Forty Years in Trinity Parish
PARISHIONERS OF TRINITY CHURCH, NEW HAVEN,
DELIVERED IN TRINITY CHURCH,
31st OF DECEMBER, 1854,
REV. HARRY CROSWELL, D. D.,
TO THE PARISHIONERS OF TRINITY CHURCH.
On the 31st of December, 1854, being the last day of the fortieth year of my ministry, as Rector of the Parish of Trinity Church, I delivered a discourse on our pastoral relationship, including, among other things, a statistical view of the growth and extension of the Church, during my incumbency. I was soon after presented with the following resolution:—
At a meeting of the Wardens and Vestry of Trinity Church, held at the house of Lucius Gilbert, on Monday evening, January 8, 1855,
It was voted unanimously, That William B. Baldwin and Gardner Morse be appointed a Committee to solicit of the Rev. HARRY CROSWELL, Rector of Trinity Parish, his Fortieth Anniversary Sermon, delivered by him on Sunday, December 31, 1854, for publication.
JOHN S. GRAVES, Clerk pro tem.
To this communication, after due deliberation, I returned the following reply:—
To Messrs. WILLIAM B. BALDWIN and GARDNER MORSE:
I have had the honor of receiving, by your hands, a resolution passed at a meeting of the Wardens and Vestry of Trinity Church, on the 8th ult., appointing you a Committee to solicit for publication, a copy of my Sermon, delivered on Sunday, the 31st of December last, being the close of the fortieth year of my Rectorship of the Parish.
You will have the kindness to assure the Vestry of my grateful sense of this compliment, while I feel constrained to decline the proposed publication, chiefly because it would require more time to supply the acknowledged defects in the statistical statements in the discourse, than I can now devote to that purpose. In the mean time, I beg leave to suggest, that if my life and health should be [3/4] spared, I may hereafter prepare, from my notes and memoranda, and from authentic papers, such Annals of the Parish, during my incumbency, as may be more satisfactory to the Church at large, and more acceptable to my beloved parishioners.
Present me affectionately to the Wardens and Vestry, and believe me to be,
Your devoted Friend and Pastor, HARRY CROSWELL.
NEW HAVEN, February 12, 1855.
Since the date of this correspondence, I have found time to examine the parish records, and am now able to "supply the acknowledged defects in the statistical statements in the discourse:" and as some time may elapse, before the materials for the proposed "Annals of the Parish" can be prepared for publication, I have concluded to comply so far with the request of the Vestry, as to publish, on my own responsibility, the original discourse, with an appendix, and such explanatory notes, as may be necessary for a better understanding of the whole subject.
And now, brethren, after another year devoted to your service, I am happy to say, that through the good providence of God, my health, which had been partially impaired, is so far restored, that I proceed in my duties, with sincere thankfulness to God for all His mercies, and with a grateful sense of the kindness which you have, during my long protracted ministry, manifested towards me.
Wishing you all a Happy New-Year, I remain, in the bonds of Christian love,
Your devoted servant in the Lord,
NEW HAVEN, January 1, 1856.
I CORINTHIANS II, 3.
And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
THIS day closes the fortieth year of my ministry, as Rector of this Parish; and I trust it will not be deemed obtrusive, if I avail myself, on this occasion, of a privilege commonly conceded to the aged, and especially to the aged pastor, of speaking of myself, and of the beloved people with whom my interests, my fortunes, and my cares, have been so long and so intimately blended.
Forty years constitute a large portion, even of the longest life; and when considered with reference to the relationship between pastor and people, it seems indeed like a very long period. Such instances of unbroken pastoral connection, are extremely rare:—and especially in this age of fluctuation and change—when hearers sometimes become fastidious, critical, and fond of novelty—and preachers exhibit at least a corresponding degree of sensitiveness, restlessness, and instability. But to one who has been permitted to enjoy such a protracted relationship, the passage of so many years, would appear but a mere span, were it not for the considerations that present themselves to the mind, on an occasion like the present.
