Private Chapels (1880)

A private chapel would in this country be considered the mark of an extreme aristocracy. If it were erected in imitation of the palace homes of England’s nobility it would pass for one of those freaks of wealth which apes the magnificence of the Old World without knowing the reason why, or which gives to an architect the chance to follow an ancient model, regardless of fitness or consistency. Yet we venture to ask why this very thing might not be made very useful in missionary work in the rural districts. A rich Churchman, having a country-seat in a rural neighborhood, may with his wealth build a church and maintain a clergyman, chiefly for the benefit of his neighbors. But this is an expensive business, which few are equal to, or which needs, at least, the well-founded hope that it will not be money wasted. We venture to suggest that many a man who could not do this might yet be able to throw out a wing of his dwelling and fit it up as a chapel, and thus begin a missionary work of no small promise. We have no space for the details of such a scheme, but we think we see the advantage that it would be much easier to draw in the attendance of a neighboring population. There is something very alluring to the minds of a rural people, when the wealthy from the city settle among them, in the idea of being taken into social relations. Not a few rich Churchmen would have in their own families material for the support of a beautiful and gracious worship. Again, we do not see why hotels and rural summer resorts should not have a hall capable of being used in this way. Church people are often determined in their choice of a summer home by the chances of having Church services. More than one parish has been developed from the establishment of summer services in hotel parlors. In the continental capitals the Church of England has had its services in rooms attached to hotels, and this has been the foundation of chapels provided for travellers. The cost of fitting up such a hall for Church purposes will certainly be less than that of building a church, and the experiment of starting a mission, therefore, not so costly as the method usually employed. If there is no settled population to be drawn in and kept after the summer guests have gone away, there is not the sense of failure and money thrown away. It is very hard to move a rural population in many of the smaller towns to do anything for themselves at first, but when services are started they will make efforts and sacrifices to keep them up. The great point is a successful beginning, by which a non-worshipping people can be led to take an interest in the Church. We advocate, therefore, the private chapel as an experiment in mission work. Out of summer services at Bar Harbor, Mount Desert, has grown a parish with a permanent rector, to minister among a population almost entirely without the sign of pastoral care before his coming. That which has been done there might be done in other places. Certainly where city people pass nearly six months of their year in their rural homes something is worth trying.

The Churchman, July 24, 1880, p. 86.

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