A Pastoral Letter, to the Clergy and Churches in the Diocese of Western New-York: on the Regulation of the Convention Enjoining Monthly Collections for Church Objects.
By William H. De Lancey, D.D.Geneva, New York: Stow and Frazee, 1839.
MY DEAR BRETHREN:
By a Resolution of the Convention of this Diocese, recently convened at Rochester, which is hereto prefixed, I am requested to address to you a Pastoral Letter, with a view to explain and enforce the Plan of Church contributions adopted by that body as a regulation of the Diocese.
In fulfilling this duty, I present to you in the first place, a copy of the Plan, as follows:
REGULATION OF THE DIOCESE.
“In every Parish in this Diocese there shall be Monthly Collections for Church objects, to be made regularly on the second (or some other) Sunday of each month; unless some other mode of raising stated contributions for the same be already in operation.
It shall be the duty of every clergyman to give due notice of these collections, and to call the attention of the congregation to their importance and claims.
It shall be the duty of the wardens of every parish to forward the proceeds of the collections or contributions to the Diocesan Treasurer of the Convention, designating for what particular Church object the contribution is intended; and if no object be thus specified, the amount forwarded shall be held subject to appropriation to Diocesan objects.
It shall be the duty of the Diocesan Treasurer to hold all monies received by him, subject to appropriation by a Board for Church objects, and to pay them upon order of the Board.
The Bishop and Standing Committee, as at present empowered, shall constitute the Board for Church objects in this [3/4] Diocese. They shall apply all monies specifically intended by the donors to the objects named by them. All other monies shall be appropriated to such Church objects in the Diocese, and in such proportions, as they may deem most conducive to the good of the Church.
The Diocesan objects are,—Missions, Education, The Expenses of the Convention, The distribution of Bibles, Prayer Books, Sunday School Books and Tracts, and the Increase of the Episcopal Fund.
The Treasurer shall also receive contributions for Church objects, sent to him by benevolent individuals, or by churches, or societies not belonging to this Diocese; which contributions shall be applied or appropriated as provided for above. He shall report annually to the Convention the amounts received and disbursed by him, and his accounts shall be annually audited by the Standing Committee of the Diocese.
The Board for Church objects shall report annually a statement of the amount thus raised, the objects to which it has been applied, the churches which have contributed, with the amount by each; and also the churches which have failed to make and forward their contributions;—which report, or an abstract of the same, shall be appended to the Journal."
In explanation of this plan, I observe, that collections in each Church, to be made monthly, commencing in January, are here proposed, because they furnish an opportunity to every one to give according to his ability, freely, statedly, on the great principles of the Gospel, without ostentation, without grudging, and with the power of designating the object to which his beneficence is to be applied.
The Time suggested for the collections, is the second Sunday of each month, if suitable, or some other Sunday of each month, if the second Sunday should not suit, as in the case where the clergyman supplies two Churches on alternate Sundays. It will be best for the Rector and Wardens of each Church. if they cannot adopt the second Sunday, to fix on some other Sunday, as the stated day for the collections; and let a notice be put up at the entrance of the Church, or in some conspicuous place, stating that [4/5] such a Sunday in every month is fixed on as the stated day for Church collections in the Church.
The collections may be made either before or after the sermon, both in the morning and afternoon, if there be two services, and it should be deemed advisable. In general it will be best thus to signalize the whole day as a day for the exercise of Christian beneficence.
Due Notice of these collections should be given by the clergy on the Sunday before. The Plan does not make it their duty to preach upon these subjects, but to give the notice and to enforce their claims in the way they shall deem most expedient. It leaves to their conscientious views of duty to preach or not. Either at the time of giving the notice, or on the day of making the collections, the great duty of Christian beneficence may be very appropriately and effectively urged upon their flocks. Let these sacred enterprises in which the Church is engaged, be fully explained by the clergy. Let the imperative obligations which lie upon all Christian people to aid in them be fully unfolded. Let the sanctions of the Gospel be brought faithfully and affectionately to bear upon the consciences and judgments of the Laity; and I have no hesitancy in expressing the belief, that they will meet a cheerful and liberal response throughout the Diocese.
