Pan-Anglican coming-of-age party

by
19 June 2008

The Pan-Anglican Congress 1908 was a defining moment, says Glyn Paflin

Pan-Anglican: English and colonial archbishops and bishops with members of the Congress Committee in 1908

Pan-Anglican: English and colonial archbishops and bishops with members of the Congress Committee in 1908

THE 1908 Lambeth Conference was held “in private for common counsel”, as Bishop George Bell relates in his biography of Randall Davidson, Archbishop of Canterbury at the time; but another gathering was held to raise the profile (as we should say now) of the Anglican Communion. Thousands went, and it was widely trumpeted — even by the initially sceptical Church Times.

Bell describes it as “an unofficial assembly intended to stir the imagination of the Anglican Communion and to give the rank and file a new sense of unity, besides leading to fresh offers of service by clergy at home to the Church Overseas”.

Its seeds had been sown in 1902 in a sermon in St Paul’s by Bishop Henry Montgomery, secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG). The planning took five years, and was entrusted to the Church’s Central Board of Missions and a full-time secretary, the Revd A. B. Mynors.

A list of subjects was sent out to all Anglican bishops. When their answers had been received, the results were tabulated and forwarded to them for their final opinion. Preliminary papers on the topics selected were prepared in advance by “leading scholars”, and were also sent round the world.

On each of the eight days of the Congress, 17,000 people attended the different meetings in the different sections in the Albert Hall, Church House, and other halls in London. A large Thankoffering Fund was raised and spent on overseas work.

Bell concluded that it was “an immense achievement and kindled the enthusiasm of Churchmen all over the world. It was educational in character, the meetings were held in public, papers were read and discussion followed, but no resolutions were passed expressing any judgement of the Congress on the topic handled.”

But Archbishop Davidson, who presided over some of the meetings, and received the representatives at Lambeth Palace, found it all a bit much just before a Lambeth Conference. He was 60 years old. “The strain was very great, and he was clear that it would never again be right for two such vast efforts as the Pan-Anglican Congress and the Lambeth Conference to be held so close together.”

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On 19 June 1908, to mark the Congress, the Church Times rolled out a 12-page supplement, “The Anglican Communion”, which was a publishing landmark for the paper. It caught something of the triumphalist mood of the times, and was full of fancy typographical decoration — borrowed, no doubt, from the Church Times’s Edwardian sister publication, an intentionally popular Sunday magazine “with a distinctive Church tone”, The Treasury.

The Treasury had got off to a buoyant start with the help of a full-page photographic portrait of the Bishop of London, Dr Winnington-Ingram, then at the height of his popularity. Ever after, when sales appeared to be dipping, the proprietor, F. B. Palmer, would say gloomily: “We must have another portrait of the Bishop of London.” And once or twice, Canon Anthony Deane, the Editor, later recalled, they did.

Clearly, episcopal portraits had a market in the early 1900s; and the special supplement took this further in a way not normally possible in the Church Times, where photographs had never been used.

Illustrations of any kind had been rare: the only one we know of appeared 18 years earlier, on 18 July 1890: an engraving depicted the stone memorial cross in the Mamore Forest marking the spot where the “martyr for Ritualism”, the persecuted Vicar of St Alban’s, Holborn, the Revd A. H. Mackonochie, had been found dead, guarded by his two faithful dogs — a detail that gave the story a truly Victorian appeal — after being overtaken by a blizzard on 17 December 1887.

If the Church Times had slackened its Anglo-Catholic vigilance since those troubled days, no one had bothered to tell the Editor. A leading article on 1 May 1908 recognised that the aims of the Pan-Anglican Congress were both “lofty and practical”, but warned: “It is inevitable that in so great a scheme there should be weaknesses, and even dangers. What is clear to the first promoters may be obscure to some of those who are charged with its working out in detail. Undisciplined and uninstructed enthusiasm is often more dangerous than outward attack. Ideas half understood and possibly misunderstood, may issue in ill-advised action from which the Church will take long to recover.”

