Morris Fuller: The man behind the Scandal Part 6

Part 6 

More of the same in East Molesey

1879-1884

 

 

According to the "Life, Times and Writings" preface, published in 1886, his work

in Devon "had precluded the idea of carrying out the proposal of composing a new

biography of the celebrated Church Historian. But the writer never laid aside the

intention which had been formed in his undergraduate days at Cambridge, and

through life he had been collecting his materials. A change of residence during

the last five years, bringing him within easy distance of the treasures of the British

Museum, has enabled him at last to externalise this desire."

 

East Molesey, a parish he visited and liked before taking up the incumbancy, on

his own admission at first was a most welcoming parish. Whether it was the

distraction of his parallel literary career or just being a parish with a disinclination

to be subject to the autonomy that he was used to wielding in rural Devon, he soon

fomented the parish to quite public rebellion in the running of his new domain. We

get a brief hint that things might no longer be entirely going to his plan when the

following appears in the April 23rd 1881 issue of the Surrey Comet:

 

EASTER FESTIVAL AT ST. PAUL'S. - In this Church the decorations were very

beautiful and the services fully choral.The hymns were 125,and 134, and the

anthems, "I know that my Redeemer Liveth" and "Sing a Song of Praise" 

(Stainer). The services were intoned by the Rev. Morris Fuller,M.A. The

offertory was taken as an "Easter Offering." andincluded a sealed packet

containing £5, with the words "from one who is glad of the opportunity of

showing appreciation to their vicar."

 

The following year, 1882 everything came to a head around the Easter Vestry

which was subject to several postponements:

 

Surrey Comet April 29th:

 

 

THE VICAR OF ST. PAULS AND HIS PARISHIONERS

 

At the adjourned vestry meeting, held on Tuesday evening, there was a

larger attendance of pewrenters than usual. Mr W. Davenport was voted

to the chair, in the continued absence of the vicar. A discussion arose on

the wardens' accounts, and on the application of a reserve fund to the

general expenditure, and the audit was adjourned for explanations from

the vicar. Mr. Gillum, the vicar's warden, read a letter from the vicar,

dated Easter Monday, re-appointing him his warden, and Mr Scott of

Palace- *** , was appointed parish warden. The vicar having in his

letter stated that he would no longer be bound by the resolution passed

(with his concurrence) last Easter for the appropriationof the church

offertories, but would exercise what he deemed his legal right to have

offertories for any purpose he might desire, a resolution in terms of

that now repudiated, was again passed unanimously. Complaint was

made that noticeswere given of services to be held at the church,

and on the inhabitants attending they found the church closed, and no

minister in attendance, Discussion took place as to the pew rents

being (in accordance with law) paid to the churchwardens, and not to

the vicar as heretofore. The vestry adjourned to Tuesday next in hopes

of obtaining the vicar's attendance.

 

 

 

Surrey Comet May 6th 1882 

Reply to Vestry Meeeting Report

 

 

THE VICAR OF ST. PAULS AND HIS PARISHIONERS

 

TO THE EDITOR

 

Sir,- My attention has been called to a paragraph with this heading in your

impresssion of Saturday last (April 29), to the effect that at the adjourned vestry

meeting complaint was made that notices were given of services (plural number,

sic) “to be held at the church and on the inhabitants attending they found the

church closed, and no minister in attendance.” As this statement, if not contracted,

is calculated to affect my official reputation, will you allow me to say that it is

utterly and entirely false. Notice was indeed given of a service to be held by my 

locum tenens (during my long and continued absence in Scotland of one fortnight)

on St Mark’s Day, April 25th, but when the day came, he was too ill to appear, and

it was too late to provide a substitute. But this has not occurred before, nor is it

likely to occur again. Even supposing it had, it would not have put many

inhabitants to inconvenience, for the services on weekdays are miserably

attended, consisting, as a rule, principallyof members of the family of the

present, or late, vicar. Two or three ladies of the congregation may occasionally

put in an appearance, “once in the blue moon” (as the saying is), when it suits

their sweet wills and convenience: but as the poet Campbell says, like “angel’s

visits,” they are “far and few between” and comet -like in their irregularity and

excentricity, they flash through the ecclesiastical firmament. And as for the

gentlemen (who make complaints in vestry),they are as a matter of course

(with one Honourable exception), conspicuous by their absence. Such is the

melancholy condition of our week-day congregation, so there is little a priori

probability of inhabitants being inconvenienced; and while we, the clergy, may

lament the small and almost microscopic encouragement given us by the laity

in our suburban churches in these days of increased  spiritual activity and light,

we must fall back upon the reflection ( as our solatium) that we are brought in

contact with the practical life of this busy 19th century, and this life correlated

with the metropolis, and not with some Utopian dream of mediaeval

ecclesiasticism. To show your readers, however, what cause the inhabitants

have for complaint, we may be allowed to tabulate the list of the services for the

last six months, as a sample, that is from Michaelmas 1881, to Easter 1882, or

26 weeks.

