Friday, October 14, 2016

The Nineteenth Century Revolution in Public Worship

I have before me is an 1820s pew plan of my home parish church. It was drawn just after a reallocation of seats in 1823, and a partial re-seating of the church. Visible in the minds eye are the groined plaster vault added in 1803; the high backs of the box pews, some of which incorporate mediaeval bench ends; the three decker pulpit attached to the second nave pier almost halfway down the nave; a few memorials and benefaction boards, along with some painted texts showing through later coats of whitewash; and the lower part of the chancel arch is filled with a good 15th century screen with the Royal Arms. The Decalogue, the Lord's Prayer, and the Apostles' Creed, are on boards at the east end of the chancel, where there is a wooden communion table with a marble top (no worries in those days about stone altars!) surrounded on three sides by a rail. The chancel has two pews in it for the families from the two big houses on this side of the parish, and the rest with benches for the Communicants at the monthly communion service. Velvet cushion adorn the pulpit and a frontal of the same material covers the Communion Table. There are candles and candlesticks on the Holy Table, but they are never lighted. The whole impression is one of both the dignity and the sleepiness of the late Georgian Church.

Barton was a High Church parish, or at least so the parsons liked to think. Matins, Litany, Ante-Communion and a sermon were offered in one church in the morning, and Evening Prayer and a Sermon in the other in the afternoon every Sunday. Morning service was also offered on Tuesdays and Fridays, presumably a sort of echo of the Wednesday and Friday services required by early Georgian visitation articles, with the resident gentry of Barton providing the attendance for these service. Unusually the church has an organ - a small two manual instrument without pedals - which is sited in the western gallery, with the singers and accompanies the metrical psalms, the occasional new fangled hymn, and the limited number of rustic anthems familiar to the St Peter's musicians. As services alternate between the two churches, both are probably used four times in two weeks, with the curate living in the little double fronted vicarage in front of the Church. Within a couple of years the curate will be the nephew of the Vicar, who will move to the more palatial surroundings of the former Rectory, Bardney Hall, on his accession to the incumbency, and let the Vicarage to his aging mother.

Morning service would have been a fairly sombre affair. The bells would start ringing at 10.00am, and would give the countdown to morning service. If you lived on the Waterside you had better grab your hat and go as soon as you heard the bells, as it is fully a mile to the parish church. Closer residents could wait for the 15 or even 5 minute signals. Just before 10:30am a voluntary would be played by the organist, and the clerk and minister would take their places on the lowest, and middle levels of the three decker pulpit and begin wait to begin the service. The minister would give out a sentence or two of Scripture, read the exhortation at the beginning of Matins, lead the General Confession, give the Absolution, and then the Lord's Prayer would follow. Matins proper would begin with "O Lord, open thou our lips" and it is likely that few besides the clerk would make the response "And our mouth shall shew forth thy praise." And so it would continue through the Venite, the Psalms, the first lesson, the Te Deum, the second lesson, and so on, until the third collect. At which point the service may have been punctuated with a Metrical Psalm. After that, the Litany, another Psalm, and then the ante-communion ending with a psalm during which the parson changed from surplice to gown, the sermon, and another psalm or hymn before the blessing, after which another voluntary was hear from the organ, and all departed.

Once a month, the minister would go to the altar after the sermon, where bread and wine had been placed before the service. Whilst this took place, most of the congregation would exit, with the Communicants gathering in the chancel for the Communion service. The minister would return to the vestry and exchange gown for surplice, and then stand at the north end of the Table to lead the Communion. He would lead the congregation in the general confession, with the first rail of communicants already knelt at the rail, then after the Humble Access he would remove the linen cloth from the elements, move them a little to the north end of the altar, and whilst reading the Prayer of Consecration, perform the manual acts. The communicants would then receive the consecrated leavened bread, and the undiluted port before being dismissed with a sentence of Scripture and returning to their seats. The ceremonial would be simple, even bare, with the communicants departing quietly after the blessing. The services had been this way for a hundred years, maybe longer, and although parsons came and went in their generations, folks thought that things would continue pretty much the same way forever.

If we return to the same church, fifty years later (1873), the place had been revolutionised! Parson Hogarth has been there some 15 years, having arrived hot foot from the Tractarian fever swamps of London. When he had arrived in 1858, he inherited a restoration programme that had completely altered the church inside. Dear, kindly, affectionate, ineffectual Parson Holt had decided to have the church made over more-or-less according to the Ecclesiologists principles, and the leading men in the town had raised funds for this to happen. A London architect had been consulted, but he wanted London fees, so the work had gone to a Cuthbert Brodrick, a Yorkshire architect with offices in Leeds and Hull. Out went the plaster vault, the box pews, the gallery, even the old altar, and organ, and in came the new. The pews were uniform in design and height, which had led to the destruction of all but one of the surviving mediaeval bench ends. The organ now stands at the east end of the north aisle behind the newly minted choir stalls, and the reading desk and pulpit have been split and now stand south and north of the chancel arch respectively. The local builders had knocked out the bottom panels of the fifteenth century screen, whilst beyond the old red clay pavers, and white wash have given away to three colours of glazed tiles, with some almost convincing pseudo-mediaeval choir stalls for the Communicants. The old stone and wood communion table has been replaced by an altar table raised on two steps, whilst the east end has encaustic tile up to widow bottom level. The new five panel reredos contains the Lord's Prayer, Commandments 1 to 4; a sacred symbol in Gothic Letters; Commandments 5 to 10; and the Creed, whilst underneath it runs the legend - again in tile "THIS DO IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME." All very different to 1823, and moreover, there is now gas lighting in the church in the form of trident burners over every third pew, so service can be held in the evenings.

The services have also changed. Communion is now twice a month, and it is also twice a month at the Waterside Mission. Matins, Litany, and Sermon follow at 10:30am and Evensong and Sermon at 6:30am. Services are also held morning and evening at the Mission room. The services themselves have also changed. Metrical psalms have largely gone, replaced with Hymns Ancient and Modern. The first attempts are being made at chanting the services, somewhat marred by the raw voices of the choir. However, parson Hogarth moved too far too fast when he first came to the parish, so has been forced to revert to celebrating at the north end after a premature experiment with the eastward position. His celebration of Holy Communion in association with the burial of the dead five years since had also proved to be 'too far; too fast' for the locals, and prompted some of the locals to join the Church Association, or transfer their allegiance to the Methodists, not to mention the adverse articles and letters in the newspapers of the time under headings such as "Ritualism in Barton." However, being a canny Scot, the Rev. Mr. Hogarth has abstained from pushing his luck since then, and the Vicarage his home to him, his wife, and their brood of children, one of whom, David, is to become an archaeologist and associate of T. E. Lawrence. Curates come and go, and doubtless he discusses various plans for the future with his wife, and curate, but for the time being, things will remain as they are. He can rest content that having introduced daily offices and more frequent celebration of Communion he has made a good beginning at bring Barton into line with Tractarian ideals. It will be up to his successor, Canon Moore, to complete the revolution that Hogarth started. By the end of the century, the other church, St Mary's, will have been restored, and there will be two celebrations of Holy Communion on Sundays, a celebration on Thursdays, and also on Holydays. A surplice choir will have appeared, and a new organ will have been installed in both churches. By 1914, Eucharistic vestments will have been introduced, but Matins and Evensong will remain the main services down the 1960s when the Parish Communion Movement comes to Barton to effect the next revolution.