Friday, July 8, 2016

Bp. Mandell Creighton on Keeping the Church Open for Prayer, and the Public Celebration of the Daiky Office

"If the Church itself be a perpetual sermon, you must do all that you can to give it point and to enforce its application. There are two ways in which this can be done, two plain methods which I would like to think were universally adopted.

The Church must not only be cared for, but must be used. People must be exhorted to feel that it is their Church, open always for their use, ready with its suggestiveness at every crisis of their life, having a message for all their needs. We are maiming the meaning and usefulness of our Churches, if they are kept closed from one Sunday night till the next Sunday morning.

We are directly teaching that religion is a matter for Sunday services, and is not vitally connected with our weekday life. I am very strongly of opinion that every Church should be open and accessible to all at all times of every day. I know all that can be said against this suggestion. I know that people rarely use the Church when it is open. Can it be expected that the habit will grow up at once? I know all that is said about inconveniences, and dangers of loss, or of irreverence. My only answer is: You may have some cases of foolish conduct sometimes; but then they give you an opportunity of speaking on the subject directly, which may be of incalculable use.

There is perhaps no point on which you would be so sure of carrying everybody's sympathy with you: and to fan men's latent feeling of reverence into conscious expression is a most real advance. But I do not think that there is any real danger to be apprehended,—and I speak with some knowledge. For many years past I have been in the habit of examining parish Churches in various parts of England. I have 'gained considerable knowledge of the way in which they are cared for, and used.

In my experience I should say roughly that about half the parish Churches stand open; that those which stand open are much better cared for than those which do not; that they are as a rule more highly decorated, and might be supposed to have more to fear from mischief; that I can discover no peculiarities of position or of local conditions which determines the matter, but apparently only the feeling of the clergyman; that where the Church is open, there is generally affixed to the door a notice to that effect, with a request that any one entering the Church would pray for himself and for the parish. I think that a mere notice on the Church door, " This Church is open for prayer and meditation," is of inestimable value as asserting the place which these two things ought to hold in the life of every Christian.

Let me repeat; the Church itself is the first and most visible instrument of Christian teaching: it ought to be used to the full, and its meaning emphasised with all distinctness: let it be open at all times to all men.

But if the people are to be taught to use their Church, the clergyman must not only afford them opportunities, but must set them an example. The daily saying of Morning and Evening Prayer in Church is of great importance. Again, I know all that can be said by one who prefers to say them privately, because he is hopeless of being joined by any of his parishioners in Church.

But the fact remains that you are directed to say them in Church, unless you are reasonably let or hindered: and the absence of others is certainly no hindrance to you.

But I would call your attention to some definite points of practical value. You are trying to teach your people to pray: can you be doing your best if you do not bring it before them as a privilege, which you yourself enjoy to exercise? You may go about your parish and exhort to prayer: you may pray with the sick and those in calamity; but you will best enforce your lessons by your example.

The sound of the bell, especially when the listener knows that it is being rung by your own hands, if it does not operate as a summons, is yet a reminder, and brings a message of consolation and encouragement. It is well that you should pray with your people; it is well that they should know that you also pray for them. And I think there are few cases in which daily prayers are said in Church where a few pious souls do not gather occasionally after a time.

There are also other reasons of much importance for daily services—reasons which affect the usefulness of a country clergyman. It is of great service to himself that he should have some regular and fixed points in his daily work in his parish. It is inevitable from the nature of a clergyman's duties that they should be left to his own discretion, and that the times of their performance should be at his own choice.

The first thing that every man ought to strive to do is to be a law unto himself, and to economise his time by the formation of habits for its allotment. The existence of fixed times for daily Morning and Evening Prayer is a great help, and enables him to adjust other things accordingly. A regular hour for Church leads to a regular visit to the school. For the same reason it is a great help to his people. It vastly increases his accessibility, which is a matter of no little importance. Villagers are often shy; and many, who wish to see you, will not go so far as call upon you through a dread of clothing their question with undue importance in the eyes of others; but if they know that you are almost always at Church atfixed hours twice a day, they know where and when you can easily be found, and have a means of familiar intercourse which nothing else can give.

Again, the fact that you show yourself to have definite duties at definite hours assimilates your life to theirs, and makes the nature and aim of your work much more comprehensible to their minds. They can understand that a man is caring for them in very deed when they see him daily going regularly to the Church and the school, so setting before them the unmistakable outlines of a life devoted to prayer and teaching."

From Bp. Mandell Creighton, The Church and the Nation

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