This address was given by a Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church, William Stevens Perry (1832-1898), on May 19, 1891.
FROM THE ADDRESS TO THE CONVENTION OF THE DIOCESE OF IOWA,
MAY 19, 1891, BY WILLIAM STEVENS PERRY, BISHOP.
Most gratifying to me and most encouraging are the evidences apparent on every side that the clergy generally are seeking in every legitimate way to make the influence of the Church felt on every side. The historic position of the clergyman of the Church is indicated in the old-time word applied to him as the “parson”—the “person” of the community where he dwells; the one interested in each one’s welfare; the one, above all other men, laboring for everybody’s temporal and spiritual good. One and another may voluntarily withdraw themselves from the direct influence of the Priest of God, but he is still the person to minister in spiritual things to all who do not thus refuse his kindly offices—his ministrations of grace. This conception of priestly position, privilege, and duty will make the priest of our smallest mission the ever-widening centre of spiritual usefulness for good to all men. The highways and byways are certainly open to us, and they will be found to contain numbers who will gladly respond to our efforts for their spiritual good. I like that homely old English word, “parson,” and that grander, nobler word—the connecting link of the two dispensations—priest. Let the priest by broad sympathies, by active labor, by caring for more than the little circle of avowed parishioners, and by striving to reach every soul within his reach, acquaint all within his influence of his purpose and his place, and the Church will redeem John Wesley’s watchword. “The world is my parish,” and that part of the world in and about one’s parish will become the theatre of an aggressive work for Christ which God will own and men will recognize and bless. It is a pitiful idea of the priestly vocation and the priestly commission that leads one to confine his ministrations solely to those who contribute to his support. By the terms of his ordination he is not only “to feed and provide for the Lord’s family,” but also “to seek for Christ’s sheep that are dispersed abroad, and for His children who are in the midst of this naughty world, that they may be saved through Christ forever.”
As a Bishop of a Church whose history runs parallel with that of our country; whose priests, first of all ministers of religion, held the services and administered the sacraments of Holy Church in the tongue of our English fathers on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts; whose Bishops, clergy and members were foremost in the work of colonization; whose “missioners” numbered among their most noted names those of Francis Fletcher, the first priest officiating on the soil of California, Richard Seymour the first priest of New England, Robert Hunt the first priest of Virginia; and later those of Whitefield the great evangelist, the Wesley’s, John and Charles, the preacher and poet of Methodism, each laboring for Christ and His Church in Georgia; and Thomas Thompson of New Jersey the first missionary from this country to Africa; and countless others like minded; whose also was the first convert to Christ in Holy Baptism of the aborigines in Raleigh’s ill-starred colony at Roanoke in 1587; whose cross-topped Church built at Fort St. George in 1607, was the first place of Christian worship erected on the coast stretching from Maine to Georgia, thirteen years before the Puritans landed at Plymouth; whose member and ministers founded the first American University, that of Henrico, Virginia, and the first free school, at Charles City in the same colony; whose baptized members furnished two-thirds of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and a majority of the framers of the federal Constitution; which gave us our Washington and the most distinguished of the patriots who, in the halls of Congress or on the battle-field, won for us our independence;–I cannot fail to call the attention of clergy and laity to the importance of inculcating at fitting times and under suitable circumstances the Christian duty of patriotism. We at the present juncture of national affairs, need to be reminded that, as citizens of the United States of America, we owe our country’s first discovery and settlement—our very nationality—not to Columbus and Spain and Rome, but to Cabot and England and to England’s Church. The close connection of the Church of England with our colonization and development is now established as an historic fact. The strife for the possession of the empire of the Western World was waged from the start between the Anglican and the Roman communions. Through the papal bull meted out the New World to Spain to hold as a fief of the Roman See, the Church, the Crown, the Commonwealth of England recognized no peace with Spain beyond the line—the line of demarcation beyond which Spain was to have absolute and undisputed rule. The rival communions, Anglican and Roman, were each successful in securing a moiety of the New World, but the territory we as a nation occupy was claimed and planted by England, and not by Spain or France. We may thank God that our nationality was thus based on Magna Charta, on the English Constitution, on the English common law, on the English Bible, and on the English Book of Common Prayer. Mexico and the Latin republics of the South American states may date their origin and their faith from Spain and Rome. We are the sons of Anglo-Saxon sires. Our fathers at the Revolution fought for their rights as free-born Englishmen—rights which would not have been ours by inheritance or possession had not the mother land of England successfully resisted the Spanish attempts to monopolize the Western World, and the mother Church of England sent the priest with her people and supplied the word of God and the Church’s prayers wherever her baptized children went. True as it is that in a land such as ours no state establishment of religion is either practicable or desirable, but still the fact that our communion alone is spoken of as the American Church; and that we alone, by reason of our occupancy of all sections of our beloved country; by our historic connection with the Nation’s past; by the close similarity of our general ecclesiastical constitution with that which our fathers—Churchmen as well as patriots—established for the land; and by our recognition, in prayers and offices from the very first, of “the powers that be” as “ordained of God,” shows that we are each day growing more and more worthy of our claim to be called the American Church, and to be in truth the American Catholic Church. In view of the duty so specially ours of recognizing the authority under which we live, I would urge upon my reverend brethren of the clergy, and upon the laity as well, the duty of seeking to be in touch with everything national and patriotic. Gladly would I see over every Church in Iowa, under the cross, the flag of the republic floating from spire or tower, telling of our love for country as the cross uplifted tells of our grateful recognition of the emblem of our salvation. We should not as Churchmen be a whit behind any in our patriotism; teaching its lessons in our Sunday Schools, from our pulpits, in our every-day speech. The American idea should dispossess all other ideas so far as true politics, the common weal of the commonwealth, are concerned. The love of country will, if awakened, encouraged, and developed, dominate partisanship and make us better citizens and men. We need and we should countenance in this land no organizations of Englishmen, of Scotchmen, Welshman, Irishmen, Scandinavians, Germans, French, or Italians associated for the furtherance of un-American purposes or ideas. Much less should we consent to the growth amongst us of secret tribunals with their crimes and assassinations, or the organization of men of foreign birth and sympathies trained to the use of arms. We must recognize no flag but the Stars and Stripes. Our liberties are endangered, even before we are aware, by this banding together of foreigners, who seek an asylum and a support in our free land that they may the better carry on their schemes of interference with other nations. For God and native land may well be our motto! If we are true to our country’s needs, if true to our Christian faith, we may make this land of ours “God’s noblest offspring,” even though it be the last.
* Originally published: Dec. 20, 2016.