Wednesday 13 April 2016

Sons of the Manse (1916)

"I was ever of opinion that the honest man who married and brought up a large family, did more service than he who continued single and only talked of population." It is with this naive sentence that the Vicar of Wakefield begins his immortal narrative in Goldsmith's deathless story. It was quite natural that my mind should at once recall the sentence when I perused the wonderful roll of honour in connection with the Irish Manse which appeared in the columns of "The Witness" on March 31st. It is true that the roll is incomplete, and important additions will yet be made to it. But it is beyond dispute that Irish Manses have sent into the military service of the Empire at least two hundred and fifty of their sons to do what they can in defence of King and country. We are not a very big Church, and the Manses do not bulk large in the eyes of the world; but a contingent of two hundred and fifty stalwart young men in the present emergency who are all sure to give a good account of themselves in the war will be regarded as a noble contribution on the part of Irish Presbyterian Manses. If we add to this the roll of daughters of the Manse who have volunteered to serve as nurses, about twenty already, we get some idea of the effective help which our Manses are rendering to the Empire. It is quite evident that the opinion of the Vicar of Wakefield, that "the honest man who married and brought up a large family did more service than he who continued single and only talked of population," is one which is widely shared by the ministers of our Church. Clerical celibacy is a survival of Paganism, and it is not only a Scriptural doctrine that the minister of religion should be the husband of one wife, but it now becomes clear that the marriage of the clergy is a strength and a fountain of power both to the Church and to the State. The Manses have taken their proper place in the economy of the nation, and are responding with splendid liberality to the call of the Empire. The whole Church has good reason to be proud of the record, and pleased with the patriotic spirit which animates her Manses. A minister's son is as brave as the bravest to fight the foe, and a minister's daughter is as ready as the readiest to leave her happy home and to face the hardships of the hospital or the perils of the battleship to dress the wounds of soldiers. The facts speak volumes for the character of the Manse, and for the domestic atmosphere which pervades it.

There was a time not so very long ago when there was a popular belief that a minister's son was not very well cut out for facing the battle of life; and not much was expected of him in the ordinary competitions of the world. He might hold his own at school, or earn distinction at college, for he was brought up amongst books; but unless he grew into a student and a recluse he broke down in secular pursuits, and was altogether too soft for the rough and tumble of the arena. He was supposed to be sheltered from the rough blasts of the world, and he was not expected to seize his oar and pull his share in the contrary winds and cross currants of life. If, unhappily, he went astray, he was singled out as a melancholy warning to all his youthful contemporaries, and a sample of the sort of milky manhood which Manses wens alone able to produce. All that is now a thing of the past. All lines of life are now open to ministers' sons, and happily Manses have placed themselves in healthy touch with the professions, with the civil service, with commerce, with agriculture, and with all the active pursuits of men. Ministers' sons are now not only training themselves for the ranks of the clergy, but they are forging ahead at the Bar, in the medical profession, in engineering, in business, in farming, and in the army. We have but to look around us, and we see ministers' sons on the bench, the leading luminaries in surgery and medicine, merchant princes, enterprising agriculturists, brilliant engineers, trustworthy solicitors, artists, soldiers, members of Parliament, and they easily hold their own in all the legitimate competitions of life. I am not surprised, therefore, that now in the Empire's great agony the Manses are turning out their sons and daughters in scores and hundreds to take their full share in the stern work of war. It has been now established as a matter of observation and experience that a Manse is a first-rate place for a man or a woman to be born in; and anybody who has had an opportunity of knowing what the life of a Manse is from the inside has no trouble in accounting for the fact.

In the first place, the piety of the Manse has ceased to be of the cloistered kind, as it used to be a generation ago. The Manse has thrown open its windows and doors to the free social breath of the whole world. Ministers do not want any longer to be treated as if they stood outside the great currents of active life. Their families desire simply to be regarded like the families of other people, to enter into the same healthy pursuits, to share the same duties, to bear the same responsibilities, to enjoy the same innocent pleasures, to be taken at the same intrinsic estimates, to be exempt from none of the ordinary privations, "fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled bv the same winter and summer." From this point of view I regard the Manse as on the whole the most natural and simple and healthy home in the parish ,and an ideal place and daughters. This change has been gradual and almost imperceptible; but it has taken place, and so far from the ancient piety of the Manse having suffered in consequence it has vastly improved in health, in strength, in
all gracefulness and beauty.

But in the second place, the Manse is a hive of hard work. A minister who does his duty must be a very hard-working man. He has to preach twice on the first day of the week, and he must be fresh and interesting every time if he is to hold his own with the people; and then his engagements through the other six days of the week are innumerable and boundless. Talk of working hours, eight hours in the twenty-four, as other workers talk; a minister is literally on the go all the twenty-four hours round. He is in perpetual danger of sinking into a drudge, and if he does not take the greatest care he will develop into a mere, clerical machine. He must study earnestly; he must keep abreast of his pastoral visitation; he must meditate profoundly on all the questions of the day; he must give himself out perpetually in sympathy, in counsel, in oversight, and above all he must direct and inspire his whole congregation. Even in small and rural charges, perhaps, his duties are the most exacting of all. I once heard the late Dr. Donald Fraser, of Marylebone, say in the English Synod, and he said the truth, "The troubles of a minister are usually in the inverse ratio of the size of his congregation." Then the minister's wife is usually the busiest woman in the whole congregation; most busy if she abstains from parochial work, looking after the affairs of the Manse where she is financier, manager, wife and mother all in one. It is hers to solve the almost insoluble problem of how to support the refined hospitalities of the Manse on a very limited income, and how to maintain the character of a lady in a community where she is the observed of all observers. In this atmosphere of hard work the children grow up, the sons to prepare themselves for taking their place afterwards in life, and the daughters to qualify for an honourable role in the future.

