§ VISCOUNT SANDON
, in moving that the House resolve itself into a Committee, with a view to obtain leave in Committee to bring in a Bill to provide for the constitution of Parochial Councils in all parishes in England and Wales, and to define and enlarge the powers of Parishioners with respect to the conduct of Divine Worship in their Parish Churches, said, he thought the subject deserved considerable attention, and he assured the House that he had not taken it up rashly, or without due consideration. In proof of this, he might mention that some three or four years ago he had occasion in Staffordshire, at a meeting of 1122 Church of England people, to touch on the subject of what hindrances stood in the way of gaining the affections of the people of England to the Church of England, and he then ventured to say that the great hindrance was not owing to the weakness, the infirmity, or the bad feeling of any one class of men, and still less of the clergy, but to the position in which the clergy were placed in their parishes by the law. That position was one of almost entire independence of their parishioners, and was dangerous for any person to occupy. He thought that by it they lost the support of laymen which they might otherwise obtain. He was aware that objections were entertained by many persons to subjects relating to the Church of England being brought forward in the House of Commons, and the first he would notice was that that House was not a proper body to legislate with respect to the Church of England. If not, what was the proper body? Was it Convocation? In Convocation, as at present constituted, and consisting of two branches, he did not see on any side a disposition to place such implicit confidence as to lead to the belief that the country would allow the Church of England to be changed in its character by the sole action of Convocation. Another objection raised to attempting legislation in that House on these subjects was that the Nonconformists, forming an important body in that House, and in the country, would oppose any measures that tended to make the Church of England strong and vigorous. From that objection he entirely dissented. He inferred, from the education discussions which were now occupying the time of the House, that the leaders of the Nonconformists were rising above a mere desire to aggrandize their own religious bodies, and willing to operate with Churchmen to make the Church of England, within its own limits, as efficient and as truly a Church of England as possible. The third and last objection to the discussion of Church subjects in that House was that no religious matters whatever should be touched on in the House of Commons. He could not conceive a more empty and futile objection. When they saw these great questions of religion shaking all countries and communities, it would be an absurd and untenable position to maintain that such questions should not be 1123 discussed in the Legislature of this country. He trusted, then, that he had disposed of the preliminary objections to these subjects being handled by that House. And now, to proceed to explain the cause for the Motion which he was about to make, his own opinion was that within the Church of England they must always be prepared, of course within certain limits, to have a great variety of opinion, or otherwise the Church of England could not pretend to be the national Church. They must be prepared for a considerable variety of opinion, administrations, practice, and worship. In some churches there was a musical service, in others a non-musical service; in some there was much decoration, and in others none; some churches were remarkable for their ceremonials, and others eschewed all those matters. Granted, then, that, in a national Church, there must be considerable variety in these matters, who ought to decide what should be the practice in each parish church? He felt he was now on delicate ground; but, as things stood at present, there was no doubt that the incumbent had almost absolute power as to the colour and tone of the services in the parish church. That might be wrong, or it might be right; but, at present, he was only concerned with the fact. It would be an invidious task, as the House would well understand, for him to go into the position of the clergy upon his own authority; but, as it was essential to the object he had in view, he would quote from a pamphlet recently published by an able clergyman, holding an important benefice in this city, and bearing the name of Ereemantle—a name always to be mentioned with special honour on the Conservative side of that House. He states as follows:—It would hardly be too much to describe the position of the holder of a benefice as similar to that of a feudal baron. He holds his living as a freehold, not during good conduct. In the exercise of his office he has an almost unlimited freedom, and this freedom is not curtailed in matters which affect the rights of others. Practically, no doubt, living as he does in a self-governing country, and being amenable to public opinion, a clergyman is indirectly controlled. But if he chooses to disregard such restraints, there are hardly any others. A man may hold a benefice for 50 years, and be so idle in his ministrations that he does no good; he may act so offensively towards his parishioners that they cannot accept his offices; he may set himself against every good movement among his people; or he may, in con- 1124 troverted matters, by his own sole will, change every feature of the church fabric and Church services. No other public servant is allowed a discretion like this in the exercise of his office. Now, the ritual question has brought out this autocracy of the beneficed clergyman in a very marked manner. The utter helplessness of the laity has been shown again and again,If the incumbent had all this power, how far could the Bishop or parishioners interfere with it? He would quote another passage from the same writer, who, it must be remembered, was secretary to the present highly-respected Archbishop of Canterbury during his remarkable tenure of office as Bishop of London, and who, therefore, knew the relations existing between incumbents, parishioners, and the Bishop. Mr. Free-mantle said—I may add a result of personal experience. When I was chaplain to the Bishop of London, the greatest difficulties were constantly occasioned not by matters of doubtful legality, but by such as were clearly within the law, and as to which the discretion rested with the clergyman alone. Such matters as the intoning of the Prayers, the chanting of the Psalms, the use of a Lectern, the introduction of the Offertory, the selection of Hymn Books, &c would give rise to a dispute. The parishioners would come to the Bishop and would refer him to the clause in the preface of the Prayer Book which states that those who diversely take anything shall resort to the Bishop to resolve their doubts. In such cases, if the parishioners and the Bishop had had any concurrent power with the rector, the dispute might have been easily settled, the Bishop acting as moderator between the various parties. But it was found that no one had any rights at all except the incumbent; and his answer was invariably that he had no doubts to resolve, and therefore there was no need of his resorting to the Bishop. Quite similar is the case with regard to church ornaments, such as crosses, altar-cloths, the arrangements of chancels and pews, the painting and decoration of the interior of the church. It is true that, technically speaking, these matters