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CHURCHMAN'S MONTHLY REVIEW.
AN ENQUIRY INTO THE POSSIBILITY OF OBTAINING
MEANS FOR CHURCH EXTENSION, WITHOUT PARLIAMENTARY GRANTS. By the Rev. WILLIAM PALMER, M.A., of Worcester College, Oxford. London: Rivingtons. 1841.
In our last number we adverted to the very interesting but equally perplexing subject of Church Extension; or, as Mr. Gresley prefers the phrase, of the “Restoration of the National Church." Part of the learned Prebendary's pamphlet was supplied by his friend Mr. Palmer, of Worcester College, Oxford; who has since emerged from behind the shield of the greater Ajax, assumed his proper weapon, and presented himself openly as a leader of the phalanx of Church Restorers. His first shaft, levelled at the Dagon of ultra-Protestantism, is intituled, an "Enquiry into the Possibility of Obtaining Means for Church Extension, without Parliamentary Grants.” Mr. Gresley first proves the necessity of attempting a restoration of the Church; and lest John Bull, always nervously sensitive when his pocket is in jeopardy, should take fright at the prospect of being called upon to supply the material, Mr. Palmer undertakes to soothe the apprehensions of the irritable old gentleman, by assuring him that the means are already abundantly provided—if he only knew where to look for them. We strongly suspect, however, that Mr. Palmer's expedient for paying Peter will be found, when carefully and dispassionately examined, nothing better than a plan for robbing Paul. We entirely agree with him as to the desirableness of increasing the number of Bishops: this indeed we consider an indispensable preliminary and adjunct to any effectual scheme of Church extension; but if the incomes of additional Bishops and the stipends of additional Curates are only to be provided by imposing new burdens upon those who are already laden as heavily as they can bear, we see nothing before us but a choice of evils, and very greatly doubt whether, in increasing the existing number of Bishops and of Clergymen, we should choose the less. Not to anticipate, however, we will first set before our readers the detail of Mr. Palmer's plan, and then proceed to the statement of our objections.
“We are now to examine the remaining part of the subject-the provision for 4000 curates and deacons. We will suppose that 2000 of each would be sufficient, and that the incomes of the former may be placed at £100 per annum each, and the latter at £75 per annum. The total amount requisite for their salaries would then be £350,000 per annum.
“ To meet this charge, it seems to me that there are two measures within the power of the Church, which would probably be found sufficient for all that could be wanted.
“ (1.) The first is that which has been recommended by Mr. Gresley, as it has also been by Archdeacon Wilberforce, and many other clergymen-the adoption or revival of the practice of Sunday collections during the time of divine service. The Sunday offertory is, in fact, prescribed in the rubric of our own Prayer Book. It certainly prevailed in the primitive Church, and was generally adopted for many ages. In Ireland it is universally the custom to make collections of alms in Church immediately before the sermon every Sunday; and this collection, which is always distributed amongst the poor, is, in some places, so considerable, that I have been credibly informed, that £3 or £4 per Sunday, or even more, is collected in certain churches,
“ The simple fact of the universal existence of this practice, in so poor a country as Ireland, would seem to demonstrate the possibility of introducing a similar measure into England, with a view to obtaining funds for Church Extension. Considering the great amount of wealth in this country, and, I must add, the charitable and liberal disposition of a large portion of our congregations, I cannot think there would be any difficulty in introducing the practice, with so holy and religious an object in view, Where the contribution was voluntary, and was urged and recommended on religious motives, it would surely be difficult to imagine on what grounds Christian congregations could object to it. It may be said, that the amount would be insignitcant, and that many persons would not contribute to this fund. It is possible that some little time might be requisite to instruct our congregations in their duties in reference to the subject, but it is one which is so deeply connected with religious considerations, that if the clergy were obliged to bring it continually before the consciences of their hearers, it is morally impossible that there could be any failure.
“ In fact, several clergy in various parts of the country have, without the least difficulty, restored the practice of Sunday, collections in Church, One clergyman mentioned to me lately, that the collections in his church (which are applied to the erection of a new church) average more than £$ each Sunday.
“ If there has been no difficulty in establishing the practice in these cases, its general adoption would be still more certain, and its productiveness more secured, by the authority of an Act of Parliament, aided by royal letters,
pastoral letters from the Archbishops and Bishops (occasionally repeated), and by the sermons and exhortations of the whole clergy.
“With a view to estimate the probable amount of the fund which might be derivable from this source, I have endeavoured in vain to find a return, which appears to have been made to thc House of Commons in May, 1830 or 1831, being an account of the collections made for the poor in the churches of Ireland from 1825 to 1829. This return has not been printed in the Parliamentary Papers, and after a long search (in which I have to acknowledge the kind assistance of Sir Robert Inglis), it seems that the paper in question probably perished in the conflagration of the Houses of Parliament.
“I have, however, made inquiries in various quarters relative to the amount of these collections, and on the whole it seems probable, that about five shillings per Sunday is the average collection in each church.
“ If we suppose every church in England and Wales contributing at the same rate as is customary in Ireland, we should obtain an income of £156,000 per annum, for the churches in this country do not fall short of 12,000. If we suppose the average to be 78. 6d. per Sunday, which might be fairly expected from the greater wealth of this country, we should have an income of £234,000; and if the average were 108. per Sunday, which would not be impossible, we should have £312,000 per annum.”—(pp. 17—20 )
Without the fund thus obtained, Mr. Palmer's plan could not be carried into effect; and if, therefore, we can prove that there is no hope of obtaining it, his scheme for relieving the Legislature from their collective responsibility, and exonerating the representatives of Christian constituents from their personal duty and obligation, will fall to the ground. Our objection to his project, as stated generally in our last number, arranged itself under three heads, which we repeat: first, that we believed his proposed means, as here stated, to be impracticable ; secondly, that we considered them to be inexpedient, and, thirdly, that we knew them to be unjust.