I stop at this point in my journey, for recollection and review:—and who can tell what memories crowd upon the thoughts? Surrounded by the same parish, into whose service I entered forty years ago—what can I behold, to show its identity? [5/6] What has become of the familiar faces of my immediate cotemporaries? Where are those, who stood with me, side by side, at that period? Alas! how many of their number have passed away! How few continue to accompany me, on the short remainder of my journey! Here and there, indeed, a senior's voice may be heard in the congregation:—and they verily seem like the last shaking of the olive-tree, or like gleaning grapes when the vintage is done. But as for the residue—they have risen up to occupy the places of those who have gone before: and the generations by whom I am now surrounded, are pressing forward to fill the ranks vacated by their predecessors. But still, an identity may be traced. It is the same parish. Those who have grown up under my pastoral care, or have been gathered from other fields, constitute but one and the same household. All maintain the same relationship; and amid perpetual changes, the parish remains the same.
But, dismissing these reflections for the present, let us proceed to note, somewhat in detail, the principal circumstances connected, not only with the growth and progress of the parish, but with the rapid expansion of the Church, in our immediate vicinity, within the last forty years.
We look back, of course, to comparatively small beginnings. The Church in which I commenced the duties of my Rectorship, on the first of January, 1815, was a comfortable wooden edifice, erected before the Revolution, on the east side of Church street. But two Rectors had preceded me in this cure—the venerable Bela Hubbard, D. D., who had been a Missionary before the Revolution, in the employ of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and the Rev. Henry Whitlock, who had resigned the cure on account of declining health. The parish consisted, at this time, of about one hundred and thirty families: but as this was the only church-edifice, with the exception of those at East Haven and West Haven, within a distance of several miles, the congregation was gathered, not only from the Episcopal families residing in the compact part of the town, but from among the sparse settlements in the neighborhood. In that Church, we continued to worship, [6/7] until the month of February, in the ensuing year, when this building, then in progress of erection, was finished, and consecrated by the same name of Trinity Church.
From this period, the growth of the parish was exceedingly rapid, receiving large accessions, as well from the families of the different denominations around us, as from the increasing population.
For thirteen years after my settlement, I continued to discharge the entire duties of the parish, with only the occasional or transient aid afforded by visiting or resident clergymen. But in the year 1828, it was deemed expedient to procure assistance:—and the number of families having increased to about five hundred, it was soon perceived that the congregation required enlarged accommodations. This led to the adoption of measures for erecting a Chapel-of-Ease: and in the spring of 1829, the corner-stone was laid for such a Chapel—(now St. Paul's Church)—which was finished and consecrated, in the spring of 1830—fifteen years after the building of Trinity Church. From that period to the present, I have had the aid of several able assistants and associates in the Rectorship, with whom I have shared the duties of the cure.
The Associate Rectors have been—
Rev. FRANCIS L. HAWKS, now Rector of Calvary Church, New York.
Rev. JOHN S. STONE, now Rector of St. Paul's Church, Brookline, Massachusetts.
Rev. WILLIAM L. REESE, who after a short, though most efficient and acceptable ministry, fell into decline, and was gathered to an early reward.
Rev. LORENZO T. BENNETT, now Rector of Christ Church, Guilford, Connecticut,
Rev. THOMAS C. PITKIN, now Rector of St. Peter's Church, Albany, New York.
Among the Assistant Ministers have been—
Rev. STEPHEN JEWETT, now resident in New Haven.
Rev. EDWARD INGERSOLL, now Rector of Trinity Church, Buffalo, N. Y.
Rev. WILLIAM LUCAS, since deceased.
Rev. JAMES MACKAY, now Rector of a Church in Scotland.
Rev. JOSEPH H. NICHOLS, now Rector of St. Luke's Church, Racine, Wisconsin.
