Project Canterbury

The Pastoral Letter of the Bishops to the Clergy and Laity

Read in Epiphany Church, Washington October 25, 1898.

Washington, D.C.: Press of Byron S. Adams, 1898.

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2008

To our well-beloved in Christ, the Clergy and Laity of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

ONE more triennial Convention of the Church has met and concluded its deliberations. Never before, we believe, has a spirit of profounder seriousness pervaded the minds of Bishops and Deputies; never has a Council of this Church felt more deeply the responsibilities of the hour.

With new and tremendous obligations pressing upon the Church and the Nation; with problems of vast import for the future confronting us; with strong cries for help from the peoples of many lands sounding in our ears; your Bishops and your representatives, in Convention assembled, have prayed and have laboured, reverently, we trust, in the spirit of Christ.

Five new Missionary Bishops have been elected, and the jurisdictions of the domestic missionary field have been redistributed and, in some instances, renamed. Amendments to our Constitution and Canons have been considered and adopted, to meet the actual needs of the time. Above all, the reports of workers in the mission field have been heard, and every effort has been made to kindle in the hearts of the people an enthusiasm for the extension of the Kingdom of God.

Assembled here, in the Capital City of the Republic, welcomed with gracious kindness by the President of the United States and assured by him of his appreciation of "this ancient Church" and its "new sowing for the Master and for man," we are mindful of the divine trust committed unto us, and would urge upon our brethren of the Clergy and Laity a solemn consideration, in humility and with prayer, of the vital issues that we must meet and for our dealings with which we must give account.

Our attention has been specially called, by a resolution adopted in the House of Deputies, to the fact that next Whitsunday will be the seventh semi-centennial anniversary of the Book of Common Prayer. And we most earnestly ask that the day may be observed in our Churches as commemorating an event which, more than any other single gift of God, has reversed the confusion of tongues, by giving to the lips of countless worshippers, the one "mouth" in which to show forth God's praise. We hail with satisfaction the wonderful harmony with which this General Convention, by the proposal of an amendment to our Constitution, has, without weakening the use or lowering the value of the Prayer Book, opened the way towards training congregations of Christians unused to our liturgical forms to accustom themselves, by processes of education, to approach and desire them. Maintaining intact the Sacramental services, and the offices which conserve the polity of the Church, we are free to adapt the ordinary forms of Common Prayer to national and racial habits of thought and expression, and so to win them by degrees to the old and better way.

And we are glad, while insisting upon the importance of keeping the public-school system of education free from political intrigue or denominational intrusion, to urge, all the more, that it must be complemented and consecrated by more careful and definite training in religious truth in the family and in the Sunday School, in Church Schools and Colleges, and in the careful teaching of the clergy of the Church.

We have received, with mingled gratitude and concern, the report of the Committee on the State of the Church. We are most thankful for the manifest and manifold tokens of God's blessing upon the faithful labours of the Clergy, and the consecrated service of the Laity, during the three years last past.

We gladly recognize the earnest and effectual work of the various organizations in the Church--the Woman's Auxiliary, the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, the Girls' Friendly Society, the Daughters of the King, the devout women who in sisterhoods and as Deaconesses are bearing their faithful witness and turning many to Christ. It is good for us to know that the number of persons confirmed during the last three years is thirty-five hundred more than in the like preceding period; that our list of communicants has grown by 63,145, an increase of ten per cent; and that the contributions of the last triennium exceed those of the like preceding period by $1,150,104.70. Yet the record of statistics, spiritual and material, while it encourages us on the one hand, leaves us impressed--almost, we may say, oppressed--with a sense of duties left undone, of open doors into which we have not entered, which must mingle the penitential utterances of confession with the words of thanksgiving and praise. The cry of the coloured people, who are our wards as Christian citizens of America, for adequate expenditure of labour and money to train them to citizenship of the nation and the Church; the call for means to seize the openings and opportunities in the missionary districts, and the huge unoccupied areas in dioceses of the West and South; the claims from our stinted missions in foreign lands, all these are painful evidences of wide indifference and of inadequate support. Meanwhile, we stand confronted with large problems, and with larger possibilities for the preaching of a pure Gospel, and the extension of Christ's Kingdom among people whom the Providence of God, in strange and wonderful ways, has brought within the range of our responsibility, national and ecclesiastical.

We dare not face the future without a recognition of the fact that this Church needs the stirring up of the wills of the faithful to the plenteous bringing forth of the fruit of good works, of the giving of their substance and themselves to further the Master's work. Assured of our Apostolic lineage, we need to be filled with Apostolic love and zeal. And as the new century opens up before us, we plead with the Clergy and Lay people to rise to the splendid possibilities of a richer and more real discharge of their stewardship for God, who has put us in trust with the treasures of His love and His means of grace, for the salvation of men.

For the salvation of men! This is the very essential characteristic of the Christian Gospel. It is a new regenerating force, applied first to the individual man and thence to the mass of men, producing in the first instance Christian character, and in the second, Christian civilization. And that immense energy of spiritual propagation is of the nature of the Church, because it is so nominated in the Commission: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature." He who uttered the words called himself "the Light of the world"; and it would be blundering disloyalty to put any limit upon the mission of the Church, or to fail to recognize that, by His command, the question of missions has received the eternal closure.

And the fact, the potent and tremendous fact, for us to realize is, that the same infinite force of leadership, which was in command then, is in command now. In that respect, the first and the twentieth centuries stand together. This sovereign Headship of Omnipotence is the one imperial truth which puts meaning into the commission, and that elevates the duty of propagation to the front rank of Christian obligation. It is an overwhelming thought that missions get their authority from, and the Church owes her missionary responsibility to, One whose power is infinite and whose supremacy reaches the soul of the humblest citizen of His Kingdom; and that the only honourable response to that One is obedience.

