Origins (Part III: 1869-1919. Decline Despite Best Efforts)

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The period under review in this second part of ICM’s history covers the era between the death of Alexander Dallas, the founder of Irish Church Missions (ICM) and the appointment in 1919 of perhaps the most well-known Superintendent of ICM, T. C. Hammond. It was an era that saw the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, dramatic events in the history of Ireland with the land war, land purchase, the Gaelic revival, the home rule struggle, World War I, the 1916 rebellion, and the beginnings of the efforts to assert Irish independence with the founding of the Free State in 1922.

Disestablishment

Along with the vast majority of Protestants in this era, ICM deplored the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland and signalled its strong support of the independent Church of Ireland with an address presented to the first General Synod of the Church of Ireland in 1871. The Archbishop of Armagh himself presented ICM’s address, which pointed out the close connection of ICM with the Church of Ireland and signalled its desire to continue to work with its clergy for the promotion of the Gospel in Ireland. ‘It was received’, according to the Banner of Truth report in July 1871, ‘in a full sitting of the Synod, with great cordiality.’

Evangelistic Outreach

Despite its ongoing commitment to the evangelisation of Ireland, ICM was not able to keep up the same level of intensity of outreach that it had done in the earlier period of its existence. Funds for the Mission work had already begun to decrease before Dallas’s death with the result that the number of staff working for ICM fell in 1870 from a total of 217 to 71 by 1920. The outreach gradually moved focus from the west of Ireland to concentrate on major urban areas and specifically on Dublin, which consequently increased the number of its workers in the same period. In Dublin, much of ICM’s evangelistic focus was on the poor and homeless. It had a strong emphasis on work amongst destitute and impoverished children with, for example, over 2000 pupils in its 56 day schools and 1500 children in its 31 Sunday Schools around Dublin in 1892.

It engaged in street preaching, usually twice a week between March and November each year, and distributed thousands of evangelistic literature and invitations to its ‘Controversial meetings’. A favourite place for street preaching was from the steps of the Custom House and just beside Trinity College. One worker who engaged in street preaching recollected that the large crowds meant that the activity itself was often a noisy affair because of the shouting of the crowd. Innovative attempts were made at outreach as for example the construction of a ‘Moveable Hall’ in the 1890’s! This wooden fabrication, which could hold about 300 people, was quite literally erected for a short period in one area, disassembled when the outreach was over, and then moved to another area where it was assembled again for the purpose of drawing in people to hear evangelistic sermons, controversial lectures, church history addresses.

The Mission church in Townsend Street by the end of the century had between 400 and 500 people regularly in attendance. Many of these were converts from Roman Catholicism. At first, from the inception of ICM, converts expressed saving faith in Christ and a decisive break from Roman Catholicism by undergoing Confirmation in the Church of Ireland. But the time came when something more frequent was needed as very often new converts were leaving home or leaving Ireland long before the Bishop’s visit for Confirmation. At the suggestion of the Archbishop of Dublin, Lord Plunkett, ICM revived a form of reception that had been in an old Irish Prayer Book in the early 18th Century, ‘A Form for admitting converts from the Church of Rome, and such as shall renounce their errors’ (1714). In July 1897, this was used for the first time to receive thirty new converts into formal admittance into the Church of Ireland. Each convert stood and read out: “ I , …, do declare that I am satisfied in my conscience that there are several dangerous errors in the doctrine and abuses in the practice of the Church of Rome; I do, therefore, for the safety of my own soul, renounce, reject and refuse all communion with the said Church of Rome; and being convinced by the blessing of God, that the Christian faith, as received and explained in the Church of Ireland, is most agreeable to the Word of God, contained in the Holy Scriptures, I do embrace the same and promise that I will conform to the service and worship used in the said church, and by God’s help firmly continue in the communion thereof. And this renunciation and promise I make heartily, willingly, and sincerely upon the true faith of a Christian.” This form of reception was used throughout the following decades for new converts.