Rev. WILLIAM F. MORGAN, now Rector of Christ Church, Norwich, Connecticut.
At the end of another period of fifteen years, the whole parish consisted of between seven and eight hundred families. [7/8] At this time, measures were taken for a separation of the congregations, and for organizing St. Paul's into an independent parish. This being done, I preached my last sermon in St. Paul's, as a Chapel-of-Ease, on the 27th of April, 1845: and since that time, I have confined my labors, with an Associate Rector, to Trinity Church. In the mean time, several other parishes have been organized, and Churches erected, viz:—In Westville and Fair Haven—and in the compact limits of the city, St. Thomas'; and two free churches, (St. Paul's Mission, and Christ Church,) besides St. Luke's, composed of colored members of the Episcopal Church:—making eight church edifices—and all within the limits formerly occupied alone by Trinity Church. And yet, with all these changes, this parish still retains a stable congregation of about five hundred families—an evidence of the expansion of the Church, we venture to say, without a parallel, in the older settlements of our country.
And having thus alluded to the general growth and progress of the Church in this immediate vicinity, for the last forty years, we may now be permitted to recur, very briefly, to the Parish Register, for the purpose of showing the amount of parochial duty performed, within the same period, in the several offices of the Church.
For the first thirty-three years, reaching to the time when the congregations were separated, we find recorded—Baptisms 2439—Marriages, 743—Burials, 1786.
During the seven years since that period—Baptisms, 279—Marriages, 167—Burials, 304.
Making in the aggregate—Baptisms 2718—Marriages 910—and Burials 2090. [* For a more full explanation of your Rector's share in these parochial services, see the summary in the Appendix.]
With these details, I now turn to the more immediate consideration and application of my text.
During this long period, I may truly say, that I have been with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. Be assured, beloved brethren, that everything connected with [8/9] the office of a Christian minister, conspires to convince him of his weakness. When he looks around upon his flock, and considers the nature and extent of their wants, he cannot but feel the magnitude of his engagements, and the consequent importance of his duties, and his immense responsibility. And then, when he turns and looks upon himself—he sees nothing but the frailty of his nature—his constant liability to err—and all the infirmities which he inherits, in common with his race. So self-apparent is his incompetency, that he is ready to acknowledge the extreme weakness of the earthen vessel, to which God has committed the treasures of his ministry. How great is the work allotted to him! How feeble the instrument, by which the work is to be executed! How rich the treasure! How impotent and frail the vessel, to which that treasure is entrusted! Such thoughts are sufficient to humble his pretensions, and repress every suggestion of self-sufficiency. And these impressions are still stronger, and produce a deeper effect upon his feelings, when he views, a little more minutely, the trying situations in which he is frequently placed.
The minister of Christ, it will be observed, is seldom called into those scenes of life, which, from their very nature, are calculated to dissipate care and reflection. Nor is he led, either by inclination or duty, into the circles of diversion, amusement, or pleasure. From such scenes he has voluntarily turned away. They comport not with the sacred nature of his office. Indeed, where worldly recreations and pursuits are the sole object in view, his presence can well be dispensed with. The necessities of his flock, call him to totally different objects of attention. To scenes of distress and affliction—to the chambers of the sick—to the abodes of the wretched—to the bed-side of the dying—to the graves of the departed. And particularly in extensive cures, or in seasons of great mortality, cases of suffering pass under his observation in such rapid succession, that his feelings are allowed but little respite or relaxation. Daily is he called to witness the parents' grief—the widows' sigh—the orphans' tear. To administer consolation to those who mourn—and to assuage the sorrows of those who weep—are among his constant avocations. The dejected and [9/10] broken-hearted, look to him for counsel and instruction:—and often does he become the confidant of those, whose wrongs and sufferings are concealed from the world. Afflictions come in such diversity of form—so various are the shades in the gloomy exhibition of human woe—that every fibre of his heart is wrung—and in every possible way, is his sensibility put to trial. In passing through this variety of scenes, one thing is too plain to escape his observation:—He sees frailty stamped on everything around him. He sees poor human nature as it is—divested of its outward ornaments—its embellishments—its artificial trappings—its deceptive glare—and reduced to a state of helpless imbecility. And as these properties of his race are reflected, as in a mirror, back upon himself, the sense of his weakness and infirmity comes home to his bosom with amazing force. He feels depressed. A shade of despondency is cast over his whole demeanor:—and could he not, with the ancient servants of God, look up to the throne of grace, for support and direction, nothing could sustain his sinking spirits. Could he not rest, with perfect confidence, on the Divine promises, and call upon the Most High to hold him up in his goings, well might he abandon himself to despair.
