Project Canterbury

In Memory of the Rev. Thomas McKee Brown, M.A.
Pastor Teacher, Priest

New York: E & J. B. Young and Co., 1899.

A Memorial Sermon.
Preached, by invitation of the Corporation, on the Second Sunday after Epiphany. January 15, A.D. 1899 in The Church of St. Mary the Virgin, New York.
By the Rev. J. J. McCook.

When He ascended on high, He . . . gave gifts unto men. And He gave some, apostles, and some, prophets, and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.-- EPHESIANS iv. 8, 11, 12.

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation.--EOMANS xii. 6, 7, 8.

So, then, the law is everywhere the same--division of labor; special gifts. And in what men call the spiritual, no less than in what they call the secular world, the measure of duty and the condition of success is to discover one's gift, to accept it as a vocation, to concentrate oneself upon it.

That is what St. Paul seems to say; and, as I look back upon it, such appears to me to be the teaching of that life which we are now commemorating.

It could be said of him, if ever of anybody--he was a born pastor, teacher, priest.

When, on that dreadful December morning, the tidings of his death came, it found me in the same peaceful scenes that had smiled upon our common youth. The active forms hurrying hither and thither over the campus, the shout, the laugh, the sudden break, rush, re-assembly--everything brought him back again--my classmate of nearly forty years ago. Could it be that he was now so still, so helpless, so grave? He was once the tallest, strongest, merriest of us all; but he was none the less a predestined minister of the temple. Indeed it was one of the mysteries with me then, and I vividly recall the half wonder, half contempt, aroused in me on one occasion at sight of his interest in certain church drawings; as, later, I recall the more than half envy that I felt at the spectacle of his unhesitating choice, when I myself, after trying the law and the army and medicine a-while, knew not which way to turn.

His childish eyes had followed his father with wonder and curiosity as, in the discharge of a warden's duty, he gravely led the way to the chancel with the alms and offerings of the people; as a boy he had played in and out among the stones of St. Mark's, Philadelphia, then building. Later he helped arrange the Christmas greens, or attended to the Sunday-school library, or used his mechanical skill in fashioning furniture for the sanctuary of some mission church; and the distraction of secular study and the glamour of budding ambition, as boyhood gave way to youth and youth to manhood, seemed to leave him utterly untouched. There was never any struggle, any storm, in his soul, so far as I am aware. Straight as an arrow to its mark, as a child to its mother's arms, this Samuel of ours sought the temple gate. There may well have been some original impulse in the prayers and the consecration of another Hannah; for his mother, a woman of noble presence and commanding disposition, was an earnest and true-hearted Christian.

I was not with him in the theological seminary. Indeed I saw him but once or twice while he was there. But what has been told me confirms the little that I saw. He simply kept on steadily toward his mark. Only, the great movement which, across the water, had laid hold of such scholars as Pusey, and such men of letters as Keble, and such men of action as Denison and Butler and Mackonochie, and such preachers and theologians as Liddon, such bishops as Hamilton, and such leaders of men as Salisbury and Gladstone; and which here, however belated, had still laid its hand upon DeKoven and Hopkins and Ewer and Dix and Seymour and Houghton, had now reached him and was beginning to sweep him along, as it did many another, toward a destination which human foresight could scarcely have discerned, and on ways which human prudence would hardly have chosen.

And yet, for him, it was the Saviour's way; and on it he has reached his goal, and is at rest!

He was ordained at twenty-four. And he still maintained the air and carriage of his college days. His blue-gray eye looked out upon the world with the same merry twinkle, in which interest and amusement seemed to me to be forever struggling for the upper hand. His broad forehead was crowned by the old-time wealth of waving, brown hair. And his kinsman, General Sherman, wistfully surveying his towering inches, his broad shoulders and deep chest, and not overlooking, it may be, his compressed lips and his firm jaw, could readily be excused for his good-natured professional protest: "Tom! it's a shame! You'd have made a splendid dragoon!"

That pleasant twinkle of the eye went out only with his life. The auburn of his hair was barely invaded by gray; and as he lay here in state before the altar, in the uniform of his office, with his cap on the cushion at his head, looking even in death so strong, so noble, so masterful, I was irresistibly reminded of the soldier, the soldier's duty, and the soldier's death and burial. And at the grave, though his life had been so thoroughly that of a priest, I will confess that if a firing party had suddenly stepped out of the mist, or a bugler had sounded his plaintive " Lights out!" it would hardly have seemed to me unnatural.

