SUBURBAN CHURCH ACCOMMODATION.
ITHIN the last ten years the immensely increased facilities afforded by the suburban lines of rail have enabled many thousands of persons engaged in daily business in town to reside in the country at distances varying from four to twenty miles. This centrifugal energy of the particles of London business society, however advantageous in many respects both as regards health and economy, has, however, this drawback, that as there is the most unli- mited choice, North, South, East, and West, for all classes, and every scale of income, it rarely happens that any neighbourhood becomes quickly filled, and the consequence is, that in a very large number of cases there is no adequate accommodation for religious worship. A neighbourhood which is sufficiently settled to support two public-houses is nevertheless too frequently unable to build and endow one church, and that for reasons quite independent of the spread of Dissent, or the rival attractions of Ebenezer or Salem Chapel. Here, too, the difficulty of finding a site, which is the chief obstacle to the operations, amid poor parishes and districts, of that truly excellent body, the London Diocesan Church Building Society, has been absolutely eliminated, since in all those flourishing litho- graphed plans with which the unwary public are hooked into becom- ing pioneers of an unbroken solitude for the benefit of enterprising building speculators, the site of the "elegant Gothic church" always figures conspicuously. Nor are matters greatly mended by selecting a neighbourhood where the church is advertised as being within ten minutes' walk. Ten to one it proves to be the worst speculative feature of the entire colony, dependent for its completion and conse- cration upon the chance of the vacant building lots being filled up, and in its unfinished grimness an eyesore to fastidious town visitors,
and a constant drain upon the purse and temper of Paterfamilias. The parish church, however, is three miles away, and the dissenting chapel is low, or at all events the young ladies are decidedly High Church; and so the result is, that Paterfamilias, long accustomed to having matters made pleasant by the churchwardens of the metro. politan parish he has hitherto resided in, finds himself expected to take the hat round every two or three months, and dun dilatory sub- scribers, and peruse balance-sheets, and audit accounts, and memo- rialize Dr. Tait and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and, in short, perform a variety of duties for which he had never bargained when he got Ellesmere Lodge such a bargain. Of course, if he be one of those bustling, energetic persons, all wire and watch-seals, to whom rural retirement is but an additional outlet for superfluous energy, he adapts himself to this new career with marvellous readiness. But for the ninety and nine, whose long years of patient toil in some murky thoroughfare have been brightened by anticipations of con- suming in the decline of life their own home-grown kitchen stuff, raised at twice the price for which they would be supplied with a better article from market, all this worry is insupportable. The very soul grows aweary of the phrases "organ-fund," "tower-fund," "choir and transept completion fund," etc. 8cc., and wonders why it is necessary, in constructing a church, to insist with as much earnest- ness as M. Fould himself on having every item of this little budget confined rigorously to its own proper sphere of disbursement. And, in fact, it is difficult to understand why a church should not be built as an ordinary dwelling-house or railway station is built, which is enlarged from time to time as traffic increases, or the owner of the house finds he has spare cash to invest in its embellishment.
The cause of all this trouble is not far to seek. For certain canonical purposes, the church must be consecrated by the bishop, with which quaint ritual we have no fault to find. But we do object to its being considered necessary that the Church should be completed, with the exception of the spire, before that ceremony is performed. Like so many other parts of the Church of England ritual, consecration is a symbolical service. The bishop and clergy of the deanery first of all perambulate the bounds of the entire plot of ground within which is the actual site of the church, thus consecrating the entire soil. They then enter the church, and with similar ceremonies perform the spiritual lustration of the material with which it is built. Hence it is that no tempo- rary church can be consecrated, inasmuch as the materials, whether iron or wood, might be converted to profane uses—such as forming the platform of a station, or the armour-plates of a Leviathan or a Warrior. Once, however, stone and mortar have been used, it is obvious that nothing short of an earthquake is likely to make those materials available again. But a less obvious consequence results from this state of things. In order to avoid the expense of a tempo- rary church (the cost of one of which, with 600 sittings, according to a report lying before us as we write, is 9251., exclusive of "inci- dentals"), it becomes necessary to lay out the church according to the prospective wants of the neighbourhood, so that a scattered commu- nity of perhaps 300 or 400 souls finds itself saddled for years with a succession of subscriptions on a so-called "voluntary" principle, so organized as strongly to resemble spiritual and social coercion, towards the erection of a church of, say, 1200 or 1500 sittings. Nor would matters be mended by insisting on erecting a small church, since it is obvious that within a few years it would become necessary to build another church near at hand, thus ultimately involving the endowment of an additional incumbency and ciracy. We do not care to do more than point out another, in our opinion even more objectionable, feature, viz, the personal responsibility to architects and builders usually incurred by the incumbent-designate while the church is being erected, since it would lead us beyond our limits to consider how much any clergyman's usefulness must be impaired by a constant suspicion on the part of his congregation that he is working for relief from liability, and for his own advancement, quite as much as for the sacred office he has been called to.
The remedy for this state of things is simple. The real altar is not the table of stone or wood, covered though it be with the most costly votive cloth, or carved with emblematic decoration. Neither is the stone edifice made with hands more than a mere symbol of the Unseen Heavenly Temple. All, in fact, that is within the church is purely symbolic, and therefore we hold that it is not imperatively necessary that the choir should be completed for the altar to stand in what is merely its accustomed place. In all continental cathedrals, every side recess is a chapel with its own little altar. There the wretched drivelling about north and south is utterly ignored. The penitent prays with his face to the west to-day, and to the east to- morrow. Shall we, with our boasted enlightenment, lag behind ? Every one has heard of the Highland chief, who declared that where- ever be sat that was the head of the table. Reasoning from profane to sacred subjects, we may say that wherever the altar is there is the church, Why, then, cannot the altar be placed temporarily in the nave, and the nave alone be consecrated for Divine service, leaving aisles, choir, transepts, and organ-loft to follow in due time ?
at an expense of a few hundred pounds, a place of worship might be consecrated, and the church and its incumbent and supporters be spared the scandal of many long years—the same report we have already quoted from mentions sixteen as the average—of indebted- ness, and consequent mendicancy. Then, whether the neighbourhood fill slowly or rapidly, the church can be completed to suit all re- quirements, as, for instance, first the aislesethen the choir, then the transepts.
It seems difficult to conceive what objection can be advanced to a remedy so simple. Perhaps its simplicity is its worst enemy. Yet, unless the consecration be performed separately over every stone in the building, it is difficult to sec how any addition to the edifice can fail to acquire that specific distinction for religions purposes which the ceremony of consecration is supposed to impart. Those who entertain such extraordinary High Church notions would do well to read a little tract published by the society we have already mentioned, entitled, Church Work among the Masses. They will there see what results may be achieved in dingy rooms by missionary curates, whose noble efforts, we humbly conceive, consecrate the poor buildings in which their labour of love is carried on as effec- tually as even the lawn sleeves of a Father of the Church, however amiable and humble-minded.