Project Canterbury


Sermon on the Work of the Parish:

Preached in Trinity Church, New Haven,

On the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 19, 1896

by George William Douglas.



New Haven: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor Press.

"Published by request of the Wardens and Vestry."


Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012




THAT is a long text, my brethren, but I have read the whole of it because it exactly expresses what must be the mind of any man who has before him the theme that I have to-day. St. Paul is letting the Corinthians see something of his mind. He is unfolding to them the aims and the spirit with which he came among them to preach the Gospel of Christ and to plant the Christian Church. And it is because I have to speak to you to-day of my plans of work in and for this parish, that I desire now to make these words of St. Paul my own. I feel and think as he did, as every minister of Christ must feel on whom has fallen the similar ministry of souls. St. Paul speaks of the purpose of his ministry [3/4] to preach Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, and nothing else whatever. Everything else,—all the parochial machinery, all the visits, and the meetings, and the societies, and the guilds, and the services, and the appliances and the corporate institutions—was intended for one single end: to bring Jesus Christ home to human souls. And when St. Paul recollected that this was the one end of all his conversation—then he was afraid. He was with his people in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. It is so easy to miss the goal, to swerve from the narrow path, or to forget that the work which the Christian minister is doing is always a building upon foundations that are not his: that the minister of to-day succeeds the minister of yesterday, and must enter into his labours, even as he followed his predecessor, until at last the long line finishes in Christ Himself, the first Minister, the Chief Cornerstone. No man nowadays can touch the foundation. Christ settled that once for all. And whatever work Christ's successor builds on the foundation, be it gold, or silver, or stubble, the fire shall try of what sort it is. All things are clear and open to Him with Whom we have to do; and if there be any fruits of the labour, any proper blessing upon the preaching, this can only be because they were not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. 

So felt St. Paul the Apostle 1900 years ago in Corinth. So do I feel, that am not meet to be called an apostle, as I undertake my work and try to unfold to you my task here in New Haven to-day. And I ask you, my people, to feel likewise, as we think together for a little while of the work for Jesus Christ, which is to be undertaken henceforth in Trinity Parish. [4/5] Before you begrudge the trouble I cause you—for parish work is irksome to many, even to hear about, and much more to engage in—before you begrudge the trouble, consider the end; before you begrudge the outlay of time and thought and money, consider the end; ask yourselves whether these plans of ours will not help human souls to know Jesus Christ better and to depend on Him more; ask yourselves whether you will not be happier by and by if you have, even indirectly, helped to bring Christ and Him crucified home to the hearts of the residents of New Haven, and closer to your own hearts thereby. When the responsible committee of your Vestry repeated the call which previously I did not see my way to accepting, I felt finally that God's will for me was plain. I must undertake the responsibilities and the privilege of this cure of souls for Christ my Master's sake. So when you ratified their call, and when full assurance was given me that I should be loyally and earnestly supported in my plans of work and methods of administration, I signified my acceptance of the task. Henceforth, my brothers, you and I are fellow-workers, and may the joy of the harvest be ours at last.

I was not altogether ignorant of the work that required to be done, for it was fully laid bare to me in confidential discussion with three of your leading vestrymen at a time when neither I nor they supposed that it would be possible for me to come to you. But in those hours of frank disclosure I was drawn to those three vestrymen in a way that it is seldom possible for any rector to be, until years of work together have imparted mutual trust and insight. I learned what their ideal is for this parish, and what they wanted in their Rector; and they learned what my ideas would be [5/6] of the work that ought to be done here. So when I subsequently yielded to their request, and decided to come to you myself after all, I felt in doing so that, with God's blessing, there was hope that I might be really useful among you as the years go by.