are supposed not to be left to the discretion of the clergyman, and that not the minutest thing can be changed in the church without a faculty from the Bishop's Court. But this is a case in which the stringency of the law over-reaches itself. It is rightly felt that to go to the Bishop's Court for every little change which may be proposed is impossible; and then where is the line to be drawn? The consequence is, that one change after another is made on the sole authority of the incumbent, and this becomes so habitual that it is only in exceptional cases, and in those where actual opposition is raised that the Court is appealed to; thus, it becomes to be thought invidious to go to the Court at all.Thus, it appeared that the power of the incumbent in his church and parish was almost unlimited, the laity and the Bishop, even acting together, 1125 having very little power to control him. He should be very sorry to diminish the rightful independence of Church of England clergymen, or to make them dependent upon their congregations, as were the ministers of many of the Nonconformist churches. They must, however, remember how clergymen of the Church of England were appointed to their livings. Had the parishioners any voice or veto in their appointment? They had nothing whatever to say, except in an infinitesimally small number of cases, in the appointment of their ministers. He did not wish to change the present system, because he thought it carried with it greater diversity of opinion, thought, and influence, and many other advantages. But, without changing the whole system, surely, the position of the parishioners required greater acknowledgment; for not only had they no voice in the appointment of their ministers, but they must always be uncertain whether perfect strangers will not appoint them; for, if hon. Gentlemen would only look over the papers of that morning, they would see 140 advowsons or next presentations for sale. Considering, then, that the parishioners had no veto upon the appointment of their ministers, and that a large number of these livings were constantly passing into different hands by sale, it was absolutely essential for the protection of their civil rights that the law should make some fresh provision by which the parishioners should have some voice as to the kind of service which was to be conducted in their parish churches, and as to all changes in their churches, in which they had all a right to a place and around which some of their dearest and tenderest recollections gathered, such associations it being of the utmost importance to the nation to cherish, instead of doing their best to weaken and destroy. His object in introducing the measure at this late period of the Session, was to draw public attention to this important subject, and, to endeavour to bring about such a state of opinion as might enable them hereafter to solve this problem in which, he believed, the national welfare was involved. He would now proceed to explain the provisions of the Bill he would ask leave to introduce. In the first place, with regard to parishes. He included under that head all legally-constituted districts with a cure of souls. He next proposed 1126 that a certain number of parishioners should be annually elected as sidesmen, at the same time, by the same constituency, and for the same period, as the churchwardens, who are elected by the parishioners. Preferring, as he did, in making changes, to keep up as much connection as possible with the institutions created by the wise and good men who have gone before us, he had adopted the old name of sidesman—finding in Cripps, On the Laws of the Church, that in ancient times—Bishops were wont to summon divers men out of each parish to give information of the disorders of the clergy and people, and these, in process of time, became standing officers called synodsmen, sidesmen, or guestmen; and the whole office of these persons seems, by custom, to have devolved on the churchwardens.Three should be elected for parishes below 2,000 inhabitants; six for parishes below 5,000, and nine for all larger parishes. These sidesmen, together with the two churchwardens and the incumbent, he proposed should form a Church Council; the incumbent being chairman with a casting vote. The constituency for the sidesmen, as in the case of the churchwardens, would consist of all denominations; but his Bill would require a declaration on the part of sidesmen that they were members of the Church of England. He proposed that the Council should be obliged to meet twice a year, or might be summoned by the Bishop, the incumbent, one churchwarden, or two sidesmen. The Council should have power, within the limits authorized bylaw, of making any changes in the accustomed manner and times of conducting the services and ministrations of the church, in the ornaments and decorations of the church, or of the minister, or in the furniture or fittings of the church. He also proposed that no changes in these matters should be made without the sanction of the Council, and that the Council should be a body corporate, having the same power of accepting and holding contributions for the maintenance of the fabric, services, &c., of the church as was given to trustees under the Church Rate Abolition Act. These were all the powers he proposed to confer on the Council; but there were one or two other details to which he wished to direct attention. He proposed that no change in any of the above matters should be made without 14 days' notice to the Bishop, which, notice should also 1127 be affixed to the church door, and remain so till the change was made; that the parishioners might appeal to the Council or to the Bishop; that the incumbent should have the same appeal to the Bishop, who should give his decision in writing within one month; nor could any change be effected until those various appeals had been decided by the Prelate presiding over the diocese. If the Bishop objected, no change could be effected unless the Council were unanimous; and all matters in dispute under the Act would be taken out of the Bishop's Court and be heard by the Ordinary in camerâ. From this sketch of the Bill it would appear to be a simple one; but he did not wish to conceal from hon. Members that it proposed to introduce a great change into the constitution of the Church of England, and it was for this reason that he thought it best to bring it forward at the end of the Session, and merely to invite discussion on this preliminary stage, instead of trying to commit the House to any principle by a second reading on a subject which required the careful and calm consideration of the country. No one could shut their eyes to the movement which was taking place in public opinion in favour of securing for the laity more power in the Church of England. Mr. Freemantle had established a Church Council voluntarily in his own parish of Marylebone. The incumbent of Paddington was trying the same experiment, while in Shropshire two clergymen were adopting a similar course; but in these Councils, it must be remembered, there was virtually no real power in the hands of the laity; without power there was no sense of responsibility, and common action was almost impossible. It was natural to ask what was the feeling of the higher dignitaries and leaders of opinion of the Church in regard to an important movement of this kind? The Bishop of Lichfield, who must be confessed by all to have great weight in this matter, when speaking with regard to a dispute at Wolverhampton, arising out of some of those miserable subjects