No circumstances however untoward should be deemed by any congregation an excuse for not making these collections. It is the steady flow of these small streams which is to create the reservoir of beneficence to which we look for the means of meeting the urgent spiritual necessities of the Diocese. Even in congregations destitute of a clergyman, and only occasionally opened for services, advantage should be taken of these occasions to carry out this system of collections.
Is a congregation able to give but little? Let them remember that God accepteth the beneficence of His people according to what a man hath, and not according to [5/6] what he hath not; and that the smallest sums may ultimately swell into an important aggregate.
Does a congregation think that it is too feeble to sustain itself, and of course disqualified to aid others? Let the people remember that by making these collections they are in fact aiding themselves, for through the Missionary stipend, or through other means, their beneficence returns more than seven fold into their bosoms.
Does any Church suppose that by making these collections they will assume an appearance of strength beyond the fact, and thus induce a too early withdrawal from it of the Missionary stipend? This also is an error: for while compliance with this regulation will furnish evidence of the zeal and interest that ensure a favourable regard, the neglect of these collections may prompt the belief that the Parish is too indifferent to the cause of Christ and Church, to justify further continuance of aid.
It will be noted that the collections required by the Canons, for Missions, Education, the Convention and the Episcopate, are included in these monthly collections; so that the plan does not interfere with the existing canonical duties of the clergy and parishes in this respect, but rather aids in the discharge of them.
It should be borne in mind that these collections are wholly distinct from contributions for Parish objects, and for special applications of a different kind.
The Transmission to the Treasurer of the funds thus raised is to be made by the Wardens, or either of them, and should be done as soon as practicable after each collection. The amount is to be forwarded, either by mail, or through some bank, or by private hands, to William S. Philpot, Esq., Canandaigua, Ontario County, who is the Treasurer. The object for which the sum forwarded is intended, should be specifically named to the Treasurer, that he may enter it under the proper head in his Accounts. All sums not specifically designated will go into the [6/7] general funds of the Diocese, and will be appropriated, by the Committee, to objects which most urgently need them. The early and monthly transmission of the proceeds of the collections to the Treasurer, is a point of great importance, as he will be subject to frequent drafts.
Such Churches in the Diocese as have already adopted systematic modes of contribution, may easily make them harmonize with this plan, either by the substitution of this system for their own, or by transmitting periodically to the Treasurer the sums raised by them for Church objects, specifying the, object for which such sum is intended.
When collections are made for Domestic or Foreign Missions, or for the General Theological Seminary, or for other Church objects, exterior to the Diocese, the proceeds, transmitted to the Treasurer of the Convention, will be forwarded by him to the persons authorized to receive the same; and thus we are provided, within the Diocese, with a regular channel of-conveyance, and organ of communication for all the important institutions of the Church.
Individual Contributions.—It is meant by the plan thus adopted by the Convention, to furnish to benevolent individuals, scattered throughout the Diocese, the opportunity of promoting the cause of Christ, by aiding any one or more of the Church objects named. When gratitude prompts, or Providence softens, or distresses warn, or conscience impels, every member of the Church, in the easy discharge of spiritual charity, may know what objects need his aid, and where and how the opened heart may speed its consecrated feelings toward the cause of Christ and of his Church.
In the same way is afforded an opportunity to those without the Diocese whose interest in our welfare and progress, or whose former connexion with it, or whose relations to it by feelings, or possessions, may prompt them to open a liberal hand to its necessities, to transmit their [7/8] beneficence without delay, and with a certainty of its meeting the end designed.
Societies, also, both within and without the Diocese, may thus assist us by pecuniary contributions, assured that whatever they may forward to the Treasurer, will be applied to the object they shall specify.