Then when I arrived here I took another step: I issued a call for a gathering of our whole Vestry, wardens and vestrymen together, seventeen in number. And when they were assembled I unfolded to them in the rough my general scheme. I told them that there are two ways of receiving a new Rector on the part of a parish. One method is for the people simply to look on and see what happens, somewhat as people look at a menagerie. If the Rector pleases, the spectators are interested; if he does odd things, the spectators are amused or displeased, according to their character; if the Rector is positively displeasing, the spectators drop away. The show is a failure. That is one way of receiving a new Rector. The other way is for Rector and people to recognize that neither he nor they can act apart, and that none of his people can be mere spectators even if they wish to be, because Christ, whose Name they all bear, holds them responsible for the results. And so I told my whole Vestry that I wanted them all to be not spectators of me, but actors with me. This is a very large congregation. I cannot expect to win suddenly the confidence and personal sympathy of strangers, no matter how well-disposed they may be. Time and long personal acquaintance are necessary for that, and my going in and out among you all as priest and pastor, in sickness and in health, in joy and in sorrow, in birth and death. Already I have visited about one-fourth of my regular congregation in two months, but what is that among so many? and the longer I [6/7] stay the more I am prevented by other work and engagements from simply visiting my people. So to win your confidence by personal acquaintance will require a long time. But if the congregation know that their own chosen representative body of seventeen vestrymen have endorsed my plan of work, then the confidence of my Vestry in me will move all my people to anticipate in some measure the lapse of time, and to give me the support con amore which else I might have to wait so long for that the work to be done would suffer. This the Vestry did by formal vote, and by there and then subscribing a goodly sum, about $800, in annual personal subscriptions towards the RECTOR'S FUND, which is to help me to support the new methods of work that I now propose, and which I will explain to you. And in explaining to you my plans I wish you to understand that they are not merely my plans, but the plans of work which the Vestry of this parish, as your representatives, responsible for getting me here, are now determined to carry out with me. After two successive regular meetings of the Vestry, one of which was held last Tuesday, and at both of which the action was unanimous and hearty, we the Rector, Wardens and Vestry, invite you all to join us now, each according to your ability, and to enter into this vineyard of the Lord.

It is an almost unprecedented opportunity. This is a grand old parish. When he was talking about it after I had received my first call to this rectorship, a friend of mine who is the Rector of a prominent church elsewhere said to one of your Vestrymen, that he considered this field quite the most important in all New England, Boston not excepted, and that New York City itself presented but three parishes more important. [7/8] However that may be,—and it is a small matter to draw comparisons which can never be tested and are of little practical avail—this much is certain: With its dignified history as the mother parish of this city, with its large endowments, and its unique situation in proximity to Yale University,—whose ramifications reach out into our whole country and our entire national life—Trinity Parish occupies to-day a field of influence for Christ and His Church which cannot but appeal to any man who has been called to the Christian ministry. It is worthy of the best that the best man can give, and it may well render serious that particular man upon whom in God's Providence the burden of it is laid. And the city of New Haven looks to this parish with expectant eyes. It will not do for this congregation to shut themselves up in a temper of exclusiveness—to be a sort of select religious club—so many pewholders who are lucky enough to have sittings in the largest and best church in New Haven, whose social connections and pecuniary resources enable the congregation to think well of themselves because they belong to it, and where in fact they get more for less money than Episcopalians can obtain elsewhere at present. The city of New Haven looks to this parish for something better and nobler than that, for something more Christlike than that. The Episcopal Church in Connecticut stands for a great deal in the history of our state and nation, and in the history of this town. The Episcopal Church professes to have a message for this community, both to them that are without our Church and to them that are within. And Trinity Church especially—with her prestige and her endowments, and the liberal offerings to every good cause of her people—Trinity Parish ought to be able to express the Episcopal Church of [8/9] America to this community as no other parish can.

