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Title: Lay Help the Church's Present Need - A Paper read at St. Mary's Schools, West Brompton
Author: Baird, William
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcribed from the 1870 W. H. Bartlett and Co. edition by David Price,
email ccx074@pglaf.org


                                * * * * *

                   A PAPER READ AT ST. MARY’S SCHOOLS,

                              WEST BROMPTON,

                                * * * * *

                  ON THE EVENING OF NOVEMBER 17TH, 1870.

                                * * * * *

                          BY WILLIAM BAIRD, M.A.

                      VICAR OF HOMERTON, MIDDLESEX.

                                * * * * *

                         _PUBLISHED BY REQUEST_.

                                * * * * *

                W. H. BARTLETT AND CO.  186, FLEET STREET.



THIS paper is printed in obedience to the wishes of Lord Lawrence and
others, who heard it.  It was originally drawn up without any view to
publication, and was read at more than one of the Conferences held in
different parts of London under the auspices of the Diocesan Association
of Lay-helpers.  The writer could not but yield to the urgent request of
those who asked him to print the paper, but at the same time he does so
with a full consciousness of its defective and fragmentary character.
Such as it is, he ventures to commend it to the charitable consideration
of his fellow-churchmen, and trusts that it may, by God’s blessing, be a
means of promoting the practical good at which the revived organization
of Lay-help aims.

The Vicarage, Homerton.
         _Nov._ 1870.


IT is needless for me to enlarge on the vast importance of the subject
which we are gathered together to consider to-night, for that importance
is on all hands confessed.  Differ as we may on other points, English
Churchmen, Roman Catholics, and Protestant Dissenters feel equally that
one of the great questions of our age is how to call out and to regulate
Lay-help.  It may be that in this recognition of a common want we may
dimly discern the fact that, if ever the scattered portions of the Church
are to be united in one, it must be not only on the basis of the common
profession of abstract truth, however valuable such profession may be,
but rather on the basis of common work for Christ.  My object to-night,
however, is not to set before you any mere speculations, but to put into
shape some thoughts, which may be helpful to us in any work which we
undertake for the glory of God and the good of His Church.

I believe you will find on reference to Ecclesiastical history that the
most healthy periods of the Church’s life have been those, in which there
has been the largest development of Lay activity.  The Apostolic Church
was one great community of workers.  True love to Christ found its vent
in active ministries of love towards the suffering members of His
spiritual Body, and in increased earnestness in carrying the message of
salvation to perishing souls.  Throughout the Apostolic age the link runs
unbroken, “Epaphras our dear fellow-helper,” “the beloved Persis, who
laboured much in the Lord,” “Euodias and Syntyche,” though not always of
the same mind, yet striving to forget their differences in a common work.
“Clement and other fellow-workers whose names” were “in the Book of
Life”—these and many another, whether ecclesiastic or lay-workers, whose
names swell the goodly list of Apostolic greetings at the conclusion of
each Epistle, show that the Early Church was a community of living
workers striving to spread the faith of a living Lord, not only by words
but by deeds.  So in succeeding ages, whenever the Church’s life was
abundant, the principle of all helping in a common work was recognised.
The early Christians in Rome were marked out from all other forms of
so-called religion, because they had one peculiar superstition.  They
sought out the poor and ministered to their wants.  The same practical
characteristic will be discerned in every age of the Church’s history.
Independent of the more formal aspects of Lay-help represented by the
Reader and the Deaconess, we shall find that in the Early Church after
Apostolic days had passed there was a large band of willing workers ready
in Christ’s Name to do service to their brethren.  Since that time every
season of religious awakening has brought with it a quickening of the
spirit of service.  The religious confraternities of Vincent de Paul, the
self-devoted labours of the Wesleyan local preachers, the good works of
Hannah More, Elizabeth Fry, and Howard the philanthropist, are but
varying features in the same great picture.  The mode of action might be
different, but the aim in view was essentially the same, and the spring
of action in all these self-undertaken labours was the love of Christ in
the heart of those who gave themselves.  Only a short time ago I saw
somewhere an account of a missionary meeting.  One and another was asked
what he or she could give to the cause of Christian Missions, and certain
sums were promised.  At last one young man rose at the end of the room.
“What will you give?” said the president of the meeting.  “Myself,” was
the laconic, but courageous reply.  We want more of this spirit, and I
think it is among the most hopeful signs of a far from hopeful age that
there are many of our young men ready when the question is put, “What
will you give to God?” to answer with an unfailing heart and unfaltering

