FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT
DECEMBER 6TH, 1903
THE DE VINNE PRESS
M CM III
New York, December 10, 1903.
Reverend and dear Sir:
The Wardens and Vestrymen of Grace Church ask the privilege of expressing to you on the twentieth anniversary of your connection with the parish their loving congratulations and their hope that you may long be spared to carry on the work which has so greatly prospered under your care.
We recognize with reverent gratitude the gracious Providence which called you to the charge of Grace Parish, which has sustained you in your efforts to maintain and develop its usefulness, and has so abundantly blessed your labors. We venture to express our happiness in being associated with you in this great and good work, and to assure you that it will always be our aim to aid and second you in any way that we can.
The admirable and very modest statement of your work during the past twenty years, delivered by you in Grace Church on Sunday morning last, the sixth of December (being the Second Sunday in Advent), was listened to with the deepest interest by us; and for our benefit, as well as for the benefit [3/4] of those who were not fortunate enough to be present, we ask that you will allow us to print it for general distribution.
With every kind wish for your personal happiness and that of each member of your family, we are,
Theodore Kane Gibbs,
J. Frederic Kernochan,
Wm. M. Kingsland,
Wm. R. Stewart,
Dallas B. Pratt,
Geo. C. Clark,
Wm. L. Bull,
R. H. Williams.
To the Rev. William Reed Huntington, D.D.
To the Wardens and Vestrymen of Grace Church.
To receive, for the second time in my life, a request from Wardens and Vestrymen to be allowed to print the record of twenty years of pastoral service strikes me as a rare felicity. The words, "Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years," keep forcing themselves upon me, and no wonder.
I wish you could know how warmly your letter is appreciated. Honesty looks out from every line of it, turning what might have been a perfunctory act into one so genuine as to deserve what it will have, my lasting gratitude.
I did not say in my sermon one half enough about my debt to you, and to all the people of Grace Church, for kindness manifold and patience wonderful; but since you have asked for the discourse I send it, with all its imperfections on its head, for publication.
Affectionately your minister and friend,
William R. Huntington.
December 11, 1903.
TWENTY YEARS OF A NEW YORK RECTORSHIP So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.--St. Luke xvii. 10.
A WHOLESOME admonition this for ministers of religion everywhere. To them, more closely than to the followers of any other calling, the parable applies. In all the occupations of life, save this single one, men have a right, if they succeed, to think of themselves as successful, and to let themselves be so called. To do otherwise is often tantamount to a confession of false modesty, a betrayal of the pride which apes humility.
Not so with the man who has essayed the task of feeding the flock of Christ. Whatever the measure of his accomplishment, whatever the apparent fruit of his labors, the gap between what is and what might have been, must [7/8] always look to him, if he is honest with himself, simply illimitable. No preacher ever begins to tell his message as effectively as it might be told, no pastor ever throws into the cure of souls all the tenderness, the forethought, the sympathy, the loving-kindness of which his high office is receptive, and should be transmissive.
Units of measure there are by which the length and breadth of most men's usefulness may be determined, but after the sacred cubit which shall report accurately the dimensions of work done for God we search in vain:
"For merit lives from man to man,
And not from man, O Lord, to Thee."
Starting from these admissions, the necessity for which cannot be questioned, I venture, this morning, upon a swift review of a ministry of twenty years. It is one-and-twenty years, this very week, since I attempted a like retrospect elsewhere. That was on the first Sunday of December in the year 1882, before you and I knew each other, or dreamed that we were soon to meet. For a full score of years I had then been rector of a New [8/9] England parish, up to that time my only charge. I felt it to be not unnatural that, after so long a term of service, I should break a carefully guarded silence and talk frankly to my people about the motives which had swayed me and the aims I had steadily kept in view through all those summers and winters. I called my sermon "Twenty Years of a Massachusetts Rectorship." I might have called it, patterning after a famous title, Apologia pro Vita mea--for such in fact it was. It would seem as if once in twenty years a minister might be suffered to be egotistical, or at least autobiographical, without blame; that he might, as often as that, excusably take his people into his confidence, and talk freely of the past workings of his mind and heart.
