The Sixteenth Annual Report
Sydney Printed by R, Bone, PhŒnix Office, 140, Pitt Street, 1870.page break
List of Officers, 1870-71.
- Messrs. A. M. àBeckett, W. Hanson, W. Mac Donnell and J. Williams.
- Rev. James Pillars, B.A.
- Mr. A. M. àBeckett.
- Mr. W. Shaw.
- Mr. H. Gale.
- Messrs. J. Dunage and Ii. Joyner.
- (In addition to the five ex-officio members last named.)
- Messrs. I. Aaron.
- R. Bone.
- W. D. Eames.
- W. Freeman.
- H. Gilchrist.
- G. F. Jackson.
- T. H. Kelly.
- C. Pearce.
- Mr. E. Braham.
The President said—I trust that I may, on the occasion of this the Sixteenth Anniversary of our existence as a religious Congregation, be permitted to offer a few observations to the Members of our Church, and also to any others present who may feel an interest in the progress and development of our particular faith.
The position which we occupy in the religious world as Unitarian Christians, and the simplicity and (as we believe) reasonableness of our opinions having been so frequently made the subject of attack and misrepresentation, may have induced on our part a certain positiveness of assertion and impatience of contradiction which it may perhaps be well to watch and control, for whilst disclaiming anything of a sectarian spirit, and advocating the most perfect religious liberty for all who earnestly search after the truth, we cannot too carefully guard ourselves against falling into the error so common amongst active religionists, of denouncing those who conscientiously differ from us. It may perhaps be difficult for some of us to understand how minds of a certain class can accept those peculiar and, to us, repulsive forms of religious dogma which we feel bound to reject, but we must remember how forcibly the teaching, and the associations of early life, often bind both the heart and the intellect of many susceptible and highly conscientious persons, especially when it is borne in mind that the main object of certain churches is to curb the promptings of reason, and to procure an outward assent at least to a particular creed.
Towards persons so circumstanced we should cherish none but the kindliest feelings of sympathy and goodwill, but as regards those bolder, but less consistent individuals, who openly avow their dissent from the Articles of the Church to which they belong, and who constitute what is called the Broad Church, a very different feeling is excited, and with them, I must, for my part, disclaim any sympathy. page 6 The position of a clergyman remaining in open connect ion with, and receiving the emoluments of, a Church whose doctrines and teaching he repudiates, simply because the law has not power to expel him, appears to me to exhibit one of the grossest forms of infidelity, and certainly affords a spectacle, as was lately truly said in England by a Minister of State, sufficient to taint the morality of the whole nation. And such indeed does really seem to be the result, for if we look around, we cannot fail to notice that the vilest forms of social vice are frequently associated with the loudest and most ostentatious display of so-called religious zeal and punctiliousness.
I have been induced to make these brief remarks from a feeling that the prevailing and avowed religious opinions of our time do not penetrate the heart, or favourably influence the conduct of the general body of the people, and from a firm belief that the vacillation and indifference so commonly shown in regard to matters of religion, and which disinclines to any inquiry concerning, or investigation of the subject, lest an inconvenient conclusion should be arrived at, lies at the main root of nearly all the infidelity' of the present day.
Although our place of worship be small, and our numbers comparatively few, we may, I think, congratulate ourselves that we have been enabled to retain the services of our energetic and talented Minister, nor can we foil to observe, whilst watching the tendency of the religious movement of the age, that our characteristic views are very generally entertained, and are still rapidly extending.
We know that many very well-meaning persons think our opinions (at least so far as they understand them) extremely shocking, and that they are perfectly sincere in the expression of their regret that we should adhere to them; such persons, however, should remember that these opinions, or rather convictions are, to us, truths, and that if we were to abandon or sacrifice them, we should truly be what we are often falsely called, infidels.
We freely admit that, in common with all other human beings, we may be in error, and we moreover know that our shortcomings are neither few nor small, but we can at least affirm that we have not yet sunk into so debased a con- page 7 dition as to forsake what we believe to be true and acceptable to our Heavenly Father, to embrace what we feel to be false, merely to secure the favour of men, who might forward our worldly position, and endorse our spurious respectability.
Modest as may seem this small pretension to righteousness, and vile as would be considered any who openly acted in opposition to it, it must be, I think, admitted that even this very obvious path of rectitude is by no means universally trodden. Let us therefore be steadfast to our convictions, and without ostentatiously parading, be prepared to assert and maintain them on all suitable occasions, endeavouring to let them have their full influence on our lives and actions. "We may thus, perhaps, exert proportionately as great an influence for good as some other churches, many of whose most pious and thoughtful members are themselves often heard to complain, that the true spirit of Christianity is nearly extinguished by the empty forms and ceremonial practices by winch it is surrounded and oppressed.
