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When the General Synod met at Wellington in the spring (or rather their autumn-March and April,) of last year, the clerical order was almost exclusively represented by Clergy of the Church Missionary Society. The Wellington diocese can scarcely be said to have been represented at all. The two elected Clergy of the diocese were unable to attend; the Archdeacon was still on his voyage home from England; and the new Bishop only arrived just before the close of the session. Two or three of the soundest and most able Churchmen from other dioceses, who eventually took the most prominent part in the discussion of various questions, were quite fresh arrivals in the colony, and of course had little or no experimental knowledge of the particular needs and circumstances of the local Church. Among other fruits of the legislation so conducted, there were two statutes; the one for the formation of new parishes, the other for the appointment of pastors to parishes so formed. The effect of these statutes was soon practically illustrated by the changes introduced by them into the diocese of Wellington, where first they were brought into operation. The system of clerical maintenance and ministrations, which had for several years been successfully working in that particular district of New Zealand, was suddenly suspended, the incumbencies of the Churches declared to be vacant, and all the Clergy holding office sent back, so to say, to their several constituencies to be reelected, in order that “the rights of the laity to a voice in the appointment of their minister" might at once take effect. Such has been the construction put upon the said statutes by the Synod of the diocese of Wellington ! In vain it was contended, by the only voice raised in protest during the discussion, that the statutes evidently were not intended to have a retrospective action, that such was not the intention of the framers of the measures, that the Synod of another diocese (Christchurch,) had ruled their inapplicability to incumbents at present holding office, that implied engagements and vested rights ought always to be respected, that a legal opinion adverse to the proposed interpretation had been given by two lawyers, that in fact, the Synod had (according to the clause above recited from the Constitution Deed,) no right to interfere with cases of churches which were not property, or interested in property held by it in trust, but that they remained subject to the original and ordinary jurisdiction of the Bishop. These and other cogent arguments could only elicit the significant reply, that the Laity willed to have it so, that therefore it must be, and that as the Clergy bad acknowledged obedience to the Synod, they had no alternative but tamely to submit, however unconstitutional and illegal the proceedings.
It should be mentioned that an express declaration of obedience to the Statutes of the Synod had been made a condition by the
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Bishop on admitting the Clergy to their Pastoral Cures. But even if it had not been so, the “ faithful laity" are not left without a most effectual safety-valve for the free deliverance of their “ voice," in what Sir Peter Laurie once not inaptly called “the breechespocket argument." The parishes in the Wellington Diocese are wholly unendowed ; the stipends of the Clergy, under the old system, being paid out of a common fund, collected and appropriated by the Archdeaconry Board; but, under the new Statute, out of local contributions (offertories, pew-rents, and annual subscriptions) administered by a parish vestry, so affording, of course, a facillima facilitas for getting rid of, by “starving out,” an obnoxious incumbent.
In this respect, perhaps, the old system and the new stand most invidiously contrasted. Under the old system, the offerings of the faithful were wholly irrespective of party or personal prejudices or preferences for individual recipients; the guaranteed stipends were secured against local fluctuations, the overplus of liberal or more densely populated districts supplying the deficiencies of others. Any one enlightened by the graphic pages of “H. Trusta," with an insight into the working of the purely local and voluntary system among dissenting bodies in America, will feel little satisfaction in anticipating the result of a similar experiment on the corpus vile of Church-of-Englandism in the Colonies. However, so extremely eager was the Wellington Synod to set about making the experiment, that, lest time should be lost before the rights of the Laity could be vindicated by the slower process of “starving out” Incumbents then in office, it actually went the length of passing an auxiliary resolution, “ requiring" (not even simply “requesting”) the Bishop to withdraw his authority from Clergymen holding office in any district which, in the opinion of a standing Committee of the Synod, might be formed into a parish under the statute ! We regret to add that Bishop Abraham assented to the Resolution ; and so he justifies our previous assertion that a most important function of his episcopate has already been annihilated by abdication in favour of the laity of his diocese.
