28 SEPTEMBER 1867, Page 13


[To THE EDITOR OF THE " SPECTATOR.1 SIR, —On Friday last, September 20th, I took the opportunity of attending one of the evening and one of the morning services preliminary to the so-called Pan-Anglican Synod. What I saw appeared to me so remarkable, that some account of it may possibly interest your readers.

I had been misinformed as to the hour of the evening service, and, knowing that the attendance was large, was not at first sur- prised when I went to the spot about ten minutes before seven to find a small crowd of apparently over 100 people assembled before the closed doors, reminding me exactly of old days of waiting before the pit doors of Her Majesty's Theatre. I was surprised, however, when I discovered, from the talk of those around me, what the real state of the case was, and that the doors would not even be opened before half-past seven, the service beginning at eight. The crowd, which perceptibly swelled every moment behind me, was an eminently respectable middle-class crowd, —not free from the national vice of pushing,—but well behaved on the whole, and civil. Half-past seven came, the doors were opened, and I was simply borne along into the church (which I had never entered before), a happy instinct causing me on entering to diverge to the right, so that I found myself in a few moments—always borne along by the immense mass behind— in the third rank at the head of the column which filled the inter- space between the pews of the nave, the pews themselves being for the most part already occupied, or reserved for special occupants, and the whole standing- ground within the church being covered at once by the crowd. The church itself is a lofty, rectangular building, with no beauty, but with a certain large, square-cut, City massiveness, which seemed to say, "I am very well pleased with myself, and don't care what you think of me." An unusually large space is enclosed within the altar rails, entail- ing a proportionate length of step, and being thus equivalent, for the spectacle of worship, to Mr. Spurgeon's and other Dissenting "platforms." At eight o'clock a really impressive effect was pro- duced by some chaunting of an unseen choir in the vestry ; ludi- crously frantic efforts were made by men in long clothes or short to separate the crowd in the middle passage where I stood ; a hymn was struck up, in which most of all around seemed heartily to join, and from behind at last the procession made its appear- ance,—small boys in frout, then the grown-up members of the choir, the clergy, and the bishops of the evening,—conspicuous among the last class but one being a black clergyman from Jamaica, whom I happened to know, and who looked, in his white surplice, every inch a priest.

Now, I do not find fault with religious processions as such. They seem to me a form of "rhythmic drill" quite as good as any other. I have had to keep step myself in volunteer file- marching, and I don't see what difference there is between file-marching in a grey or green uniform, perhaps to the sound of a drum or a band, and file-marching in a stole or surplice, to the sound of an organ or singing a hymn. Teetotallers, Foresters have their processions, and why not any set of Anglicans who like them ? It may seem to me that a man who feels the dignity and solemnity of his office as a minister of Christ would go straight, by the nearest open path, to reading- desk or pulpit, rather than take a long way round by the back of a church, elbowing right and left, or knowing that others must elbow for him, a dense crowd scarcely capable of further compres- sion, and which there was otherwise no occasion to disturb. But if people sincerely think that by so doing they are "worshipping the Lord in the beauty of holiness," it is, at worst, a fault of judgment. Certain it is,—and this is the remarkable feature of the matter,—that the great mass of the congregation seemed to take the affair as a matter of course, the sitters in the pews contentedly looking on at the hustling, the hustled standers contentedly bearing it, and all singing out at the top of their voices. Now, I have been in St. Barnabas, Pimlico, when the closed doors were being battered from outside by angry rioters ; I have been in St. George's in the East when the mere chaunting of the Psalms was creating half-a-dozen riots at once within the building itself ; and I must own that to see this quiet and, so to speak, orderly jostling of a dense crowd in a narrow passage by a religions procession was a marvel to me. Reaching the top of the church, the procession parted, the bishops taking their seats by the altar, the clergy ranging them- selves on both sides of the chancel, the very numerous choir filling rows of benches in front. As a spectacle, these rows of white- robed men thus disposed in the wide chancel produced an excellent picturesque effect, and I was delighted to see among them (American Bishops included) a good sprinkling of full- bearded men, with beards black, brown, or grey, in whom the Apostles would have recognized their true successors. (Another strange revolution, indeed,—for how many years is it since the Bishop of London, one of the moat sensible on the English Bench, tried to stretch his Episcopal authority to the suppression of a very moderate beard on the chin of one of the ablest of his parish priests ?) There is no need to describe the service, which was the ordinary choral one, with the addition of the two processions and their hymns. To a procession at the close of a service, I should say at once, I feel much less objection in principle than to one at the beginning. The minister's work is done, but the same feeling which may well haste him to it at the beginning may equally make him linger over it at the end. As a matter of fact, the closing procession was as effective as the opening ttpe was in my eyes unseemly. The crowd had to some extent thinned ; what remained of it had in some way or other settled; a favoured few (I, amongst others, after standing, I reckon, for upwards of two hours and ten minutes) had subsided into some kind of seats ; so