To follow the light that is within us on matters of religion, seems so palpable and inevitable a duty, that of all recorded miracles and strange incongruities of human action, nothing seems more inexplicable or incredible than that any intelligent being having a belief in the existence of a God and a life beyond the grave, should so disgrace his humanity, to say nothing of imperilling his soul, as to use any dissimulation on so solemn a subject as his relation to God and to Eternity.
At the close of their term of office, your Committee have the honor to lay before you the following report of congregational affairs during the past year. As foremost in interest and affording general satisfaction, they are happy to record the successful establishment, in connection with this Church, of a religious service for the young. The simple forms of worship, provided by our excellent Minister under the title of "Short Religious Services for Sunday Schools and the Home Circle," received the cordial approval of your Committee on the 1st July last, and with their sanction were introduced to the use of the scholars and friends attending the afternoon Sunday School. The prayers, praises and meditations, chiefly of a responsive character, as contained in the book, are followed by an address or reading from the teacher, which equally with the first part of the Service is intentionally free from sectarian dogma, and adapted, it is believed, to cultivate the natural religiousness of younger minds.
The number of children on the roll is now about ninety, being a fair increase on the numbers of former years. It is to be regretted, however, that the attendance of one-half this number is very irregular, and also, that, of those who appear more constantly, a majority are not present more than once a day. Owing to the paucity of teachers, it would seem that too much devolves upon the Superintendent (the Rev. Mr. Pillars), and that his hands require strengthening in the work of fostering a regular attendance of scholars, and of ministering to their several capacities in convenient classes, at the morning instruction. Indeed, it may be feared, that the great importance of the Sunday School, as an auxiliary to our cause, has been somewhat overlooked. From our very midst, advancing years are continually adding to society those who, in different walks of life, should be the most effective promulgators of our principles; extending them indirectly, with greater efficiency, by example and general tone, than is possible by direct but more repellent efforts. It is unnecessary to enlarge on the value of exertion in the direction referred to, not only to increase, if possible, the number of regular scholars, but also, by commensurate attention, to preserve an interest in their minds hereafter; and your Committee would hope that, at least, the necessity of the ease will enlist in support of Mr. Pillars the self-sacrifice of a few qualified assistants.
In reference to the library attached to the Chapel, finding that the last appointment of a librarian had lapsed, your Committee nominated one of their number to perform the duty temporarily, and would suggest that a permanent officer be appointed at the General Meeting. It also appearing that a large proportion of the books contained in the Library is of a miscellaneous character and little calculated to serve page 9 the special purpose of assisting free religious inquiry, or representing Unitarian views, it has been proposed to select for sale such as could be advantageously replaced by works exhibiting the progress of modern thought. In common with other members of the congregation, your Committee remember with gratitude that the Library was originally formed mainly by the gift of friends; but the time has arrived, it is conceived, when, from the worn condition of some and the proved unsuitableness of other kinds of literature in our possession, the present collection should be remodelled. Opinions may perhaps differ as to the principle on which the improvement of the library should proceed; and it is probably better to leave this question for general consideration.
Of the many evidences of an increasing spirit of inquiry, to the demands of which our library should at least be equal, your Committee cannot overlook the institution during the past year of the Sydney Book Society, and the issue of the commencing numbers of the Australian Free Religious Press, since February last. The former originated with an especial view to the dissemination amongst its members of free theological and scientific reading, has been in active operation nearly a twelvemonth; whilst the latter, appearing monthly, and edited by our minister, if judged by its present success, promises to be of great utility in a mission parallel to our own.
The social gatherings of the year have taken place with accustomed regularity. On the 26th March (1869), Good Friday, the school children held their annual feast and proceeded by steamer to Cremorne. As the day grew clearer, the goodly company enjoyed the usual recreations, enhanced by the pleasure of fine scenery and friendly intercourse.
The Children's Tea-meeting was given in the Church in September last, when the annual prizes for fair and good attendance at Sunday School were awarded; and the Savings' Bank funds (including interest for the year) having been distributed to the depositors, the evening was pleasantly lengthened by an instructive and entertaining exhibition of Lime-light views. The fifteenth anniversary of the establishment of the Church in this city was duly celebrated at the Temperance Hall on the 16th November.* [Notwithstanding the unfavourable weather], a large assemblage participated in the cheerfulness of the tea-table, and were subsequently gratified with the literary and musical merit of the occasion.