This standing Committee, we may remark in passing, affords further illustration of the tendency also previously referred to, to concede not simply a co-ordinate, but a predominant power to the laity in Church government. It consists of three Laymen and three Clergymen appointed by the Synod; the three Laymen being, as we are informed, in the present instance, men of wealth and influence in the Colony, while two of the Clergy are the youngest and least influential of their order in the Diocese, and the Arch
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1 It was moved during the Session, that a similar declaration ought in all fairness to be imposed upon the Laity also, who should take part in Synodical legislation ; but the proposal, in accordance with the general spirit of the proceedings, was alto. gether indignantly refused.
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deacon who, as a Church Missionary, lives at a distance and is most properly absorbed in his special duties among the native Maories. * Such, however, is the Bishop's “council of advice ;" and though the idea first started, of making it an executive, responsible for all his acts, like the responsible government in civil politics, was eventually abandoned, yet we own that we should have felt much more confidence in the real independence of the Bishop's office, if he had not yielded in the first instance where the Synod attempted to dictate, and if he had not manifested so decided a dread or fascination, we really cannot make up our minds which to suppose it, for the voice of the lay element in a matter so plainly appertaining to his own proper province.
We are informed, that the most intelligent and really faithful among the laity themselves in the Colony, are extremely averse to the “rights” which have been thus lavishly thrust upon them, and are keenly sensible of the certain detriment to their own true spiritual interests involved in the new system. Many, who have hitherto taken an active part in the matters of the local Church, are not unnaturally affronted at finding themselves suddenly superseded by an oligarchy of their own order, whose zeal or bounty in past years has accorded them no particular claim to such pre-eminence. Others, from a conservative reverence and affection for the old-fashioned Church of England ways in which they have been brought up, quite abhor the new-fangled approximation to the fashions of Dissent. Others, taking a deeper and more religious view, perceive the necessary consequence of this false feeling of self-will in “ heaping to themselves teachers," and dread the rivalries, jealousies, and discord, which are sure thus to be engendered. They feel justly enough, if they do not so express themselves, that to make our own choice a condition of accepting and supporting a religious minister, is virtually to affirm that he no longer comes to us as an ambassador from God, with an independent authority and commission; he comes not to teach, but to be taught; to shape bis delivery of God's counsels to the standard of popular opinion; if a coward, to succumb to popular dictation; if ambitious or covetous, to truckle to popular applause. And what is this but that fearful state of the Church, so often described by the Old Testament Prophets in their day, when it is “ as with the people, so with the priest," when "a fearful and horrible thing is committed in the land ; the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means, and the people love to have it so, and what shall be done in the end thereof ?” Surely, there is no more hideous example of the abuses of this socalled “voluntary system,” than in that period of God's ancient people recorded in the Book of Judges, when, every man doing « that which was right in his own eyes,” Micah of Mount Ephraim hired a Levite for himself, who was afterwards wiled away to more lucrative ministrations; and then followed in consequence the establishment of idolatry, and all that horrible history of the murder of the Levite's concubine, and the almost utter extermination of a tribe in Israel.