While, however, I thankfully acknowledge the growth of this spirit of
service, I do not think _all_ sufficiently realize their responsibility.
In religion we are fearfully apt to catch at a proxy when we can, and I
can imagine some, to whom the very existence of a Diocesan Association of
Lay-helpers may act as a sort of indirect excuse for doing nothing
themselves.  “There are _the_ Lay-helpers of the diocese; they number
1000 and upwards.  They undertake Lay-work, and I am quite content to let
them represent the Lay element in Church works.  If you want half-a-crown
or five shillings, come to me; but don’t ask me to leave my arm-chair
after my Sunday’s dinner to go and teach in a close school-room.  Let
these Lay-helpers, overlooked as they are sure to be most efficiently by
the clergy” (for objectors of this kind are clad in an armour of
impenetrable politeness and gracefully-fitting amiability)—“let them
distribute our alms, but don’t ask me to go up one of those dark creaking
staircases—don’t ask me to do violence to my nasal organs by sending me
into a room which reeks with the combined perfume of soap-suds and
beef-steak.  My duty as a Churchman can never require this.  I am an
advocate for helping the poor, but this is going a little too far.”  Now
there is a Book which it is the fashion to “handle freely” now-a-days,
which seems to me to run entirely counter to the view which I have
ventured to describe.  I read there that “the Son of man . . . gave to
every man his work” (St. Mark xiii. 34); and again an Apostle tells us,
“Let every man prove his own work” (Gal. vi. 4); and in the last chapter
of this same Book I find the saying, “Behold I come quickly; and My
reward is with Me to give every man according as his work shall be” (Rev.
xxii. 12).  I merely give these as samples of the kind of teaching we get
in Holy Scripture.  Whether it is the Divine Master, or the busy
practical Apostle of the Gentiles, or the rapt St. John who speaks—all
tell us the same thing.  With one consent they point “every man” to “his
work.”  Oh! you who are doing nothing for Christ, ponder over those awful
words of the last chapter of the last book of God—the latest message
which has come from heaven to earth—“Behold I come quickly, and My reward
is with Me to give every man according as his work shall be!”  What then,
if you have no work to show? what about the reward _then_, if there be
not the work _now_?

Independently, however, of the high and solemn view of the vocation of
Christian men to God’s work, I want you to look at the whole matter from
a practical business point of view.  What should you think if you heard
of a house of business, where all the work was done by the managers? or
of a shop where all the selling was done by the master? or of an army
where all the fighting was undertaken by the officers? or of a navy,
where all the ship’s work was done by those in command?  You know well,
that the very idea is too absurd to be entertained for one moment.  Yet
it is exactly the way in which you are acting about Christ’s work in the
National Church.  A Church without a working laity is as great an
absurdity as (nay from its essential constitution, a greater absurdity
than) a shop without serving hands, a ship without a working crew, or an
army without fighting soldiers.

The evil too is one which has avenged itself with a fearful power.
Whence sprang the miserable notion, happily now passing away, that the
Church consisted of the clergy alone?  “From the arrogance of the
priesthood” is the common answer.  If I said, “From the apathy of an
uninterested laity,” I should be at least quite as near the mark.  If the
laity will not bear their share of the Church’s burden, it follows as a
necessary consequence that their place as counsellors is unrecognised;
and then from the consequent elevation of the clergy and depression of
the laity, results something very like a dislocation in the
ecclesiastical body.  There were some limbs broken in the last century
and the early part of this, and it will take some time to set them, and
make them serviceable again.  A twofold difficulty has arisen from this
violation of a primary law of church life.  The clergy have a sort of
lurking distrust of lay-help, and the laity are dissatisfied with their
position.  The clergy have been so unaccustomed to any help from the
laity that the more conservative among them regard such help as a novelty
to be introduced with great caution and surrounded by very definite
safeguards.  The laity on the other hand have been so unaccustomed to
help that they either do too much or too little.  They want sometimes to
take the charge of the parish off the clergyman’s shoulders altogether;
sometimes they have such a pious horror of trenching upon the ministerial
office that they are practically of little use.  These difficulties
however, though troublesome, are not insurmountable, and are rapidly
disappearing as clergy and laity come to know each other better.  I
should scarcely have considered it necessary to refer to them, had not
some of the laity confessed their dissatisfaction somewhat strongly at
the Conference held at Sheffield in May 1869, under the presidency of the
Archbishop of York—a Conference, the Report of which is well worth the
study of any one interested in the lay-help movement.  It would take too
long to enter into the details of the various plans proposed, but one
thing seems to be strongly felt—If the clergy give the laity work, they
must also give them a voice as to the way in which that work is to be
carried on.  Theoretically the Vestry represents the voice of the laity,
but no one will contend that it is an adequate representation, nor does
it touch the particular points, on which an earnest lay-worker would wish
to take counsel with his spiritual pastor.  What we want (it seems to me)
is a sort of Council of Communicants—a kind of Kirk-session in fact—to
interchange thoughts and take counsel with the pastor.  I am convinced
that, until we have some organization of this kind, we shall have a
constant repetition of those mistakes, which are often unwittingly made
by the clergy from a non-appreciation of the honest difficulties of the
laity.  I cannot do more than touch this point, but I may perhaps be
permitted to say that I pray to see the day, when the Bishop shall take
counsel with his Presbyters in Diocesan Synod, and when each parish shall
have its own little synod of communicants gathering around the parish
priest.  Then we shall have less jarring, and fewer mistakes.

