A new church and its purpose

CHAPTER 1 of ‘A Vision Pursued’, Rev. Sandy Ryrie, 1994

On August 15th 1844, four bishops and about forty clergymen, including a number of prominent leaders of the Oxford Movement, joined with a large congregation to celebrate the dedication of the newly built church of St John the Evangelist, in Jedburgh.

It was a time of new beginnings for the Episcopal Church in Scotland. In the period between 1746 and 1792 the Church had been outlawed. No clergyman ordained by a Scottish bishop was allowed to exercise a ministry in Scotland: only those ordained in the Church of England or the Church of Ireland were permitted, or ‘qualified’ to officiate. The result was that the Episcopal Church was not only much reduced, but also divided between those who had maintained a loyalty to the original Scottish church and those who were members of ‘qualified’ chapels. The repeal of the Penal Laws in 1792 was followed by a period of consolidation and healing. By 1844 the Church was poised for a period of remarkable expansion.

At that time Episcopalianism was not strong in the Borders. A congregation in Kelso had continued through the period of the Penal Laws, and there were small groups in other places, including Jedburgh where a small number of Episcopalians had been meeting for worship in a house in the Canongate. But none of the churches which exist today in the main Borders counties had as yet been built. The next half century was to see the erection of a large number of new churches in all parts of Scotland. St John’s in Jedburgh was the first of a number of such new churches which were to be built in the Borders during the following two or three decades.

At the same time, the Oxford Movement was making its influence felt within the Scottish Episcopal Church. The Movement, whose starting point is generally taken to be the famous ‘Assize Sermon’ by John Keble in Oxford in 1833, was an attempt to recall the Church of England to the fundamentals of its faith and the purity of its worship. It sought to re-own the catholic tradition of sacramental worship, of the daily offices, of private devotion and of dignity and reverence in the services of the church. Its leading figures included John Keble, John Henry Newman, Edward Pusey, Richard Froude and many others.

This Movement struck a chord with many in the Episcopal Church north of the Border, where there was already a ‘high’ doctrine of the sacraments and of church order. The building of the first new cathedral in Scotland since the Reformation at Perth, the establishment of the school and the college for the training of clergy at Glenalmond, and the setting up of the Cathedral of the Isles on Cumbrae to be a centre of spirituality were all due in part at least to the influence of the Oxford Movement.

But the first fruit of the Movement in Scotland was the building of St John’s Church in Jedburgh. This happened through the initiative, energy and devotion of Cecil, Marchioness of Lothian. Through her brother, John Talbot, and her brother-in-law, Lord Henry Kerr, who were both students at Oxford, she became interested in the Oxford Movement. Having lived earlier at Newbattle, where she worshipped at the Duke of Buccleuch’s private chapel at Dalkeith, she moved in 1840 to Monteviot, near Jedburgh, and soon set about arranging for the erection of an Episcopal church or ‘chapel’ in Jedburgh. A piece of land, in a corner of the town known as ‘Crossacre’, was donated by the Marquis of Lothian, and the foundation stone of the new building was laid on 14th July 1843 by the Marchioness.

The intention was (as was stated at the time) to erect “a structure which should in itself, in some sort, typify the Beauty of Holiness”, and one which would be suited to the kind of worship which the new Movement was seeking to promote. No trouble or expense was spared to make it “worthy of the sacred purpose for which it was designed”. An architect of growing reputation was engaged to design the building, John Hayward (or Haywood) of Exeter. He was a member of the Cambridge Camden Society, (later the Ecclesiological Society) and a colleague of the distinguished architect William Butterfield. Butterfield was the chief exponent of the principles of the Oxford Movement in church design and furnishings. He was later responsible for the erection of All Saints, Margaret Street, London, Keble College, Oxford, and the new Cathedral at Perth. Hayward himself was the Diocesan architect of Exeter, and had already produced some fine work. His St Andrew’s Church in Ewick, which was built in 1841-2 and is in many ways similar to St John’s Jedburgh, was described in the Ecclesiologist as “the best specimen of a modern church we have yet seen.”

St John’s was built in the decorated Gothic style, long and narrow, with a high-pitched roof. The main work of building was, of course, done by local tradesmen: masonry and woodwork and plasterwork were the responsibility of tradesmen named Cranston, Thomson and Smith, together with a body of about 75 workmen. The interior was richly furnished. The screen separating the chancel from the nave was elaborately carved in oak. The altar, sedilia, pulpit and font were sculpted from Caen stone, the latter two being the gift of Queen Adelaide, widow of King William IV. The encaustic tiles on the nave floor and the blue and gold porcelain tiles on the chancel ceiling, rich in symbolism, were designed and presented by Herbert Minton of Stoke-on-Trent. The church was equipped with Communion vessels designed by Butterfield, and elaborately decorated service books for the daily offices and the Scottish Communion Office. Outside, the lychgate at the entrance to the churchyard, and the school which was built behind the church, were both designed by Butterfield.

