Page images

the distance of almost a year, but still under the continued obligation, and as it ought to be, under the consciousness of his oath, he comes to make his presentments, by subscribing answers in the margin of the book of articles, when the several matters presentable are enumerated, and proposed to his consideration in distinct interrogatories. Can any thing be plainer than that the force of the oath attaches upon these answers ? and that every false, and, what is a species of falsehood, because it is a suppression of truth, every imperfect answer that is returned, must be deemed, in the consideration of reason and religion, and why may we not say in the sight of God, a violation of the oath ; and moreover, that every heedless or negligent answer that is returned, though certainly not to be placed upon a level with deliberate misrepresentation, is yet heedlessness and negligence under the most solemn of all human obligations. I should not willingly believe that this point is known to churchwardens, when I remark the irregular, unconsidered, and defective returns that are made in the book of articles, or the slovenly hurried manner in which the business is executed; sometimes, I believe, in the very morning of the visitation, or at setting off upon their journey to it, in a few minutes when the churchwardens can be got together, or at the close of a parish meeting, without time, without inquiry, without consultation. Is this the conduct of serious men under the obligation of an oath, or of men concerned for the honest discharge of their duty 2 The effect of this inadvertency I have frequent occasion to witness. To many articles, and sometimes to whole pages or to whole titles in the book, no answer whatever is returned. This is always wrong, for if things are as they should be in the matter inquired after, there can be no objection to the saying so; if they be not, of which this silence indeed is a negative confession, they ought to present, at once ; that is, the case ought to be stated fully, truly, and exactly as it is. At other times a short answer of yes or no is given, when a circumstantial specification is necessary to convey the information that is sought for by the inquiry; this holds particularly of those parts of the inquiry which relate to the state of the church, of the churchyard, of the articles employed in the celebration of divine service, or of the buildings upon the glebe. At other times the question is not answered by the reply, but eluded ; such as by saying ‘as usual,” “as it has been,’ ‘as formerly;” from which it is impossible for the ordinary to form any correct opinion, much less to found upon it any judicial cognizance ; all which arises, partly from the easiness with which men sign what they would not say; partly, as hath been observed, from their unconsciousness of their oath; and partly from the fear of bringing blame or trouble upon themselves, by giving occasion to further proceedings; motives which cannot be justified upon any principles of moral integrity. Amidst the various duties of churchwardens, that which more particularly belongs to the design of my visitation, and that indeed which composes one of the most useful, at least one of the most practicable parts of their function, is the care of the church, and of the decency, order, cleanliness, and sufficiency of every thing within it and belonging to it. To this branch of their office the provisions of law are perfectly adequate; there is neither any defect in their powers, nor any obscurity in their duty; the whole of both may be comprised in almost one sentence. Repairs the churchwarden may always make of his own authority, and the parish in vestry assembled is bound upon his requisition to lay an assessment to defray the expenses, and if they refuse, he may lay one himself, and the persons charged may be compelled by the process of the Ecclesiastical Court to pay their quota. Under this word repair, is included every thing that is necessary to keep up, or restore to their former condition, the fabric of the church, its roof, windows, plaster, floor, pulpit, reading desk, and seats, where the seats are repaired by the parish at large, and also the fence of the churchyard; likewise the replacing of books, surplices, bier and bier cloth, communion cloth and communion linen, plate, chalices and cups, when any of them are damaged or decayed. For the supply of these, as occasion requires, the churchwarden wants no authority but his own; and for the defect, if they be not supplied, he is personally answerable, and subjects himself to ecclesiastical censure. Alterations and improvements stand upon a different footing; before these can be undertaken, the consent and resolution of a vestry must be had, and it must be a general vestry of the parish, assembled in pursuance of public notice, specifying the occasion upon which they are to meet ; but even here a majority binds the whole. In strictness and for the purpose of enforcing the payment of the rate to any alteration, the faculty or consent of the ordinary is further necessary; and where the alteration is either considerable of itself or likely to be opposed, that consent, in prudence as well as regularity, ought to be applied for. The example of many parishes in this diocese, in some of which churches have lately been rebuilt, and in others new seated, newly fitted up, shows

that these improvements are so sanctioned and countenanced by law, as to be entered upon with ease and safety by the persons who engage in them; and also shows that there is not entirely wanting amongst us a sense of religious decency and decorum, and a disposition to have the public worship of Al.g God conducted with reverence, solemnity, piety, and OFOREIT,