They who came to St. Mary's to see a pale, puny, puling "man-milliner " with his "latest fashions," must have gone away with curious disillusion at the contrast between what they expected and what they found.

Without doubt this magnificent physique, this superb carriage, the quintessence of virility, the outward sign of manly confidence and strength, had much to do with his influence all through life. It was a part, however small, of that "strong personality" to which one of his oldest friends testifies, in a letter to me--which personality it was, so he says, rather than "the music and ritual," by which he and his "were drawn to St. Mary's."

But I must not anticipate. St. Mary's was not yet to be for more than five years. During this interval he served as assistant for four years, as priest in charge for one.

The most important event to him personally during this interval was his marriage.

A married priesthood was the rule of the Church of the old dispensation and is the rule of the great, unchanging East to the present.

It was also dominant, with interruptions, in the West, from St. Peter to Hildebrand, and is the rule in the Uniate dependencies of Rome still. In the Anglican Church the clergy marry without reproach, or abstain from marriage without scandal. And in the daughter of William Scott, for more than thirty years warden or vestryman of Calvary Church, and himself one of St. Mary's earliest and most bountiful benefactors, our friend found a companion whom he trusted, whom he loved, who sympathized with him in his ideals and helped him to their realization. Nor will any of his parishioners begrudge her the distinction of her personal nearness to him, you who know how faithful he always was to you in his office, and in how true a sense it was that he lived and died for you.

Officially the most notable events of the interval were his association with Dr. Seymour, later Dean of the General Theological Seminary, New York, and still later Bishop of Springfield, Ill.--his friend to the end of his days--and with Dr. Ewer of Christ Church. The latter had been a popular preacher, and when his views developed, he gladly availed himself of the services of the young clergyman who was already well along on the road which he was now himself to follow. The relations of the two were mutually helpful and satisfactory.

It was always a wonder how St. Mary's ever came into being. Lots, building, parishioners, everything had to be created, seemingly from nothing. Nor did the creation have that justification in the public eye which has more than once served a similar movement--a mission to the slums. The lots were taken, thankfully enough, just where they were offered; and though it was a new part of the city, it was not noticeably poor or slummy. The new parish was like any new-born baby, born in honorable wedlock, its own justification. It was to be; therefore it had a right to be. And Thomas McKee Brown had the instinct of paternity, and became, as he had by this token the right to be, its father. However it may have been with others, there was no questioning your right, people of St. Mary's, to call him Father Brown.

Precisely what his ideal was beyond this, I do not pretend to know with absolute certainty. No doubt he had an ideal, but I suspect it was, as in the parallel case of human paternity, a more or less vague one. I am sure he was resolved to have daily service, especially daily celebrations of the Holy Communion. He felt very deeply on this subject. Let one contemplate it either as a sacrifice, mysteriously identified with the unbloody Offering which the Redeemer makes of Himself on the altar of mediation in the Heavens--and he did that; or let one contemplate it as the "continuing steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship and the breaking of bread and the prayers"--and he did that, too; and it seemed to him both proper and necessary that a city church should have daily celebrations. And since the Prayer Book definitely provided for it there was no a priori argument against it, but rather in its favor.

I think, too, he meant to have, if he could, the old music, vestments, rites, usages of the Church, back again, such as they were in the best days when the English tongue first came back and the English Church again became master of herself. And not a few details, I have no doubt, were worked out in his own mind in advance. But much also, I equally think, was left to settle itself. The first thing was to get a roof over his head, an altar, a font, a pulpit, a choir--in one word a Home where he could serve as pastor and teacher the people whom God should give him.

And this came to pass, through the zeal of Mr. Scott and the generosity of Mr. Astor, primarily, and then through the love and self-sacrifice of others, many of whom are gone away from you, but many of whom remain to this present. I am sure if he were by my side--as in some fashion he may be--he would say in his eager way, "Thank them all, and give them all my blessing and my undying love." And I do thank you, in his name, you men and women, boys and girls; and you especially, Trustees of St. Mary's, who gave, along with your money, so much of what is harder to spare, your time and thought. Living or dead, I thank you in his name.