of Church controversy, made a remark which was well worth consideration. The House would remember that the Bishop of Lichfield was the well-known Bishop Selwyn of New Zealand. He had by his side the Bishop of Wellington, and he remarked to him that— 1128Coming, as they had done, from Australia, where the relative position of all parties in the Church were well defined, and there was mutual understanding and co-operation, it was a novelty for them to find, as in this case, the clergyman acting and the laity protesting against his acts. There the clergy and laity worked together, and mutually supported and checked each other. He, as Bishop of New Zealand, could not introduce alterations without the consent of the laity, and the clergy without their consent could not be controlled by the laity. If such a state of things were at work in the diocese of Lichfield it would be saved from much trouble and disaffection.The Bishop of Manchester, speaking, he believed, with reference to a dispute on the subject of the surplice, had said—I would wish it to be remembered that in these indifferent things, especially when the law is not perfectly clear, the great maxim, mos prolege, holds. It would be a most unwise, indeed scarcely a justifiable step, in a minister to thrust a change of this kind upon an unwilling congregation. 'Let all things be done decently and in order' is a great maxim; but 'Let all things be done unto edifying' is a greater; and the end of all our ministrations is to win our people's hearts, not to alienate them; to build up, not to disunite or destroy.The Guardian, representing a large body in the Church, commented upon this by saying—If changes are introduced without notice or explanation, and in such a manner as to imply that the congregation have no voice nor will in the matter, it was not surprising that they should resent or be alarmed at changes which seemed to be capricious, and of which they can neither estimate the extent, nor the design, nor the end. These considerations clearly point, though the Bishop does not say so, to some such arrangement as that which Mr. Freemantle, as we recorded last week, is attempting to establish in London. A Church Council in every parish would give the clergyman the exact opportunity, which is so much needed, both of explaining to his congregation the meaning of any changes he may be contemplating, and of ascertaining their views upon them. There is probably no practical reform more needed in our Church than this.The Rev. Mr. Ryle, representing quite another party in the Church, had said—I plead for the general recognition of the mighty principle that nothing ought to be done in the Church without the laity, in things great or in things small. I plead that the laity ought to have a part, and voice, and hand, and vote in everything that the Church says and does, except ordaining and ministering in the congregation.He would venture to call one still more important witness—the Prime Minister—who, alluding in Lancashire, two years ago, to some remarks which had been made in his presence urging a greater development of the energies of the Church from within, as regarded the position of the laity, had said— 1129That, I own, is an idea to which I am very greatly inclined.Then, referring to the Church Rate Abolition Bill, the right hon. Gentleman had said—I own I considered it a great recommendation of that Bill that it would bring the laity forward in the concerns of the Church on the one hand; that it would render them more effective supporters of the clergyman, and more liberal co-operators with him in works of mercy—a matter which is very greatly wanted; and that, on the other hand, it would give a much more effective control upon the clergyman—a matter which is also, in my opinion, greatly wanted—with respect to the conduct of services of the Church, and with respect especially to the introduction of alterations in these services.Again, he would call their attention to the second Report of the Ritual Commission which had been laid on the Table: there it is recommended that, where a few persons in a parish complained with regard to vestments, or matters of that kind, it should be incumbent upon the Bishop to take cognizance of the matter, and acting in camerâ, if he found the complaints well founded, to order the discontinuance of such practices. It must be remembered that, at the head of the Commission which made this Report was the late Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr. Longley), and among the other Commissioners; were the present Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr. Tait), the Lord Chancellor (Lord Hatherley), the Secretary of State for War (Mr. Cardwell)—surely a body of the greatest weight. Would it be the laity alone who would be the gainers, independently of the higher benefit to the Church at large, by the change he proposed? No; he believed it would be a great advantage to the Bishops to have some constituted body to whom they could appeal in every parish as to the feelings of that parish on disputed points; and to the parochial clergy themselves he had the conviction that the gain would be still greater. One of the parish clergyman's greatest difficulties at present arose from the want of means of ascertaining the real feeling of the parishioners. He was very much at the mercy of the wealthy members of his congregation, who, on expressing an opinion, would naturally generalize rather freely and describe their opinion as the feeling of the body of parishioners. How was the clergyman to test it? He might take action upon this presumption, 1130 and alienate the best part of his parishioners before he discovered his mistake. All he knew was that a few well-remembered faces left the Church. But in the meantime he may have lost his most valuable hold upon his people. He therefore thought that changes such as he proposed, instead of complicating the position of the clergyman, would greatly add to his legitimate influence; and that the members of the Council would become, in many cases, his assistants and supporters in the good works of the parish, and would relieve him of much unnecessary labour and care. Of course, there were some people for whom nobody could pretend to legislate—such an one, for instance, as a speaker at a meeting of the Church Union, who said that the laity had their own proper place, and their place was to obey. That was an opinion which he thought very few Members of that House would endorse. Such remarks belonged to a very different age to the one we lived in, and would, he thought, be made by a very small number of the people of this country. He begged to assure the House that in bringing forward this Motion he was actuated by no spirit of hostility or ungenerous opposition to the clergy. His whole inclination, old friendships, long associations, and early training led him rather to entertain for them the highest esteem; and putting aside all personal considerations, who must not acknowledge that the clergy of the Church of England were a just object of national pride? He did not believe that any country in the world could show 20,000 men of so high a character, so highly educated, so distinguished in classics, science, poetry, and general literature, as the clergy of the Church of England. Going deeper still, he might be permitted to say that the debates of the past few days had unmistakably displayed the enormous sacrifices made by that clergy on behalf of the great cause of education—sacrifices which utterly put to shame what the laity had done—sacrifices which made