Anglican sisterhoods

Anglican sisterhoods  (1886) 
by William Connor Magee








ON THE 16th OF APRIL, 1886.

(Copied verbatim from the Guardian.)

Presented to the Council of the Church Penitentiary Association
for distrihution, at their discretion, in the 14 Dioceses
where as yet there are no "Homes" managed by
self-devoted women, in union with the C.P.A.,
by Admiral of the Fleet, Sir A. P. Ryder.



Under the impression that this very weighty address, made by the Bishop of Peterborough, on Anglican Sisterhoods, might with advantage be widely distributed by an Organising Secretary in Dioceses where there are as yet no "Homes" in union with the Church Penitentiary Association, I have reprinted it verbatim from "The Guardian," and presented an edition of 500 copies to the Council of the C.P.A., that being the only Church Society (it was formed in 1851) having the especial object of aiding in the establishment and maintenance of "Homes," under the management of "self-devoted" women.

A Treasurer of the C, Penitentiary Association, a Trustee of the C. E. Purity S., and of the Diocesan Home (Winchester) for the Friendless and Fallen.

Torquay, June, 1886.


(From the "Leicester Journal".)

A PUBLIC MEETING in aid of the Refuge for Fallen Women, situate in the Newarke, Leicester, was held on Thursday afternoon, April 15th, 1886, in the County Assembly Rooms. There was a large attendance. The Bishop of Peterborough occupied the chair. After devotional exercises, the Rev. L. Clayton moved —

"That this meeting is of opinion that a temporary refuge, to which fallen women may have ready access, but without any pledge to make a lengthened stay, is urgently needed in this town and neighbourhood, and it heartily commends the refuge in the Newarke, established by the Leicester Ruridecanal Church of England Purity Society, and under the management of the Wantage Sisterhood, to the confidence and support of the town and county."

