Protestant Dissenters of Great Britain.
(From a Correspondent.)
A Ministerial newspaper of the 7th of January last informs us, in a leading article, that the committee of the Protestant Dissenters of Great Britain announce, that His Majesty's Ministers are preparing two bills—one for the registration of births, marriages, and burials, the other for the marriages of Dissenters,—the contents of which will be laid before the said committee before they are introduced into the House of Commons.
As an individual, having for many years done all in my power to promote the cause of civil and religious liberty, from the Great Oxford University election in 1829 to the present time, I beg to offer a few remarks on these important subjects, which this committee somewhat ostentatiously announce will be submitted to their consideration.
That the existing act of 52 George III., c.146, for the better regulation and preservation of parochial and other registers of births, baptisms, marriages, and burials in England, &c. is no improvement upon the preceding one, no one will venture to deny, but it was not called for by the clergy, but was imposed upon them. In the case of baptisms, there is no other pedigree, authorized than that of the parents, and any further entry, it is presumed, would be extraneous; and there is no column for the entry of births at all.
In case of burials, according to the prescribed schedule the entry of the parents' names of a child of a day old would be illegal.
As to the marriages, the only parties objecting to the religious portion of the service are the Unitarians, whose doctrines it directly contravenes; and as the Quakers (who along with all other Dissenters of every denomination are Trinitarians) are exempt from this service, the others have a far greater claim to this indemnity. With regard to the slight alterations in this service, owing to the change of language and modern refinement, these are called for by Churchmen as well as Dissenters.
Instead, therefore, of the proposed expensive apparatus of an entirely new act, new officers, and the change of a sacrament into a mere civil rite, and the adoption of a new principle hostile to the great body of religious professors throughout the kingdom, and an adaptation of our usages to those of the Continent, unchristianizing a whole community (as the civil registration of a child's birth only would in most cases, especially in the manufacturing districts, deprive it of the sacrament), it is proposed—
That the foregoing act be so far amended as to have a column for births, and an abstract of pedigree to be settled by competent authority both in this and the record of burials.
That all baptisms performed by Dissenters be periodically transmitted to the officiating minister of every parish, according to the amended form, for insertion in his registry, which it should be observed, is now strictly a parochial and national record.
The Baptists and Quakers should do the same, with the exception, for plain reasons, of baptisms.
For any extra trouble in this, the officiating clergyman should receive some little remuneration, if necessary, there being none at present for any of these entries.
Let any alteration take place in the Marriage Act which may, as the great body of religionists in the kingdom, the Unitarians excepted, are satisfied with it, the change of some expressions alone excluded, it should continue a religious service, as well as a civil, and the record should be periodically added, as before stated, to the existing marriage records.
Compensation should be made, not only to the clergyman, but also to the clerk and sexton of every parish, for loss of fees; and also to the incumbents of market towns, who act as surrogates for marriage licenses, and whose incomes will thereby be nearly annihilated.
All burials in every parish should likewise be periodically transmitted to the officiating minister for insertion in his register, according to the improved form.
You will then have all the births, baptisms, marriages and burials of each parish in one general register, being a continuation of it from an early period; and care should be take to enforce the provisions of the existing act as to the annual transmission of duplicates of the same to the higher registries, and their proper classification, and careful custody therein.
A good deal of conversation has been had with some intelligent Dissenters, including Quakers, who are satisfied with this plan, which is suggested by the incumber of an impropriate living of nearly, 12,000 souls, chiefly members of the established church, with many important and friendly offices to perform for the Dissenters therein, 6 miles in length, having 6,000 acres of land, and three full services each Sunday, and two full weekly services, and full employ every day in the seven.
His total income, including surplice fees (by the projected acts to be nearly abolished), does not exceed 150l. a-year from his vicarage, including tithe, about 5l., and the rent of two acres and a half of glebe.
And it is presumed that, independently of his spiritual services, a resident painstaking clergyman, distributing (as required), nearly all such an income in charities, and devoting himself entirely to the duties of his profession, especially among the poor, the care of whom devolves exclusively on him, has no small effect on a manufacturing population, especially in times of excitement.
The last hope of improvement in a large poor market-town livings is now taken away by the proposed absorption of the vacant church sinecures in the ecclesiastical fund for the general improvement of small livings, whereby their operation will be insensible, instead of their permanent annexation, as it was expected, to such large poor benefices, where the good effect would be immediately visible, and would thereby afford to the whole community an earnest of an efficacious and well-seasoned church reform.