And, as I speak of benefactors and friends, I would here make mention of that name--nomen clarum et venerabile--Horatio Potter, who ordained our friend to both diaconate and priesthood and married him; who was always his true friend and counsellor through everything, loving and beloved.

And with that name let another be linked--name not less worthy of honor and love--the name of Henry Potter, successor to Horatio. How generous he was in his confidence to the living, how frequent and tender his inquiries concerning the dying; how he manifested his respect by his presence at the burial and on the following Sunday, you will not need to be reminded here where the echoes of his eloquent and sympathetic tribute, the voluntary offering of one pastoral heart to another, have hardly died away. May his be the reward that belongs to that chivalrous courage which dares to be misunderstood, and to that charity which hopeth all things, and which abideth!

And let us not forget that benefactress of later days, whose friendship for her rector and devotion to his work led her to invest the larger portion of her earthly treasure in the building of this great parish church and its endowment.

In the old St. Mary's passed a quarter of a century marked by the customary vicissitudes, perhaps by more than the average successes and happinesses of a pastor's life. His activities circled about the font, the altar, the pulpit--presently the confessional. He knew his vocation; he concentrated himself upon it. That is the brief story of his life; that is the secret of its successes.

By this I do not mean to be understood as depreciating the various services in other directions, which are often undertaken by clergymen. I am sure a clergyman may be true to his vows and still throw himself with much ardor into other lines of activity. Certain of them invite him with peculiar urgency because he is a clergyman. Pauperism, drunkenness, crime, prostitution--remedial and preventive legislation on those and kindred topics; education, too, and even literature and art, may well attract him to something more than mere dilettante excursions into their territory. The piteous cry of sinning, suffering humanity would be sanction enough, even if there were no example quotable from the saints and from the Chief of saints.

But while I say this, I am glad also to bear testimony to the power and dignity of absorption in the exclusively spiritual and, if one insist upon the invidious term, the ecclesiastical side of the clergyman's office. Indeed, profoundly convinced as I am of the absolute unreliableness of all reform that does not have its foundation somewhere in the conscience, its, sanction in a divine system of ethics, and its stimulus in a sense of eternal responsibility with rewards and punishments unending, I cannot but welcome, wherever I see them, the activities of men who work with these tools, whatever other tools they may employ or neglect.

Your pastor, then, you need not be told, did not concern himself actively with many of those numerous questions which have been gradually pushing to the surface the past quarter of a century. He was not, of course, oblivious to them, and some of them no doubt interested him--could not have failed to do so. But equally, you need not be told, he was always at work.

He was always here to lead your devotions. In the old days, more particularly, you found him regularly at the early Celebration, and I know how hard that was for him sometimes. An occasional or even frequent attendance at a seven o'clock service is easy and pleasant enough; but to keep it up, year in, year out, independent of all considerations of health or rest or convenience or weather, is quite another matter.

And he was a believer in preaching, and illustrated his faith. It will seem strange to you, but when you come to think of it you will see how it may have happened, that I never heard him preach more than once or twice, and have no qualifications therefore for expressing independent judgment on the subject, since he printed little. He seems to have been never great as a preacher--but few are; and his efforts were very unequal. But I am told that on certain occasions and with certain themes he was a powerful and telling speaker, making a deep and definite mark--the supreme test of oratory of whatever kind.

His last use of this pastoral function was at a meeting of the Men's Guild, only four or five days before he died, when his hoarseness would have counselled abstinence, or at least immediate retirement after the effort. And his address on that occasion seems to have been peculiarly fluent, happy, and impressive. Also, it is of curious interest that a Presbyterian clergyman who happened, by what chance I know not, to be present at the meeting, was asked by the rector to speak, and did speak. The request was prompted, no doubt, by that instinct of manly, hearty good nature and Christian appreciation of common Christianity which knew how to do the right thing at the right time, without compromising anything or anybody--to do things, rather than make needless fuss and trouble by talking about them unduly.

Nearly related to the pulpit was, or came to be with him, the Confessional. I may speak of this as knowing, or divining, how he felt, rather than as doing all that he did.