the laity blush for the little they had done in comparison. And, going yet deeper, if people would only walk through the dark alleys and fetid courts of our large towns, they would find that there—in places where even the police rarely strayed—the clergy of the Church of England were accustomed to move about educating, teaching, and ex- 1131 horting the people, blessing as they went, and being blessed. Taking all this into consideration, he felt that he would be worthy of all reproach if he threw any slur upon the clergy. He certainly had no such intention. All that he asked of them was that they should relinquish and cast aside the position of irresponsible power which they had assumed, and which he had always regarded as a source of weakness and not of strength. He appealed to Parliament to look at this matter as a national question. He appealed with confidence to the Nonconformists to assist him in his endeavours, for they were well aware that the Church of England could not go far wrong without the Nonconformist Churches suffering as well, because there was, happily, no hard and fast line between Dissenters and Churchmen. What affected the Church as regarded the luxuriousness of its Church service would soon affect the Nonconformists, and if there was a want of spiritual power in the service of the Church the same would soon be found in connection with those who dissented from her. The sons and daughters of both alike were acted upon in the same way, either in the direction of ultra-ritualism, infidelity, or any other thing that was hurtful to true religion. He hoped, therefore, that the House would not consider this as a mere Church question. His plan might be bad or it might be good. He did not wish them to consider the matter in the light of the Bill which he brought before them full of imperfections, as he doubted not it must be, but he entreated the House to consider whether the broad principle which he strove to lay down was not worthy of real and serious consideration. He entreated them to consider whether, in view of the difficulty of defining what should be and what should not be the worship of the national Church, the safest, the most straightforward, and, perhaps, in the long run, the most successful course was not the one he was recommending, and whether it was not best to leave the ultimate decisions of the questions he had been adverting to the decision of the people themselves assembled in their various parishes. The noble Viscount concluded by moving that the Speaker should leave the Chair.
§ MR. COWPER-TEMPLE
said, he rose to second his noble Friend's Motion, 1132 because it related to a subject which, even in this crowded and laborious Session, well deserved the attention of the House. No one could read the signs of the times without seeing that public opinion was fast preparing itself to deal with the question of Church reform in the parishes, to deal with it moderately but, at the same time, he hoped, effectively and firmly. There was, in his opinion, a natural sequence and connection between reform in the State and reform in the Church. The great Reform Act of 1832 was followed by a series of proposals for reform with regard to the Church of England, and he might refer, in particular, to that action of the Ecclesiastical Commission which led to such marked improvements in the parochial system, and in the organization and development of voluntary zeal. In like manner, the agitation which culminated in the recent Reform Act would now be directed to the improvement of the institutions of the Church, and to infusing into them a larger popular element. Everyone must see that much zeal was now at work in the Church. New fabrics were being erected in every direction, and abundant provision was being made for increased beauty and decorum in the decoration of the churches. Unfortunately, however, the desire to alter and improve the mode of conducting the services created jealousies, antagonism, and strife. These changes were, for the most part, in matters of detail, in respect to which the law was silent; so that under the existing system they were practically left to the decision of the clergyman. The vestry and the churchwardens might complain; but they possessed no controlling power. What was wanted was that there should be some means of ascertaining what the people who worshipped in the church desired. He thought the balance of argument was in favour of extending the concurrent power beyond the congregation to the whole body of parishioners. The position of the national Church suggested that the offer of its advantages and belongings should be given according to residence and not according to any special profession of faith. For his own part, he did not apprehend any serious inconveniences from the differences of opinion which might exist among the parishioners. His noble Friend had mentioned cases in which voluntary committees had been 1133 formed of the parishioners to express opinions on the points to which he had referred. But that was not sufficient; there must be responsibility in order to secure the full discharge and execution of those functions. To give a controlling and dispensing power to the laity would be far better than attempting to make the law more stringent, or endeavouring to secure general uniformity. In matters which so much concerned the laity they ought to have a share in the decision. It would not be well that where congregations differed in their degree of culture and in their tastes they should be compelled to submit to an exclusive and minute law. Such an attempt to govern the Church could not succeed. The organization which it wanted was a living government, capable of dealing with the circumstances of the time, and adapting those circumstances to the requirements of the people. That would, in his opinion, be a far better mode of proceeding than to seek by coercive measures to restrain all change and improvement. But, although he believed an Act of Parliament ought to be passed, giving such power to persons in parishes, still he did not at all sympathize with those people who would treat the Church of England as if she were the creature of the law or a Department of the State. He, on the contrary, looked on the Established Church as an external embodiment of a spiritual organization, which had proceeded from a Divine source and was maintained by a supernatural force; but that external embodiment, which served as an instrument through which the spiritual force acted, necessarily restricted its freedom of action, although it concentrated its force. He thought it should be the policy of Parliament to give as much freedom as was consistent with universality to the Church in its execution of the great purposes for which it was established. In a matter of common worship it was far more important that the people should have what they asked for than that the clergyman should have that which he happened to think best. The Bill, in his opinion, would give ample scope and latitude for the free action of the persons resident in each parish, and thus we might hope to see the Established Church become a better manifestation of religious impulses, and a more efficient promoter of piety and virtue.
1134 Motion made, and Question proposed,That this House will immediately resolve itself into a Committee to consider of providing for the constitution of Parochial Councils in all parishes in England and Wales, and to define and enlarge the powers of Parishioners with respect to the conduct of Divine Worship in their Parish Churches."—(Viscount Sandon.)