A Report will be made to each annual Convention by the Standing Committee of the amounts thus raised, of the Churches which have contributed, of such, if any, as have neglected to make the collections and of the mode in which the funds have been distributed; so that the Diocese will have annually before it, a full record of its pecuniary agency in promoting the Church and cause of Christ.
Application of the Funds.—The sums raised for Missions and Education in the Diocese, will be forwarded, so long as the two Dioceses continue to act together under the Missionary Canon of 1838, to the Treasurer of the Missionary and Education Society, to be disbursed with the other funds of that Society for the support of Missions and Education in both Dioceses, as is done at present, and the Missionaries will continue to draw on the Treasurer of the New-York Missionary and Education Society, as heretofore.
Whenever a separation shall take place, these funds will be applied to the same objects in this Diocese, under the direction of the Bishop and Standing Committee, who are required to report to the Convention all their proceedings in the case; and when that event shall occur due notice will be given to the Missionaries and beneficiaries of the mode in which their stipends are to be drawn.
Having thus explained the plan, I proceed to offer to your minds some few considerations which enforce it upon the Clergy and Churches of the Diocese.
You will observe, then, it is a Regulation of the Diocese deliberately adopted by our Ecclesiastical Legislature, [8/9] and meeting the full and cordial approval of the Episcopal authority.
The regulations of the Convention are binding on the consciences of both the clergy and laity. It is incompatible with churchmanship and with morality to defy or disobey the authorized laws of our ecclesiastical bodies, acting within their constitutional limits. Even should the plan now adopted not meet the entire approval in all particulars of any clergyman, or of his congregation, yet are they both bound to remember that the laws passed by the majority are binding upon all the members of the Diocese. The opposite view would be fatal to all legislative action in the Church. This Regulation is not a mere recommendation, but is to be regarded as imposing a duty from which nothing but an absolute impossibility of compliance will justify deviation.
I express myself more fully upon this point because there is a sort of lax notion prevalent in many parts of our Church, that Canons and Regulations adopted by our Conventions may be neglected or obeyed as caprice, or feeling, or individual opinion may dictate. Such a view is a perversion of ecclesiastical responsibility without any sanction from reason, or Scripture. We are required to submit to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake—to obey in the State those who have the rule over us. The duty of obeying Church laws and regulations, is no less clear. Woe to the cause of Christ and of His Church if the spirit that walks about our Zion shall be of this disorderly kind—the spirit of Corah, Dathan and Abiram, throwing itself in the face of every enactment which conflicts with individual preferences, and setting up on futile and flimsy grounds a direct opposition to the laws and appointments of the Church.
I have no fears that such a spirit will prevail in this Diocese over the conscientious attachment of the clergy and laity to the Church and her Institutions, but it is of no [9/10] small importance in this age of ecclesiastical perturbation to refer occasionally to the first principles of law and order, that we may fully understand the strong and immoveable ground on which our ecclesiastical duties rest.
The simplicity of this plan of collections constitutes an additional enforcement of its claims. The Convention here proposes no religious machinery, no organization beyond the existing arrangements of every parish. It invokes the liberality of all, both rich and poor, according to their several ability. It calls upon every congregation in union with it, to unite in this effort of Christian benevolence and duty. The mite of the poor, and the abundance of the wealthy here flow together to swell the stream of good. It creates seasons of beneficence for the whole Diocese, when the recollection that other brethren, some perhaps of feebler means, are opening their souls to the visitations of mercy, and their humble treasures to the cause of God, may excite and stimulate our own zeal and liberality.
