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Conference is nothing less than the completion of each Church in the comprehension of all in the whole Church which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.
In May, 1913, the Commission of the Protestant Episcopal Church on the World Conference on Christian Faith and Order, and the Advisory Committee representing other Churches, appointed a Deputation of non-Episcopal ministers to visit the Communions, other than the Anglican, of England, Ireland and Scotland, in the interest of the conference. The Deputation, as appointed, consisted of the Rev. Newman Smyth, D.D., of the Congregational Church, Bishop J. W. Hamilton, LL.D., of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Rev. J. H. Jowett, D.D., and the Rev. W. H. Roberts, D.D., of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., and the Rev. Peter Ainslee, D.D., of the Disciples of Christ. Bishop Hamilton and Dr. Jowett were unable to go.
Dr. Smyth, Dr. Roberts and Dr. Ainslee reached London on January 7, 1914. Upon their arrival in London a notable reception and dinner was given them by the Free Church Council, some hundred representatives and leaders of the Free Church being present to welcome the delegates.
The leading religious and secular papers of London recognized the importance of their mission and gave much space to it. Their first meeting for conference was held in the Whitefield Tabernacle with members of the Swanwick Free Church Fellowship, an organization of about 300 young ministers of the non-Anglican Churches who have bound themselves together prayerfully "in the light of all new knowledge and scientific method to re-examine and, if need be, re-express for our own time the fundamental affirmations of the faith," desiring "to cultivate a new spiritual fellowship and communion with all branches of the Christian Church."
Conferences were held in rapid succession with the official representatives of the Presbyterian Church of England, of the Primitive Methodists, of the Congregational Union of England and Wales, with the Committee on Unity of the Anglican Fellowship, with the officers of the Church of Scotland, the United Free Church of Scotland, the Presbyterian Church of Ireland, the Congregational Church in Scotland, the Christian Unity Association of Scotland, the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists, the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland, the Wesleyans, the United Methodists, the Association for the Promotion of the Unity of Christendom, the Friends, the Moravians, the Disciples of Christ, the Archbishops' Committee of the Church of England, and the Churchmen's Union.
In all, they met thirty-one groups in conference and accepted twenty invitations of a social character for further conference with representative men. In all instances their message was received with much interest and earnest approval; from all the conferences they had the definite promise of recommending to the various annual meetings appointment of commissions to co-operate in arranging for and conducting the World Conference. Not only did they thus advance the project of that Conference, but these conferences were the means of bringing the Christians of England, Scotland and Ireland into closer relation and sympathy, and thus perhaps to hasten the healings of division there.
As a result of this visitation the non-Anglican Churches of Great Britain have generally appointed Commissions to co-operate in the plan of the World Conference, and they also made arrangements to meet and confer together whenever desirable.
After having made the round of the non-Anglican Churches the delegation met by invitation the Commission of the Church of England which had been appointed by the Archbishops. We were able to assure them of the deep and earnest desire, which had found expression in all our conferences with the Nonconformists, that beneath all their political and ecclesiastical differences a larger and happier Christian fellowship might be realized between them and the Church of England. In response we were gratified by the expression of a desire on the part of the Archibishops' Committee to avail themselves of our good offices to put them in communication with any whom in our visitation we had found ready to enter into conference with them. Consequently some informal preparatory conferences have been held between them and leading representatives of other communions. Thus in a seemingly very natural providence of God one chief object of our mission came about, and the end is not yet. The war for the present hour has absorbed other interests, and interrupted this movement abroad which had thus been begun. It has prevented the visit to all the Church bodies of continental Europe of a deputation appointed for that purpose by the Episcopal Commission; they will go forth as soon as conditions permit.
Second - The Lenox Conference
There has been presented to the Committee a request for conference concerning certain proposals for co-operation in work and service by a Congregational and an Episcopal clergyman in Lenox, Mass. It is typical of conditions which in many other localities are waiting for solution. It forces directly upon us the open shame and sin of the continuance of the inherited schism between the Episcopal and the non-Episcopal clergy and churches. A concrete case, such as this, has the advantage of taking out of the abstract and presenting for definite and practical determination the far-reaching questions involved in it. It seemed also to the Committee that a thorough consideration of it in all its bearings by a small conference, in an irenical spirit, might give promise of some happier adjustment of our existing differences. Until these unhappy divisions shall be confessed and healed the American Churches cannot confront the world in the full power of the love of God. On account therefore of the possible value of this concrete case in the preparation of the matters of faith and order which are to be laid before the World Conference, as well as for its immediate importance in defining our Congregational relations with the Episcopal Church, the Committee requested that such a conference be held, and we received from the official representatives of the Episcopal Church an appreciative and cordial response. We submit the following correspondence in explanation of the proposals presented to us, and the steps which have already been taken for a mutual study of the principles involved and their possible reconciliation in some working agreement.
TO THE Right Rev. Thos. F. DAVIES, D.D., BISHOP OF THE DIOCESE
OF WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS, AND THE COMMISSION
We, the undersigned, Rev. Arthur J. Gammack, rector of Trinity Church, and Rev. Leon D. Bliss, pastor of the Congregational Church, Lenox, Mass., conjointly lay before you the following statement and respectfully ask your counsel and advice.
In this town there have existed since the eighteenth century the Congregational Church and the Episcopal Church. Each has an honorable history and each meets a present need.
Between us, the pastors of these Churches, there exists the most cordial friendship. We have deliberately and constantly endeavored to co-operate for the moral and religious welfare of this community. Without disloyalty to our respective theological standards, we fail to find essential differences in our belief and teaching of the Christian faith. We believe that our congregations generally share our feelings, both of cordial good-will and of regret for the obvious waste of means and effort and, more than all else, deplore with us the reproach which falls upon the cause of Jesus Christ through the unhappy divisions of His Church. We believe that they are ready to follow our leadership into closer relations. We believe that the union of all our people for Christian work and worship, if it can be done consistently with the laws of the communions which we represent, would accomplish much more than the sum of their present results. Each of these Churches has undoubtedly a noble service to render but, by working together in all ways possible, each would strengthen and encourage the other and together they could accomplish much that is now impossible. We do not favor any scheme which would involve the absorption of either congregation by the other. Each church, we believe, should preserve its autonomy and continue to meet its own obligations.
We appeal to you then, authorized as you are to speak with authority, and we earnestly request you to consider whether or not a way may be found whereby we and the Churches under our care, without prejudice or detriment to either, can unite for work and worship in loyalty to the ecclesiastical standards of the communions to which we belong.
The things in which union seems to us desirable are:
1. The merging of the Men's Club of Trinity Church and the Congregational Brotherhood in one organization. The nature of these two bodies seems to involve only the question of expediency.
2. The combining of our Sunday Schools, each school remaining under its own teachers and using its own literature.
3. Bible study classes and mission study classes. 4. A weekly evening service for prayer and fellowship. 5. Combining of our choirs.
6. Union services on special occasions such as Thanksgiving Day, Christmas, during Holy Week, and so forth.
7. Union services throughout the year on Sunday evenings, the ministers preaching alternately, each assisting the other in the services.
8. Union services on Sunday mornings from November 1 to May 1.
During the remainder of the year, on account of larger congregations which neither church could accommodate at one time, each church to hold morning service in its own building. From November to May the services to be conducted alternately as at the evening services, each pastor having one sermon for the day.
This is the program along which, were the initiative left to us, we should work towards such specific and practical realization of unity as the circumstances seem to permit and call for. We lay the matter before you for consideration and decision. We devoutly hope and pray