« ZurückWeiter »
CLASSES FOR CONFIRMATION AND COMMUNION.
with stability to it! That would be to expect them to live uninfluenced by all they have seen and heard from infancy, with the exception of your own classes. Whilst still with you, you may on the whole keep them, by means of your own rules, to the Church; but as soon as the occasion for which they returned is over, you will see them disperse on all sides; and having done your best to instil into them their need of frequent communions and of strict attendance at church, and succeeded in some instances, you must leave the rest to a higher Power, and remain satisfied if you find they do, on the whole, see the importance of these things, and that they carry them into practice as often as the duties of service or field-labour will permit.
It is to the subject of classes for confirmation and Holy Com. munion, and on the especial helps and supports they hold out to the girls of agricultural parishes, that we wish at present to devote a few pages. Very much, we are well aware, can and will be done by the active and unwearied teacher who has already obtained, by means of the machinery of Sunday and week-day classes, sufficient power over all their minds and over the hearts of the best. As the week-day classes paved the way for greater knowledge of each of their characters and for addressing them more effectively on the Sunday, so, on the other hand, did they derive all their moral power from this Sunday teaching, And thus, as Professor Blunt expresses it, the instruction on the Holy Communion should be the principal feature—the centre or pivot on which all the teaching should turn, by which it could alone be completed. It will be the great test of the instruction already received ; and, at the same time, will rivet the bonds of union between teacher and pupil. Though we have stated first some of the difficulties of the task, we do not mean to underrate the good that can and will be effected by the closer and more confidential style of instruction which must naturally be produced by preparation for confirmation and first communion.
“I never can forget,” wrote a warm-hearted, but at one time excessively troublesome girl, many years after her confirmation, to the lady who had prepared her—“no, never, your kindness and the old days when you taught me about my duty to God, and all I ought to do for my soul. Oh, dear madam, if you had not been patient with me, whatever would have become of me? When I think how wicked I was and how I behaved to you, I'm sure no girl ever was so bad before, and would have been as bad now, but for your kind care in teaching me The Lord bless and reward you.'
It is such a blessing as this that carries a teacher on through evil report and good report; and the influence of old days when solemn prayer and holy words soften the hearts of all, will come back, we trust, when needed.
The season of preparation for confirmation will of course increase the usual number of your pupils and divide your class into two partsviz., the confirmed and the non-confirmed. For though yon will have retained your old pupils in your class as long as they remain in your parish, another three years will hardly have elapsed without dispersing the greater number by service, marriage, or perhaps death, whilst their places have been filled by younger girls or by those who have returned, in the intervals of service, to be confirmed. Those who have been confirmed will be all the better for refreshing their own remembrance of what they have pledged themselves to do by the explanations afforded to the candi lates; and you will strive to awaken in their minds a deep interest in the preparation of their younger companions by appealing to their former and present experience. The class will most probably become unwieldy through numbers; but as all secular learning must be set aside for the time, you will be able to give up the week-day evening classes for the preparation. There is no occasion here to enter into the customary forms of preparation, which must consist of a thorough knowledge of the Catechism and of every part of their duty, and will, of course, be under the supervision of the clergyman, who will direct the teacher in all she has to do. She will then find how much her former teaching has advanced her old pupils over her new
The former will require far less actual “cramming," if we may use the term, will very often be capable of answering questions in writing, and will be duly impressed with this most important turningpoint in their lives. But the teacher should consider her especial office to consist in teaching the hearts of each of her candidates, and not so much in the instruction of their intellects. She knows the character, failings, and difficulties, of most of them; she can apply and bring home the spiritual meaning of the Commandments to each sin, each peculiar temptation, so as to prove them to be both a rule of conduct and a touchstone of examination. She must not, in this case, spare them private reproof when the occasion calls for it, or public admonition when the fault is a common one; and she must direct their attention to the necessity of a real acquaintance with themselves, in order that they may come with lively repentance and confession to God before they can dare to pledge themselves publicly to keep his holy will and commandments.
To guide their repentance; to raise their faith in the additional grace to be expected in confirmation; to direct their private as well as public prayers by suggesting the use and meaning of such and such collects, psalms, and chapters, is indeed a most important and responsible office, all the more necessary from the clergyman having neither the time for it nor the intimate knowledge of their wants and dispositions as the lady has who has long been holding the post to them
NECESSITY OF MINUTE DIRECTIONS.
of teacher, adviser, and guide. Again, in spiritual matters they are like children, requiring minute rules and not wide general directions. It is not enough to say to them, “You must repent, and confess your particular sins by name," but the Confession in their Prayer-Books must be marked, with an explanation of how they can add their private faults ; or you must make them copy out prayers for themselves, which, like docile children, they are delighted to do. Nor will you find your office of direction an arduous one. They will be pleased and touched with your interest and anxiety about them, and will gladly take home and read the passages and extracts from the Bible or the religious books lent them, will answer better than you expect your questions in writing, and make use of the prayers pointed out. There will, of course, be a difference between them; but only impress them with your feelings of awe and reverence and they will all be influenced, for the time at least. Their hearts will be softened, and many a tear on the cheek of those you fancied indifferent will surprise you. You will hear from their mothers that they do read and study in the evening, and have imparted to them many of your words.