During this period there have been given at St Paul’s celebrations of Holy

Communion, 44; Sunday services 83; and week-day services, 185 - making a

sum total of 268; and 64 sermons were preached.

The legal number of services required to be performed by a beneficed clergyman

during that period as laid down by the law.* and acknowledged by the archbishop

and bishops in their Upper House of Convocation (on a recent occasion) would

have been celebrations, if quarterly, 2, and if monthly, 6 (this depending on

custom mos pro lege); services 52; and sermons, 26 (preached at mattins). 

This brings out the following result in my favour for the six months: Celebrations,

44, against 6 or 2 (as the case may be); services 268, as against 52; and

sermons, 64 as against the 26 prescried by law.

These figures (especially remembering I am single-handed) I venture to think

speak for themselves, and sufficiently dispose of the complaint of the

“Aggrieved Parishioner,” who poses, martyr-like, in your columns of the 29th ult.

on behalf of his confreres, and they represent proportionably and approximately

the number of services performed during my incumbency of 31/2 years. But I will

take steps that he will not have even a chance of complaint for the future.

Yours obediently

THE VICAR OF ST PAUL’S.

St Paul’s Vicarage, East Molesey by Hampton Court May 4th 1882

*Bennet and Bonnaker, 1 Hagg.25, 57 Geo III., c. 09

 

 

Surrey Comet May 13 1882

 

 

THE VICAR OF ST. PAUL’S AND HIS PARISHIONERS. 

 

Sir. —A newspaper is perhaps not the best medium for discussing unhappy

differences between a minister and his parishioners, but the strangely

intemperate and flippant letter from our vicar that appeared in your columns

last week calls for some notice. All thoughtful persons most have felt great

regret that a minister of the Gospel could have written in such a spirit and tone

on matters relating to his church and parishioners, and I think on its perusal they

cannot be surprised to hear that the attendances at the dally services are

reduced to the "members of his own family, two or three ladies once in a blue

moon when it suits their sweet wills, &c, and of the men only one honourable

exception.” A hard dictum that the only honourable man among us is he who

attends these services. The vicar does not comment on his Sunday services.

which on his advent were so fully attended, that he deemed it necessary to

largely increase the sittings, while now the church is generally half empty and

the offertories fallen to a point insufficient to properly maintain the church and

its services. But a few words on the statements made by the vicar. I will not

discuss the complaint referred to; that will be met the vestry: but while giving

a flat contradiction to that complaint, the vicar makes a statement which

appears, I wont say (in his words) "utterly and entirely false,” but misleading.

He says "Notice was given of a service to held by my locum tenens during

my long and continued absence of one fortnight." 

Now, as matter of fact, the vicar left on Easter Monday and returned late on the

following Friday fortnight, being nearly three weeks; and as his allusion to his

“locum tenens during that time" may lead people to believe he left a minister in

charge of his parish, I must state that this was not so. There was no one in

charge, nor any arrangement made with any neighbouring minister to perform

any the parish ministerial offices, such as daily services, baptisms, funerals,

visiting of sick, &c., but simply a stranger engaged to perform the Sunday

services, and this I think the vicar will not say has been a single or exceptional

case during his incumbency. And now, sir, what does that great flourish of

trumpets at the end of his letter amount to? He tells how many services he has

given and how many, by an old Act of Geo. lII, he was legally bound to give. I will

not enter upon the alterations and additions that in practice have taken place with

regard to services and sermons in all churches during the last 50 years, but I will

put it to the vicar in this form : Did he not seek this church, visit it, make inquiries

and ascertain the number and nature of the services?  Did he not express himself

not only satisfied, but pleased with them, and did he not publicly express that

feeling and say that he would make no alteration in them? If this be so, does he

not feel that he entered into a tacit and honourable agreement with his patron and

his bishop to continue those services, or does he think he is “ exceptionally

honourable ” if observes the engagements he undertook? I will only add that I

trust he will try and meet his parishioners in a spirit worthy of the holy office he

holds, and If so I am sure he will be met by them with a desire to assist and

support him in his work.

Yours obediently, AN OLD PARISHIONER. East Molesey, 10th May, 1882

 

And then came the meeting itself,  published in full on May 20th again in the

Surrey Comet:

 

 

 

Surrey Comet May 27th. 1882

 

THE VICAR OF ST. PAUL’S AND HIS PARISHIONERS.

