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Address on the Occasion of the 75th Anniversary of St. Thomas Church, New York

By William Reed Huntington.

New York: St. Thomas’s Church, 1898.

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

I OWE the privilege of being your guest this afternoon to the fact that at a time thirty years ago, when Grace Parish was without a Rector and St. Thomas’s without a Church, the two congregations, yours and ours, joined their forces, we furnishing the building and you furnishing the man. Tradition has it that not only did the two congregations mingle amicably and without jar during the period of the joint occupation, but that the Rev. Dr. Morgan so endeared himself to the hearts of all those to whom he ministered that when the time came for him and his people to depart and continue their migration towards the north there went up “a mixed multitude,” not a few of whom had been formerly known as parishioners of Grace.

Having myself enjoyed the privilege of Dr. Morgan’s friendship, I can easily understand how this should have been, and I am far from wishing to speak grudgingly of any increment that may have accrued to St. Thomas’s clientele during that all too brief fellowship under one roof. On the contrary, I am of opinion that the obligation was the other way, and that the fact that St. Thomas’s furnished the minister while Grace furnished only the place, made St. Thomas’s most emphatically the predominant partner in the alliance.

I never read that magnificent utterance of King Solomon’s which he made when he blessed the Congregation at the dedication of the temple, without being impressed with the thought of the littleness of architecture as compared with the greatness of leadership. “Since the time that I brought forth my people out of Egypt,” Solomon represents God as saying, “Since the time that I brought forth my people out of Egypt I chose no city out of all the tribes of Israel to build a house that my name might be therein, but I chose David to be Over my people Israel.”

If there was ever a time when the importance of a building might fairly have been made much of it was then, when the most famous of all temples the world has seen was consecrated to its holy uses, but even at that supreme moment Solomon was wise enough to see and to say that for the advancement of the Kingdom of God on Earth the main reliance must be placed, not on material things, however splendid, but on that quality of manhood which we know as the power to lead. “I chose David”—not first the place, and then the man, but first the man and then the place.

Those who remember in detail the events of the transition period between the down-town and the up-town life of St. Thomas’s Church, will bear cheerful testimony to the practical ability of the man under whose guidance the removal was effected. Few feats in military art are more difficult to accomplish than a change of base. It is so in parochial life and work. To move a flock is almost as arduous an undertaking as it is to move an army. One of the drawbacks common to both processes is hostile criticism. A great deal of invective, most of it, in my judgment, superfluous, has been leveled at those parishes which have left the lower for the upper portion of this town. They have been reproached and upbraided as if they had been guilty of an actual breach of trust.

Under any circumstances Grace Church ought to be the last to join in this chorus, seeing that it was one of the first to migrate. But having now itself become, what I devoutly trust it may always continue to be, a down-town Church, perhaps Grace can with more propriety than most others say a word in defense of the course which the emigrant parishes have pursued.

In the matter of parochial removals the Bethamite maxim, “the greatest good of the greatest number,” should prevail. A parish ought to work where it can most benefit the people who make up its constituency and for whom it is directly responsible. This does not exempt a parish from the duty of laboring among those who live beyond the pale of its own immediate life, but it is by no means clear that such extra-parochial activity must always find its sphere in the particular locality from which the Church in question took its departure. Because St. Thomas’s parish migrated from the region below Fourteenth Street it does not follow that St. Thomas’s present missionary activity should expend itself in that part of the city. Let it do its missionary work as it is doing it to-day in the field where that work will tell to the best advantage.  The great bulk of the population of lower Manhattan, at the present time, is ecclesiastically and religiously Roman Catholic and Hebrew. We may deplore this fact, we cannot alter it. That forces are at work, and powerfully at work, in this country, and especially in this city, that are deeply affecting both Romanism and Judaism, must be evident to any eye that looks below the surface, but these are not forces of proselytism. The movements to which I refer resemble those great disturbances which go on beneath the crust of the Earth and only manifest themselves when the time is fully come, though they change then, perhaps, the whole coast line of a Continent. So far as helping those whom it is within our power as Anglicans to reach is concerned, I do not think that our resources or our methods are so utterly inadequate as they are sometimes represented to be. That those resources and methods would be the better for strengthening is doubtless true; but that the course pursued by the parishes that have moved north has been wholly selfish and wicked I do not believe.

But this is a time for congratulations rather than for the utterance of speculative opinions. I congratulate the Rector of this Church upon the magnificence of his opportunity. No minister of Christ in these United States has a better vantage-ground from which to speak for God.  St. Thomas’s should be accounted spiritually as well as literally a city set on a hill; about its stately tower might be inscribed the Psalmist’s words, “I have ordained a lantern for my Anointed.”

And then the Church’s name—surely at an anniversary season like this we ought to have something to say of the Saint who, so to speak, stands sponsor for this parish, St. Thomas, at once the least rightly understood and the most widely misrepresented of the whole sacred college of the Apostles. For a thousand who speak reproachfully of Thomas as the doubter, there are only two or three to remember him as the one who was courageous in the face of doubt. We quote against him his words, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, I will not believe;” but how easily we forget those other words of his, “Let us also go that we may die with him.” All the more because of his despondent disposition ought we to admire his courage.

We are living, friends, in anxious times, not anxious times commercially, not anxious times socially, for our temporary panic on those scores has passed away; but anxious times religiously.  There are many saying within the Church as well as beyond its pale, “Who will show us any good? What does it all amount to, this Christianity of yours?” We want men yes, we want parishes, groups of men, of the temper of St. Thomas, men who in the face of discouragement and notwithstanding the besetting doubt, are bold to go ahead.

In sacred art the symbol of St. Thomas is the builder’s rule. It is a happy omen. Construction is what we want—men who know how to build up rather than men who are eager to pull down. So then all honor to St. Thomas with his brave heart and his builder’s rule, and many a happy New Year to St. Thomas his Church.

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