The Birth of the Churchman's Union

by the Revd Theodore P. Brocklehurst, M.A., Vicar of Giggleswick-in-Craven.

from The Modern Churchman, Vol. 1, No. 1, April 1911
A Mid-Monthly magazine to maintain the cause of truth, freedom and progress in the National Church.

I am yielding, very reluctantly, to the request of the Editor, that, as a quondam member, I should write an informal account of the beginning of the Churchmen's Union.

On April 5th, 1898, I wrote a letter to The Daily Mail on the subject of the "Selection of the area of preferment" which attracted the attention of the Rev. William Routh, who became Editor of The Church Gazette in 1898. He asked me if I would help him with a contribution on this subject, for a new Church paper he was just on the point of bringing out. Hence, in the issue of The Church Gazette, May 7th, 1898, my letter appeared, whereupon the Rev, Dr. Rosedale wrote to me. As a consequence Mr. Routh, Dr. Rosedale and the writer got into personal touch, and mooted the possibility of a centre for Broad Churchmen.

To put this idea into shape, Dr. Rosedale wrote a letter to The Church Gazette, June 18th, 1898, suggesting a conference of Churchmen with modern ideas.

From all this, it will be seen, that proximately the Churchmen's Union owes its existence to The Church Gazette and to the suggestion of Dr. Rosedale, who generously offered his parish room and other hospitalities for the initial gathering. No one was circularized, it was a friendly and voluntary foregathering of about a score of clergy and laymen.

We held our meeting on July 27th, 1898, and a striking characteristic of the meeting was its perfect accord in principles rather than discussion of differences.

The Church's need of progressive religious thought was unanimously affirmed, especially was this iterated by the laymen present, who alleged that the thinking laymen were disposed to be either contemptuous of or indifferent to Church matters. The thinking layman no less than the thinking clergyman required that religious truths should be elucidated in such a way as to afford intellectual conviction; that, in any case, the laity declined to he fettered by the dead past, and required recognition of the living truths of to-day.

"Anyone who thinks at all", said one speaker, "must realise that our very perceptions of truth are undergoing a process of unfoldment."

Every day, from the scientific world, truth is coming that must affect dogmatic authority. Loyalty to our Faith and its underlying spirit does not require us to believe only in a God Who manifested Himself in the past but Who is not revealing Himself in the present. If the Church declines to pay heed to present day revelations of the truth in the domains of science and history, and refuses to keep pace with the progress of enlightenment, the loss will be her own.

We need the living truth of the ever-present living God to sustain our spiritual life.

By an enlightened presentation of the living truth, as it underlies the dogmas of the dead past, we may do a great work for the Church and the nation at large.

Practical expression to the feeling of the meeting was given as follows: That an organization be formed to unite the body of Churchmen, who consider that dogma is susceptible of re-interpretation and re-statement in accordance with the clearer perception of truth, attained by discovery and research.

To this end, a small provisional committee was appointed, of which 1 was requested to be the convener, and the Editor of The Church Gazette generously allowed me to use his columns as a semi-official medium.

At the request of the provisional committee, I. arranged for a luncheon at the Great Northern Hotel, Bradford, on Sept. 29th, 1898, in the Church Congress week. At the deliberations afterwards, it was determined to hold a public meeting at the Church House in London on October 31st, 1898, in order to launch the Churchmen's Union formally. This inaugural meeting was well attended; the constitution of the Union was determined and an Executive appointed, consisting of seven clergymen and seven laymen, together with the Hon. Secretaries and Treasurer.

The following may be taken as an accurate précis of the proceedings:-

That there was no desire on the part of the Churchmen's Union to multiply parties in the Church. The true broad Church ideal could not be partizan; it recognized to the full the need of all schools of thought in our Church, if she were to be really national.

That the Churchmen's Union is primarily intended to be a union of Churchmen, who desire to promote the clearer statement of Christian truth in accordance with the advance in knowledge that has been made in modern times.

The Churchmen's Union is based on the principles of freedom of enquiry and of toleration in matters of religious opinion born of the Reformed Church of England, at once Catholic and Protestant. With State politics the Churchmen's Union has in its corporate capacity nothing to do.

Thus did our Union arise out of the conviction that the National Church must continue to advance in Christian thought as well as in the good works of the Christian life.

The Churchmen's Union is therefore plainly intended to uphold the right and the duty of free theological enquiry consistently with a due regard for the historical position and doctrinal development of the Church of England, to the end that the truths of Christianity, as set forth primarily in the life and teaching of our Lord, may be more clearly realized, and their application to the varied needs of modern life more fully understood and enforced.

Hence the Churchmen's Union does not concern itself with small details either of doctrine or ritual or organisation, for it realises how tastes vary with education and environment. Hence it sides neither with High Churchmen against Low Churchmen, nor with Low against High, in these matters. Its ideal is to allow as large a latitude as possible, providing that Christian courtesy be shewn to the congregation, their wishes duly consulted, and their consent openly obtained, before any alterations are made in these non-essential matters.

The members of the Churchmen's Union would feign live in the spirit of S. Augustine's great saying:

"Unity in needful things; liberty in doubtful things; charity in all things."

The foremost and immediate action of the Churchmen's Union is towards obtaining for lay members of the Church a real, legal, and adequate share in the government of the Church, which is alike the heritage of ministers and people.

As regards the Union's methods of promulgating its objects, it must be borne in mind that a merely negative and critical attitude is mischievous and unworthy. The positive side, which includes both teaching and action, is the only one to enlist generous minds, and to inspire that high aspiration which achieves its aim. The policy of the Churchmen's Union would thus strive to represent not merely the Zeitgeist, but the spirit of Christ: a policy which, while it draws its inspiration and its principles from the Gospels, yet ever seeks for the method of their application in the modern world.