Project Canterbury

Letter to the Rector, Churchwardens and Vestrymen of St. George's Church, New York, in regard to the proposed service at the meeting of the Christian Unity League

By William Thomas Manning.

New York: The Diocese of New York, 1929.

Diocese of New York



November 12, 1929.



I have learned only in the past few days that in connection with a meeting of an organization known as "The Christian Unity League" it is the purpose of your Rector, the Reverend Dr. Reiland, and your purpose, to permit a Communion Service to be held in St. George's Church at which the officiant is to be a Minister who has not received Episcopal Ordination.

I received no previous intimation from you of this proposed service, and learned of it only from the published announcements, but since learning of it I have had conference in regard to it with your Rector, and with you, and it is now my duty, as your Bishop, to express to you clearly but in all affection, my judgment in the matter, and I write the more freely because, as you know, the cause of Christian Unity is one in which I have laboured for many years.

In the discharge of my duty as Bishop I am obliged to point out to you that the action which you are proposing to take would be a violation of your obligations [3/4] as members, and officers, of the Church to which you belong, and to request you, as I do hereby, not to take this action.

In the Episcopal Church there are some things which we are permitted to do in the direction of unity, and there are other things which we are not permitted to do, and we who belong to this Church must abide by her laws and principles.

The question is not what you, or I, may think about the Doctrine of the Ministry, but what the Church's Doctrine is, and what our obligations are under the laws and canons of the Church.

Every Minister of the Protestant Episcopal Church, before he can be ordained, makes in writing and signs his name to the following declaration and promise "I do solemnly engage to conform to the Doc trine, Discipline and Worship of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America."

As to the question of the Ministry, the Book of Common Prayer, by the regulations of which we are all of us bound, directs, in the Preface to the Ordinal, that no man shall be permitted to exercise the functions of the Ministry in this Church unless he "hath had Episcopal Consecration or Ordination."

The Canon of the Church, enacted by our General Convention, makes this law, laid down in the Prayer Book, a direct obligation upon Churchwardens and Vestrymen, as well as upon the Minister of every congregation, in the following words: "No Minister in charge of any Congregation of this Church, or, in case of vacancy or absence, no Churchwardens, Vestrymen, [4/5] or Trustees of the Congregation, shall permit any person to officiate therein without sufficient evidence of his being duly licensed or ordained to minister in this Church; Provided, that nothing herein shall be so construed as to forbid communicants of the Church to act as, Lay Readers; or to prevent the Bishop of any Diocese or Missionary District from giving permission to Christian men who are not Ministers of this Church to make addresses in the Church on special occasions."

It is, I understand, your view that although you are forbidden both by the Prayer Book and the Canon to hold in your Church such a service as that above mentioned you have the right to loan your Church to others and to permit them to hold therein this service which you are forbidden to hold yourselves.

The Chancellor of the Diocese, however, advises me that you have no such right. As a corporation created by the law of this State you are given the right to maintain worship of a prescribed kind, namely the worship of the Protestant Episcopal Church, and the Chancellor has given me his opinion that as a matter of law it would be ultra vires, and illegal, for you to loan your Church for a service such as that proposed.

In any case the loaning of your Church for a Communion Service at which the officiant is to be a Minister who has not received Episcopal Ordination would seem to be only a way of evading the law of the Church and of doing, by a less direct method, that which the Prayer Book and the Canon both expressly forbid; and therefore in the discharge of my duty as Bishop, and for the sake of peace and unity in the Church to which we belong, I must earnestly beg of you, and I do hereby [5/6] officially admonish you, not to carry out your plans for the above mentioned Communion Service at St. George's Church and not to "permit any person to officiate therein without sufficient evidence of his being duly licensed or ordained Ito minister in this Church."

In conclusion let me say a word as to the policy adopted by the Christian Unity League. As Sir Henry Lunn, a Methodist, and known the world over as an advocate of Christian Unity, points out in his letter last Sunday in the New York Times, the announced policy of that organization is a strangely mistaken and a clearly disruptive one.

The members of the Christian Unity League will not aid the cause of unity by seeking to force their views on others and certainly not by trying to override and break down the laws of Churches to which they do not belong. It would be neither a help towards unity, nor an act of Christian courtesy, if we of the Episcopal Church should in like manner try to induce Roman Catholic priests to disobey the laws of their own Church and take part with us in a United Communion Service. The cause of Christian Unity will not be helped, but will rather be hindered, by action of this sort. The spirit of lawlessness and exaggerated individualism leads only to confusion, division and disunion. We shall all of us make true advance towards unity by showing respect for the principles of those who differ from us, and by loyalty to our own actual and present obligations.
As the announcement of this proposed service has been given wide publicity, and in view of the deep [6/7] concern which it has caused in this Diocese, I am making this letter public.

Praying for God's blessing upon you, and upon the congregation of St. George's Church, I am

Faithfully yours,


Project Canterbury