Thus for the time the influence not only affects the girls, but is brought home to the parents, who are flattered by the interest shown in “their maids,” and like to hear them read out what they are doing for you. The youngest in your class will usually be the most thoughtful and in earnest. As yet, they have never left the shelter of home, and sometimes a few may have remained till lately at school; but, at any rate, they have attended your classes, and have never been plunged into the hardening effects of toiling for a livelihood. They will be at least quite as capable of entering into the necessary preparation as the older girls, for they will not have forgotten their school teaching. If they are now considered too young for confirmation, they must be sent out into the world without receiving the help provided for those who are old enough to be independent, and will be surrounded by temptations and sins hitherto unknown to them. Those who are protected by this help and by the additional shield of Holy Communion, are far more likely to do well than when they wait and labour without. The girls of seventeen and eighteen, on the other hand, have become sadly old and experienced in the ways of the world. They have learnt to think lightly of sins, even though they may not have committed them, and are less easily touched by serious truths.
For these reasons, and from the difficulty of finding an opportunity for confirmation when once they are in service, it is customary in these country parishes to admit girls of fourteen. Nor, if we consider the subject, can a village girl, whether she labours for her bread by fieldwork or by service, be ever too young at that age for confirmation and Holy Communion. For her life exposes her to premature knowledge
of sin and temptation, to poverty and trials, and to independence of judgment and action; and she of course requires the grace and support provided for those in the world, into which girls in our class of life do not enter till much later.
Nor do their parents remain indifferent to the rite of confirmation itself. In these days when every large village is visited in turn by the Bishop, and when, instead of crowding the seats of the church with strange children from neighbouring villages, they are left for the parents and friends of the candidates, the influence of the service, the touching sight of those dear to them, kneeling to receive the blessing, the simple charge, as applicable to themselves as to their children—all tend to arouse the indifferent and to check the careless.
The impression on the young candidates may be fleeting, but is plainly there for the time. The church so hushed and quiet; the girls and boys so reverent in manner, with bowed heads and praying lips, convince you that their audible and distinct “I do!" proceeds not only from the lips but from the heart. The day itself is no longer, as formerly, one of riot and merry-making, where disorder and confusion reigned, and where there could be but little hope of the generality being in earnest, but is now a holy one indeed, long remembered and recalled as such by the newly confirmed.
And yet, as soon as confirmation is fairly over, the evil effects of the anti-Church feeling are shown.
So far, much good has been done; one or two, perhaps, have either refused or have been judged unfit to be confirmed; but those who were, appear very much in earnest; and many in the classes yon have formed for preparation and instruction for their first communion, have assured you that, with their parents' permission, they wish and intend to stay. You never doubt for a moment that as the parents were so willing for their children to be confirmed, and appeared so impressed with the Bishop's charge, they will permit those who are in earnest to come to the Lord's Table. Indeed you feel so hopeful, that you doubt not the parents will even take this opportunity of beginning this good custom. But, alas ! disappointment upon disappointment! First, the parents are doubtful; generally the fathers give a half promise to let those who wish it come; then they become frightened by their neighbours' comments. Lastly, your own girls who do know better and are anxious to go, understanding all the help and support they may find there, become frightened, and are also talked over, until you sadly find that it is the few and not the many
that receive at your first communion class; and that the church on Sunday, where you hoped to see so many new faces round the Lord's Table, will be visited by not more than six or seven, at the outside, of the most determined, who have succeeded in coming. Even those
BACKWARDNESS AND DIFFICULTIES.
young women will have to undergo all kinds of ridicule and opposition from neighbours, and friends, and companions. We of the higher classes little know the actual tyranny which is so often exercised by the lower against each other, when some favourite opinion has been disregarded; and in this particular case the young people have to endure no slight amount of ridicule and reproof-a very severe test of their new principles.
Therefore, our communion classes must not be given up because we have few who will attend. Only let us enter into the real difficulties and trials that discourage those who else would come, and we may enable them to overcome them. For, besides the opposition of their own families and friends, they have difficulties of their own, and others arising from their position in life.
A young girl begins zealously by attending monthly communion at home for some months, assisted by her teacher. She then gets a place where, as it often happens, not one person belonging to her new home ever thinks of communicating; or, if the family do now and then, they yet never dream of sparing their servants for morning service. Then her difficulty begins; she wishes to go, but is shy of asking and of going by herself. Perhaps advised and helped by her teacher, who asks for her, she summons up courage to press for permission, and is answered by a cold "Oh, you can't be spared," or, “Why do you want to go ?” or, if it be a very small place, “I don't hire my servants to spend all their time at church !” and it generally ends by her being permitted to go once, and never being spared for that purpose again. Thus she loses her old peace of mind and comfort in her need. No wonder that, as we constantly find, the girl on her return home has gone back and forsaken her good resolutions.
Alas! who can tell all the spiritual evil of such a service, and the bad example of this carelessness of all religion ?
That girls at last gradually lose their old habits of prayer and reading the Bible under such influence, that they fall unprotected into every snare and temptation, we may see on all sides of us if we will. Nor is this only occasioned by the temptations of service. The home life often proves as fatal, where the keeping company with some dissolute young man will often so excite the ill-balanced affections of many girls that they in a short time will give up attendance at class, at church, and at Holy Communion ; and then the same sad sequel follows. How often is the excuse made, “I am afraid to come,” which, if really true, patient instruction will remove, but which very often turns out to be a willing objection.
“Why have you not been lately?" said a lady to one of her communion class-a superior young woman of twenty-four, who used to be most regular.
“Well, ma'am, I never mean to be so long between again. I find