You will remember that remark of Mr. Keble--that the English clergyman, in dealing with his people in the pulpit and elsewhere, is forever groping in the dark for lack of intimate, personal knowledge of the spiritual condition of his people. And the same thought has occurred to many another Anglican clergyman, however tempered with the reflection that the present system, or what has led to it, was brought in deliberately by serious-minded, earnest priests, who had all their lives been familiar with the practical working of the old system of general and obligatory private confession. Evidently this thought occurred to the rector of St. Mary's; and from an early date he placed himself at the disposal of his people in this matter. I do not know, but am ready to believe, that the urging may have come fully as much from the people as the priest. It is an inevitable and all but invincible instinct of the soul, stirred to its depths on the great question of Sin and the Saviour, to seek relief by some sort of inner revelation. Witness the great vogue of the "Class Meeting." And the walls of many a Protestant pastor's study, if they could speak, would also witness. That the pastor of this church, in any save exceptional cases, insisted upon private confession as a condition to reception of the Holy Communion, I have no reason to believe. In short he left it, I take it, where our Prayer Book and that of the mother church leave it--required of some, permitted to anybody--with everybody, on his own responsibility and with the help of the best advice he can obtain, deciding for himself. And since, in a parish constituted as his was, the number deciding in its favor came to be large, it was his plain common sense which decreed that convenience and fitness should rule in determining the where and the how. He was willing to risk misunderstanding for the sake of avoiding possible scandal. That in brief appears to have been the genesis of his much-talked-of "Confessional-boxes."

In his view closely related to the pastoral office, as a medium of teaching and a way of approach to God's throne in prayer and sacrifice, came the ritual and the music of the church. He was always fond of music, though I think without any marked passion for it, and had a sweet voice of rather unusual carrying power. He also possessed considerable skill at the organ. And, since our manual of public worship imposes upon the rector the duty of directing the music of the church, it was not surprising that St. Mary's, under his guidance, quickly secured pre-eminence for the elaboration and excellence of its music. "He was a lover of good music," writes his choir-master, "and wanted the best that could be had, ready always to use any assistance that offered, in order to make the ensemble more effective. He believed in employing all possible musical agencies, and for years the sound of stringed and wind instruments as well as of tympani has been as familiar at St. Mary's as the sound of the organ. He did not care for the Anglican school of music, nor did he ever grow enthusiastic over Gregorian tones, his favorite mass being the Haydn 'Imperial,' quite a florid composition."

And here comes an interesting item, showing how revolutions do go back upon themselves, sometimes, after all. We all remember the zeal against organ-lofts and the old time village orchestra and mixed choir occupying it, that characterized the earlier days of the restoration movement; and how, in innumerable instances in the mother country, the lofts came down, with the galleries, and their occupants were scattered. I confess to a feeling of considerable sympathy with this movement, that still abides. But the rector of St. Mary's was otherwise minded--and on this subject we exchanged many a pleasant thrust.

At all events, his choir-master writes: "When we were going into the new church and I proposed a gallery choir of mixed voices to do the anthem work, and to place the boy choir in the chancel for the responses, etc., he was perfectly agreeable, making only one condition--that I should be in the chancel with him; and this was accomplished by the use of electricity."

The choir, like the Sunday-school, the work among the poor, the care of the finances, of the vestments, etc., was a department with a responsible head; and while exercising general supervision, details seem to have been interfered with by him as little as possible. And since he was fortunate, or perhaps I should say skilful, in the choice of his heads of departments, the music, along with the whole machinery of the parish, went smoothly and won the praise of competent judges.

There is often no little friction between the rector and his choir, particularly when he really knows music, but things seem to have been in an ideal condition here, and his organist writes me: "As to his relations with the choir, what can I say more than to refer to his funeral service, when twenty-four out of twenty-five members of the gallery-choir, every one of the twenty members of the chancel-choir, all the amateur members of the Sunday orchestra, and all the professional members of the festival orchestra, besides numbers of former members of the choir, turned out in probably the busiest week of the year. And the tender and touching way in which that service was rendered shows what the relations were between Father Brown and his choir."