It is well fitted to appal the honest Christian heart, to consider that this majestic Power, who sits in the seat of authority and in whose hands are the Sceptre and the Sword, has subjected His divine intention to win the world to the fluctuations of Christian zeal; so that a halting zeal, though it may not defeat His purpose, may postpone the era of His final triumph, and so that a zeal like that of the first centuries would repeat their victories. If the fact that Christ is the Captain of the missionary hosts were infused into the belief of Christendom, Christendom would revolutionize its Christianity. For our own Church, it would mean less luxury, less extravagance of expenditure on self, less social ambition, less pride of wealth, less self-indulgence of every kind. It would mean more prayer, more unselfishness and self-denial, more sympathy with the poor, the ignorant, the vicious, the outcast, the heathen; more catholicity of evangelism, and less ecclesiastical self-sufficiency; more of the power of the Holy Ghost, and, therefore, the transformation of apathy into the spirit of conquest.

For, first of all and chiefest of all, the man who believes in Christ must believe in missions, must believe in propagating the Gospel. And if he believe in everything but missions, he may repeat the Creeds, receive the Sacraments, luxuriate in the poetry of worship, addict himself to theological, canonical, or scriptural knowledge, and still be recreant in his duty to his Lord.

Wherefore, Brethren, "we pray that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God."

That branch of the Church of God to which we belong hath the heritage of a sacred and noble past, in the history of the English speaking race, which must be at once her responsibility and her glory. One year ago your Bishops met at Lambeth by invitation of the great Archbishop who occupies the See of Canterbury, to recall in reverence the ancient traditions of the Church, and to take counsel for the future of her great and growing power throughout the world. Yet it is of the very nature of the Catholic Church that her spirit is restricted to no particular language, to no one people, to no special age, and to no separate race. She bears upon her no stamp of Italy or England, no label of the Fourth Century or of the Sixteenth Century. Her spirit is a free spirit, and her catholicity identifies her in close affinity with the genius and institutions of the people among whom she dwells.

And we are Americans, proud indeed of our traditions of law and liberty as Anglo-Saxons, yet with the hopes and convictions, the privileges and responsibilities, of Americans. And our Church is catholic and free: free because she is catholic, and catholic because she is free; an American Church; from East to West, from North to South, one in organization and government, yielding to no alien influence, and subject to no foreign control. We have lately visited the scene of her first ministry in this land, at Jamestown, and we rejoice in the record that from that year of our Lord, 1607, nearly three hundred years ago, to the other day, when we raised the Peace Cross upon St. Alban's Hill, overlooking the City of Washington, her children have grown more and more in love and devotion to our country.

To us, therefore, as members of this American Church, must appeal with peculiar force the great events which, in the Providence of God, have carried our Nation into the forefront of power among the governments of the earth, and compelled her to accept a larger share of responsibility in the uplifting of mankind.

But most of all, it belongs to us to remind you, Brethren beloved in the Lord, of that final court of appeal to which, in every opportunity and in every perplexity that to-day confront us, we must carry the questions which at this hour and in this land are of gravest and most urgent import. In the life of the Nation, as in the life of the Church, we may not forget that it is not our cleverness, not our wealth, not our numbers, that are to determine these. No genius in statesmanship, no mere bulk in our accumulations, no numerical greatness, constitutes enduring strength; whether in those issues that affect great social problems or great national undertakings. In the increasing complexity of our American life, with its endless varieties of racial traditions, its ever-increasing accentuation of social or commercial rivalries or competitions, its not unnatural disposition to grasp at territorial aggrandizement or imperial expansion, there need for ever to be heard the clear notes of those august and simple axioms on which rest integrity of character and righteousness of conduct. It is the perpetual temptation of success, whether it be the success of the individual or the triumphs of the state, to forget these; and to believe, living as we are in the hot glare of our personal or national triumphs, that force and will, and the splendour of illustrious achievement, are the things that make a people great. And yet, for ever, through all the clamour and glitter of these, there penetrate the clear tones of that unerring voice which is the voice of conscience and of duty, because it is the voice of God. To make men pause and hearken for that voice, the voice of that Divine Vicar of Christ, which is the voice of God the Holy Ghost, this is our office, yours and ours, dear Brethren,--and then to persuade men to obey it! No social reconstructions, no political mechanism, no art of intellectual adroitness, no spell of personal leadership, will suffice to lift men out of those lower airs of greed and corruption and self-seeking, down into which a nation or a man may so easily and so swiftly descend; nothing, in one word, save that one transcendent power which, as it wrought once to change the heart of Hebrew sophist and Roman soldier into the heart of childlike obedience to Jesus Christ, waits to work its kindred miracle to-day. Be students of your age and disciples of all the best learning of your generation, but never forget that God alone can guide, and God the Holy Ghost alone renew, enlighten, and upbuild us!

Let us pray then, Brethren, for the outpouring of the Spirit of God. May the blessed angels who minister unto the heirs of salvation waken us all out of sleep, as the prophet of old was wakened, and make clearer to us the vision of the Source of life, the Mission of the Comforter. Could we all look up with simple faith, winging our prayers with our alms, that they might go up as a memorial before God, the windows of Heaven would open, and such a blessing be poured out that there would not be room enough to receive it.

May the blessed Spirit breathe upon us with His quickening power, and fill our hearts with love and hope, establishing in us that Kingdom which is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.

And may the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

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