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Archive for the ‘Parochial Strategy’ Category

ISS035-E-007148_Nile_-_Sinai_-_Dead_Sea_-_Wide_Angle_View“A territorial division of the country into parishes, each of which is assigned to at least one minister as the distinct and definite field of his spiritual cultivation— this we have long thought does for Christianity, what is often done in agriculture by system of irrigation. You are aware what is meant by this. Its use is for the conveyance and the distribution of water, that indispensable aliment to all vegetation, over the surface of the land. It is thus for example, that, by the establishment of ducts of conveyance, the waters of the Nile are made to overspread the farms of Egypt—the country through which it passes. This irrigation, you will observe, does’ not supply the water. It only conveys it. It does not bring down the liquid nourishment from heaven. It only spreads it abroad upon the earth. Were there no descent of water from above causing the river to overflow its banks—there is nothing in the irrigation, with its then dry and deserted furrows, which could avail the earth that is below. On the other hand were there no irrigation, many would be the tracts of country, that should have no agriculture and could bring no produce. Let not therefore our dependence on the Spirit lead us to despise the machinery of a territorial establishment; and neither let our confidence in machinery lead us to neglect prayer for the descent of living water from on high.”

-Thomas Chalmers, “On the Analogies Which Obtain Between a Natural and a Spiritual Husbandry”

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StateLibQld_1_113036_Cartoon_of_students_receiving_the_cane,_1888Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) sharing about how the Tron church Sabbath school leadership worked through disciplinary issues with their sometimes rowdy students. Insightful and amusing!

“Although we had no set forms of teaching, yet we conversed over all the modes that we might find out the best. On one point we had much discussion, namely, whether or not punishment should be resorted to in a Sabbath-school. Mr. Stow was very strenuous in condemning its introduction—I was rather inclined the other way. Among other strong cases, Mr. Stow told us of a boy who had been so restless, idle, and mischievous, that he was afraid he would have to put him away, when the thought occurred to him to give the boy an office. He put, accordingly, all the candles of the school under his care. From that hour he was an altered boy, and became a diligent scholar. An opportunity soon occurred of trying my way of it also. A school composed of twenty or thirty boys, situated in the east end of the parish, had become so unruly and unmanageable, that it had beaten off every teacher who had gone to it. The Society did not know what to do with it, and the Doctor asked me if I would go out and try to reduce it to order. I was not very fond of the task, but consented. I went out the next Sabbath, and told the boys, whom I found all assembled, that I had heard a very bad account of them, that I had come out for the purpose of doing them good, that I must have peace and attention, that I would submit to no disturbance, and that, in the first place, we must begin with prayer. They all stood up, and I commenced, and certainly did not forget the injunction,—Watch and pray. I had not proceeded two sentences, when one little fellow gave his neighbour a tremendous dig in the side; I instantly stepped forward and gave him a sound cuff on the side of his head. I never spoke a word, but stepped back, concluded the prayer, taught for a month, and never had a more orderly school. The case was reported at one of our own meetings. The Doctor enjoyed it exceedingly, and taking up my instance and comparing it with Mr. Stow’s, he concluded that the question of punishment or non-punishment stood just where it was, inasmuch as it had been found that the judicious appointment of a candle-snuffer-general and a good cuff on the lug had been about equally efficacious.”

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In this 1816 charge to Thomas Chalmers’ newly elected elders, he winsomely appeals to them to ‘repair the breaches’ of the old system of spiritual, district visitation. Let the elders together with the ministers be once again the friends and spiritual patrons of all men, especially the poor. Ad urbem!

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“I am well aware how widely the practice of our generation has diverged from the practice of our ancestors—how, within the limits of our Establishment, the lay office-bearers of the Church are fast renouncing the whole work of ministering from house to house in prayer and in exhortation and in the dispensation of spiritual comfort and advice among the sick or the disconsolate or the dying. On this subject I urge nothing upon you. I am aware that a reformation in this department can only be brought about by an influence of a more gentle and moral, and withal more effectual kind than that of authority; and I shall therefore only say that I know of almost nothing which would give me greater satisfaction than to see a connexion of this kind established between my elders and the population of those districts which are respectively assigned to them—that I know of nothing which would tell more effectually in the way of humanizing our families, than if so pure an intercourse were going on as an intercourse of piety between our men of reputable station on the one hand, and our men of labour and of poverty on the other,—I know of nothing which would serve more powerfully to bring and to harmonize into one firm system of social order the various classes of our community; I know not a finer exhibition, on the one hand, than the man of wealth acting the man of piety, and throwing the goodly adornment of Christian benevolence over the splendour of those civil distinctions which give a weight and a lustre to his name in society; I know not a more wholesome influence, on the other, than that which such a man must carry around him when he enters the habitations of the peasantry, and dignifies by his visits the people who occupy them, and talks with them as the heirs of one hope and of one immortality, and cheers by the united power of religion and of sympathy the very humblest of misfortune’s generation, and convinces them of a real and longing affection after their best interests, and leaves them with the impression that here at least is one man who is our friend, that here at least is one proof that we are not altogether destitute of consideration amongst our fellows, that here at least is one quarter on which our confidence may rest—ay, and amidst all the insignificance in which we lie buried from the observation of society, we are sure at least of one who, in the most exalted sense of the term, is ever ready to befriend us, and to look after us, and to care for us.”

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IMG_1621“The Assembly, considering that the long-waited-for fruits of the Gospel, so mercifully planted and preserved in this land, and the reformation of ourselves and families, so solemnly vowed to God of late in our Covenant, cannot take effect except the knowledge and worship of God be caried from the pulpit to every family within each parish, hath, therefore, appointed that every minister, besides his paines on the Lord’s day, shall have weekly catechising of some part of the paroch, and not altogether cast over the examination of the people till a little before the communion. Also, that in every familie the worship of God be erected where it is not both morning and evening, and that the children and servants be catechised at home by the masters of the families, whereof account shall be taken by the minister and elders assisting him in the visitation of every family; and, lest they fail, that visitation of the severall kirks be seriously followed by every Presbyterie, for this end among others. The execution and successe whereof, being tried by the Synods, let it be represented to the next Generall Assembly.

-Acts of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 1639

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When I came to Rhode Island almost fourteen years ago, I inherited a small congregation, mostly of first generation Reformed folk. Because the core of them had become Reformed in the late 70s and early 80s, and because of the sound, faithful teaching of their minister, the congregation was solid and well-established. When I arrived, I was eager to evangelize and had been swayed by Thomas Chalmers’ (1780-1847) to attempt outreach on the parish principle. But there really was no residential neighborhood to speak of near the church building, and all of our folks traveled at least 15 or more minutes from various points of the state. While it certainly has accommodated our members, it has put me at some disadvantage to implement my parish vision. But there is no paradise this side of glory, so I do not complain. My attitude has been to work with what I’ve been given and trust the Lord to bless in His way and His time.

I began with a district in walking distance of my residence in Cranston, Rhode Island and approximately a 15-20 minute drive north of the church. When we moved to a different rental, I began working in that area. There, I had some greater success in making decent contacts. One lady came to church for a short time; and we rented a hall right in the neighborhood a few times with some small success. (more…)

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