The ritual was naturally more under his immediate personal supervision, and so remained. I need say but little about it, for you all are more familiar with it than I. Vestments, lights, incense, the sign of the cross, were reclaimed in a simple, straightforward manner as a part of the unalienated and inalienable inheritance of the Anglican Church in its capacity as part and parcel of the Church of all the ages. "When he started out, the contention in regard to these things ran hot and furious. Men denounced as puerilities things which their Bibles might have told them were once made the care of great kings like David and Solomon, and great statesmen and colonizers like Zerubbabel, and great reformers and legislators like Moses, and great priests like Aaron and Jeshua, all under the explicit guidance and revelation of Him who bore the ineffable name of Jehovah. And they denounced as un-Anglican things which Bishop Andrews of colossal learning, chief of our Bible translators, and Bishop Cosin, the stout-hearted confessor, the learned liturgiologist--and a host of others, had approved and used.

But those days of unreason and passion are, happily, past. Much is accepted now everywhere that thirty years ago was a storm-centre wherever it appeared. And, concerning the rest, we, in this country, at least, have come to see that it is, after all, only a question of more or less, essentially, when one has once accepted the fundamental principles of a historical Church and a historical liturgy.

It may be remarked, however, that the rector of St. Mary's had a special gift in the matter of the revival, adaptation, and practical execution of ritual ideas, which, if it had taken a literary turn, might have given him a place among the great Ritualists whom everybody reads and respects, whether he follow them or not. Nothing, with him, was small that related to the worship of Almighty God; and everything, as he did it, seemed dignified and a matter of course.

For the care of the poor and the sick, in which he was indefatigable, and the instruction of the young, he used the agency of woman's organized work. And his parish sisterhood has long been one of his most valued auxiliaries, and is sure, for his sake, of your fostering care.

He also had societies for boys and men, and gave them his personal supervision and help.

And his parish newspaper was a medium of intercommunication between the head and all the members of the complex parochial organism.

In the exercise of his pastoral office his personal characteristics were naturally to the front.

He was thoroughly kind. Sympathetic, as some people understand the word, he did not seem to me to be. Some even thought him frigid. He was not that, but neither was he the reverse. However, uniform kindness is better than fluctuating "sympathy"; and his kindness was genuine, and could be counted upon always, backed as it was by a sense of pastoral responsibility, which seems to have worked itself into second nature, so that it appeared to be spontaneous. Clergymen in general are much at the disposal of anybody and everybody, more so, I think, than any other class of busy men; but they sometimes show that they are thinking of something else, or that they wish to get rid of you, or that they have something else to do. But if you went to Brown, or if he came to you in your trouble, you got the impression that he belonged to you entirely; that he had really nothing to do, and never would have, but to attend to you--to you alone of all the world. This was particularly true in cases of bereavement. Evidently some of his strongest friends have been created on such occasions. And it was not by what he said so much as by his way. Indeed, he was not apt to say much--or, if he did, you might readily forget it; but his look, his patient, kind, quiet sitting there and offering to do anything he could, was mightily impressive.

It is said to have been an old custom of the Jews, when visiting a bereaved friend, to go in, sit down, stay a few moments, then rise and leave, without saying a word. And, if the story is not true, I am sometimes tempted to think that it ought to be--human wit and human speech are so helpless in the presence of death. Only, true sympathy, however silent, is always eloquent and always helpful. And none knew better than your rector the art of guiding bereavement to relieve itself in prayer rather than to waste itself in self-centred and helpless grief.

Perhaps all this was but one feature of his admirable shrewdness--tact, it is sometimes called. That carried him through or around dangers manifold and grave. He knew how to get on with people. And his art consisted in saying nothing at times, at other times in saying a great deal not at all to the purpose--and then, when the time came, in doing as he saw fit. His jocose talk, on occasions, was an enigma, now and then possibly a trial, to some of his friends. They feared it would be interpreted by strangers as a sort of weak frivolity--and no doubt it was so interpreted occasionally. But, while I have no idea that it, any more than Mr. Lincoln's story-telling, was a mask deliberately put on, yet I have no doubt that in the one case, as in the other, it served as a valuable mask, besides being the expression of natural hilarity and flow of spirits. It was not permanently, nor long, misinterpreted, as men came to know him.

