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Free Church and Choral Service
An Address delivered at the Opening Service of St. James' Church, San Francisco
by the Right Rev. William Ingraham Kip, D.D.
Bishop of California.

San Francisco: The Pioneer Press, 1866


St. James' Church held its opening service in a Public Hall in San Francisco, on the Fifth Sunday in Lent, (March 18th.) 1866. The Morning Service was intoned by the Rev. H. Goodwin of Grace Cathedral, and the responsive parts performed by two choirs of boys arrayed in surplices. The Lessons were read by the Rev. Wm. M. Reilly of Carson City, and the Rev. D. E. Willes of Brooklyn. The Epistle was read by the Rev. T. M. Brotherton of St. John's Church, San Francisco.

The Ante-Communion Service was read by the Bishop, who then delivered the following Address, which is published at the request of the Vestry, to show the principles on which the new Church is founded.

The Rev. Francis Dillon Eagan, late Rector of Calvary Church, Philadelphia, has since arrived to assume the Rectorship of the Church.


THIS, my Brethren, is an occasion of no ordinary interest. It is the first service of a new Church, beginning to-day, we trust, its career of blessed influences, which are to go on, it may be, long after all who have now gathered here, are in their graves. It is unlike the beginning of any other enterprise. The Church is God's own appointed means of Grace,—the channel by which He has determined that the news of salvation shall be made known to a fallen world. Every time therefore that the Church is established and a new place has been opened, where the word of God is to be proclaimed, it is the beginning of another Voice from Heaven to Earth, which is to go on announcing the terms of redemption to the lost and the perishing, and summoning the fallen everywhere to come to Christ and be saved through him forever.

Who can calculate, then, the mighty influence which may be exerted by any single Church! If true to its Master and the solemn verities which He has commissioned it to keep, it will be a centre of holy influences from which the spirit of the Upper Sanctuary is to go out through this apostate world. But in this life we see only the beginning of its power. It crosses over the gulf which separates Time from Eternity. Month after month it is sending from its fold those, who here, won by its voice into the Kingdom of God, are to wear crowns in His Courts above.

Such, we trust, will be the spiritual history of this Church, which, bearing the holy name of the brother of our Lord, to day has commenced its public services. We trust they will go on through months and years into the distant future, uttering a ceaseless voice to call men to repentance. And when for us the Great Day of recompense shall come and the history of all our doing be summed up, when God "maketh up his jewels," we trust that it will be written of many that they were born here.

And now, Brethren, as to the plan for the future. Like all such enterprises, this must begin with the day of small things. Like the early Church its members will meet for the present in this "upper chamber" until friends have gathered around them, and then, in a few months, it is hoped, they can begin the erection of a new Church edifice which will be their permanent home, and where the peculiar services will be performed with greater impressiveness than they can be in this building, not intended for such purposes.

But this enterprise is peculiar in several respects. It differs from any other which has been commenced in this city. And yet, it is not a new experiment; but what to many are the novel features, have been successfully tried in other places. We may say indeed, that the two features which to some would be most novel, are as old as Christianity itself, and in adopting them here, we are but returning to ancient principles and customs.

Let us, then, for a few moments, look at these. The first is—THAT THIS IS TO BE A FREE CHURCH. No pew rents will be asked, but all are invited to come freely. The rich and the poor can here meet together, before Him who is the common Lord of all. None need, therefore, stay away because their poverty forbids their appropriating to themselves a seat. Here, all will be welcome.

And how peculiarly necessary, in this city, is such a Church? To this new land most come to struggle with fortune, and often, under adverse circumstances, they cannot afford to hire seats in any of our Churches. They therefore remain away, Sunday after Sunday, until all the early habits of Church going are forgotten and they relapse into actual heathenism, living without God in the world, and too often, dying without hope. We would seek then, in some degree, to obviate this, by placing all on the same footing,—the rich and the poor,—that in spiritual privileges, in the House of God, no line of distinction may be drawn.

How then is this Church to be supported? How is he who is to minister to the congregation to be maintained? We answer—by the voluntary contributions of those who worship here. On each Sunday, through the offertory, the appeal will be made to them, to contribute as God has blessed them, "giving their worldly things to those whoa re sowing to them spiritual things,"—bearing ever in mind, that "the Lord hath ordained, that they who preach the gospel should live by the gospel." None will know, therefore, what is given by each one, whether it be the widow's mite or the rich man's offering. It is a matter left for each one to settle with his God alone. Yet, we believe, that a congregation can be trained to respond to these appeals,—to realize their duty of sustaining the worship of God's house, and the support of those who minister to them in the Lord. It has been so elsewhere, and we see not therefore why it should not be so here. We believe, too, that where each week men are thus induced to act on Christian principle, the tone of devotion will be higher than where the services of the Sanctuary are matters of barter and sale, and merchandize is made out of the House of God.