And what, after all, are the imagined advantages of the system to counterbalance its positive evils, and its dangers ? Is it the wisest measure that could possibly be devised for alluring into the Colony the highest order and best-educated of the English Clergy ? Are gentle-born, University-bred, delicate-minded priests and deacops likely to feel no repugnance at facing a competition for a benefice, which, after a few months' anxious service, might more than probably be forfeited by a faithful sermon, an unintentional affront, or an unpalatable strictness in moral conduct ? Would they risk a most expensive and dangerous voyage of sixteen thousand miles across the Atlantic and Pacific, on the chance of Pastoral appointments, or of receiving permanent maintenance if elected to a Cure ? We believe it indeed to be a wholly impracticable system, except on the Wesleyan principle of what has been happily designated “a Church on wheels,”—a three years' sojourn, and then a move to another sphere. "A clergyman,” says our private correspondent, “ who has been now some five or six years working in a Town Parish of the Colony, and during a portion of that period acting as Bishop's Commissary, was the other day visited by a deputation from his flock, who declared their inability after trial to raise the two last quarters' stipend which was due to him. The standing Committee of the Synod had also refused to help them in their difficulty. He replied, with somewhat melancholy humour, that he supposed this then was an illustration of the working of the Lay Element, for that he had been actually earning for the parish during the last six months, by pew-rents, offertories, and fees, the wherewithal to pay off their liabilities to the lay-sexton, the lay-organist, the laymerchant who had supplied the wine and candles, the lay-baker, and the carpenter and glazier who repaired the Church ; but that no balance was left for the poor Clerical Element, who came in for the last share even of his own earnings. He added, if only he could afford to print it, under a system which furnished such a minimum measure of spare cash, he would sit down at once and write a New Zealand travestie on 'Sunny Side' or · Peep at Number Five.'” We believe it was the Bishop of New Zealand himself who applied to his own circumstances the converse character of the Unjust Steward, saying, that “ he could dig, and to beg was not ashamed.” Such, henceforth, should be the sine quá non qualification of at least the Wellington Clergy. S. Paul, we know, dreading any trammel on the perfect independence of his own ministry, refused all share in the contributions of the faithful, lest he might be thought to be seeking not themselves but their's. And certainly far nobler and better that one should maintain himself, as he did, by the honest labour of his hands, than that he should be degraded
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into a bireling in the Priesthood, a creature of popular caprice; like a priest of the apostate Jeroboam,“of the vilest of the people;' crouching, like one of the degenerate sons of Eli, “ for a piece of silver and a morsel of bread, and saying, Put me, I pray thee, into one of the priests' offices, that I may eat a piece of bread.”
More than one English Clergyman, we are informed, seeking employment in the Colony, have already refused work when offered them, under this miserable system, and have either passed on to some other Diocese, where a more just and liberal view is taken of the Pastor's Office, or returned home again to England. We have also before us a printed pastoral, dated “ Wellington, 10th November, 1859," in which the writer, not unknown to some of our readers, announces the resignation of his Cure, and quotes the following extract containing his reasons, from his letter to Bishop Abraham on the subject :
“I propose asking you to cancel the Licence which I hold of you at the close of the present year. I do so because it was evidently the opinion of yourself and of the Diocesan Synod, (1st) that such a district as that of S. Paul's, Thorndon, ought to be formed into a Parish under the provisions of a Statute of the General Synod; and (2ndly) that in order to carry out those provisions, it is necessary that the Cure be vacant and a Pastor nominated to the vacant Cure; that, therefore, (3rdly) if I was willing and desirous to continue my present ministrations in the newly-formed Parish, I must submit to be nominated and possibly put into competition with other candidates for the office. My own opinion is that such a process is not required by the letter or intention of the Statute in question, and that such an interpretation of it is most unjust and degrading to the Clergy already appointed to Cures by authority of the Bishop, and with the sanction of a Body more truly and impartially representative of the Lay interest than the proposed Board of Nominators, namely, the elected Members of the Archdeaconry Board.
“At the same time I should have been quite willing to submit to the judgment of your Lordship in this matter, even if unsupported by that of the Diocesan Synod. And, in order that no unnecessary delay may take place before the provisions of the Statute can be brought into operation, I have determined, at considerable personal risk and inconvenience, to tender my resignation before obtaining an appointment elsewhere."
If these things are done in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry? What, when the "faithful laity” become fully awake and alive to their newly-acquired rights and privileges, and when the political rancour and party-religious spirit of the Colonial “ Lay Element” are fairly represented in the government of the local Church? For, be it observed, the only qualification at present required in the Synodical constituency is a declaration of membership in the Church of England. We all know that nominal membership in the Church of England means universal suffrage, when anything