§ MR. BIRLEY
said, the principal reason for a measure of this description was found in the scandal which had been caused of late years by unauthorized changes in the ceremonies of various churches—changes made without authority, although they were dictated by good feeling, and were often in accordance with the wishes of a very large portion of the congregation. Such changes had often rent asunder entire congregations, and given infinite trouble to the Bishops of the Church. Parochial councils would be of inestimable value to the beneficed clergy of the Church not merely in aiding them in the introduction of variety into the ceremonial, according to the spirit of the times and the wishes of the people, but also assisting them in the general management of their parishes. In the North of England there were parishes of enormous extent and containing immense populations, and all the assistance which the clergy obtained from Scripture readers, Bible women, schoolmasters, and the other machinery of a parish was often totally insufficient to reach the hearts and minds of the people. He was satisfied, he might add, that a large number of the clergy themselves were most anxious for such aid as the Bill would afford. In the neighbourhood with which he was connected it had been the usage for many years to invite the laymen to confer with the clergy on matters of general interest to their parishes, and the Bishop of Lichfield had expressed his sense of the necessity which existed for such association. Now, parochial councils would, he thought, form a very useful basis for an organization of that kind. It would not effect a great organic change in the constitution of the Church, but rather a restoration to ancient usage, the powers of the churchwarden being more extensively called into requisition, as in former times, when he was required to do many things which were at the present day practically ignored. Such a measure as this would be extremely useful in 1135 taking them back to old paths; and, though he would not pledge himself to all its details, he should give to the principle on which it was founded his hearty-support.
§ MR. T. HUGHES
said, that although introduced as a very small measure, a very wide question was opened by the proposal of the noble Lord—namely, whether it was right that the nation should distinctly declare itself a Christian nation. The doctrine that the State had nothing to do except with the security of body and goods was one which, no doubt, many Members had swallowed in reading Macaulay's Essays; but which had given him, at all events, a good deal of trouble to digest ever since. After the recent debates in this House on education, they might fairly come to the conclusion that the English people had resolved distinctly to declare themselves a Christian nation; and, presuming that to be so, the next question was, whether the most acceptable way of making such a declaration was not by putting the Established Church in the most efficient possible state? That was a question which must be answered in the affirmative. We had in the Established Church the best means of proclaiming that which the nation wished to be proclaimed. For 1,000 years it had performed this function; and in its constitution and doctrines it was the broadest of all the Christian bodies in England, or in the whole world. It comprised among its members men who differed widely in the doctrines they held; and that was a great advantage to the country. Again, the English Church was, of all other bodies in this country, most under the control of the State. It was a thoroughly national Church. The Queen was its head; in the last resort cases affecting it came before the Supreme Courts of the country, and the ultimate Governing Body of the Church was the ultimate Governing Body of the nation, so that Members of this House, whatever their opinions, could not help being a part of the Governing Body of the Church. The Church of England, so far as he knew, was, of all Churches and all sects of Christians, the one that adapted itself most easily to the changing circumstances of the times. Her first characteristic was her wide toleration of differences of opinion on theological questions; her second a 1136 great desire for union. Within a few hundred yards of that House there met, the other day, a body of learned Englishmen of all Churches and all sects, gathered together by a summons from the Dean, to assist in revising the translation of the English Bible. What happened on that occasion? The Dean of Westminster summoned the learned persons of all denominations who were to take part in this great work. He had previously ascertained that they were ready to join in communion with the Bishops and other persons of the Church of England who were engaged in the work. There had been no altar in the Chapel of Henry VII. since the time of the Civil War. In the late restoration of the Abbey the Dean had discovered a small portion of the altar on the tomb of Henry VI. He had had it restored. He had it placed upon the grave of Henry VI.; and round that altar the whole of the translators—the whole of the learned Englishmen who had been summoned were gathered together under the auspices of the Church of England. There were members of the Church of England, there were Presbyterians, members of the Established Church of Scotland and of the Free Church, there were Baptists, there were Wesleyans, there were other Nonconformists, and there was a Unitarian minister gathered round that altar and accepting from the Church of England the Holy Communion before commencing their great work. This showed that the Church was able to meet the changing circumstances of the times, and it should be both a duty and a pleasure on the part of the House of Commons to adopt any reforms which the members of the Establishment thought necessary for the efficiency of a Church which during 1,000 years had expressed before the whole world the Christianity of the nation. In past times the Church had mistaken its work, and been a persecuting body; but now it recognized the fact that it was not a power to command obedience or to dogmatize, but to be a great storehouse of blessings for the nation and the exponent of the Divine life. Many clergymen were gathering around themselves volunteer councils and consulting them; but he agreed with the noble Lord that, excellent as this was, it did not really meet the difficulties of the Church, and if these con- 1137 ferences were to become valuable they must assemble under the authority of an Act of Parliament. For these reasons, he cordially supported the Motion of the noble Lord.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, he did not yield to his noble Friend or to anyone in his desire and in his personal exertions to bring the laity into more active co-operation with the clergy, and he agreed with the hon. Member for Frome (Mr. T. Hughes) that there existed a deep feeling of the necessity for an endeavour to make the Established Church, to a greater extent than it was at present, the Church of the nation, in action no less than in theory. He was not, however, prepared to accept the scheme of the noble Lord as the best means of attaining that end. It was a very good scheme on paper, neat, precise, and terribly uniform; but of all nations in the world, we built up our institutions on practice and experience rather than on mathematically regular theory. The jealousy of premature legislation and of overstrained regularity was one of the secrets of our national progress and of the grand successful vigour of our corporate life. It was happily true that the practice of clergy and laity taking counsel together was becoming more and more frequent around us; but, he asked, might it not be well on that very account to let this movement work itself out and spread and organize itself before we sought to crystallize it by Act of Parliament? There were Church societies, Church committees, gathering sometimes in the vestry of the church, sometimes in the