I DESIRE it to be distinctly understood, that the delay of the visitation, which, I am sensible, must be attended with inconveniency, both to the churchwardens who have been detained in their office, and to all who attend here at this advanced season of the year, is occasioned solely by the change that has taken place in the see ; which change frustrated the late bishop’s intention of visiting the diocese himself in the course of the summer, and suspended my authority to hold any visitation at all. As it hath been usual upon this occasion to notice any alterations that may have taken place in the laws relating to the church or to religion, I mention what, no doubt, is well known to most of you, that in the last session of parliament an act passed in favor of the Roman Catholics, which, upon the condition of their taking an oath therein prescribed, consolidating what may be called the civil part of the several oaths of allegiance, abjuration, and supremacy, places them nearly upon a level with other dissenters from the established church, except in the capacity of voting for members of parliament, or of sitting in either house of parliament themselves. It repeals the penal laws which passed against them in the reigns of Elizabeth and William and Mary; which laws had been dictated by the fears that were entertained, in one case for the reformation, in the other for the revolution. It authorizes their public worship, and their places of worship, in like manner as the meetings of dissenting congregations, provided the places be what is called licensed ; that is, described and recorded in the entries of the quarter sessions. . It authorizes, subject, however, to the same condition, their schools and schoolmasters, provided they do not receive into them the children of Protestant fathers; but it prohibits any foundation or endowment of such schools. . It lays open to the Roman Catholics the profession of the law, in its several descriptions of counsellors, proctors, and attorneys, by substituting the new oath in the place of another, by which they found themselves excluded from these employments. In the same way, it renders them capable of serving upon juries. But the part of the act which it more immediately concerns me to notify to you, is that which puts them in the situation of Protestant Dissenters in regard to their eligibility to parish offices, and amongst these, to that of churchwarden. It directs that Roman Catholics may be appointed to these offices in common with the other inhabitants of the parish; and that if they, being so appointed, object to any thing in the oaths, or the duties belonging to the office, they shall and may substitute a deputy, who is to be approved, admitted, and sworn as the principal would have been. This is all that I think it in any wise material to remark in this act; which, so far as it extends the just principles of toleration, will be received, I hope, both by the clergy and the laity, with approbation. As I last year laid before the clergy such advice as I was able to give them, and that somewhat more at large than usual, I know not whether I can employ the present opportunity better than in recommending to the consideration of the churchwardens and parishes the situation of many of their parish clerks, and of a certain description of schoolmasters in country villages. The change in the value of fixed payments, which in many cases is felt severely by the clergy, has absolutely ruined the provision that was intended for parish clerks. The small payments, arising in most places from houses, in some from communicants, and in some from tenements, and which, when they were fixed, might in a good degree be adequate to the trouble of the office and the station of the person who held it, are become hardly worth collecting; the consequence of which is, that some parishes within this jurisdiction have no parish clerks at all. I am hardly able to judge how the service proceeds without this assistance, where the minister and the congregation are accustomed to the want of it; but I have found, when the clerk has been occasionally absent, and his office not supplied, great confusion to arise from the want of the responses and the alternate parts of the liturgy being regularly supported; and I am afraid that some part of this inconveniency is felt where the congregation and their ginister are obliged to go on as they can, without the attendance of any parish clerks at all. I am sorry, therefore, to see this defect in any parish; because it is a defect which impairs, in some degree, what we are all concerned to maintain, the decorum of public worship. There is reason also to apprehend, that the extreme scantiness of the income, which leaves some parishes without any parish clerk at all, in others obliges the minister, or whoever has the appointment, to take up with insufficient or improper persons. The remedy which I would recommend for this evil, for so I must call it, is, that, in parishes in which the income of the parish clerk is extremely small, an allowance should be made to them by the parish, of an annual stipend, to be paid out of the church rate. I have no doubt that a vestry is authorized to do this. From the earliest times of our legal history, and long anterior to any statutes upon the subject, parishes or their vestries were corporations for the purpose of providing for public worship, and the assigning a competent salary to a parish clerk; like providing books, vestments, furniture for the communion table and the church, which the law casts upon parishes in all places. This method, I am very glad to observe, is already adopted in some parishes in the diocese. I am now only expressing my wish that it may be extended to others, in which it is equally wanted. The description of schoolmasters to which I refer is that of schools in country villages, endowed with fixed salaries of from ten to twenty pounds a year; in consideration of which they are obliged, or supposed to be obliged, to teach all the children of the parish or township that may be sent to them. The consequence of which is, that the schoolmaster is not maintained as the decency of his character and the importance of his service require that he should be; that his school is crowded with more children than the care of one man can superintend ; and that he has no emolument from the number of his scholars, to reward or stimulate his exertions; and thus, upon the whole, these well intended benefactions do more harm than good. Wherever this is the case, and cases of this sort abound in the diocese, I would earnestly recommend, that, in addition to the fixed salary, the scholars should pay half quarterage. By this means, with a very moderate charge upon the inhabitants, the income of the schoolmaster will be advanced to something like a provision for his decent support; and he will find, in the profits of his school, what every man ought to find,

« PreviousContinue »