The Bishop of Peterborough, prior to asking a vote on the subject, said,—This resolution, in every word of which I agree, has been very ably and sufficiently supported in the speeches to which you have listened; still, I think, there remains for me the utterance of a few words more in further support of what you are asked to help and assist, and which ought to come from me, and which, perhaps, cannot quite as well come from any one else. In the first place, let me say with what thankfulness I have seen the refuge work which has been organised within the last few months. I regard it as the practical outcome of that society for promoting purity, which, you will remember, about two years ago it was agreed in this room, by a resolution of the diocesan conference, should be instituted in this diocese. (Cheers). It was then asked with some force,—"What can this society do?" but I am very glad to see what it has been doing already in Leicester. I rejoice that the local branch of the Church of England Purity Society has put its hand to work so practically and so manifestly blessed of God as this has been to you already. Let me say further, that I think the presence and support of the Bishop of the Diocese on such an occasion as this has an importance and significance of its own. I say that, as not at all magnifying my own office amongst you—though I trust I can never forget the magnitude and heavy responsibilities of that office; but I must always remember the moral influence of many Churchmen, and I think I may add, after what we have heard to-day, the kindly feeling not a few Non-conformists still entertain towards the possessor of that office. I think the presence of the Bishop, in taking part in any new movement in his diocese, however, does mean something, because, if a Bishop is at all worthy of his office, and at all sensible of the duties of that office, he will not lightly engage in any new organisation. Before he takes part in any new work, he must have satisfied himself clearly that it was a work conducted on right principles and on sound methods, and he has no right, as the Bishop of a diocese, to stand up in the presence of a diocese and say, "I approve of this work, and ask you to join in it," unless he is perfectly satisfied it is a good and right and sound work. I venture to assure you that I have not taken part in to-day's proceedings without very careful enquiry, and without full and sufficient satisfaction of my own mind upon every point. In the first place I had to satisfy myself that there was a special work for this organisation to do, because I must be naturally jealous of new organisations when there is so much for old associations to do. In any new work I am certainly bound to be satisfied it is a necessary work before I can join in it, for fear of injuring other organisations. One of the first questions I had to satisfy myself upon was this,—Is it an unnecessary work; is it unduly interfering with any other work of the same kind? Upon that point you have had abundant evidence that this work is a distinctive work, and that it is not interfering with, but largely auxiliary to, other work of the same kind. I have been clearly satisfied on that point. I am thankful to know, and I am thoroughly convinced, that this association is not an opponent or rival of any kindred association in existence in Leicester or the diocese, but that it is the handmaid of the other associations, and that it is so recognised and welcomed by those interested in the other associations. Then I am bound to satisfy myself as to the principles and method of work. And as to its method of work, I was confronted by the fact that this work was conducted by a Sisterhood. With regard to that, I was heartily glad to hear it; and I do not hesitate to stand up in the presence of my own diocese and say that I am heartily glad of this work being done by a Sisterhood, because I believe it is work for which a Sisterhood is especially and pre-eminently fitted. I believe in this work of rescuing and raising the fallen being committed to women of high culture and devotion—who in the name of Sister recognise a Sister in Christ in the outcast—being especially fitted for this work. (Cheers.) Surely, you can all feel this, when you have to raise the fallen one and the outcast, when you have to elevate those who are degraded—that you need the most cultivated, the most refined, and the most saintly, influences that can be brought to bear upon them. Therefore, when I hear of women of good birth, of high culture and refinement, giving their lives to this work, all I have to say is this,—it must be something very bad indeed in their methods that will induce me to stand aside and not help them. It must be something more than I am likely to hear against the Sisterhood at Wantage. (Cheers.) Then there is another thing: I think a Sisterhood, constantly given to this work, acquires stores of experience, traditional methods of work, that could not possibly be in the possession of any single individual engaged in the work; or if it could be concentrated in one person, could not be continued to that person's successor. You want tradition of work—you want continuity of work—and this is to be obtained only by a guild or by an association of persons who give themselves continuously to the work. By this means you get skilled labour, and increasingly skilled labour, in the work. There was a great deal of wisdom on the part of our ancestors in forming trade and workmen's guilds, because they held that the acquired wisdom and the improved practice of those who gathered together in those guilds became a common possession, and were handed on, not perishing with the individuals who possessed them, and becoming an hereditary gift to the community in which they were fostered and acquired. For that reason I should think the services of the Sisterhood—of devout women giving themselves to this work of acquiring the knowledge and habits of dealing with this work—is of immense value in such a work as this. But I am told that in engaging in this work, and in joining with you in it, I am engaging in a conspiracy for the promotion of Romanism. I think I am as little likely to join in a conspiracy of that sort as any person in this diocese or out of it. I am not at all afraid of any conspiracy for promoting Romanism in any institution which is under the guidance of my friend the Dean of Lincoln. You have heard his speech this afternoon. That speech was not only filled with orthodox loyalty to his own Church, but was marked with sound sense and judgment. I think there is as little likelihood of what are called the excesses—and there are excesses—and what are called extravagances—and there are extravagances—of ritualism being promoted and cherished in any institution presided over