Last Monday saw the completion of my twenty years' tenure of the rectorship of Grace Church. I venture to assume that you will be willing to listen, for a time, to a setting forth of what twenty years of a New York rectorship have meant to one looking at it from the inside, and with the prepossessions acquired through another twenty years of previous work.
Suppose we begin with matters of parochial [9/10] administration, strictly so called, and having dealt with them, in as unstatistical a manner as possible, proceed to things of graver import. I found Grace Church, when I came to make my home here, a highly organized, thoroughly equipped, modern parish. I use the word "modern" under protest, firmly persuaded that the characteristics which, in the public estimation of to-day, entitle a local church to be so named are really ancient, and indicate, not a revulsion from the past, but rather a wise and well-considered turning back to it. There is nothing "modern" about the imitation of Christ. That, from the beginning, has been the Church's assigned task. But an imitating of Him that left the "corporal works of mercy" out of the account would give us at best a silhouette, scarcely a portrait. Still, as words are taken and understood, I am right in saying that I found Grace Church, when I came here, well started upon "modern" lines. In other words, it was not administered solely as a preaching and teaching centre, nor yet exclusively as a place of worship; but, while neither of these two all-important functions had been slighted or allowed to fall into the background, it had [10/11] developed a large activity in the field of neighborly beneficence.
With that clear apprehension of popular needs, and that ready inventiveness in providing means to meet them, which won for my predecessor his elevation to the episcopate, Dr. Potter had shown that the true way to make Grace Church permanent was to make Grace Church useful. Two conditions are essential to the maintenance of an apiary, flowers and a hive. Subtract either one of these, and the swarm will migrate. The rector whom I succeeded had bent his efforts to both of these ends. He had made the hive, always beautiful, more beautiful than ever, and he had taught the bees to seek their harvest in the field which was then just coming to be called "the great East Side." He foresaw and affirmed that with a portal opening on Broadway, and a chancel pointing, symbolically, as we might almost say, to that quarter of the compass whence all our immigration comes, Grace Church would have only itself to blame if it failed to hold lastingly the love and the allegiance of a large constituency.
Thus persuaded, he filled the windows of [11/12 ] the church with lucid imagery; he accentuated, to some extent, the ritual of worship, up to his day severely plain; he built the Chantry, Grace House and the Day Nursery; he rebuilt Grace Chapel with improved facilities for work, and he established a Summer Home near the seaside for the children of the poor. The graceful spire of stone which was in progress when the call to a still wider ministry took him from among you, could not but seem to all who watched it, as it rose, the emblem of a completed work, the finishing touch indeed.
You can imagine my feelings, as a newcomer, at finding everything done. Habituated to parochial conditions where there was always more "land to be possessed," "regions beyond" not so much as preempted, I faced, almost with dismay, a situation where such a thing as progress seemed to have been made impossible by the attainment of the goal.
But this was a surface view of the matter and a passing mood. Progress of some sort, I said to myself, is always possible in the Kingdom of God. If I could do nothing more, I could at least try to use intelligently [12/13] and industriously the machinery made ready to my hand. And that, just that, dear friends, is what my ministry among you has been, in so far as what we know as "administration" is concerned. I have taken the instrumentalities which I found here and have sought, with your help, to utilize them to the best advantage. I have accepted policies with which Grace Church was already identified when I took hold, and have endeavored to carry them out as consistently as I knew how to do.
Only three features of our present-day parochial life can fairly be claimed as recent, and, of these three, two at least are known to have been dear to the former rector's heart and likely to have been by him incorporated into the parochial life had his ministry continued.
The three features to which I refer are the open church, the maintenance of a staff of young men in Deacons' Orders, and the recognition of Deaconesses as parochial officers.