that instead of having to force its way, the procession really swept along, to the °haunting of an exceedingly beautiful hymn ("0 Paradise !"). And here, let me say that whilst the organ of St. Lawrence's is beautifully played, the singing in itself is far from satisfactory from a musical point of view. At the little sea-side town from which I write, a fairly responsive congregation keeps far better time and tune than the worshippers at Mr. Cowie's church. The remarkable feature there was the volume of sound, —the heartiness with which the great bulk of the congregation seemed to join in the chaunts and hymns. Never, in my life, I own, had I seen the like before in England out of a Dissenting chapel. It is true that the hymns at these services being only sixteen in all, printed on a sheet which is liberally distributed about, and the evening service comprising not leas than five of these, they must become easily familiar to regular attendants. The performance of the service was distributed amongst as many of the clergy as possible, the black clergyman from Jamaica, the Rev. Robert Gordon, taking the first lesson. There was, of course, intoning, and the pitching of the voice, as in cathedral service—a practice I was at first inclined to object to, under the circumstances, but which I found to be necessary the next morning, from the bad acoustic construction of the church, while listening to the Archdeacon of Perth. The second lesson was really well read ; whilst, on the other hand, the latter portion of the prayers was despatched in that curious sing-song of misplaced emphasis and tonality which some High-Church clergymen seem to consider appropriate in addressing their Heavenly Father, although if they dared to address their earthly one in tones so pretentious and un- real he would certainly laugh in their faces, if not box their ears. I will say nothing of Bishop Gray's address, which, however, gave me a better idea of his character than I had hitherto received.

The next morning at seven was the early Communion Service, and it was sufficiently remarkable to find at this an attendance, the papers said afterwards, of at least 100,-1 should have said nearer 200. I was, however, far less pleased with this than with the evening service. I am exceedingly fond of early communions, and entertain a most grateful recollection of many a one which I have attended in former days at St. Paul's, Knightsbridge, espe- cially. But it was the first time I had been present at a choral Eucharistic service, and I must say I found that at St. Lawrence's, without exception, the most undevotional I had ever known. A peculiarly theatrical effect was produced by the subdued playing of the organ throughout the whole of the administration of the Sacrament. This is the only period in our services which affords one of those openings for private silent prayer which Baron Bunsen used so much to miss in the Anglican Liturgy. Now I found pri- vate prayer almost impossible whilst my ear was attracted by the music behind, and the involuntary feeling, "What a beautiful modulation ! what an exquisite tremolo !" came ever and anon between me and God. Music at this time is indeed even aestheti- cally a solecism, for the constant repetition by the clergy of the same two forms of words as they administer the elements, however subdued may be the sound, forms of itself, if not a chaunt, still a rhythm which, by its impressive solemnity, supports, instead of distracting, private prayer, and to which the latter, as it were, involuntarily sets itself. I do not wish to dwell further on this service, beyond saying that the clergy officiating at St. Law- rence's seemed hardly to be aware that there might be those among their fellow-worshippers who, with as firm faith as they hold themselves to a contrary practice, believe that the words of our liturgy, "Take this," are neither literally fulfilled, nor is the act of apprehen- sion by faith which they imply adequately symbolized, by the as- sumption of a posture which, of all the Apostles at the Last Supper, can scarcely have been that of any but Judas when he received the sop. A very striking and pleasing sight, on the other hand, was that of the whole numerous choir, the mere children excepted, receiving the Sacrament.