The city of New Haven expects Trinity Parish to be a power in this community; to do something large and liberal and fine for the cause of right living and right thinking among all men here; to reach out into the byways of distress and ignorance and draw into the light and love of Jesus many souls that else might never hear of Him—not merely to do the good work, which she has hitherto done so largely and so nobly, of helping on the general charities of the city, and of backing up by the gifts of her members the weaker parishes all about here, but also to present in her own parochial operations the spectacle to all men of what a great, rich, influential parish can do itself, in its own way, as an expression of its own personality, as a realization of its individual responsibility as a parish, as a token of its own gratitude to God for the revelation of Jesus Christ. The parish, like the individual, should express the Christ-life, and should exert an influence of its own for Christ wherever its influence can carry. It will not do for Trinity Church to be narrow and exclusive, to cherish fads; she must not anywhere despise the day of small things, but she must be willing to get out of ruts and undertake great things. Above all, this parish ought to do not simply what other parishes do, but what they cannot do. Most parishes can hardly afford to welcome to their churches people who, for one reason or another, will not rent pews; for on the pew rents depends the maintenance of the clergy and of the parochial machinery of most parishes. But we, while not displacing or discouraging—far from it—those who wish to rent pews of us—Trinity Church, like Grace and Calvary, and St. Bartholemew's, and Trinity Church, New York, ought to provide services [9/10] for a different class of people,—ought to let people have the best seats at a nominal price if they prefer to pay a little, or else to have them free; and for such as these there should be provided not a second-rate service, but as good as the richest get. To this end we must multiply our services, and our clergy, and all our agencies for drawing the people in. And we must not set aside one part of the church at every service and say, that is for the people who don't rent their sittings. We must have our free sittings and our rented sittings so mixed and blended in all parts, galleries and all, that no one can look about and say certainly that that family has a free pew and this a rented one. We want no such class distinctions in God's House. And so, when we have our additional services, the Vestry have arranged that those who want to rent pews at those services can do so at a nominal price, in order to feel that, if they are prompt, the sittings are their own for that service; while at the same time those who do not wish to rent sittings can still come to us freely and no one shall know the difference, for at these extra services every other pew shall be rented and every other pew free. I am not stating my own views merely, I am echoing the views of your Vestry as well. Such is what they think this parish ought to be.

How then can all this be accomplished to the best advantage? The methods and conditions have changed from those of earlier days, and the change in church methods is parallel to the change in business methods. Concentration and division of labour are the order of the day. When our city is provided in all directions with systems of cheap and rapid locomotion, it matters little where a church is located: if only the church be large enough to contain the people, and attractive [10/11] enough to draw them, and eager to welcome them, and patient in following them up into their homes and lives in the spirit of the Good Shepherd—then that church can be a power no matter where it is; and if it be, as this church is, centrally located, it can reach out in every direction and do good work far and near. Why, the other Sunday morning at our early celebration of the Holy Communion, there was a man who had ridden several miles on the electric railway. It is not the multiplication of separate churches so much as the multiplication of services and of workers and of agencies that is now required. One good large Church and Parish School or Kindergarten, and Deaconess House, and Clergy House, and Parish House for Guilds and Sunday Schools and gatherings of all kinds, combined with persistent district visiting from house to house, is worth far more than several separate places of worship in close proximity multiplying expenditures of men and money without adequate return. Better one church providing the best at repeated services, than two churches providing, at the same total expense, second-rate services and wearing out the energies of the workers, each of whom has too much singly to perform. Nor should it ever be forgotten that the end of the Parish is not the same as that of the Hospital or the Charity Organization Society—that even with the sick, the orphaned, the aged and the poor, the end of the Parish, of the Christian ministry of the Gospel is, to take hold of men where ordinary secular charity leaves off with them—to bring them, as Philip brought Nathaniel, at last to Christ Himself. Christian faith, the embrace by the single soul of Christ Jesus as its Saviour and its Pattern,—that is the end of all our effort; and everything else, [11/12] good though it be in its sphere, is aside from the main purpose of Trinity Church, or any other church that is called Christian. "I am determined," said Saint Paul, "to know nothing among you save Christ crucified."

That is the end in view; and the means now proposed by your Rector and Vestry, for which we ask your hearty cooperation, are as follows. I shall not mention all, nor go into details on this occasion. I shall only mention the chief things in a general way. There will be much more to do and tell you of hereafter. Meanwhile let me say this: I shall propose to you no untried theories. I have had years of personal experience in these matters, and everything that I suggest has been tried elsewhere and has succeeded; and if you want to see beforehand in practical operation elsewhere the methods that your Rector and Vestry propose here, go to Grace, Calvary, Trinity, and St. Bartholomew's Churches, New York; to Trinity Parish, Boston; to Holy Trinity and St. Stephen's, Philadelphia; and to other like churches elsewhere. Relatively to New Haven, this parish with its endowments, and this congregation as individuals, are as strong and able as any of those parishes are. All that we require is to adopt by patient experiment approved methods to local needs; and not to be so wedded to past methods as to be unwilling to meet our actual problems and opportunities. Let us never forget the end in our attachment to the means; nor fail to admit that while the income of this corporation from its endowments is large, every penny of it will be required, and much more too, if we are to do our duty; and that it is the privilege of this congregation to cooperate individually, every one of us. It is not right that the few who are known to be liberal and active should do all and give all, while the vast majority [12/13] shrink away. We are all members one of another in Jesus Christ our Lord, and we owe it to this parish to show forth our fellowship in parochial work. It makes no matter what we do outside this parish; if we belong here we have duties here. This ought we to do, and not to leave the other undone.