Some years ago (many of you will remember the time), I ventured, in an address from the pulpit, so far to trespass upon the traditional usages of the parish as to request of [13/14] the proprietors of pews the courtesy of allowing a free use of the sittings at all services other than the regular Morning and Evening Prayer on Sundays and the greater holy days. This request of mine was not, what many at the time must have supposed it to be, an entering wedge; it was not urged in order that the granting of it might help forward the conversion of an old-fashioned pewed church into a so-called "free" one; it was an honest attempt, which, thank God, has met with some measure of success, to combine in one system the strong points of both of the rival methods.
The family pew stands for a precious principle, nothing less than the recognition of the household as the true unit of society. The free and open church also stands for a precious principle, none other than that embedded in Isaiah's prophetic words, "My house shall be called an house of prayer for all people."
To make one and the same edifice the visible emblem of both of these thoughts is not an easy undertaking, but I submit that, in a country like ours, where the maintenance of religion rests upon voluntary enterprise, the [14/15] effort to do so was and is an experiment worth trying.
A few words now as to the use we have been trying to make of the diaconate as a power for good, the second of what I have called the three recent features of our parish life. According to Anglican theory (I quote the Preface to the Ordinal), "from the Apostles' time there have been these orders of ministers in Christ's Church, Bishops, Priests and Deacons." In practice, however, we have been striving, now these many generations, to carry on the work of the Church with only two orders. The diaconate has been largely a matter of form. The young man fresh from the theological seminary, with a great deal yet to learn of human nature and of human life, has been shoved forward prematurely, and rashly given a parish in which to make all his juvenile mistakes.
In the sister calling which bears so many close resemblances to the cure of souls, the method is a wiser one. The young graduate of a medical school serves his apprenticeship in a hospital under the eye of older and better equipped men. The "Diaconal Funds," now existent in this parish, have been established [15/16] in order that a similar discipline may recommend itself to the Church at large, through demonstration of its value here. Our young deacons stay with us two years at the longest, doing service not only within but beyond the parish limits, and then leave us for independent fields elsewhere. It will interest and perhaps surprise you to learn that there are now between thirty and forty of these "graduates," and that by them Grace Church is to-day represented in no fewer than seventeen different dioceses and missionary districts, from Massachusetts westward to the Philippines. [All of these men, had they the opportunity, would join with me in a tribute of affection and gratitude to the one Assistant who has kept on assisting through all the changes of the last fifteen of my twenty years, the present Vicar of Grace Chapel. To George Bottome's ability, good judgment and sympathetic insight, a very large part of whatever may have seemed best worth praising in the parochial administration has been due. I write this, not forgetting the faithful services of the former Vicar, now the Archdeacon of New York, or those rendered by the accomplished scholar who has devoted, to the service of the poor, talents which might have won success for him in more conspicuous fields, the Rev. Melville K. Bailey.]
 The revival of the primitive Order of Deaconesses, through legislative action of the General Convention in 1889, and the speedy establishment of a Training School for the education of women desirous of entering the Order, made it possible for us, as early as 1892, to add to our active force a number of these ministering women. [The New York Training School for Deaconesses, 226-228 East Twelfth Street, though, in a sense, an offshoot of Grace Church, has no organic connection with the parish. It is a distinct institution incorporated under the general statutes. The fact that the class-work is carried on at our Parish House, and the further fact that the cost of maintenance has thus far been borne almost exclusively by parishioners of Grace Church, have not unnaturally given the impression that the School is parochial, but such is not the case. It has an identity of its own, and draws upon the Church at large in choosing its trustees. In its latest catalogue, the Training School reports twenty-seven (27) graduates actively at work as deaconesses, and twenty-three (23) undergraduate students.] What their work has meant to countless souls destitute of help, I shall not undertake to say. Ask those who are more competent to speak. Ask the East Side mothers. They know. When I feel like looking for some visible answer to prayer I turn my eyes, not to the sightly buildings [17/18] with which your liberal hands have equipped this parish, but oftener towards yonder deaconess-stalls whose occupants have done so much to make old dreams of mine come true.