I must now consider shortly how we can draw out Lay-help.  The best way
to draw it out is simply to state why we want it.  Beyond the claims
which God’s work must make upon the heart and conscience of every
Christian man, “is there not a cause?”  Take the large parish of Lambeth.
“The census of 1851 gives the population as 139,325; the church
accommodation as 22,589; that of dissent 11,586; but this includes the
wealthier districts of Kennington, Norwood, Brixton, and Stockwell.
Exclude these parts of the parish, and the provision for the teaching of
the people is comparatively reduced, whilst the attendance is in an
inverse ratio to the wealth.  The poorer the place, the fewer the people
who enter any place of worship . . .  The census returns for Lambeth give
one-third of the sittings as always empty; it would be more than this in
the poorer parts of the parish.”  For this statement I am indebted to
Canon Gregory, {11a} and I can only say, “Is there not a cause?”  “In
Southwark,” says Dr. Hume, “there are 68 per cent. who attend no place of
worship; in Lambeth 60½.”  This evidence was tendered on oath before the
Lords’ Committee on Church-rates. {11b}  Lord Shaftesbury again
calculates “that only about 2 in every 100 of the working _men_ are found
to attend any place of worship.”  I say again, looking at these awful
facts, “Is there not a cause?”

Now I ask you plainly, “Can you expect the 40 clergy of Lambeth (for
that, according to the ‘Clergy List,’ is their number) to cope with this
unassisted?  What are the 23 clergy of Southwark to do unassisted among a
population of whom 68 per cent. do not attend service?”  In saying this I
am not underrating the labours of Nonconformists; but while we thank God
for the honest hearty work of many among them, we have no business to
take that work into calculation, if we want thereby to lessen our
responsibility as members of the _National_ Church.  Now you see the
extent of the evil.  How can it be remedied?  By multiplying our bishops,
no doubt, and providing more clergy in each parish.  That will do good;
but it will be of no avail without a working laity.  If the working
classes are to be brought to church, _you_ must bring them; and once
brought, _we_ must keep them.  I want to tell you _why_ you must bring
them, and _how_ you must bring them.  _You_ must bring them, because many
of them seem to think that we talk to them in a professional way; we are
a sort of ecclesiastical barristers holding a brief for the Bible.  It is
an unjust estimate; but there are many unjust estimates in this world.
Therefore we want laymen who will go from house to house—who will conduct
prayer-meetings and Bible classes, and cottage lectures—who will come and
say to the members of the classes alienated from the services of the
sanctuary, “I come to tell you about the religion of Christ, because I
have found it helpful to myself.  I come to ask you to seek pardon from
Him, because I have found it myself.  I come to ask you to frame your
life according to the Gospel of Christ, because I find it makes my own
heart happy and my own life bright with the sunshine of God’s love!”  We
want such helpers as these, and they _must_ be laymen, and laymen of
different classes.  “I proceed . . .,” writes an earnest clergyman, who
worked at one time in Manchester, “to indicate what appears to me to be
one of the greatest causes of the evils for which our large towns have
gained such an unhappy notoriety.  It is needless to say that I allude to
the separation of classes—a gigantic wrong, to which it is not too much
to say may be traced all the physical and moral degradation and spiritual
destitution over which so many philanthropists lament, and for which so
few seem prepared to offer a remedy.” {13}  We want to “gather of every
kind,” to recruit from every class for the great army of Lay-helpers.
Those who promote the work have no fear about this.  Whatever God puts it
into a man’s heart to do, that let him do in due subordination to the
Church’s primary laws.  Will you resist this call?