Again—another peculiarity of this Church will be—THE CHORAL SERVICE. In a city like this, where there are a number of Churches, [1] the tastes of their members must vary, and it is not therefore desirable to reduce the services of all of them to a rigid uniformity. While there are those who like the service plainly read, there are many others who prefer a more ornate and musical performance of its principle parts. It is expedient therefore to have some variety in the manner of performance, while we conform in all essential points to those rules and customs which have always governed our Church. Such will be the effort here, in this particular Church, to meet a want which is not elsewhere supplied, by performing the ancient Choral service, as you have heard it to-day.

But this, Brethren, is no novelty—no innovation. On the contrary, it is a return to the ancient manner of performing the service of the Church. You know how much of the Jewish service, as prescribed by God himself on Sinai, was with singing and instruments of music. It is a well known fact, that they chanted the whole service of the synagogue, and thus custom must have existed in the days of the prophets, if not conveyed to Moses and Aaron by direct revelation from God himself. How presumptuous, then, are they, who will condemn a mode of service joined in by Prophets and Apostles, and even by the Son of God Himself! And now, if we go to their synagogues, where, on each returning Sabbath, the dispersed of God's Israel worship, when

"The Rabbi reads the ancient Decalogue
In the grand dialect the Prophets spake"—

we may hear the prayers and responses and Lessons from the Scriptures, chanted as they have been for two thousand years, in tones most strangely like the earliest specimens we have of Christian music. [2]

And so the service continued to be in the early Christian Church. We know the dislike of the Jews to change in ritual matters, and therefore it is probably that it was their mode of reciting, called chanting, which the early Hebrew converts retained in their Christian worship. It was thus that they gave utterance to all their religious emotions. And in a later day, when prosperity dawned upon the Church, another reason was added for this custom. In those great Churches, by the erection of which, in far distant ages, men showed their devotion, it would have been impossible for the voice of the officiating priest to be heard, in the ordinary tones of reading. But it was found that the voice could be thrown to a much greater distance—could be more raised and extended in chanting, than by adopting its ordinary tones.

We will select from the Early Fathers, a few references to this service. The first is from St. Athanasius—that great champion of the faith—and its shows clearly the manner in which it was performed in the Church at Alexandria, in the beginning of the fourth century. He prescribes that it shall be uttered with so slight an inflection of voice, as to be "nearer to speaking than to singing." [3] And this exactly describes the recitative manner in which it is now performed. It is too in accordance with an old Rubric of the Church of England, which directs—"that in places where they do sing, there shall the Lessons be sung in a plain tune, after the manner of distinct reading, and likewise the Epistle and Gospel."

St. Augustine approves this usage of the Church—"that so, by the delight of the ear, weaker minds may arise to the feeling of devotion." he commends this way of singing "as very useful to raise the affections, when performed with a clear voice and a proper modulation," and says, it was this which melted him to tears, when he first heard it, in the beginning of his recovered faith, in the Church of St. Ambrose. [4]

And St. Basil declares—"It pleased the wisdom of the Spirit, to borrow from melody that pleasure, which, mingling with heavenly mysteries, causeth the smoothness and softness of that which touchest the ear, to convey, as it were, by stealth, the treasure of good things into man's mind." [5]

And so, for more than a thousand years, this was the Service of the Church. Then came the Reformation, when our Mother Church in England threw off the errors of Rome and endeavored to return to early purity. Yet the Choral Service was retained, because it was ancient and had been consecrated by the use of martyrs and confessors. In the very commencement of the English Reformation, in 1544, the Litany was translated into English and it was at once set to music by Archbishop Cranmer—in a few years to be himself a martyr for the Reformed Church. This was the first part of the Prayer Book which was used in English, and the chant to which Cranmer set it, has been continued in use to this day. Six years later, in 1550, the entire Prayer Book, (including Versicles, Responses, Canticles, Collects, the Athanasian Creed, and the Communion and Burial Services,) was also set to the old music. [6] And on the accession of Queen Elizabeth to the throne, in the Injunctions to the Clergy, issued in 1559, (by the authority of Parliament and with the advice of the Privy Council,) we find it commanded, "that there be a modest and distinct song so used in all parts of the Common prayers of the Church, that the same may be as plainly understanded, as if it were read without singing." [7]

And such continued to be the settled Service of the Church of England until the dark days came when the Puritans gained the rule. Their object was, you know, to break down the ancient Church and do away with everything which was sanctioned by the reverence of ages. To them, the sign of the Cross was an abomination,—the Liturgy, an unholy thing,—and the Surplice, "a rag of Popery." Then, the fair Cathedrals of England were desecrated by their unholy violence—"they brake down the carved work thereof with axes and hammers"—her altars were hewn in pieces—the tombs of the mighty dead mutilated—and the gorgeous windows, filled with Christian emblems, shivered in pieces. Of course the Choral Service for years was silent, while desolation reigned in our sanctuaries. [8] But this dark cloud passed away,—the voice of praise was again uplifted—and now, through the length and breadth, not only of England, but wherever her Church is planted through the whole earth, from her venerable Cathedrals and College Halls, and from very many of her Parish Churches, twice each day is heard the Ancient Choral Service. It has been brought too to our own land. On the Atlantic coast, in divers places, its solemn tones are heard, and now, they have been begun on these Pacific shores, modulated to the same notes which the ancient Church once used.