And now to conclude. What drew that crowd to an evening service at a City church on a week-day ? What drew those five score or more communicants at seven o'clock in the morning? Occa- sional visitants like myself seemed to be the exception, the great bulk of the congregation, as I judged both from the conversations I heard outside, and the evident familiarity of those within with the hymns and practices of the church, being regular attendants, at least on this series of services. The music, as I said, however exquisitely the organ is played, is far from first-rate. There are no "beautiful garments," as at St. Alban's, or at any Irvingite place of worship. The prayers were, on the whole, poorly read ; the discourses, both in the evening and morning, though neither of them uninteresting, were certainly not eloquent. With the exception of the processions, the service as such was nothing more than a second-rate cathedral one, such as any one may see any week-day performed in the presence of perhaps fifty ladies and children in a chancel. Yet the congregation was undoubtedly earnest, devout, hearty, ready to "make a cheerful noise," when- ever required, to God's glory.

And what was the congregation ? As I said before, perceptibly a middle-class one ; exceedingly few fashionable people ; the most part seemingly shopkeepers, clerks, merchants, and the like. Working-men I cannot say I saw there ; though there were two or three whom I should have set down as foremen, and probably some apprentices or young journeymen among the choristers. I particularly observed these latter, as forming no doubt the very kernel of the congregation, and they offered certainly as curious a collection of faces as I have ever seen. In front, and marshalling them, marched a singularly girlish-looking youth, with a small car- nelian cross (so it seemed to me) hanging like a woman's jewel on his chest, with a face quite sui generis,—a dreamy brow, with one of the pertest, sauciest mouths I ever saw ; something of Lacordaire, and very much more of Gavroche. In those who followed there was every variety of feature save one,—refined, semi-idiotic (I had visited Earlswood that day, and was, therefore, fresh from among the congeners of this type), enthusiastic, sensual, open, Jesuitic, self-satisfied. But there was not, I must say, one wise face among them, or, indeed,—except that of Mr. Cowie him- self,—on the shoulders of any single person who seemed to be attached to the service of the church ; and very few, so far as I could see, among the congregation. You might look round and round, and your eyes would scarcely ever rest upon one coun- tenance which would give you the sense of judgment, of counsel, of keen, quiet insight into men and things.

And this to me was the sadder aspect of the whole matter. It is impossible not to recognize as a fact, after witnessing these ser- vices, that the worship of the Church of England, simply screwed up, as it were, to the last peg of lawful liturgical observance, without any extraordinary temptations to eye or car, is capable yet of fixing a very powerful hold on the affections of the middle class of our town population, men as well as women, for indeed one of the most unusual features of the affair was the apparent predominance of men over women in the congregation. But I warn those who have achieved this great success,—for such it really is,—that they do not seem to me yet to have touched the real heart of our people, the educated working class. Barring several of the American clergy, strong men some of them, every inch of them,—the committee or council of any great co-operative store or trade society would, I verily believe, turn out from among its small body a greater number of really masculine heads, stamped in every line with common sense, forethought, and all the real powers of the intellect, than I saw in the whole of that crowded church. A devout Christian congregation it certainly was, and I am thankful for having seen it ; but it was not a congregation such as St. Paul would have addressed in those pregnant words, "I speak as to wise men ; judge ye what I say." And I must add, that I doubt whether such services, however successful, open yet the right way for gathering such a congregation together.—I am,