Do you know, have you forgotten, that the Trustees of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, years ago, allotted a site on their grounds for a permanent Deaconess Institute just across the road from St. Luke's Hospital? How proud, how thankful I should be if, one of these days, the younger people of this parish, whom God has entrusted with the responsibilities of wealth, were to build there, in the close neighborhood of that splendid group of colleges, the Deaconess Institute of the future! Who can say how many of the graduates of Barnard and of Teachers might not, with such an opportunity before their eyes, be moved to seek as a life-calling this ministry of help and cheer? The graduates of our women's colleges, all over the land, are sighing for something to do. Here would be something to do. I note with thankfulness the fact that already, in our present local Training School, small as it is, five [18/19] women's colleges are represented. Let the work go on. [In the Communion Alms, on the Sunday following the delivery of this sermon, there was found an envelope containing seven gold eagles and inscribed "For the Building of the Deaconess House on the Cathedral Heights." Within was a card explaining the gift as a thank-offering on the part of our seven parish deaconesses, for the long continuance of my ministry. A pleasanter surprise could not have been planned. St. Luke's Hospital, which now crowns Cathedral Heights, is said to have had its origin in a silver half-dollar entrusted to Dr. Muhlenberg by a poor woman upon whose gratitude he happened to have some claim. That our parish deaconesses out of their slender incomes should have made this generous gift, convinces me that the building of the Institute is only a question of time.]
Much of my time and much of my thought during the earlier years of my rectorship were given to efforts after a better adaptation of. the Book of Common Prayer to distinctively American needs and to endeavors to further a closer unity among the Christian people of the land. Upon these attempts, only measurably successful, I need not dwell, since they lay beyond the circumference of our immediate parish life. Some of their indirect results [19/20] have been considerable. The final issue rests with God.
From matters of administration and polity, the merest edge of which we have found it possible, in so rapid a review, to touch, I ask you to pass to a more central subject,--teaching. What your inferences may have been from the things you have heard said in this pulpit during these twenty years last past, I cannot certainly know, so hard is it for one mind to get itself understood by other minds; but what I have hoped that those inferences might be, may easily enough be told.
My aim has been to set forth God in Christ as the highest attainable good of the soul. I have taught, or tried to teach, the doctrine of a divine friendship made possible through the Incarnation of God's Son. I have seemed to find in the simple Creed which tells of a Word made flesh and dwelling among us, not a key which readily unlocks all the closed doors of this mysterious house our souls inhabit, but one to which more bolts yield than yield to any other key that the busy, searching intellect of man has found. The warrant for this belief in "God-with-us" I have sought, and, at least to my own thinking, [20/21] found, in Holy Scripture, in history and in human nature. The Christ of the Gospels has been the centre of all my theologizing and the authority for all my teachings. If I speak of history as one of the warrants of faith, it is because of the discernible presence in its pages of the Son of Man steadily at work, century by century, building up the walls of his fair City. If I speak of human nature as another one of these warrants, it is because I observe in human nature capacities and desires, sympathies and affections, such as only a humanized God, a God whose being is at some point tangent to our own, can meet and satisfy. In a word, to get away from metaphysical abstractions, and to stick close to personality, to use the filial and brotherly vocabulary in all my speech and to avoid, as far as possible, a philosophical phraseology, which, while it may overawe, can scarcely enlighten, has been my steadfast aim. For, after all, the most cultured congregations are human; and thoughts which cannot be expressed in the words our mothers taught us, may as well be held in reserve, so far as preaching is concerned. Prattle about the Infinite and the Absolute is an easy [21/22] accomplishment for men who have been to college; but what people need to be persuaded of is that they have a Father in heaven, Who knows them and Who may, in some measure, by them be known; Who loves them and Who may, in some measure, by them be loved.
If to this doctrine of "God in Christ" I have not, in my teaching, linked as closely as some would have liked to see me do, a philosophy of sacramental grace, it has not been from any disposition to undervalue the place of sacraments in religion, but rather from a reluctance to narrow to one channel a stream which so very evidently flows through many.