Proof of this tact is every where--that he got his building lots, his building, his people; especially that the old bishop was always his friend, personal and official. That seems natural enough now; but things thirty years ago were different--when a General Convention could refuse episcopal consecration to the godly and gifted DeKoven, and was hot to regulate and curtail, to the very cut of a surplice and the color of a stole, for the whole world. Proof of it is in the unbroken service of his organist and choir-master; in the kindly co-operation which he had from his Trustees; in the charming friendship and appreciation shown him by Bishop Henry Potter; in the very length of his tenure of office.

For, to speak of this last, how seldom does it happen that death finds a man virtually in his first and only parish, after thirty long years of service? Such things do not come by chance, nor of themselves. And when they happen to a man endowed with his full share of firmness and persistence, they mean a great deal. And what they mean is, briefly, this: that he knew how to lead and how to govern; that he knew what to do personally and what to leave to others to be done; that while he could and did avoid opposition, when practicable, opposition, when it took pains to seek and force a conflict, found in him, as an old friend1 with keen analysis expresses it, "a character which opposition simply made more determined." They mean, too, that even ridicule could not shake him. The same friend, saying well that this is " a more insidious weapon against many men than mere opposition," adds that "it had absolutely no effect upon him." " I do not think," says he, " it ever swerved him a hair's breadth from the line which he had laid down for himself."

He had that mysterious, inexplicable force, personal magnetism. It had made fast friends of many laymen but little sympathetic in doctrine and ritual, and it reached out also to the clergy. There was no odium theologicum that could quite withstand it in life. And when death came, and laid its cool, restraining hand upon heart and lips, that hatefulest of hatreds was nowhere to be found; and never, perhaps, at any like burial was a greater throng of clergymen, or one more deeply moved, than was gathered by his bier.

Of course he was not spared the inevitable burden of official trouble, or the load, equally inevitable, of personal grief and disappointment. But as to this we may well follow the example of his own reticence.

As the years went on we saw one another seldom, and almost never wrote. We never even exchanged a word about the war, and I do not know that he was aware of what it brought to me and mine. But, last year and the year before, when we met, I grieved to notice that the auburn of his hair was beginning to be lined with gray, and that much of the accustomed gayety was gone. "He is growing old," I said, "like the rest of us." But he still spoke with the old-time interest about his dear St. Mary's, and promised to show me the new church.--And when I came to see it, he was in his coffin, and you were sorrowing and praying by his side!

That Napoleon whom men call "the great" urged himself on, once, to new acts of presumptuous daring by the impatient exclamation: "Stop now? and have nothing left of me, when I die, but half a page in a school-boy's history of the world?" And, therefore, he went on, toward his ideal of immortality.

How few will have even his contemptuous "half-page " in the world's or any other history!

When you and I, and a few others of this generation who knew and loved our friend, have been swept off the boards, what will there be left to show that he lived? A stone in yonder cemetery, a recumbent image or a tablet in this chancel with the simple record that he lived and loved you and died. And even that record will presently become illegible, or will find no one to decipher it but the professional "dweller among the tombs."

But will that be all? Will that end his name and his career? Ah, no! Listen to the voice of history: "The religious instinct cannot die; it may dive down for a while, but it reappears presently. True learning cannot perish. It may go out like the tide, but like the tide it comes in again; and it circles the world in its pulsations of refreshment, while the earth and the sea endure. Institutions of religion and learning are of all things beneath the moon least perishable. Even the fury of war spares them. Man has no enduring malice against them."

Here, then, in this superb temple, is an embodiment of the idea of religion and true learning destined to stand while anything remains to mark the spot where this great city was.

And here, in your spirits, is planted a sacred seed. It will reappear in your children and your children's children, in purity of heart, in soundness of faith, in just and honest lives, in loyalty to Church and State, in all the virtues that make men and peoples happy and useful. The Earth will harvest from it a crop suitable for her uses; Paradise, a crop suitable for hers. The Kingdom, when it comes, will say: "Behold, I am here because you have helped to fetch me!"

And all this will go back--back, until it reaches the name and the memory that are dear to us--the beloved memory and name of Thomas McKee Brown, pastor, teacher, priest--in that he "waited upon his ministering," and was faithful unto death.

Lord Jesus, Shepherd of the sheep, teacher of the Gentiles, Light of the world, give, oh, give to him--and withhold not from us, when our time shall come--the Crown of Life!

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