First, we believe Mr. Palmer's project of congregational collections to be impracticable—not in respect of the collections themselves, but of the purposes for which they are to be applied. The case of Ireland, which Mr. Palmer cites, is not analogous. True, the collection is always distributed among the poor, and the channel through which the distribution is made is, as it ought to be, the parochial clergy. But we do not think it would be expedient to transfer the distribution of the funds thus collected from those of whom the donors have personal knowledge, and in whom generally they repose implicit confidence (a confidence, we believe, very rarely misplaced) to a conclave of commissioners, lay or clerical, with whom they have no acquaintance whatever, and in whose proceedings they take therefore little interest. Such a scheme would tend to dry up the very sources of Christian benevolence. And such an alienation of their funds would be most unjust to those who, in the immediate neighbourhood, require relief, as well as to the local and parochial charities which continually demand
support. The regular congregational collection would neutralize, if it did not supersede, every appeal on behalf of a specific object
, and thus, by caring generally for the Church at large, but not especially for “those of our own house,” we should be placed in a position too closely resembling that of him who, in the language of the Apostle,“ has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel."
Mr. Palmer indeed endeavours to obviate this objection, by speaking of “one clergyman, who assured him lately, that the col. lections in his Church (which are applied to the erection of a new church) average more than £4. each Sunday.” Bat Mr. Palmer does not tell us two things, which yet are necessary to be known, before we can regard this as an adjudged case, and as a case in point : first, whether the new chureh was or was not locally connected with the congregation, and, secondly, if local and parochial charities existed, how were their funds supplied ?-If the church in question was thus connected with the contributing congregation, the instance makes against Mr. Palmer's theory rather than in support of it, the object being strictly local ; if, next, there existed no local and parochial charities, which had a prior, or, at least, an equal claim, this is not a fair average specimen of congregations—and, again, if there were, and they were impoverished or neglected, Mr. P. will hardly recommend this as an example for the imitation of the Church. We know that there are many, very many parishes, which are rather in a condition to solicit aid than to impart it; we know of one parish containing 13,000, and another containing 40,000 inhabitants, within each of which we have been assured by the respective Incumbents, that there is but one resident family of circumstances sufficiently affluent to maintain a single male servant; and how these are to contribute, in Mr. Palmer's proportion, to a general fund, or to any fund, while in the second and larger parish there is only a single church (another is on the eve of consecration) we really cannot conceive. And if it be replied that this last is only a single instance, we reply, that it is an instance quite as much to the point as the single one which Mr. Palmer has selected, and that, were it needed, we could easily multiply examples to an equal extent with himself. We can, however, return another answer, which will at once overturn all the sanguine expectations of Mr. Palmer, and that on the highest authority in ecclesiastical statistics—the authority of a Prelate of whom it has been well said, that he oversees everything, but overlooks nothing—the indefatigable Bishop of London.
“There are,” said his Lordship, in the Appendix to his admirable Sermons on the Uses of a standing Ministry in the Established Church, “there are in England and Wales 6,681 parishes, each
with a population not exceeding 300 persons; of these, 1907 have each a population of less than 100.” Mr. Palmer reckons the gross number of churches at 12,000. Now, if we examine the Reports of any of the three Societies which obtain, in triennial cycle, a royal letter enjoining a single collection in every church and chapel, in aid of these objects, we shall find that the return for sometimes one half of the parishes in a Diocese is nothing, and that no inconsiderable proportion of the remainder are below Mr. Palmer's average of 7s. 6d.* His calculation, therefore, even supposing that no conflicting claims, no counteracting circumstances, no pressing local institutions, absorbing, and more than absorbing, all local resources, prevented its adoption in any church, would produce little more than half the larger sum on which he reckons ; but if it were restricted, as it ought to be, to those parishes and congregations, which either have no immediate claim upon their sympathy and succour, or which have so discharged that specific claim as to obtain for themselves the privilege of lengthening the cords and strengthening the stakes of the Universal Church, the “true Tabernacle which God pitched, and not man," we doubt, whether he would obtain even £10,000 per annum, and we more than fear, that what he did obtain would be subtracted from the funds of those societies, whose aim is to promote the diffusion of Evangelical truth abroad, or the increase of pastoral superintendence at home. In this way, therefore, nothing considerable can be expected; we think that even to make the attempt would be inexpedient in the extreme,-and, without venturing to assume to ourselves the prophetic mantle, we feel perfectly assured that it would fail. Lct the weekly collection be resumed, if the Prelates will provide for uniformity of practice by enjoining it in every diocese; but that it may effectually obviate the inconvenience and interruption of charity sermons, let it be applied in the first instance to purposes strictly parochial, and let the clergy be themselves the judges how far there is a surplus; let the surplus be transmitted to the Bishop of the Diocese, or some officer appointed by him, to be divided in equal portions between the two great objects of purifying Christianity at home and promoting it abroad; and thus there would be, at no long interval, an ample, and, we may believe, a continually increasing fund: but let not Mr. Palmer recommend a twofold injustice in the compulsory alternative of parochial collections—an injustice to the clergy, who must then too often behold, without
* On referring to the Report of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, 1839, which contains an account of the collections under the Queen's Letter of June 18, 1838, we have found by actual enumeration, that in the single diocese of Norwich no less than 426 parishes contributed less than 7s. 6d., and that the return from upwards of 300 was literally nil.