And even with this sure refuge set before him—even with the unfailing assurance, that there is an inexhaustible fountain, from which he can draw those aids and supports, which his weakness demands—he nevertheless walks in fear, lest his footsteps should slip, and he should be drawn into dangerous snares, or fatal errors. The cares which occupy his thoughts, and prey upon his mind—and the very labors in which he is engaged—are calculated to excite his apprehensions, lest something, essential to the safety and welfare of his flock, should be omitted. And these fears are much enhanced, by the various discouragements, inseparable from his profession. He naturally turns to the vows of his ordination, by which he is pledged in all solemnity, to labor incessantly, for the glory of God, and the good of souls. If duly impressed with the importance of his mission, he will devote his time, his talents, his every faculty, to the promotion of those objects. In the studies of his [10/11] closet—in his public ministrations—and in the duties which call him from house to house—he will aim exclusively at the fulfillment of his high obligations. But if, after all his care and anxiety—his labor and exertion—he shall appear to have done little in the furtherance of the great cause to which he is pledged—if his time and his faculties are wasted in vain and profitless effort—if his exhortations fall as a dead letter upon the ear, without sinking into the heart—if he awakens no attention—if he excites no zeal in his hearers—if he draws no perishing sinner to the Cross—if he sees nothing but coldness and apathy in public worship, inattention to the published Word, and habitual neglect of the ordinances of the Gospel—if, I say, any or all these things are apparent—can it be deemed surprising, that he should feel the full weight of such discouraging circumstances? No! Great indeed must be his fear, that his footsteps have been suffered to slip—that in some important particular, he is deficient in the sacred duties of his office—that he has neglected some gift—that he has failed to improve some talent—that he has not disclosed, with suitable energy, the heavy denunciations of Divine wrath—that he has not, with sufficient earnestness, set forth the gracious calls of the Gospel—that he has not sounded the alarm in due season—that he has suffered the careless sinner to go on, in false and fatal security—and that he may prove at last, a slothful servant, an unprofitable laborer, in the vineyard of the Lord.
Where, then, is the Christian minister, who does not daily discover more than sufficient to excite the most fearful and trembling apprehensions? The concern of souls, stands, of course, far above all others. And this is the great concern, committed to the minister of Christ:—and for his fidelity in the discharge of the functions of his holy office, his own soul is pledged. How awful, then, is his responsibility! How sacred is the pledge! What can be given in exchange for the soul? And yet, for so invaluable a treasure, are they answerable, who become ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Who, then, can undertake the duties of such an office, without dread and apprehension? You will reflect, that no [11/12] year passes, without terminating the earthly existence of vast numbers of our race. The grave annually closes upon the mortal remains of many included in our cure, or in the circle of our acquaintance. And, alas! in forty years, how many graves are filled—how many ties are broken! The dust returns to the earth as it was—and the spirit to God who gave it. The spirit returns to God—to answer for the deeds done in the body. From the moment of this separation—the account is closed forever—the state of the soul is fixed for eternity.