Outside of Dublin, ICM began to operate ‘itinerating missions’ throughout the country. Travelling agents went to towns and fairs throughout Ireland, setting up bookstalls, preaching the Gospel and engaging in conversation with all those who would stop to buy books and listen. Thousands of New Testaments were distributed and Church of Ireland parishes often asked ICM to come to help counter the activity of Roman Catholic missions. These travelling evangelists held lantern shows which showed illustrated Bible stories, excerpts from Pilgrim’s Progress, Temperance stories, and other illustrated evangelistic messages, which all proved very popular with children and young people. In 1908, it was recorded that almost 3000 Roman Catholics and 10,000 Protestants had been in attendance at such lantern missions throughout Ireland.

Opposition

Of course, the work of the Gospel was deeply opposed by the Roman Catholic authorities. Cardinal Edward McCabe, Archbishop of Dublin 1878-85, had formerly been a parish priest in Dublin and had a first hand knowledge of the effect of ICM’s outreach amongst the Dublin poor. He assigned a priest in every parish specifically to combat ICM’s activity. William Walsh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin from 1885 to 1921 was even more aggressive in counter measures as he described it ‘to put down’ ICM and its activities. There was also a sinister side to Roman Catholic opposition to ICM. As in the west of Ireland at the beginning of ICM’s activity, there was constant intimidation of new converts, physical violence meted out to ICM’s travelling evangelists, and ICM property attacked.

For example, in 1898 ICM opened a new mission in Limerick, the Limerick Medical Mission. Dr. J. J. Long, son of Archdeacon Long of Templemore, moved to Limerick to set up this new form of ICM outreach. But from the very beginning, local Roman Catholic Clergy stirred up mob violence against the mission and anyone entering. Dr. Long was often attacked and had to have a police escort to visit patients. A Redemptorist monk, Father Tierney threatened the staff with violence and personally attacked the women and children of the mission. The Medical Mission was attacked on several occasions and Dr. Long was the subject of a long boycott by the city’s ‘horse-car’ drivers.

Political upheavals

Undaunted by the strength of the opposition, ICM continued to its work of mission even through the very difficult days of the mayhem of the ‘Easter Rising’ and the struggle for independence. The preaching book of the Dublin Mission for the Sunday after the 1916 ‘Easter Rising’ recorded that ‘there was no morning service because of war in Dublin…’ The following week services were back to normal. The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 had lead to a general fall in attendance at the Mission Church, but ICM’s attitude to all social and political upheaval caused by this and by the conflicts in Ireland is well summarised in the first edition of the Banner of Truth in 1914 after the declaration of war with Germany. ICM firmly re-affirmed that its work was a purely spiritual work ‘and one that ought not to be lost sight of in this time of anxiety and unrest.’

One Hundred Texts.

One of the spiritual achievements of ICM in this era was the appearance of the ‘100 Texts’. These texts, arranged in ten groups of ten for children to learn, formed the basis of doctrinal instruction in the schools of ICM. They originated from the work of the first Superintendent, the Rev. Charles F. McCarthy and were designed to teach the doctrines of sin, the Saviour, the Holy Spirit, and the Scriptures, as well as to inform learners how to engage the errors of Roman Catholic theology from Scripture. They were first gathered together by Henry Cory Eade, Mission Secretary to Dallas and later Rector of Clifden, Co. Galway. The first full publication to the 100 Texts was not actually an official publication of ICM, but was issued by the Right Reverend Henry Cheetham, Bishop of Sierra Leone in West Africa in his book ‘The One Hundred Texts of the Irish Church Missions briefly expanded’ (London 1880) for use in the local schools in Africa! It was the Rev. Henry Fishe, Superintendent of ICM in 1883-84 and 1902-09 who first wrote a commentary on the Texts, which T. C. Hammond used for his complete commentary issued in 1939.

Conclusion

In the era under review, ICM continued the active outreach of its earliest days but with fewer resources. It attempted new forms of evangelism and underwent increasing opposition. The political climate of Ireland, particularly the emergent nationalism that led to the 1916 Rebellion and subsequent War of Independence intensified opposition to much that was Protestant. This was underpinned by the growing power and self-confidence of the Roman Catholic church with the result that evangelistic outreach in the south and west of Ireland was already weakening by the early decades of the twentieth century. By the time that T. C. Hammond became Superintendent in 1919, the heyday of ICM was already over.


Eddie Coulter