This plan of monthly collections commends itself to your approbation on another ground. It carries out the great principle of systematic charity, according as God prospers us, sanctioned by St. Paul; and which ecclesiastical history informs us was in primitive times the great means of sustaining the Church in periods of want and woe. Commended as it is by its Scriptural and primitive character, we may add that the moral value of habituating your own minds and those of your children to a practical interest in these important objects of the Church, cannot be too highly estimated, or too urgently enforced. It is thus, as one means, that the pervading and absorbing influence of the world upon the soul will be counteracted; and the overwhelming monopoly of its best affections by things that are seen and temporal be arrested, and dissolved. It will be a monthly season of practical thanksgiving to God for His varied mercies a set day to open [10/11] your hands wide unto your poorer brethren in the land. Order and system are characteristics of all the appointments of Divine Wisdom. They mark the career of His physical agents—of the sun that rules the day, and of the moon and stars that govern the night. They signalize His spiritual and moral arrangements, and one of the formal injunctions of an inspired Apostle is, "Let every thing be done decently and in order." Our plan brings into the exercise of our benevolence this wise and hallowed principle, and aims to excite in the heart and conscience, not any fitful and transient emotions of charity, but that abiding sense of obligation which is the only security for a permanent and faithful discharge of the duty of giving to the cause of God.
But further, this plan of monthly collections is churchmanlike in its provisions. It is encumbered by no extraneous action of irresponsible bodies. There is no novelty introduced merely to catch attention. It is a manly appeal to the consciences and judgments of both clergy and laity. It employs only the recognized authorities of the Church in conducting the benevolent operations of the Diocese. The Bishop, the Standing Committee, the Pastors of the Churches, the Parish Officers, the Treasurer of the Diocese, these are the regular and known agents of the Church or of the Convention, to whom in this matter they are all responsible. Thus it is emphatically the action of Church. The clergy are strengthened in their appeals to their flocks, by the authority of the Convention, and the laity are incited to liberality, by the fact that all the congregations of the Diocese are unitedly pursuing this clear path of duty and usefulness under the same high sanction.
This regulation of the Diocese is also truly evangelical in its character, embodying a principle born of the Gospel, appealing to Gospel motives and example, nurtured by Gospel feelings, leading to results which the Gospel commends, and seeking to open the hearts of both donors and [11/12] recipients, to the gracious and sanctifying influence of the same blessed Fountain of hope and life.
Compliance with this regulation will enable us to fulfil our obligations. As a Diocese we are plainly bound to meet the demands which our own Diocese presents. We are equally bound to do our full share in sustaining the general institutions of the Church. We are no less bound to labor, with our other brethren, to promote, under the clear leadings of Providence, the cause and Church of Christ throughout the world. All these obligations rest upon us as a Diocese. How are they best to be fulfilled? Obviously by the united and vigorous co-operation of all the Churches of the Diocese in this work of Christian benevolence. Here too, we labor with a fair prospect of success. Wherever the plan of monthly collections has been tried, it has succeeded in augmenting the contributions of the parish from four to eight fold. The working of this plan may be judged of in this way. We have in round numbers, one hundred Congregations in this Diocese. If each congregation made these collections regularly and faithfully every month, and the sum collected was only one dollar per month, the annual proceeds in the whole Diocese would be $1200. If two dollars per month were raised, the annual proceeds would be $2400. If three dollars per month were raised, the annual proceeds would be $3600. If four dollars per month were raised, the annual proceeds would be $4800. If five dollars per month were raised, the annual proceeds would be $6000. It is easy to be seen how such a plan will increase and expand with the expanding necessities of the Church, and the increasing zeal and liberality of the Diocese.
The operation of this plan will enable us to meet the crisis which will arise in our Missionary affairs upon the withdrawal of the pecuniary aid now furnished to us with such liberality by the other Diocese. The present year will probably be the last during which we shall receive [12/13] the full amount of support hitherto extended to this part of the State, by our brethren of that Diocese. The funds from that quarter will rapidly diminish; this diminution is to be met by increased exertions and liberality on our part, in order to sustain the weaker Missionary Parishes, and to establish new stations. Those Missionary Parishes now in receipt of the stipend whose strength and means will, if drawn out, enable them to stand on an independent footing, should immediately prepare themselves to assume such a position, and the whole Diocese brace itself for the responsibilities and demands which they will so soon be required to meet. The expense of our present Missionary establishment in the Diocese, if all the stations were filled, would be about $6000. From twelve to twenty new stations could be established at once with most promising prospects, had we the means of sustaining the Missionaries in them for three or four years by the Missionary stipend. Frequent applications, too, are made by young men desirous to enter the Ministry for aid in obtaining the requisite preparatory and Theological education. Hitherto the contributions of the Diocese have been wholly disproportionate to its wealth and prosperity. One reason of this is because no system has been adopted to bring out the liberality and zeal which exist within our borders.