Having regard to the difficulties attending the adjustment of the General Account (the condition of which will be best gathered from the Treasurer's statement), your Committee have recognised the necessity of providing, by special subscription, for two requirements which, under more favourable circumstances, would have been page 10 chargeable on the regular funds. In considering the first of these, the renovation of the exterior of the building and premises, it was decided that the money would be spent to more advantage and with greater countenance from members, if, at the same time, the entrances of the porch were transferred from the side to the front, facing the street. This alteration, desired for many years past, was at length effected in conjunction with other needful repairs, by Mr. White, of Newtown, for the sum of twenty-six pounds (£26). The work was completed in January last, and, it is hoped, that all are satisfied with the creditable manner in which the contract has been executed.
Whilst this undertaking was in progress, the Church organ, which had been obviously failing of late, became quite useless. Your Committee were reliably advised that to dispose of the instrument could only result in a very serious loss to the Church, and that, under all the circumstances, the acceptance of a tender, received from Mr. C. J. Jackson, to restore it thoroughly, was the preferable course to be adopted. A liability was therefore incurred to the extent of forty-five pounds (£45), which has been principally met by a liberal donation in aid of the Church Collection for the purpose. The organ, as restored, has been in use for the last two Sundays, and your Committee trust, that its performances have amply vindicated the discretion exercised by them.
The Church was closed for Divine Service on the first Sunday in October, and again for two Sundays in January last, and also on the 13th ultimo. On the former day, as the reverend the Minister was absent in the country on leave from your Committee, it was felt best, for a single Sunday, to incur no risk of an inadequate representation of the able services of Mr. Pillars by appointing a lay reader. In January, it was found that the state of the building, during the alteration of the porch, &c., rendered the holding of the services undesirable. On the date last mentioned, your Committee regret that the circumstance arose from a temporary indisposition of the Minister.
Prior to the concluding Session of the late Parliament, Dr. Aaron was advised that, from the probably brief duration of the House, as well as the unlikelihood of any private business making progress, it was inexpedient, at that time, to proceed in the matter of the Bill to deal with the Clarcnce Street land. Events have shown that no time was really lost by its being left till the assembling of the present House before the requisite steps were taken. The measure is intituled "A Bill to enable the Trustees of certain Land, being the site for a Unitarian Church or School, on Church Hill, Sydney, to dispose of and convey the same, and to apply the proceeds of the sale in manner therein mentioned, and for other purposes" The "manner therein mentioned" is the alternative of applying the proceeds, either in the purchase of other land eligible for the site of a Chapel or School, or, in improving our present building, or, in erecting a new Chapel and other buildings on the same site. The "other purposes" of the Bill are to arrange for the custody and due application of the funds arising from the sale; and, in the event of the Trustees determining page 11 to apply them in the purchase of other land, to make better provision than is contained in the grant, for filling up the existing and any future vacancies in the office of Trustee. After the usual reference to a Select Committee, the preamble having been proved to their satisfaction, the Bill was reported to the Legislative Assembly, and has since passed through all its stages in that House. It is now in an advanced state in the Council, and may be expected to become law in a short space.
In conclusion, your Committee cannot but observe that it behoves us all to unite our energies in deserving that maximum of success which will be facilitated by the settlement of the important matter last mentioned.
Arthur M. àBeckett,Chairman. Sydney, 28th March, 1870.
The Treasurer in Account with the "Unitarian Church," Macquarie Street, Sydneypage 13
The Treasurer in submitting his annual statement, wishes to call attention to the feet that, while the income for the year, from all sources, exceeds that of the previous year by £52 5s. 8d., there is a falling off in Seat Rente and Subscriptions to the extent of £58 10s. For this deficiency the Treasurer can only account by stating that some members are in arrears of payment, while others who used to contribute to the Church Funds are now (temporarily, it is hoped) withholding their assistance. To all such, as well as to the many regular attendants at Macquarie Street Church who have not yet signified their willingness to lend a hand in supporting the cause of Unitarian Christianity by a regular subscription, which need not be more than Five Shillings per quarter, the Treasurer respectfully but earnestly appeals. He holds it to be the moral duty of every member of society to support the Religious Cause which most commends itself to his mind and conscience, and hopes that the zeal and liberality of the friends of Free Religious Thought in New South Wales, as represented by the Sydney Unitarian Church, will relieve him, during the coming year, of all difficulty in discharging its financial obligations.
The Minister in Account with the Unitarian Church
Sunday School General Fund,
From March, 1869, to March, 1870.
Extract from Minutes of Annual Meeting, 4th April, 1870.
"That the Report of the Committee, together with the Treasurer's and Minister's Statements of Account, be adopted, and that the same, with an Abstract of the Treasurer's remarks, be printed for circulation among members and friends."
Motion put and passed.
* These words are found to have been used in error as applied to the evening of the 16th November. A social reunion, under the auspices of the ladies of the congregation, which suffered slightly from the cause alluded to was held at the same place, the Temperance Hall, in July, and the two events have been accidentally confused.