Ourselves and Our Aim

by H. D. A. Major

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.

In this, the first number of our new magazine, it is due to our readers to tell them who we are and why we exist.

The Modern Churchman is the organ of the Churchmen's Union. This means that all official notices sent out by the President, Council, and Secretary of the Churchmen's Union, will be be (sic) found in our pages, and that we are therefore the official medium of communication between the officers of the Union and its members. Many of the members of the Union are living in splendid, but also in somewhat depressing isolation. They arc out of harmony with much in the Church around them. They are apt, at times, to feel as lonely as did Elijah on Mount Horeb. The Modern Churchman will prove, we hope, a monthly reminder that they are not alone, and its columns, whether those reserved for articles or correspondence, will give a much needed opportunity for intercourse, which should have the effect of uniting, inspiring, and strengthening many of those who at present are inclined almost to despair of the future of the National Church.

Another object of The Modern Churchman is to enlarge the membership of the Churchmen's Union. This society is not a small one, and in proportion to its numbers, its influence is far from insignificant, but in the opinion of those who know most about it, its influence for good is enormously curtailed by the fact that its existence is hardly known to any beyond its own immediate circle, except it be to its bitterest enemies.

This we may assume is largely due to the fact that influenced by a certain inherent disbelief in organisation, and a profound dislike of religious partisanship, it has never attempted an active and well-organised propaganda on behalf of its principles. In consequence of this, many who favour its principles are unfortunately in ignorance of its existence. Thus the Churchmen's Union is not only deprived of the society, help and comfort which would arise from their membership, but they by being deprived in many cases of all fellowship in their discontent with the condition of the National Church, and despairing in their isolation of any practical betterment of affairs, drift from discontent into opposition, and from opposition into indifference, so that the valuable services which these men might exercise in the reformation of the Church and clergy are lost to the nation. How tremendous this drift of educated, moral and religious men from membership in the National Church towards an attitude of entire indifference to religion, combined in certain cases with a spirit of hostility and contempt for the clergy and the general policy pursued in matters ecclesiastical is hardly realised, except by those who have seriously investigated the condition of affairs. It is those then whom

"The grim wolf with privy paw
Daily devours apace, and nothing said", [John Milton, Lycidas]

whom we would gladly win to our Union. We cannot offer them all they would like to receive or we to give. We can offer them no immediate hope of achieving their ideals for the National Church, and for the reformation of the temper and teaching of the bulk of the clergy. We can offer them no ready-made solution for the many intricate and complicated problems which stand in the way of wise and practical reforms in our Church services and organisation. But we can offer them sympathy with their discontent; we can discuss with them various remedies; we can combine with them in the practical effort to apply these remedies. Above all, we believe that a resolute, united body of strongly religious, moral, thoughtful, patriotic, single-minded men and women educated on modern lines and really in touch with modern life and its needs and difficulties, could do much to turn the enormous power for good or ill which the National Church possesses into channels where it would exercise a most beneficent influence on the national life, and make the Church - what she is not at present - the friend of every man of good-will in the community, whether he regard himself as one of her members or not, the ready helper of every social and religious effort which has for its object the strengthening and elevating of national character and the amelioration of the conditions of life. A humble-hearted, earnest-minded, active, friendly organisation, existing simply to serve the nation in the Spirit of Christ. Not an organisation marked by an ineffective self-complacency, which is only galvanised into activity when the comfortable possession of her privileges and possessions is in danger; still less an organisation which exists for the cultivation of an exclusive obscurantist ecclesiastical policy, which seems to the average Englishman to be little else than the attempt to form a fool's paradise, in which a small percentage of ecclesiastically-minded laymen and good women may receive, with becoming humility, the authoritative teaching and primitive discipline of a mediaevally minded hierarchy.

We desire that those who at present cherish the ideals of the Churchmen's Union in isolation may be brought together and thereby multiply in manifold fashion the influence which such ideals must have, especially when voiced by a large and united body of lay opinion. Whenever matters of Church policy are discussed by the powers-that-be, we cannot but notice that the views of High Churchmen and Low Churchmen are cautiously considered, but the great body of Churchmen who are neither High nor Low come in for scant consideration. This is very natural, human nature being what it is. The mass of Churchmen are of course quite unorganised; they neither read Church newspapers nor do they write to them; they are almost entirely silent about Church matters except in private conversation; and not a small number of them merely tacitly mark their disapproval either of parochial or diocesan or national Church policy by refusing to subscribe any more to Church objects. In no very long time these discontented members cease to attend the Church services, to respect her clergy, and to believe her doctrines. No doubt their life becomes the poorer in consequence, and the government of the Church falls more and more into the hands of ecclesiastics who are isolated from the great body of lay opinion and influence. If things continue to go on as at present, before another generation or two is past we shall have, as in some continental countries today, Clericalism and Secularism ready to spring at each other's throats, and Englishmen of good will and good sense placed in the preposterous position of having either to sacrifice their reason to their religion or their religion to their reason.

It needs no prophetic eye to see that this is the position into which we are drifting - one far removed from the aim of a great National Church, which would unite and build up all classes of the nation, by inculcating an ideal of life at once reasonable and religious.

Space forbids us to dwell further on this theme. Many of our contributors will treat it and in many forms. These contributors will not all be members of the Churchmen's Union, but they will all be members of the National Church. We make this last statement in no exclusive spirit. We do not suppose that because they are members of the National Church they have any higher degree of moral, or religious, or social insight than those who belong to other religious cornmunions in our midst; we only emphasize this point, in order that those who read this magazine may know that the opinions which are voiced in its pages come from the sons and daughters of the National Church, from those who wish her well, from those who cherish ideals for her - ideals of truth, of freedom, of progress, of comprehensiveness - which, if they could become hers, would enable her to become in no domineering sense the Church of the Nation. If these ideals are neglected she will rapidly become an obscure and ineffective sect tending with unavailing care the failing lights on her altars as she beholds the great tide of progressive national life sweep past her deserted temples - unless moved to indignation by the sight of complacent obscurantism and misused privilege it turn aside to sweep them away.