These last twenty years, be it candidly confessed, have been a rather arduous time for preachers. Not only have they had to encounter far greater difficulty than of old in getting a hearing, because of the increased number of voices in the world, but, even when listened to, they have been almost as men under trial upon the charge of concealing their real beliefs. Even their advocacy of good works has been turned to their reproof, construed to mean a cautious seeking for cover, a timid effort to throw up some [22/23] barrier between themselves and the galling fire of enemies on either flank. "What do these ministers really believe?" has been the rather contemptuous cry. "Will they answer questions? Are they telling us their whole mind?" So have spoken the thoughtful out of the depth of their perplexity, while the thoughtless have found, in the very fact that the thoughtful were perplexed, a plausible excuse for their own absorption in trifles. "Even the religious," they have cried out delightedly, "cannot tell us with any definiteness what they believe, and why they believe it. Let us then eat, drink and be merry." And thus with doubt confronting them on the one hand and worldliness mocking at them on the other, the preachers have been fain to seek such paths of safety as they might. But there has been at no time any real call for panic, any need of vague alarms. I have yet to see it shown that modern discovery, or archaeological research, or biblical criticism, has so much as jarred upon its solid plinth a single one of the great articles of the Christian faith as contained in the Apostles' Creed; while as for ethics, if any apostle of the "New Thought" (whatever that may mean) [23/24] can show us a twentieth-century code of morals superior to the one which has served the needs of Christendom since the day when the Beatitudes were published, let him speak, and put us to the blush.
Not over-anxious to press upon you any self-consistent system of divinity complete in all its parts, close-fitted at all its joints, I have been content if I could commend to your minds and hearts and consciences that ancient Creed, that ancient Code. They have sufficed; they will suffice. Flooded with more light they may be, as heaven more widely rolls back its cloudy doors, but it is a Creed that will be true for ever; it is a Code that altereth not.
But what about the controversial questions of the day, in Church and State? These I have neither sought nor shunned, willing enough to discuss them if forced to do so, but not willing to make them, if I could help it, the staple of discourse.
As to "High Church" and "Low Church" I have held and hold that both of them are included in "Whole Church." The one of them stands for Christianity as corporately and sacramentally regarded, the other for [24/25] Christianity individually and subjectively conceived. Each has a philosophy back of it, and each a mystical annex of its own. If there are deeper reasons for being a High Churchman than most High Churchmen advance, so are there also deeper reasons for being a Low Churchman than most Low Churchmen perceive. It is the glory, not the opprobrium, of the Anglican Communion that it alone among the Churches of Christendom is able to keep both of them within its borders, hospitable to each. Hence to "Broad Churchmanship," which seems to carry a certain note of indifferentism and the stamp of Gallio, I have ever preferred "Comprehensive Churchmanship," which claims for its free use whatever is good and true wherever found.
In so far as these two catchwords "High" and "Low" stand for contrasted methods of conducting divine service, I have treated them as indicative of difference of temperament. Some love simplicity; some, gorgeous-ness and elaboration. I rank myself with the former company, and have cast in my lot there, even though convinced that in the great Christian Commonwealth of the future, destined to rise upon the ruins of the too [25/26] narrow Roman scheme, all orders of spiritual architecture will have recognition from the Doric to the Corinthian, from the Early English to the Decorated Gothic. We Christians shall never all of us be ritualistic, any more than we shall ever all of us be musical. We are not made alike. Meanwhile incense is not worth the cost of a schism, nor, on the other hand, ought those of us who prefer daylight to candle-light to be cast out. [The only ritual feature of our present order of worship that departs at all noticeably from the standard which I found when I came here, is the vested choir. A test vote by households, taken just before the change from the old methods came about, revealed a parochial feeling almost equally divided. To-day we are, to all intents and purposes, unanimous. This somewhat unexpected, though very satisfactory, result is due wholly to the professional skill and the disciplinary power of our Choirmaster, Mr. James Morris Helfenstein, as these have been supplemented by the efforts of an unusually efficient "Chancel and Choir Guild." What it means to an officiating clergyman to have every least shade of anxiety as to the quality of the music and the demeanor of the choristers banished from his mind, only those who have had the experience can know. But for the existence of this state of things I never should have adventured the building of a "Choir House."
