of conventions, as of other things in the world? Is it that they are so much like the world? I fear it is not because I am so much more spiritually-minded; and yet, a man need be but little of a Christian to feel how far these councils of the church are from the true spirit of the church. .... Dr. Bowman is staying with me. Pleasant to have an old friend with whom one can converse freely. Every one is so party-bound that such a neutral as I profess to be, is in the confidence of none.....Spent an hour in looking at the- procession for the laying of the Washington Monument, which was three hours in passing. Societies with banners, and fire-companies, the various forms of temperance societies, Rechabites, Odd Fellows, etc.,--a phenomenon peculiar to the day. They carry the Bible--this might afford ground for some able and popular man to turn them into bodies with some religious faith, which would supply them with ornaments and ceremonies of some meaning. . ."
It is wonderful to retrace the first three years of the Church of the Holy Communion, and note the various activities which, in that short period, were set in motion. Besides the large Sunday school, and boys' Choir-classes, ther§ were a day school for boys, another for girls, an Employment Society for furnishing needlework to the indigent women of the parish, the beginning of the Sisters' systematic care of the poor and of their Dispensary, the Thanksgiving feasts, the church Christmas-trees, and the Fresh Air Fund.
The term Fresh Air, as applied to country refreshment for the poor in summer, and now so common amongst us, that many and various agencies for the purpose, have adopted the phrase, was original with Dr. Muhlen-berg, both as to name and fact. And the "Fresh Air" charity came about just as simply and naturally as many another of his good works. His parish notes furnish, incidentally, a record of this beginning, and afford a pleasing picture of the first recipients of the benefit, as well as of Dr. Muhlenberg in relation to them. The entire minute is of interest. It was the Bummer of the cholera, 1849.
"Tuesday, Aug. 7th. Went, accompanied by a pastoral visitation. First to the Cholera Hospital in Thirteenth St.--Gave them clothing for the patients.--Spoke to the women I saw there last evening; They have few and poor nurses, the corporation not allowing money enough to hire good ones, who want two dollars a day, while they can afford, they say, but fifty cents--Outrageous while there is money enough for frolics and processions! Visited several poor families--gave Mrs. E. money to take an excursion with her children; for ten years she said she had not done such a thing--Called at Mrs. H's. 'Who are all these children?' 'That's Ellen's school.' 'I am glad to see Ellen so well employed. I suppose the school is some help to you.' 'Oh no; it's a charity school.' 'Indeed!' 'Yes; these poor children are left by their parents to run about in the heat,--you know it's vacation time; so to keep them from being sick, Ellen has taken them here every day, and teaches them their tables, etc.' Verily, one can hardly get the rich to give their money to a charity school, but here is a poor woman keeping one in her own house, her daughter, a sweet little girl, teaching. I proposed that they should take a day of recreation in the country. 'We have no money for that,' the mother replied. 'You shall have the money.' 'Oh! it would seem a sin to spend it in that way; besides, I should lose a day's work.' 'How much can you earn in a day by your sewing?' 'Two shillings.' 'Well, that shall be made up to you.' I told her it would do them all good to go for a little fresh air over to Hoboken in pleasant weather, and as I was saying how glad I and some of their friends in the church would be to know they had at least one day of pleasure, little Ellen's eyes filled with tears, and she flew up to me and kissed me most affectionately."
A year or two later the Fresh Air provision became an established summer charity of the Church of the Holy Communion, and was often extended by the tender and loving pastor to other than its own poor people.
There is extant a debit and credit account of the "Fresh Air Fund," a year or two later, showing its benefits at an expenditure of about seventy dollars, distributed thus: "Two poor shirt sewers and consumptive brother, three weeks board at Catskill; poor student in ill health, the same for over a month; an unhappy wife and two young children, and a widow and two young children, nearly two weeks; an old man of eighty-five, his grand-children and great-grand-children, frequent trips to Staten Island; the same, from time to time, to a poor old weaver, a sick and lonely widow, a lame boy, and some mothers with their sick infants." All these being parishioners, and most of the adults communicants of the church, this accidentally-preserved paper serves to show something of who and what they were, who found bodily as well as spiritual healing in that little Bethesda.
The first church Christmas-tree for poor children in the city of New York was lighted in the parish of the Holy Communion in 1847, under Dr. Muhlenberg's direction; but in the school-room of the high school for young ladies, conducted by the Sisters; the school-house proper, where in after years it was customary to have it, being not then completed. The wealthier pupils provided the gifts for their less-favored little brothers and sisters, viz., all the poorest children of the church, and, in unloading the heavy boughs and distributing the fruit to the expectant, eager hands, feasted themselves upon the blessedness of giving as better than receiving. Sweet carols were sung and kindly greetings exchanged. All was hallowed gladness, but the gayest there, perhaps, was the pastor himself. Clapping his hands merrily, and rubbing them through and through his abundant silvery hair, till it stood out like the nimbus in some old saint's picture, he said triumphantly to an English friend standing near:
"Ah, Mrs. A-----, John Bull has nothing to do with this--this is all 'Vaterland'!" Afterwards he wrote: "A Christmas-tree lighted up, and hung with good things, books, etc., with a parcel of needy children, merry around it, is a delightful picture of Christianity 'giving gifts to men'--gifts temporal as well as spiritual, and especially blessing the poor."
He was the first also to introduce in our churches, open seats with low kneeling benches for the congregation, instead of private cushioned pews with the high soft hassock for support in leaning forward, not kneeling, at the prayers. It was a new lesson to see such men as Robert B. Minturn sitting on those benches, one in this with the humblest of his fellow-worshippers.
Dr. Muhlenberg never had any other arrangement for seating the people in the churches and chapels he originated. He used to say that if sincere Christians could only look through the mists of custom at things as they are, they would shrink back, as at a fearful desecration, from the proprietorship of luxurious little apartments, secured by money, for their exclusive use in the sanctuary of the Lord of Hosts. He expressed himself more severely still on the sacrilegiousness of pew auctions. Thus, in one of those epigrammatic rhymings habitual with him:
"If the Saviour drove out of the temple of old
Poor ignorant Jews, who bought there and sold,
"What would He to Christians, so given to pelf,
As traffic to make of the temple itself!
Woe, woe to the church, ruled by Mammon-made lords.
When He cometh again with the scourge of His cords!"
It would be curious to trace the history of pews. Perhaps the necessary research would not reveal a beginning- much more pious or dignified, whatever the kind of pew, than that attributed to the high wainscoted compartments not yet extinct in old-fashioned neighborhoods, the origin of which is thus given by Dr. Muhlenberg in the Evangelical Catholic (1852),--
"Bishop Burnet complained that the ladies of the Princess Anne's establishment did not look at him while preaching his 'thundering long sermons,' as Queen Mary called them, but were looking at other objects. He, therefore, after much remonstrance on their impropriety, prevailed on Queen Anne to order all the pews in St. James's Chapel to be raised so high that the fair delinquents could see nothing but himself when he was in the pulpit! The princess laughed at the complaint; but she complied when Burnet told her that the interests of the church were in danger. The whim of Bishop Burnet was imitated in many churches which had not been pewed before, and such pews are at this hour to be seen in remote country parishes."