by the Dean of Lincoln as in any institution I know of. I know the Dean of Lincoln to be thoroughly loyal to the Prayer Book, and that he does not go out of it. As to ritualism, and the excesses of ritualism, I have no love for such things. But there is one thing I am not going to do in this diocese to please anybody: I am not going to set up my own ritual in this diocese as the rule for every one else. I hold that, being bound by my office, the centre of unity for work in the diocese, I am also bound to be, of all persons in the diocese, the most tolerant of everything that can be tolerated in the Church of England. (Cheers.) I am bound to fully satisfy myself that there is nothing in any ritual I vouch for, or in any work I take part in, that is disloyal to the Church of England. But loyalty to the Church of England is one thing, and loyalty to one section or party in the Church is another thing. I hold that within the broad and comprehensive limits of the Prayer Book of the Church of England there is room for a great many other persons than one who has written a letter to a newspaper and signed himself "Johannes," whoever he may be. (Laughter.) If any one supposes that because the ritual of these excellent women may, in some respects, be different to what I adopt, or would advise or require in every parish church in this diocese, in which all the parishioners have a right to go, and in which they have a right to require, within the very strictest letter of the law, that everything shall be kept within those bounds—if they suppose that, because I would not adopt it as my own ritual, or in my own house, that I am going to stop the excellent work of these women—if you think I am going to stop that work, and quarrel about "candle ends," you are very much mistaken. (Laughter and cheers.) I will do nothing so contemptible, so small-minded, or unmanly as anything of the kind. (Cheers.) I am thoroughly satisfied, having examined the offices and services of the institution, and having examined the whole ritual of the Sisterhood, that there is nothing which by fair and reasonable construction may not be taken to be fully and strictly within the limits of the Prayer Book of the Church of England. As for those who do not like the ritual, and do not approve of the offices—which, I confess, I do approve, although I might not adopt them myself—they need not go to worship there or subscribe to the Institution. They are not asked to do either. All they are asked to do is not to hinder others and discourage a good work. Dr. Blunt has remarked that "we are not in Ireland." I, for the moment, almost thought we were, because it seemed to me that the letter read by Mr. Blunt savoured very much of what is called "boycotting." The proposal to boycott this Institution is one I am not in the least inclined to support. I have very little more to say than to express my hearty thankfulness for the work I have been permitted to see. I have gone over this Institution, and have seen excellent and devout women engaged in this work; and in the short time I have seen them I have seen them with a feeling of admiration and thankfulness, and I am happy to tender to them my public support. I feel most deeply that the work they are engaged in—and you who are outside are helping them to engage in—is a pre-eminently Christian work. It is a work carried on in the spirit of Christ our Lord and Master. I think the work of this Refuge is pre-eminently the work of His disciples and of His Church. I was very much struck by the fact mentioned by Dr. Blunt—a very sad and terrible fact—that some of those who sin and fall are harshly treated in their own homes, and driven away by the contempt and reproach of their neighbours, and are obliged to take refuge in distant places, where they plunge deeper into vice. It is a sad fact, and yet it is an inevitable fact, that stern, repulsive aspect which society presents to this vice comes from the instinct of self-preservation—comes from a latent consciousness that merely human society has no power, that it cannot have the courage, to deal with full forgiveness and full reconciliation with vice. Society—merely human society—is not enough to do that. It must protect itself, and in the instinct of self-protection merely human society repels the lost and the outcast. And it is compelled to do so. The very tenderest and most loving parent dare not give the same place in the home, and by the hearth, to the lost and the outcast, that he does to the pure and sinless. It is a terrible, but necessary, aspect of human society, when it presents its abhorence and repulsion to vice. But there is a society which is not merely human—there is a society that is divine. There is a society that is filled with divine might, and self-sacrifice, and the power of regeneration. That society is the society that Christ came to found upon earth; and what the State cannot do by its laws—what society dare not do by its forgiveness—the Church of the loving Saviour of men can do by the strength He puts into it, and by the love with which He fills it. It is in the Church, and in the Church of Christ alone, that there can be entire forgiveness for the penitent, because the Church of Christ alone is strong enough to overcome and reclaim. And therefore this work is especially the work of the Christian Church. I hold that it is eminently Christian work. I hold with another speaker that merely repressive law can never efficiently and sufficiently do this work of rescuing the fallen, of winning the outcast, of elevating the degraded, as it is especially and distinctively the work that the Church of Christ has inherited from Christ her Master; and it is a work in which, more than any other, she may expect her Master's presence and blessing. Therefore, with all my heart I join in this work; I pray for its success. I commend it heartily to the liberal and continuous support of all those who have at heart the objects that this society puts before us; and, as Bishop of this diocese, and as a minister of Christ, and as one who speaks in the presence of one of another faith altogether, who does not worship the Saviour we worship, but who worships the God that we worship—as one from whose nation and in the bosom of whose nation there sprang one who was the symbol of female purity, and in whose name we recognise the ideal of female saintliness—I say that a work which engages such co-operation as this, is a work worthy of all who desire to serve God and their fellow men; and, therefore, I heartily commend it to your support, and I am fully persuaded that it will obtain that support. (Loud cheers.)

A vote of thanks having been passed to his lordship for presiding, the meeting closed with the Benediction.

This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.