clergyman's parlour, sometimes in the squire's parlour, and sometimes in the school-house, growing and growing in every parish in the land; and he asked whether it was not the wisest and the most prudent course to allow the system to organize itself, as it did, throughout the country, not in one uniform shape, not by Act of Parliament, but in the particular shape everywhere into which local circumstances led it to frame itself, and relying for acceptance not on statutory obligations but upon the voluntary goodwill of flock and clergyman? The same constituency would never do for the country which would do for the towns. Frequently he believed in country parishes the clergyman would most wisely and most easily vitalize the old ves- 1138 try and give it life, and, above all things, spirituality. This was being done in some instances, and it told, for our farmers, shopkeepers, and poor people knew what "meeting in vestry" meant; if they are told that they are to go to the vestry to talk about the organ, or new hymns, or a second sermon in the afternoon, they feel themselves at home. When such, things are to be considered, are consulted in the vestry, they feel that the clergyman is taking them into council on mutual terms. On the other hand, if there was to be a new law, a new system of election, and a new body, the name of which had not been heard before, they would shake their heads, they would not understand it, or else they would think there was something strange and wrong about it—they would not trouble to vote at the election, or they would get up a contest in a suspicious spirit; and either the council would become a matter of parochial brawling or else a "ticket" would be elected, because people would not take part in the election and make it a reality. If more than a vestry was needed, goodwill in a parish would create that something more; but still he would rather, in the country districts, stick as long as possible to the old name and thing, and let the vestry become something more than, a mere taxing machine. Then let the House consider the very different case of the towns. By the necessities of the case the Church of England in the large towns was becoming congregational, and ceasing to be, in the old absolute sense, parochial. ["No, no!"] He said yes; and he would tell the House why. In all the parishes there was a variety of tastes and opinions; all the speakers in this discussion had admitted that with great liberality and candour, and they had admitted that that variety of taste was not to be snubbed, but rather to be encouraged. It was impossible that all the people in our large parishes should think alike as to the forms and services of our happily-elastic Prayer Book; it was impossible that they should all think alike as to the character or length of the services, or that they should all like the same hymns. In the country, from the non-accessibility of any other church, the wise clergymen and the well-conditioned congregation gave and took and hit off some compromise. But in the towns where one class of church was 1139 available within a quarter of a mile, and another class as near in another, there was no call for that compromise; common sense and common charity dictated, within due but liberal limits, the indulgence of every kind of laudable taste in worship. Those who preferred one kind of service went to one church, and those who preferred the other went to another. This might not be a development of our strict legal and parochial system; but he believed it was consonant to common sense and to the spirit of the times, and that it led to a deeper unity and to a greater spirituality in Churches. But then he did not wish to see these churches divested of their parochial responsibilities and of the legal accidents which pertained thereto. It was the union of the congregational character with the maintenance of parochial rights, in which consisted the peculiarity—the anomaly if they would—but, as he contended, the real safeguard of the town Church of England of our days, for the Church in the cities had stratified itself—if he might use a geological term—in different formations: if upon this semi-congregational system you were to impose, as his noble Friend wished, a rigid system of parochial councils, you would introduce a "fault" which would cleave and crumble the strata. But passing from the parishioners, what would the effect of this Bill be upon the clergyman? In one parish the people, dissatisfied, perhaps, with the ministrations of their clergyman, had gone to the next parish, while the people of the next parish, for the same reason, had come into theirs. What would be the result of this Bill if it imposed upon both these good men an alien council of persons, the order of whose religious life proved them in either case to be exactly those men who were least suited for the post? Would it be nothing to the good earnest man, whose heart was in his pulpit, but who cared little for musical services, to be required by the council of his parish to carry out a full choral service? And would it not equally tend to discourage the clergyman, who, while equally attending to his preaching, believed that he but attuned the hearts of his flock to communion with the Most High by all the glories of sacred beauty, to be nailed down by the council of his parish to a severe simplicity? Both these clergymen would be doing a good work in a 1140 different way, and in either case the council would spoil that work without the power of finding an equal substitute. These Church councils, supposing it was a right thing to create them, must in the towns be congregational councils, and then the system must be allowed to develop itself gradually, by mutual gravitation rather than by Act of Parliament, or else the matter would not be put on its right footing. It would be affectation to deny that the question had been pushed into prominence by the development of so-called "Ritualism." On this head, while deploring the absurdity of many of its manifestations, he was bound to state that it was a perversion of fact to denounce them, as was often done, as instances of sacerdotal tyranny. On the contrary, they were often examples of lay tyranny, brought broadly to bear by an exigent congregation upon a not very willing clergyman. The leaders were laymen—often men of the less opulent professional class, whom it had hitherto been so difficult to get at all to church—under artistic influences, and it was often the congregation who urged the clergyman on. Well then, if there was a Church remarkable on one side or the other for practices not strictly within the Rubric, but acceptable to the congregation, the result would be, should a parochial council put an end to them, that the congregation would secede to a private chapel of their own. There was too much tendency already to lean most to proprietary chapels; and if, as he feared, the forced creation of parochial councils fostered the tendency, the increase would be a great and lasting importance to the Church. He repeated that if there were to be Church councils in the large towns they ought to be congregational and not parochial councils. On these grounds he doubted whether the Bill of his noble Friend would meet the evils they were all anxious to avert, or foster the good they were all striving to develop. He would remind his noble Friend that what he wished to accomplish—lay co-roperation—was already in course of being done. The stone was rolling; the question was in the atmosphere. It was shaping itself, not merely in the parish, but in the archdeaconry and the diocese. It was agitated at Church congresses, at Church associations, at Church unions, at Church assemblies of every kind and degree. He thought the question had 1141 better be left to be fought out in the arena of voluntary discussion than be stamped out by Parliament at this stage taking formal action, and prematurely adopting too narrow and rigid an organization without the due consideration of local circumstances.