 

TO THE EDITOR. 

 

Sir,—l regret having to ask a space in your columns once more, but the vicar’s

remarkable letter in your  last issue compels me to state publicly (as I have

done privately to him) who the “Old Parishioner” is, or, as he put it, “throw away

the covering protection of his borrowed signature; but although I wrote a very

temperate letter under that signature, there was no real dinguise as to the author.

It was well known throughout the district, and It appeared to me impossible that

the vicar should have been ignorant of my identity, as all the latter part of my

letter was simply  a verbatim repetition of arguments I had previously  addressed

to him personally in vestry, to say nothing of his allusion, “If he be the gentleman

who recommends the pew renters to hold the rents, &c.,” which he knew I had

done, or rather had advised the wardens, to hold them until the vicar declared his

intentions to the disposition of the offertories. No one would more strongly than

myself deprecate personal attacks made anonymously, either privately or in print,

nor would you permit your columns to be so used; but surely it is well recognised

that if letters are published containing statements affecting parochial matters,

parishioner or -ratepayer under those designations may criticise or traverse those

statements (of course sending you his name and address) without justifying the

terrible denunciations contained in Mr. Fuller’s letter, such “ stabs in the dark,”

“ moral, social, and official murder,” “ with the spirit of those skulking assassins,”

&c. If this were not permitted, much useful information would be withheld and

fictions pass for facts, as many persons may be able to impugn or throw light on

a subject in dispute, but who, like the “Old Parishioner,” shrink from seeing their

names in print. But now to the point. What did these murderous stab, at the vicar's

moral, social. and official life consist of. I I first expressed the regret we all felt at

the tone of his previous letter (and I am glad he does not take exception to that).

Then, after differing with him as to the length of his absence, I continued that  

"as his allusion to his locum tennis during that time" might lead people to believe

he "had left a minister in charge, I must state that was not so" . That,sir, was " the

head and front of my offending.” He replied in language  all his own, "that these

statements of 'An Old Parishioner’ are not only misleading.  but utterly and

entirely false." Very strong words these; but l am bold enough to repeat that

statement over my own signature . I say there was no minister in charge under

any ordinary or reasonable sense of such a provisionand that is the issue between

us. And now let us see how Mr. Fuller justifies giving me the lie direct. He says

(alluding to Mr. Homer, of Surbiton, who took Sunder services), “there was an

understanding between us” that he would be “ responsible as a matter of business

for any occasional duty, such as baptisms, funerals &c.; that a wire message would

have brought him over in half hour for the one, and 24 hours notice is required for

the other.” And the Vicar has obtained a certificate from Mr. Homer. stating that in

addition to the Sunday and Saint day duty, he undertook any occasional duty

should his services be required, and there the Vicar stops and thinks he has

satisfactorily disposed of the “Old Parishioner" He does not seem to see that this

private arrangement was quite futile, might as well never have been made if it

were not communicated to the church officials, and especially to the parish clerk,

to whom, by a notice which has always hung in the church porch ( and as is

customary in all parishes), applications for church offices, baptisms, funerals, &c.,

are to be made; but no such information was given, The clerk (a most trustworthy

man who has held the office since the church was consecrated) assured me

positively that no information or instructions were given him in respect of such an

arrangement, that he never heard a word about it from the Vicar, Mr Homer or

anyone else, and, as he naively added, “How was I to know Mr Homer would

come, or how could I wire him when I never knew where he lived, and don’t

know now?” Nor can I ascertain who does now Mr Homer’s address. Now can it

be said that an understanding as above, but not communicated to the only person

who could make use of it, was “leaving a minister in charge” and justify the Vicar

denouncing my statement as utterly and entirely false!  I think not.

I had in this letter commented somewhat strongly on that undertaking, the

unpleasant construction that might be put upon it; also on other objectionable

statements and language used in Mr. Fuller’s letter. But since writing I have

received a letter from him, wherein to my great surprise, and I think the surprise

of the whole parish, be assures me "he had not the slightest idea of my identity

with the * Old Parishioner," and that having now heard this from me “wishes to

retract everything of a personal character.” I, of course, accept this assurance in

the spirit in which I believe it to be written, and have tnerefore confined my letter

to justifying my character from a public imputation of truthfulness, for I feel it an

honour to be thought well of by those among whom 1 have lived for 20 years,

and the charges against me were serious, but which I think they will now feel I

have satisfactorily refuted, and I thank them sincerely for the strong and

unanimous feeling of indignation they have expressed at the language they, with

myself, believe to nave been levelled at me. And now I trust further unpleasantness

may cease, only adding that should the vicar at any future time address you on

his parish matters, I trust he will not permit himself that license of personal

vituperation, which can but recoil on his own head, and lessen the respect due

to him as a minister of our church. 