If the Church Times had slackened its Anglo-Catholic vigilance since those troubled days, no one had bothered to tell the Editor. A leading article on 1 May 1908 recognised that the aims of the Pan-Anglican Congress were both “lofty and practical”, but warned: “It is inevitable that in so great a scheme there should be weaknesses, and even dangers. What is clear to the first promoters may be obscure to some of those who are charged with its working out in detail. Undisciplined and uninstructed enthusiasm is often more dangerous than outward attack. Ideas half understood and possibly misunderstood, may issue in ill-advised action from which the Church will take long to recover.”

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The paper warned that the Congress was “in a fair way to obscure in many minds the very idea of the Catholic Church. One would hardly learn from the greater part of the Congress literature that any other part of the Church existed, save that in communion with Canterbury, or that the English Church and her daughter provinces are but a fraction of the Western Church.”

It would, the paper warned, harm the cause of Catholic reunion if “almost the whole attention of such a Congress, representing the whole Canterbury obedience as it has never been represented before, seems to be concentrated on a working union with the sects, or co-operation with them, and if the policy of concession in matters of vital doctrine and important points of discipline be advanced under cover of the phrase ‘comity of missions’.”

Even the great idea of a Thankoffering Fund had been “sadly coarsened and vulgarized”. The paper noted that “Every means, from Mansion House meetings down to bazaars [a longstanding Church Times bête noire] and concerts, has been employed to swell the fund.” But a proportion of churchpeople had been tempted to divert their usual subscriptions from church societies, of which several were feeling the pinch. If that was what they were doing, “then part of the Thankoffering will be no thankoffering at all, but the merest sham.”

As the event drew near, and more details emerged, the CT was critical of the choice of hymns and the subjects of papers (100 Years Ago, last week); and on 12 June, a further leader on “Pan-Anglicanism” said that, though the work of the Congress would be of “decisive importance”, and “Its decisions will resound through a wider region than even the Empire itself,” its fears about the Thankoffering had been confirmed by a complaint that the SPG itself had felt obliged to make public — the society from whom the whole idea had originated.

Fears about the theological results of the Congress were also expressed, and they sound remarkably modern. “The Imperialistic idea has been presented to English Churchmen, on the highest authority, in such a way that we need not be surprised at . . . wild writing [in the Press]. . . It has been asserted in a work prefaced by the Archbishop of Canterbury, that to the Anglo-Saxon race has been given the command to go forth and make disciples of all nations. National pride, Imperialistic dreams, political aspirations, have been worked upon, conjointly with missionary zeal, until we might almost be convicted of reading the Divine injunction Tu es Britannia, et super hoc imperium ædificabo Ecclesiam meam.”

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Nevertheless, the Congress began well, and the paper noted (as harmless folly) that its success had even led someone to describe it as “the greatest Oecumenical Council ever known to history”. When the whole thing was over on 26 June, the wide press coverage was found to be all the more remarkable, it said, because it was “conspicuously devoid of those sensational incidents which appeal so strongly to readers of newspapers”.

The Church Times reported the Thanksgiving Service at St Paul’s, when a total sum of £333,208 0s. 11½d. (they even counted the ha’pennies) was laid on the altar; and, in 19 pages of close print spread over two weeks, summarised the debates and meetings on such subjects as marriage, the Church and human society (issues such as “Sweating” and “Christian Science”), capital and labour, religion and science, racial difficulties, monopolies, religions and the press, biblical criticism, aborigines, and Christianity and Socialism. The speakers — bishops, clergy, and lay people — came from all over the world.

It was too soon to estimate the gain, the Church Times concluded, but “We shall hope to discover as its outstanding results a new sense of our subordination to the larger claims of the Catholic Church, a stronger desire for the reunion of Christendom, a firmer hold on the Christian verities, and a fuller acknowledgement of our responsibilities in regard to the amelioration of our social conditions. By reason of the inheritance of a common Creed all these results are compatible with that variety of opinion which is inevitable in a communion so free and so diverse.”

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