XIV A MOBILIZATION OF THE CHURCH.

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XIV

A MOBILIZATION OF THE CHURCH [1]



I HAVE recently read two books, both dealing with the probable effect of the war on the Churches. One of them was by a clergyman of the Church of England, and the other by a Nonconformist layman. Both agreed that the Churches were hopelessly out of touch with the average laity, and both were concerned with the problem which will confront the Churches when the war is over, and the fighting men return to their civilian occupations. These men will return from their experience of hardship and danger, pain and death, in a far more serious frame of mind than that in which they set out. Then, if ever, will they be willing to listen if the Churches have any vital message for them, any interpretation to offer of their experiences, any ideal of a practical and inspiring kind to point to. If the Churches miss that opportunity, woe betide them! It may be centuries before they get such another. So far both writers were agreed, and also in their anxiety, that the Churches were not fit to grapple with that opportunity, that they were too remote in their methods and doctrines from real life to be able to give a lead to men whose minds were full of real problems. But in their remedies for that unfitness the two writers were wholly at variance. The clergyman looked to his colleagues for help. They must cut themselves loose from the business of parochial and philanthropic organization on which at present so much of their energy is expended, but which is not really their proper work. Instead they must devote themselves to cultivating a deeper spirituality, repair more diligently to the Mount of God, there to receive enlightenment and revelation. The layman, on the other hand, abandoned the clergy as hopeless. They did not know enough about life to be of any use in this work. It was laymen, men who had shared the experiences of "the lads, " who would have to be their prophets and interpreters. It was not in the ordinary services of Church or Chapel that the returning soldiers would find the sort of religious teaching and worship which they needed, but in Adult Schools and P.S.A.'s organized by their fellow laymen-men who had struggled and suffered at their side, and had found and tested in their own experience how communion with God can raise a man, and make him contented and clean and useful.



Personally, my sympathies are much more with the Nonconformist than with the clergyman. The clergy are out of touch with the laity. They do not as a rule understand the real difficulties and temptations of the ordinary man. The sin against which they preach is sin as defined in the Theological College, a sort of pale, lifeless shadow of the real thing. The virtue which they extol is equally a ghost of the real, generous, vital love of good which is the only thing that is of any use in the everyday working life of actual men. Although there are brilliant exceptions, this is almost bound to be the case as long as the majority of ordinands are segregated in the artificial atmosphere of the clergy school before they have any experience of life; as long as the work of the younger clergy is so largely concerned with suffering women's gossip, ministering to the amusement of children, and trying to help the hopeless, so that they have no time or opportunity for free intercourse with the adult male inhabitants of their parishes; as long as the old traditional mistrust exists between clergy and laity, due in no small measure to the refusal of the Church as a whole to face the facts of modern science and research, and breeding as it does misconception on the one side and reticence on the other; as long as the teaching and worship of the Church continue to be a compromise between the two historic parties to an outworn ecclesiastical controversy rather than the interpretation of the real needs and aspirations of living men. As long as these are the outstanding features of clerical training and life and method it is difficult to see how anyone can expect the average clergyman to be able to help or lead his brethren of the laity. It is useless for him to go to Horeb until he has understood the life in the streets of Samaria. It is useless for him to spend more time in praying until he has more to pray about. And the situation is not going to improve one bit if the younger clergy are kept back from taking their share in the nation's present struggle. If, while men of every class and every profession are uniting in the common life of service., the ordinands and younger clergy are alone withheld, at the end of the war they will be more out of touch with the laity than ever. In such circumstances one could only agree with the Nonconformist writer that after the war it is laymen who must minister to lay men, while the clergy are left to attend to the women and children. But since the Bishop of Carlisle has had the courage to declare that he can find no reason either in the New Testament or in the Canons of the Reformed Church why clergy should not be combatants, one is emboldened to ask whether there is not opened up a yet more excellent way.



Suppose the Church were mobilized so that the majority of the younger clergy and all the ordinands were set free for service in the Army, the situation at the end of the war might be very different from that which we have been anticipating. There is no life more intimate than that of the barrack-room. There is no life where the essential characters of men are so fully revealed as the life of the trench. Those of the combatant clergy who returned from the war would know all that was worth knowing of the characters of ordinary men. They would have seen their weaknesses in the barrack-life at home, in the public-house and the street. They would have appreciated their greatness in the life of the trenches. They would know their potentialities and understand their limitations. They would be able to link the doctrines of religion to the lives of men, and to express them in language which no one could fail to understand. With such men as clergy a new era might dawn for the Church in this land, and the Kingdom of Heaven be brought very nigh.



The Church could be mobilized so as to set free a large number of the younger clergy, if only her leaders could see that the greatness of the opportunity made the sacrifice worth while. To begin with, an enormous amount of ordinary parochial work could be discontinued for the duration of the war with very little loss. A large amount of relief work could be dispensed with, men's clubs could be shut, men's services suspended. Visiting could be confined to the sick, and a good deal of the work among women and children handed over entirely to lady helpers. A large number of older men could, if they were public-spirited enough to consent, be set free to take the place of younger men. It is being done in almost every other profession, so why not in the Church? The majority of the city churches could be temporarily shut down, and in almost all large towns quite a third of the churches could be closed. Of course, parochial work at home would suffer; but that is a sacrifice from which we should not shrink---in view of the unique nature of the opportunity.



The chief fear of the Bishops seems to be that there might be a dearth of clergy at the end of the war. Personally, I believe that the reverse would be the case. There are in the ranks of the Army many men who at one time have contemplated being ordained, but who have been greatly discouraged during the past year by realizing more intimately the conditions with which the Church has to deal, and perceiving more acutely than ever before her inability to deal with them satisfactorily. Such men, if they knew that the Church was resolved to learn, was resolved to make sacrifices in order to establish a new contact between herself and the laity, would be confirmed afresh in their determination to help her. If ordinands are scarce, it is simply because the relations between the clergy and the laity are so lacking in cordiality, and the obvious way to secure a larger number of ordinands is to cultivate better relations with laymen.



The opportunity is indeed great. All that is wanted is faith from the leaders of the Church., and loyalty from the other incumbents. The younger clergy will need no pressing. They are splendid fellows, most of them, fully alive to the disadvantages of their position, full of enthusiasm for any scheme which would enable them to restore cordial relations between themselves and their brethren, and would give them the intimate knowledge which they need before they can preach a living Gospel. Mobilize the older clergy, and mobilize the noble and efficient army of women helpers, and parishes at home will not suffer very much: while the mission to men will be prosecuted under conditions more favorable than have ever occurred before, or are ever likely to occur again.


  1. 1. As a matter of fact, nearly all ordinands of the Church of England, being of the right age and sound of, limb, have enliste or been granted commissions in the Army. In addition many of the younger clergy have found their way into the ranks of the R.A.M.C., and even of combatant units. The writer has, however, retained the article because he is convinced that the present crisis is, for the Church of England, an unprecedented opportunity for either making a fresh start or committing suicide.