In the faithful application of this plan, we have a great advantage in the fact that no other modes conflicting with it are in general operation amongst us. The open field is before us for exertion. In consequence of pre-existing associations for benevolent objects, voluntarily responsible to the Church, other Dioceses have been precluded from direct action of the Church, through the Convention. No obstacles of this kind exist here. Indeed, independently of the host of objections which on other grounds, both of principle and expediency, resist their establishment, Societies would be wholly ineffective and torpid in a Diocese situated as is our Diocese. In such a position, [13/14] untrammelled by any existing Societies, empowered to adopt a mode of contribution evangelical in its origin, primitive in its character, Churchmanlike in its principle and simple in its operation, and with the urgent necessities of the Diocese staring us broadly in the face, the obligation of doing what we have to do with our might, is as imperative as the prospect of success is flattering. As an earnest, I trust, of what may be expected from the liberality of our Lay brethren, I would repeat what I mentioned at the Convention at Rochester, that a Lay gentleman of the Diocese has placed in the hands of the Treasurer of the Diocese a written engagement to pay $1250 for the support of two Missionaries in the Diocese for five years from the first of January next, payable in quarterly payments. Let us then take this tide in our affairs at its flood. The time, my Brethren, for strenuous and liberal action has arrived. The authorities of the Church invoke your aid. The laws of the Convention bind your consciences. The obligations of the Gospel are upon you. The decisions of a sound judgment enforce liberality. The necessities of the Diocese exact it. The Voice of Inspiration speaks in its behalf. The thousand blessings you enjoy at the hands of God, enjoin it. The melting tones of a Saviour's voice proclaim to you from the cross on which He bled, and from the glorious throne in heaven, where He now maketh intercession for us all, the touching command, “freely ye have received, freely give."
When from viewing the rich landscapes with which our Diocese abounds, its thrifty farms, its fertile fields, its herds and flocks, its well-wooded forests, its valleys clothed with corn and wheat, its towns expanding into cities, its rivers studded with castlelike factories, its numerous lakes bearing on their noble bosoms the agents of wealth, its long lines of canal and railroad supplying the facilities of rapid, certain and easy intercourse—when from contemplating these results of the Divine blessing on human [14/15] enterprise and skill, in a climate untainted by the breath of pestilence, where the Summer's sun burns not, and where the dreariness of Winter is subdued by the rapid means of conveyance which its severity supplies, a country where absolute want can hardly be said to exist, except in cases of incorrigible idleness or crime, we turn and ask ourselves what shall we render unto God for all the benefits He bath conferred upon us, who can repress the conviction, that the deep gratitude of our hearts, the faithful consecration of our lives to God, and the free application of our wealth to His blessed cause, are but a feeble return for all these multiplied and unceasing favors.
And when to this array of temporal mercies we annex the civil and religious privileges so amply and securely enjoyed by us all, and remember that through the infinite merits of the Divine Saviour, who confers them, we are encircled by the means of grace, and stimulated by the hopes of glory, it would seem as if there could be but one emotion predominating in our bosoms, the emotion of gratitude—but one determination controlling our minds, the determination to walk before the Lord in the land of the living—but one desire burning in our hearts, the desire to hold ourselves, body and soul, talents and wealth, time and mind, at His command, who hath ransomed us from death, shed upon us the Light of Life, and called us to immortal joys and honors at the right hand of God.
Most earnestly and affectionately commending this whole subject to your devout consideration, and fervently imploring through Christ our Saviour the Divine blessing on it and you, I subscribe myself, in the faith and hope of the Gospel, your servant in the Lord,
WILLIAM H. DE LANCEY,Bishop of the Diocese of Western New-York.