In the third place, the Manses are now universally conducted on strictly teetotal principles. I believe this is most true in Ireland. It has been my good fortune to have been the guest at one time or another in nearly all the Manses of the General Assembly, and I never saw a decanter on the table of one of them. I think it will be acknowledged that this is a good atmosphere for the rearing of young men. At any rate it is a fact that the vast majority of our ministers' sons are pre-eminently sober, if not total abstaining men.

In the fourth place, the sanctity of the Sabbath is established in the Manse, and above all there is the daily observance of family worship. Both these are essential for the formation of a Christian home, and the Manse is a Christian home in the proper sense of the word. The sons of the Manse are members of a home, not of a lodging-house, and the home feeling gets into their blood. This is the very finest inheritance on which they can enter. Usually the father is a boy with his boys, and the mother is a girl with her girls, and there are no households so happy, so full of love, so bright with mirth, so pure from the taint of selfishness, so united with happy memories, so braced by mutual co-operation as those that grow up in a Manse. I have known many large families in Manses, large enough to satisfy the ideal of even the Vicar of Wakefield, and I have not known one with a black sheep among them. If there are any black sheep I have only heard of them; I have not known them.

But lastly, there is a characteristic of the Manse which I think contributes more than all else to the manhood of its sons to which I have only incidentally referred. I mean its restricted financial resources. I refuse to speak of the poverty of the Manse, for poverty is after all a relative term. There are men and women who do not account themselves wealthy, but to whom the whole yearly revenue of a Manse would not serve for a single day's pleasure; and there are multitudes of honest folk in the world who do not own themselves poor to whom the income of the Manse would look like a mine of gold. The fact is, that if we consider only the bare necessities of life Manses cannot be said to be poor; and if we consider the luxuries they cannot be said to be rich. Ecclesiastical finance has so managed it that if Agur, the son of Jakeh, himself were an Irish Presbyterian minister his prayer would be almost perfectly answered -- "Give me neither poverty nor riches, feed me with food convenient for me, lest I be full and deny Thee, and say who is the Lord? Or lest I be poor and steal, and take the name of my God in vain." One thing is certain, that if any young man has a lust for acquiring riches he ought not to seek the ministerial office. At the same time so skilfully managed is the exchequer of the Manse that for the ordinary visitor it is impossible to judge whether it is poor or rich. Most ministers' wives are perfect queens in their own homes, and they can be open-handed and generous on little as on much. Besides, when a house is rich in refinement, in culture, in courtesy, and in good breeding, it is astonishing how attractive frugality can be made to look and how extremely little coarse extravagance will be really missed. It is in these higher riches that Manses excel, and nothing is better for the rearing of sons and daughters. The worship of mammon does not coarsen the young spirit, and the higher faculties both of mind and body find a pure atmosphere for their exercise. At the same time I do not endorse the view that straitened means are best for ministerial life. I believe that as the general standard of living improves the salaries of ministers ought to improve with it. Presbyterians have never accepted the ascetic doctrine that poverty is a grace of the spirit. Long years ago, I heard of a man who at a visitation in his church, when the Presbytery came to inquire into the ministerial income, cried out to the Court, "O you keep our minister orthodox, and we shall see to keep him poor." And they kept him poor, until at last the very congregation ceased to exist. I believe the very best test of a congregation's spiritual life is its generosity towards its minister; and everybody knows that in a Manse there are legitimate ambitions both in the minister and in his wife, both in their sons and in their daughters, which must be simply and sternly repressed by reason of the res angustae domi. I wonder very much why the Sustentation Fund does not become the most popular fund of the Church. It ought to be, and it will be I think as soon as this war is over. Ten or twenty pounds a year added to the equal dividend would bring sunshine into many a Manse, would bring joy to the heart of many a careful minister's wife, would lighten the load of many a hardworking minister, and would greatly smooth the road of many a son and daughter of the Manse as they struggled forward into the battle of life.

For all these reasons we can understand well how it is that the Manses have responded so nobly to the call of the nation in this war. They have done what they could, and the gift they have laid upon the altar is their sons and daughters. We look for good fruit to grow on a good tree, and the Manses are good trees. When we witness the noble procession of brave sons and daughters who are going forth now from the Manses of the Church with their lives in their hands to serve King and country in the war we shall all stir ourselves to a fresh interest in their welfare. I believe that in no Church in Christendom are the relations between pastors and people more healthy, more cordial, or more Scriptural than in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland at the present time. It only needs that a few influential wealthy men shall look into their chequebooks in a prayerful spirit, and as God's stewards to kindle a fire of generosity in favour of the Sustentation Fund, which will bring joy into every Manse of the Assembly, and be an adequate thankoffering for the heroic sacrifices which these Manses are now making for their country.

by "Southern Presbyterian."

From The Witness, 14th April 1916.
Image: Painting by Chris Collingwood

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