Some of you may wonder what we can find to do for a Rector, and three Curates, and several Deaconesses, and all the rest. Wait two or three years; see how every man and woman of us is actually occupied; see how tired we all get; listen to the unsought testimony that comes from unnoticed corners, out of the lips of unexpected persons, showing that a positive spiritual influence has been brought personally to bear upon this soul and that soul; that the children are remembered; that the sorrowful are remembered; that the joyful are rejoiced with; that strangers who drop in here are followed up and touched; that the sick are ministered to; that alms are distributed with discriminating care; that there is daily service at the ever open church, and that the attendance there and at the weekly celebrations of Holy Communion grows slowly but steadily; that our choir boys and choir men have ascertained that the clergy are their friends, appreciate their labours, and like to see them growing in reverence, and singing their best—in short, that somehow unbeknown a sense of Christian fellowship and Christian privilege has spread abroad here for Christ's sake. Why, in the sense I mean, our Sunday Schools alone are a parish, a cure of souls, more than enough for two clergymen, with superintendents and many good teachers and deaconesses, to attend to. Oh, the hours of thought, the sheer physical fatigue, the brave persistence amidst untold obstacles, that are implied in every effective [13/14] class of every Sunday School; and what noble workers the good teachers are! And the classes for Confirmation. I assure you, my brothers, that among the most remorseful hours I have ever passed were those when the day of Confirmation for my parish was over, and I looked into the faces of the candidates and realized how much more I and my curates might have done for them if only we had not had too much else to do. And in this connection it gives me joy to say that already some of our prominent laymen, men of the world who are also Christian men, have kindly consented to help me in my Sunday School work. When the young men of this city see thus that older men whom they respect, and whom they hear of in secular affairs, are coming forward to help in our religious work, I think it will set the young men thinking (as they ought to think) seriously about religion and personal devotion to Jesus Christ. A clergyman is doubly helped when his laymen help him.

And Yale University, what shall I say of that? Here stands this noble church upon the Green, closer than any other Episcopal church to Yale University; and the students come and go; and their parents and pastors and friends write letters to your Rector asking him to be a friend and fellow to this one and that. And if he really reaches one such young man, that one is apt to bring another with him. And so the work grows, and the precious opportunities of true influence multiply at this crucial moment in the young men's lives. Brave fellows they are, such good friends, if only you can win them; willing to help you, as well as to have you help them: And the students come and go; and the years go. In four years a whole new set have come to you; and the others have vanished to their homes, carrying [14/15] with them the impression of your Christian yearning for them, of your manly respect of their manliness; or else carrying the indelible impression of your coldness and neglect. Why, this part of my work alone is a parish all by itself; and while you are glad to have me do what I can with it, you would resent it, and rightly resent it, if you found that I am neglecting you residents of New Haven for the sake of the Yale men. Well, you must give me another curate then, a choice, picked man, chiefly for that work: to be my eyes and ears and fingers, and share my privilege of this delightful yet arduous pastorate of young men from afar. Can Trinity Parish, with its revenues, afford to have said of it, that the parents of Yale students who belong to the Episcopal Church throughout the United States introduce their Sons to your Rector and you will not let him minister to them?

So then, I am going to have a third assistant; and if the first man I find does not suit for just that work, as I think he will, then I shall try and try again until I find the right assistant for this special work; and when I find him I shall try to keep him as with hooks of steel.

Next October I am to have some Deaconesses, and I want you to support them, and to help me in procuring a home for them. Some day I hope that somebody will give me a Deaconess' House, as has been done in other parishes elsewhere by the liberality of grateful Christians. But meanwhile I must rent a house for the Deaconesses. Besides other "Women Helpers," the Rector of Grace Church, New York, has seven such Deaconesses now at work in his parish, each on a salary of $400; and lately special endowment funds of $10,000 each have been given to support these [15/16] Deaconesses. I shall be content with two Deaconesses. One of these is to be the very best of those who are in the graduating class this year of the Rev. Dr. Huntington's Training School for Deaconesses in New York. With her will be associated the excellent and devoted trained nurse, who has already worked among us to some extent. When the Deaconesses are here I will explain to you their work, and how they occupy an indispensable place in the scheme of a well-organized parish.