§ DR. BALL
said, he did not intend to enter upon a discussion of the general question; but to express his opinion that the law in relation to this subject was in a most unsatisfactory state. The Bishops were often blamed because they did not take immediate action when complaint was made to them of the introduction of new and objectionable practices in the celebration of Divine worship. The truth was, that the Bishops had very little power in the matter, and if a complaint was brought before them, the only answer they could safely make was, that this was a legal question, and that it had better be brought into Court, and tried before the Vicar General. In England, the procedure in the Ecclesiastical Courts was tedious, full of technicalities, and attended with enormous expense. The cost of two or three proceedings recently instituted to decide subjects of extreme simplicity as regards the material question involved were so erroneous as to constitute a reproach to the law of England in connection with this matter. In Ireland, they had had some experience on the subject, which pointed out a mode of remedying the evil he adverted to. In 1865, the Irish Bishops, with the assistance of Lord Palmerston's Government—and there was never a Government which, in connection with the Church, whether as regards its patronage or policy, was more deserving of the confidence of those connected with the Church—framed a measure, which cheapened and simplified the whole procedure of the Ecclesiastical Courts in Ireland. He had experience of the working of that measure, and he knew if it were adopted in England all the expenses and procrastination complained of might be got rid of, power being given to the Bishop in the first instance, analogous to that which the visitor of a College possessed, to proceed in the matter, and a reference being given to a Court, in which clergymen and laymen were joined, for it would not be right, in his opinion, that the ultimate tribunal should consist of ecclesiastics only. If in addition to such, an arrangement a simpler mode 1142 were established of appealing to the Privy Council, the public mind would be satisfied, and the demands now made would cease.
Great harmony of feeling and opinion, generally speaking, appear to prevail with respect to the Motion, and I congratulate my noble Friend who made the Motion (Viscount Sandon), and my right hon. Friend who supported it (Mr. Cowper-Temple), on that harmony, because it is due to the spirit with which they approached the subject. The speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down, led us into a field of great importance, into which, however, I will not enter, because I believe the present object is rather to prevent mischief than to apply legal remedies. The noble Lord has frankly, and, as I think judiciously, explained that his object is to draw the mind of Parliament and of the country to the consideration of the question, with a view to the adoption of some measure at a future time. He has spoken modestly of the degree of power possessed by himself as an independent Member; but I do not think it would be in the power of any person, however experienced, or even of any Administration, to frame a measure on a question of this kind which can be passed in the present Session. The public mind must first be prepared for legislation on the subject. Legislation must be the result of gradual action in the public mind—weighing the difficulties and advantages of both sides of the question, gradually adopting the best methods of procedure, and, finally, happily arriving at some satisfactory conclusion. What we have now to consider is the general justice of the proposition of the noble Lord. As I understand him, his complaint is that according to the system of the Church of England the sole power of the clergyman is a great evil and grievance. The noble Lord has carefully guarded himself with respect to the position of the clergy. No one who listened to him could suppose that he was either actuated by a spirit of hostility to their Order or disposed to do injustice to the very remarkable personal qualities of the body who claimed as a right the legal position of clergymen apart from the merits of clergymen themselves. The noble Lord takes ground I am not prepared to contest. Long before the election speech which 1143 he quoted of mine—20 years ago—I did, as a member of a voluntary Church in Scotland, urge on my fellows in that Church the expediency and desirableness of introducing lay power into the government of that Church. Therefore, I am quite prepared to accept the general principle of the noble Lord. I think this sole power is an evil and a grievance. Occasionally we find that it places in the hands of the clergyman the means of precipitate or ill-judged measures, taken upon his own responsibility alone, which constitutes a real mischief, and causes dissension amongst his parishioners. Occasionally, too, it happens that measures are taken, not in themselves ill-judged, but which become unacceptable and causes of difference, simply because they appear to proceed from the arbitrary will of the clergyman, and carry with them the stamp of no previous general concurrence. On the other hand, it is also true that the example of theoretical excess on the part of the clergyman frequently means an actual deficiency of practical power. It tends to narrow the clergyman's legitimate sphere of action and his power of falling back on the concurrence of the people in cases where it would not be difficult to obtain it, and where, if obtained, it would be of great value to the object he has in view. Therefore, as regards the general proposition, that this sole power of the clergyman ought to be modified and to some extent transferred to others, while its exercise may be controlled and strengthened, I do not question it. Undoubtedly some difficulties may arise; I, for one, think there is a good deal of weight in what has been stated by my right hon. Friend who seconded the Motion (Mr. Cowper-Temple), and by my hon. Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. B. Hope). It is not necessary for me to enter into detail on that part of the subject. It would be anticipating difficulties which have not yet arisen. By degrees, no doubt, as we come to deal with the question and contemplate practical results, we shall discover the means of circumventing those difficulties. I am not prepared to accede to any general rigid proposition as to the mode in which parochial councils are to be elected. There is no doubt, on the one hand, that where possible it is extremely desirable, without drawing any distinction by way of 1144 subdivision, to maintain the old relation of the parishioners to the Church. On the other hand, there is an equal necessity of admitting that in the condition of many of our parishes, with the vast populations they contain, and the great diversities of thought and of opinion that must be found among them, there would be extreme difficulty, and even danger, in attempting to deal with them as absolute ecclesiastical unities for the purpose of impressing uniform character upon the usages of worship