This brings me to another point—the necessity of giving “to every man his
work.”  Each of our Lay-helpers should have his own definite work
assigned.  It never answers to stray over the whole field of possible
work, and happily there is scope for every variety of natural
temperament.  One is fond of teaching—then there is the Sunday school and
the night school.  Another has from God the gift of exhortation—“let him
wait on exhortation” in the Bible class and the prayer meeting.  Another
is “a son of consolation,” and has the precious gift of tender sympathy
for the needs and sufferings of others, and for him the sick-room and the
home of poverty are the ground on which he has to do his battle for his
Master.  As a district visitor and an almoner there is plenty for him to
do.  Yet another has a very practical turn of mind, and likes “business”
after “business hours,” and for him the penny bank and the provident fund
afford a scope for the exercise of those talents, which, equally with the
others, he has received from God’s hand.  Thus, you see, there is scope
for every one.

A few words now about the value of the Diocesan Association as a
connecting link among lay-helpers.  We are all quite alive to the value
of combinations in political and social affairs.  That “union is
strength,” is a recognised maxim, except in religion, where, above all
things, it is true.  The Diocesan Association of Lay-helpers set out, if
I mistake not, with a twofold purpose.  It desired, as far as possible,
to consolidate lay-help in the diocese, so that by united prayer,
converse, and communion, those engaged in God’s work in this great city
might be brought face to face with one another.  It desired also to
_stimulate_ and to _distribute_ lay-work—to _stimulate_ it by being able
to show how many there were actually at work already—to _distribute_ it,
by sending the superfluous wealth of lay-help in a well-ordered wealthy
parish, to supplement the poverty and the difficulties of the destitute
districts.  In its work of consolidating and stimulating, we may thank
God that the Association has met with a fair measure of encouragement.
The work of distribution has proved one of greater difficulty.  I am,
however, very far from being without hope that it may be compassed in
greater degree, when the needs of the East-end and the poor transpontine
parishes are more widely known.  The Twelve Days’ Mission brought us some
help from educated laymen in suburban districts, and I can not only
testify personally to the value of that help, but I am thankful to say,
that in more than one case it has established a link which it would take
a great power to sunder.  The real aim of our Association then is to put
earnest laymen in the way of getting work by giving them, on their first
arrival in London, introductions to clergymen in need of help.  It
attempts no restraint on the parish priest.  It merely offers you the
privilege of feeling that in your work you are at one with the chief
pastor of your diocese, and that you have the comfort of knowing that he
prays for and sanctions your work.  In a less degree, it is the same
blessing which the clergy have from Episcopal supervision, and with you,
as with us, if rightly valued, will act as a bond of union.

Before concluding, let me say that I believe this to be one of the most
important ecclesiastical movements of modern times.  It is occupying the
thoughts of some of the most distinguished clergymen and laymen of our
day, and formed the subject of the prayer of the Archbishop of this
province, when he lay upon what we then feared was the bed of death.  The
next few years will probably see the question, whether we are to continue
the National Church of this land, fought out in our legislature.  If we
make good our claim, it will not be by the _prestige_ of our historical
position or by the associations of the past.  It will be by the living
work of the present that we must elect to be tested, and if our laity
realise their responsibility in time, I firmly believe that all will yet
be well.  Remember, however, that our present proportion of lay-workers
is miserably small, and that every lay-helper has need not only to work
himself, but to be a kind of missionary to persuade others to work—a
recruiting sergeant for the great army, which comes “to the help of the
Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty.”  Not only must we all,
clergy and laity, work, but we must say that, God being our helper, we
will not rest till every churchman, whatever his social position, feels
that he has a responsibility, a work and a stake in our National Church.

                                * * * * *

NOTE.—I cannot resist calling the reader’s attention to the following
words of my friend the Rev. W. D. Maclagan, in his essay in _The Church
and the Age_ (Murray).

    “The Associations and Unions, Guilds and Confraternities, Sisterhoods
    and Brotherhoods, which are springing up every day, are surely not
    only testimonies to a great truth so long forgotten, that every
    member of the Body of Christ has its special powers and special
    duties, but also preparation for the recognition and realisation of
    another truth equally ignored, that the Church itself ought really to
    be one vast Association of Lay-helpers, one glorious Brotherhood and
    Sisterhood, combined in one, one great Confraternity of Faith, Hope,
    and Love, labouring together with Christ in the extension of His

                                * * * * *

                                * * * * *

                       TOOKS COURT, CHANCERY LANE.


{11a}  See “Sermons on the Poorer Classes of London, preached before the
University of Oxford,” by Robert Gregory, M.A., Canon of St. Paul’s, and
Vicar of St. Mary the Less, Lambeth.

{11b}  “Only one-sixth of the population of London attend
Church.”—_Christian at Work_ (_N. Y. Paper_) _Dec._ 1869.  Such is the
American estimate of our religion.

{13}  Huntington’s “Church Work in our large Towns,” p. 13.

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