Can the minister of Christ, then, feel conscious of all this, without much trembling? No! he trembles at every step of his course, lest in some part of this great concern, he may have been remiss in his duty. By some imprudence or indiscretion, he may have given advantage to the enemies of religion. Through the frailties to which he is subject, he may have degraded his profession. Under the influence of human passion, he may have virtually betrayed his Lord and Master. He may have beheld vice, with too indulgent an eye. He may have treated violations of the divine law, with too much lenity. He may have viewed, with undue complacency, the aberrations and negligences of his flock. He may have withheld, in its proper season, the word of exhortation and reproof. He may have failed to press home upon the hearts and consciences of the impenitent, the danger of their situation, and the terrors of the impending judgment. He may have spared the feelings of the expiring sinner, at the imminent hazard of his soul. The probability—nay, the bare possibility, that some of these things may have happened—is surely sufficient, and more than sufficient, to cause him to tremble. O, then, with what fervency, may every minister of Christ, adopt the devout petition of the Psalmist! How earnestly may we pray to God, to hold up his goings, that his footsteps slip not!
But, beloved brethren, I am unwilling to obtrude longer upon your patience. I cannot close, however, without acknowledging, with heartfelt gratitude, your uniform kindness, forbearance, and favor, during this long protracted ministry; nor without adding a few considerations, which, on such an occasion as this, [12/13] may prove mutually beneficial. I began my ministrations with you, when I still held the lowest station in the sacred office, and before I had held that office for a single year. If in the course of this long ministry, you have witnessed all the weaknesses, all the fears, and all the trembling apprehensions of your minister—it may be well to enquire, how far you may, either collectively or individually, have contributed to the difficulties and discouragements of the pastoral relation. If you have been hearers of the word, and not doers —if the affecting lessons of holy writ, have been treated with indifference—if the most earnest invitations and entreaties, have excited no attention—if exhortations and admonitions, have been treated with coldness—if the preaching of the Cross of Christ, has appeared foolish and contemptible in your sight—if the means of grace have proved altogether ineffectual—if the ordinances of the gospel have been slighted, and the offers of redeeming love, as much neglected, as if you had no souls to save—as if there were no judgment to come—you will perceive at once, in what a large degree, you may have contributed to those discouragements. You will reflect, again and again, on the causes, which produce so much trembling apprehension on the part of your minister. You will consider his high responsibility, and the value of the pledge which is given for the faithful discharge of his duties. And, then, when you feel and realize, that time is rolling on—that our allotted days are passing away—that our years are brought to an end, as a tale that is told—that our mutual labors here on earth, must, ere long, terminate—and that the great account, by which we are to stand or fall, at the final day, is soon to be closed—will not these considerations quicken you to a more immediate sense of your duty? And will you not resolve, by the help of God, so to act in future, that the ministers who watch for your souls, as they that must give account, may do it with joy, and not with grief?
That you may thus resolve—and that the future labors of your pastor—should God see fit still to prolong those labors—may prove more profitable to you than the past—that he may [13/14] have less cause for fear and trembling, and more cheering hope, and animating prospects, to bear him up in his remaining duties—may God in mercy grant, through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be rendered and ascribed all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.
SUMMARY OF THE RECORDS OF THE PARISH REGISTER,
FOR FORTY YEARS, ENDING DECEMBER 31, 1854.
BAPTISMS, administered by the Rector, 2525
By all others, including Assistants, Associates, and visiting Clergymen, 193
MARRIAGES, by the Rector, 804
By all others, 106
BURIALS, by the Rector, 1814
By all others, 76
It may be remarked, however, that the Rector was frequently accompanied by some other clergyman, in attending funerals.
The subjoined abstract from the Parish Register for 1855, is added, that the statistical view may be complete, up to the date of this Pastoral Letter:
BAPTISMS, administered by the Rector, 28
By his Associate, 8
MARRIAGES, by the Rector, 33
By his Associate and others, 3
BURIALS, by the Rector alone, 28
With his Associate, 6
By his Associate and others, 12