This house for Deaconesses I expect to support out of the voluntary gifts of my people. As in the case of the endowed churches of New York, a great deal is provided for you here in this church from the revenues of the church. The pew rents would not pay for half that is now provided here. And the congregation owe it to Almighty God to support the works of mercy that center here and are done from here. You must feel like David: you will not give unto the Lord what costs you nothing. If the worship and the preaching of this holy place help you, you ought to help us to help others. This congregation is very liberal to other congregations and to wholly outside objects, and I rejoice heartily that it is so. As I learn more and more of the church life and the eleemosynary efforts of this city, I find that my flock are reaching out with generosity in every direction, and have done so for many years. Few know how much this parish has done for which it gets no credit, and seeks none. It is well. So it ought to be. But nevertheless we must not, if we are to do our full duty, neglect to make our own dear parish, with all its clustering historic associations and its present opportunities—we must not fail to do our individual part, by our own self-denying gifts [16/17] of prayer and time and thought and money, in helping this parish to perform the whole task that has fallen to it in the counsels of God. God covets no man's money. Our money, like ourselves, belongs to God already. His are the mines and the forests and the cattle upon a thousand hills; His gifts are the energies and talents whereby we achieve wealth. All things are by Him, and for Him they were created. There is something deeper in God's purpose than our gifts of charity. He calls men up into His own life of largess and of love, of which gifts are but the sign—God wants the heart-beats of His children. He wants our work for others to be one mode of our worship of Himself. For this new work, then, I am raising what I shall call "the Rector's Fund." The Vestry have already pledged me about $800 in individual annual subscriptions to this fund. Besides this I have already three subscriptions of $500 each, so that I am already sure of $2,300 before I have had time to make any public appeal or statement to the congregation. But now I do appeal to you all. You will all shortly receive a circular statement, to which I hope you will individually respond. And I will explain the details of the work hereafter; and I will also show you next autumn what a field there is for those of you who can do so to help us by personal service, quite apart from money. In a few months I shall have more work for more workers. Before long the Vestry will have to remodel the Parish House so as to meet the requirements of the best modern building of this kind, well arranged, with no space thrown away, well heated and ventilated. And do not forget that I hope somebody will give me—and the sooner the better—a Deaconess' House. You see there are years of happy and energetic work ahead for you. May God bless it to us all.

[18] And let me say here that next year, and regularly thereafter, I shall publish a Parish Year Book, giving a full epitome of the work; and here the treasurer of the Rector's Fund, and the treasurers of all the other funds, will account for every penny received, so that you may know in a business-like way what has been done with your money. There are five hundred persons who could give me $10 in the course of the year; and if they do, they will be delighted with the results. I wish you could all read the Year Book that I received yesterday from the Rector of a parish in New York. It is as interesting as a novel.

I hope soon to have the parish church open all day for private prayer, as one and another passes and enters in; and I shall have daily service, whereat those who work can pray; and where those who cannot stop to pray, when they hear the bell ring, can know that others are praying for them. This Lent two of the very best preachers, one American, the other from England, are coming to help me preach Christ crucified to you and to all who will listen. And I have been asked to have a Sunday afternoon service, besides the evening one, with a volunteer chorus choir of men and women besides the surpliced choir. The chorus choir will occupy seats in the front pews, so as to make the singing more congregational. I am glad to accede to all such suggestions, and to try all such expedients and experiments,—to be, as St. Paul says, "all things to all men, that by all means I may save some." If even a few come so to church who would not come otherwise, it is well. When all is done, and we have a central and effective Parish "plant," we can accomplish, God willing, a many-sided work for human souls in New Haven; and so fulfill the unique opportunity, and the [18/19] noble trust committed to Trinity Parish in this community.

I might tell here good news of plans for embellishing this sacred fabric—so imposing already, so capable of being rendered more impressive still by marble reredos, and a new organ, and storied memorial window richly dight to shape the sunlight for our church's aisles and make an atmosphere of prayer. But I proposed to-day to speak to you rather of our plans for practical work, for spiritual activity. The embellishing of the church can wait awhile; but I have been called here to begin the practical work at once.

Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified. Pray for us, and work with us. Let us pull all together; for only so can the parish prosper fully. Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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