You perceive then, Brethren, how great the folly of those who denounce this service. They are arraying themselves against a usage to which the Church has held for fifteen centuries, proscribing it because in the narrrowness of their views it has not been familiar in their own little experience. They are but echoing the old objections of the Puritans, who would have stripped God's worship of everything which was venerable and beautiful, and conformed it, if possible, to their own unlovely and saddened views.

But—we are told—it is unnatural to sing our prayers. We reply—we do not sing them. Their intonation is—as Athanasius described it—"nearer to speaking than to singing." It is too, actually, more the tone of petition than is that of reading in "the common unregulated tone of voice used in common life." [9]

But supposing they were chanted—is this the exceptional case? Are there no instances in which these very objectors are accustomed to sing their prayers every time they meet for public worship? Do they never sing the Te Deum? What more solemn prayers than its petitions?

We therefore pray Thee, help Thy servants; whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy precious blood.
Make them to be numbered with Thy saints in glory everlasting.
O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine heritage.

Or, to give another instance—do they never sing that earnest prayer?—

Jesus, Savior of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly;
While the waves of trouble roll,
While the tempest still is high;
Hide me, oh, my Savior hide,
Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide;
O receive my soul at last.

Or, again, are their consciences wounded when they sing the invocation—

Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove;
With all Thy quickening powers;
Kindle a flame of sacred love
Is these cold hearts of ours.

And yet, these are prayers—as much as anything in the Liturgy—and yet, they are never used except they are sung.

But I must close. We bid you welcome, my Brethren, to this new enterprise. We ask your countenance and aid, as Sunday after Sunday, these services are performed. Then, this new Church will be a centre of holy influences, and "God, even our God, will give us His blessing!"

[1] There are now five Churches in San Francisco—Grace Cathedral, Trinity, the Church of the Advent, St. John's and St. James', besides the Mission Service in the north part of the city.

[2] A Jewish writer says:—'Recitative was in general use in the earliest patriarchal times of the Jews. It was then, and still is, materially connected with their religious ceremonies. Every word of prayer offered to the Deity, whether in their private or public devotion, is given in a kind of chant, whihc, although it may not come under the exact character of legitimate recitation, still bears the sound of song. So essential do they consider melody of voice towards rendering their prayers acceptable to God, and for exercising the force and energy of language, that when a boy is taken to learn Gemarrah, the first question of the Rabbi to the parent, is—'Has the boy a good tone?'"

"The Hebrews chant with particular pathos and effect, in style of recitative, the whole of the Bible, after the manner it was delivered to them from the mouth of Moses, and as it is supposed he received it on Mount Sinai."

[3] "Vicinior pronuncianti quam canenti."—Bingham, Lib. XIV. ch. I. sec. 15.

[4] Aug. Confes. Lib. x. Cap. 33.

[5] Basil in Psal.

[6] This was done by John Merbecke, a zealous Reformer, who was seized by the Papal authorities and condemned to be burned, but managed to effect his escape. he lived to the end of Elizabeth's reign, "And many a bitter booke did he write against Popery"—says his biographer.

[7] Even the Continental Reformers approved the Choral Service. "The Singing not only the Nicene, but the Athanasian Creed too, is approved by several of the first Reformers; the Nicene by Luther, expressly in the Communion Office, which he modelled, and the Athanasian too by Peter Martyr, in his common-place, touching singing.

"I will conclude all I shall say touching the singing of prayers, with the Judgment of Mr. Calvin herein. 'Truly,' saith he, 'if singing be accommodated to that gravity which becomes the sight of God and angels, it not only gains much grace and veneration to holy performances, but is of very great force to stir up men's minds—to recall fervor and attention in prayer.'"

"So that they who reprehend this practice, must not only condemn antiquity and the practice of the Universal Church, but even the judgment of the Reformers, both Lutheran and Calvinian."—Bishop Wetenhall's Gifts and Offices, 1679.

[8] This is the description given by the Puritans of the antiphonal chanting of the Psalms, which had been used for 3000 years. In their Confessions, p. 1571, they say—"We allow of the people's joining with one voice in a plain tune, but not of tossing the Psalms from one side to the other, with the intermingling of organs."—Neal's Hist. of the Puritans, p. 280.

[9] This manner gives a still higher dignity, solemnity, and a kind or degree of sanctity to divine worship, by separating it more, and setting it at a farther distance from all actions and interlocutions that are common and familiar."—Dr. Bisse on Choir Service—1720.

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