I am, sir. yours obediently, 

The “Old Parishioner.” 

WM. DAVENPORT. 

East Molesey, 24th May, 1882. 

 

TO THE EDITOR.

 

Sir,- As the writer of the letter signed “An Old Parishioner” has divulged his name

this day to me, and announces his intention of stating it publicly in next Saturday’s 

Surrey Comet, I feel it only right to say that I hadn’t the slightest idea who inspired

its authorship, and consequently there could have been no personal feeling or

animosity in what I wrote.

I simply looked upon your correspondant as the “apotheosis” of a querulous and

sectional, though I hoped temporary, discontent, and my object was to demolish

his wild and reckless statements, as well as to traverse his charges by rebutting

evidence, ”What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba?”

The letter was written, as your readers will see, on Monday, May 15th, before the

vestry meeting, so that that meeting neither suggested its “topic,” nor stimulated

its “animus.”

I forgot to add that my family were in residence during my absence at the vicarage,

i.e. the official residence of the parish priest, so that if anyone had applied here,

which was the proper place, for occasional duty, it would have been provided by

my locum-tenens (Mr. Homer, of Surbiton), who was virtually in charge, to whom

communication would have been immediately made. My family would not leave

for Brighton- though indisposition necessitated their removal as soon as possible-

till my return from Scotland at the end of the fortnight to prevent accidents , and

to attend to anything requiring attention. But no one, no parishioner, did apply

as a matter of fact. My churchwarden (Mr. Gilum)  and clerk , also knew who was

acting as my locum-tenens.I trust this will be final and suffficient, and I don’t wish

to write again, but as onehighly placed in the Church wrote me three years ago,

when I  came here, “Suburban flocks are notoriously murmurers”.

 

Your obediently,

THE VICAR OF ST PAUL’S 

ST PAUL’S VICARAGE, MAY 23, 1882

 

 

Surrey Comet May 27th. 1882 (Editorial)

 

 

KINGSTON, SATURDAY, May 27, 1882.

 

It is impossible to read the report of the Vestry Meeting at East Molesey, and the

letter of the Rev. Morris Fuller, which appeared in our issue of last week, without

distress. As a parochial quarrel, the dispute between the vicar of St Paul’s and

his parishioners, forms a miserable episode, representing much unkind and even

bitter feeling, unredeemed by any righteous contention for principle or conscience

That there are faults on both sides, everyone must admit The tone of the vicar’s

remarks at the Vestry, and the style of his letter, are scarcely such as to command

sympathy or respect. It would have been well had the reverend gentleman

exercised the golden virtue of silence; or if he must have spoken, to have

remembered the wise old proverb that soft answer turneth away wrath” Not that

we can altogether blame the Rev. Morris Fuller for experiencing some feelings

of irritation ; for his patience was sorely tried by the petty disputes at the vestry,

over money matters. In principles, in the frequency of services, in the ornate and

ritualistic style of the church decorations, the vicar fairly represented, we believe,

the general wishes of the church-going people of Kent Town. Much seems to be

expected from him in the way of duty, and in the observance of Saints’ days, and

much in the way of choral services and floral decorations ; and it must be owned

that the vicar does not appear to have stinted them in these respects, for the

printed lists of matins and vespers are something appalling. It was scarcely

generous then, to quibble about the cost of the flowers, or dispute acrimoniously

whether a few pounds should, or should not, have been transferred from one

offertory to supply the deficiencies of another. These are little matters of accounts

which, surely, the practical sense of the churchwardens might easily have rectified

without fuss or scandal We sincerely trust that Mr. Davenport’s letter, which we

print to day, will end the unseemly strife; that concessions will be made on both

sides; that a more kindly and courteous spirit will be exercised ; that the "priest"

will be a wee bit less overbearing, and the people a little more generous; and,

above all, that the language and manners of the "gentle life" may be, henceforth,

more carefully observed by the vicar and parishioners of St Paul’s.

 

This episode must have been the last straw for Morris and made his remaining

time very difficult for him until the Surrey Comet announces on May 24th 1884:

 

DEPARTURE OF THE VICAR OF ST. PAUL'S. EAST MOLESEY,- The Rev. Morris

Fuller has, we are informed, arranged an exchange of livings with the Rev. George

Edmund Tatham , M.A. rector of Ryburgh Magna and Parva, Fakenham, Norfolk and

rural dean. We understand that Mr Fuller will officiate at St. Paul's to-morrow

for the last time during his ministry.

 

 

 

 

 


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