 But there are interests other and graver than ceremonial ones. There are questions national and civic that claim the conscientious minister's attention. With respect to two of these, I have taken ground upon which some of you (possibly most of you) have not been willing to stand with me. I have felt it to be my duty to bear witness against "Imperialism" as a menace to our national well-being, and I have advocated what is generally thought the narrow view of Sunday observance.
The former of the two questions is, I admit, largely partizan in its character, and I may have transcended the limits of the minister's prophetic office in touching it. The other, however, is, as closely as possible, bound up with Christian morals. Persuaded that the hallowing of one day in seven is part of God's permanent law for man, I have opposed and shall always oppose making the method of its observance the subject-matter of city ordinance repealable by local vote. So great a responsibility as that of saying how Sunday shall be kept should be lodged where the sovereignty is lodged and at no lower level. The slow eating away, as by a canker, of the immunities of the Lord's Day and the pulverizing of its [27/28] sanctities are among the most deplorable of the signs of the times. By and by, when it shall have become too late, statesmen may themselves discern that in sacrificing Sunday, at the demand of the worst of the trades, they cancelled one of the very strongest guarantees of the unity of the Republic.
But this is not the time to reopen, far less the time to reargue, any question whatsoever; I mention these two, because without a reference to them our glance backwards at the methods and the subject-matter of my preaching would seem to have been a careless one.
But enough of the public aspects of this ministry of twenty years. There is another side to it all, a side I scarcely dare to touch, the purely personal side, the most intimate of all the phases of a pastor's life and work. If I rightly interpret my own experience, the word spoken to the two or three has often struck deeper than what has been said in the great congregation. At Bible-readings and in Confirmation classes I have seemed to get closer to the hearts of those whom I have sought to help than under any other conditions. In a sense this has been disappointing, but it ought not to have been. One of the [28/29] most strikingly effective of our Lord's sermons was preached to a single soul. Profoundly to influence the few accomplishes more than slightly to indoctrinate a multitude.
Great changes have passed over the congregation since first I knew it. Of the men who called me to the rectorship only one, our present honored Senior Warden (then the Parish Treasurer), survives. [The List of the Vestry as it stood in December, 1883, is as follows: Wardens. Lloyd W. Wells, clerk. Charles G. Landon. Vestrymen. B. B. Sherman, Stephen C. Williams, David Wolfe Bishop, T. B. Coddington, R. E. Livingston, Theo. K. Gibbs, Treas. Hugh Auchincloss, W. C. Schermerhorn. To these should be added the names of three who became Vestrymen after my rectorship began, and who, meanwhile, have entered into rest: James Renwick, Architect of Grace Church. George Bliss, Warden, 1893-1896. Buchanan Winthrop, clerk, 1889-1900.] How can I adequately speak out my sense of obligation to those men who, one by one, have fallen upon sleep? I cannot. Save for their steady [29/30] support, and that of those who to-day fill their places, such gains as have been scored during these twenty years would have been a sheer impossibility. Never have they hung back; never at a critical moment have they failed me. For the loyalty of their allegiance to a leader of their own choosing, thus publicly and with all my heart I thank them.
But this is only a fraction of my burden of gratitude. To name the officers of the parish as the only ones to whom I stand indebted for encouragement and stimulus would be a strange blunder. Literally, to hundreds have I been beholden for many kinds of help in the tasks here attempted. They have helped me by sympathetic words; they have helped me by sustained personal effort; they have helped me by large gifts of money for enterprises undertaken in God's name. I have not had to talk about money in the church; it has come at the merest suggestion of a need, and come, I believe, all the more plentifully for not having been urgently besought. Men may be teased or scolded into giving, but never into generosity.
Dear friends, I shall not again keep with you an anniversary like this. It is not in the [30/31] nature of things that I should. That such an event should already twice have come into one and the same life, in one and the same form, is in itself unusual. But time, while it sets barriers to human life, sets no barrier to friendship, and for us who count upon a world to come it is open to believe that we may be always friends.