in matters fairly open to difference of opinion in all Churches found within their limits; and my hon. Friend pointed out with great justice that a danger lies there in this respect—namely, that if you endeavour to apply undue pressure, if you endeavour to narrow the liberty congregations ought to possess, and which our object should be not to narrow but to confirm, from the action of a body elected in a great degree by those who do not belong to the congregation and never enter the church, and do not care for the worship except to interfere with it, you will produce a very strong tendency on the part of that portion of the community of different colour and views to avail themselves of resort to proprietary chapels in which they would escape from all parochial responsibility, adopt a purely congregational system, and at the same time probably claim for themselves the power of more extreme development in respect of ritual, preaching, music, and whatever else might be in question, than any to which they had yet reached. But that is a matter which we are not bound in any manner to attempt to settle at the present moment. It is enough to introduce the general principle, and the proceeding of the noble Lord, as I understand it, is founded on the principle that it is desirable at once to confirm and control the power of the clergyman by enlarging the body through means of which it is exercised. The noble Lord has told us of Mr. Freemantle, who deserves great credit for bringing the public mind to the consideration of this question, having himself in his own congregation endeavoured to see what by his own resources he can effect in rallying around him a well-organized body of parishioners for controlling and assisting him in the administration of his parish. I think there is extreme reason and good sense in that method of 1145 proceeding, and any of the clergy who are disposed to follow Mr. Freemantle's example, and arrange for themselves councils, assemblies, parochial synods—call them what they like, for the purpose of consolidating union between lay and spiritual action in the government of their parishes, will bestow on us an important service, and by the result of their voluntary efforts may throw much light on the practical bearing of the question, and assist Parliament in its deliberations when we come to endeavour to legislate in regard to a matter of so much importance. The noble Lord has said he has been for some time engaged on this question of very great interest. For my part, as a Member of the Government, I feel that the noble Lord has been discharging a most useful function in preparing and breaking the ground on this question. It is a mistake to suppose the end we have in view is easy of attainment. I am prepared to find—partly, perhaps, from the nature of the case, partly from the jealousies with which this subject is surrounded—considerable difficulty in our way; but I believe he has taken the right course with regard to initiative measures for having brought into notice considerable public evils, and likewise public evils we may have power of averting not merely as something to limit, control, and repress, but something we may convert into agencies of good and strength, and great utility to the ecclesiastical institutions of the country. So far as the Government are concerned, we shall readily support the Motion of the noble Lord.
§ MR. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he was glad the Government did not intend to oppose the introduction of the Bill; not that he wished to see it carried into a law in its present form, but in order that the subject might be ventilated. The whole discussion reminded him of the saying of the Dean of Chichester, who had done so much good for the Church. When asked how he contrived to manage his parishioners so extremely well, he replied—"I manage my parishioners! I do nothing of the sort; they entirely manage me." That was practically true, and all wise clergymen should endeavour to follow the Dean's example. A century ago, the country was dead, so to speak, to all religion, and it was the clergy who first started 1146 its revival, and in consequence of their great exertions, they had had heaped upon them duties which, in his opinion, ought to have been undertaken by the parishioners. They did net now wish to have all the power taken out of their hands; but all that was wanted was to get these parishioners thoroughly interested in parochial work, and to work with them in every way. That could not be effected by Act of Parliament, but only by a good feeling existing between the clergy and the parishioners; and he hoped they would find that their interest was so to work together as to render legislation upon the subject unnecessary. He felt satisfied the Motion had been made from no party feeling, but from a desire to prevent clergymen adopting practices contrary to the wishes of their parishioners, and which all must deplore. He was quite sure that public feeling was growing to such an extent that clergymen were gradually beginning to see that they must consult the feelings of their parishioners if they wished to win their feelings and save their souls. He believed the clergy would more and more consult the feelings of their parishioners, and he was sure the country would find that the revival of sidesmen to act as churchwardens in the performance of their early functions would have the greatest possible effect.
§ VISCOUNT SANDON
, in reply, said, he wished to thank the House for the kind way in which they had received the subject, which he wished to apologize for introducing at a time when they were so busy with another topic. He had introduced it in no party spirit. He trusted the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. B. Hope) would do him the justice to acknowledge that he did not wish to exalt the authority of the parishioners at the expense of the clergy. His object was that a clergyman who should be appointed to a St. Albans, Holborn, or to a Low Church, should not be able to make great changes without the concurrence of his congregation. It would be presumption in him to ask the House to express an opinion on the details of his measure; he was satisfied with the general expression of opinion he had elicited in favour of its principle. He was especially glad to find from the cheers that came from the Nonconformist Members that when a question affecting the Church 1147 of England was started they were ready to listen with respect, and to treat the Church with as much tenderness as if it were their own. In conclusion, he thanked the Prime Minister for the support he had given him.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Matter considered in Committee.
(In the Committee.)
Resolved, That the Chairman be directed to move the House, that leave he given to bring in a Bill to provide for the constitution of Parochial Councils in all parishes in England and Wales, and to define and enlarge the powers of Parishioners with respect to the conduct of Divine Worship in their Parish Churches.
Resolution reported:—Bill ordered to be brought in by Viscount SANDON and Mr. COWPER-TEMPLE.