Altar book (1764 Scottish Communion office)

All the details of the building combined to give it a certain atmosphere. As Perry was to write of it (in his book The Oxford Movement in Scotland):

St John’s, Jedburgh, in the simplicity of its architectural style and in the perfect finish of every part of it, recalls the very spirit of Keble, modest, reverent and above all thorough in the loving care bestowed upon every
detail of screen, pulpit, bench ends and even tiles. [1]

In just over a year the building was completed. The dedication of the church took place on a Thursday, and there followed a weekend of special services and celebrations. The service of consecration was conducted by the Diocesan Bishop Michael Russell of Glasgow (Jedburgh being at that time within the Diocese of Glasgow) assisted by William Skinner, Bishop of Aberdeen and Primus, Charles Terrot, Bishop of Edinburgh, and David Low, Bishop of Moray, Ross and Argyll. Also present at the service were Oxford Movement leaders in the persons of John Keble, Robert Wilberforce, William Dodsworth, Walter Hook and William Teale. The church was full for the occasion: admission was by ticket only, for which application had to be made beforehand. The service consisted of the Act of Consecration, followed by Morning Prayer and the Litany, followed in turn by the Eucharist at which Walter Hook preached the sermon. The services were chanted by the clergy and choir, and it is claimed that this was the first occasion on which full choral services had been performed in Scotland since the Revolution of 1689.

After the morning service a large number of the congregation, totalling about 100, adjourned for a lunch at the Spread Eagle Hotel in the town, where they apparently remained until the time of Vespers or Evening Prayer at 5 pm. During this service the first incumbent of St John’s, the Revd. William Spranger White, was instituted to the charge, and Robert Wilberforce gave the sermon.

Further celebrations continued during the following days. On the Saturday “the school children, with their parents, and others of the poor of Jedburgh, assembled at Monteviot, where they joined in festive games, and afterwards partook of a substantial repast, provided for them by Lady Lothian”. And on the same day the workmen who had been employed on the building were entertained to dinner at the Commercial Hotel. On the Sunday there were three services, at which the sermons were preached by Dodsworth, Keble and Teale respectively.

The consecration of St John’s, surrounded by a variety of other events and attended by a number of notable persons, was felt to be an important occasion – sufficiently important for a book to be published, giving an account of how the church came to be built, and a detailed description of the interior and exterior of the building, and including also the text of all the six sermons preached in connection with the occasion. [2]

These sermons, together with the description of the building of the church, show that those who were involved with the building and dedication of the church had a vision of what this church was for, and what kind of worship should take place in it. So before we consider the later history and development of the church it is worth pausing to reflect on the ideas and intentions of those who initiated it.

What was the Church for?

In a sense every church exists for the same thing: for the worship of God, for the nurture and building up of the members of the church in their Christian life, and for a witness to the love of Christ within the community. But in addition, some churches may have a special purpose. A particular building and the congregation which worships in it may be given a particular truth to maintain and a special emphasis to preserve and develop within the life and witness of the whole church. The particular purpose of St John’s, as it was seen by those responsible for its erection and dedication, can be summed up in three ways.

First, it was to be a place of the beauty of holiness. From the start there was an importance attached to the building itself. St John’s Church was seen as a sanctuary, a place set apart for God, a place where the mystery and majesty of God were to be acknowledged, and God’s holiness revered. We have seen how much care was put into the design and furnishing of the building. It was meant (in words already quoted from the introduction to the book of sermons) “to typify the Beauty of Holiness”. In his sermon on the day after its consecration Walter Hook reminded the congregation that “a church is something more than a mere apartment in which sermons are to be preached and heard”. The building itself was to draw people to the “homage” of God – a phrase frequently used by the first preachers. It was to be a place where people would know and realise God’s presence.

In other words, it was not only the services of the church which should draw people to God, but the beauty of the building, and the message conveyed by its adornments and symbolism. Walter Hook continued:

Rev. Walter Hook

Religious persons, in all ages, have had a due regard to the ornaments of the Church; an attempt has been always made to render them peculiar and symbolic, in order to …recall [our thoughts] to the solemn duty in which they ought to be employed in the house of God. On this account the font is brought prominently forward; on this account the holy table is adorned as splendidly as circumstances will admit of; on this account suitable pictures are sometimes introduced, whether on canvas or on painted windows, as may be most convenient, and texts of Scripture are inscribed upon the walls … The use of such ornaments is at once apparent. The eye, having strayed with the mind, suddenly rests on an emblem. We straightway bring back our minds to the sanctuary, to the work on which the subjects of the King of kings are engaged; we realise the presence of God.

Second, it was to be a place where worship would be offered with reverence and dignity. Not only was the church building to be a place of the beauty of holiness, but the worship of the church was to be characterised by the kind of reverence which arises from a sense of the holy presence of God. When people came to worship, they were to be aware of their nearness to heaven. John Keble reminded the congregation of this:

Rev. John Keble

There are angels around us in the Church … waiting upon us, as heirs of salvation. Believe and remember this when you come here; and it is the same gleam from heaven to you, as Jacob’s vision was to him, or as the heavenly host was to the shepherds on Christmas night. The Holy Ghost, the Comforter, He also is here: doubt it not: waiting to come down and answer the prayers of the Church, by causing the Sacrifice of Bread and Wine to become the Sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood. The Holy Spirit is here, no less certainly than he was in the fiery tongues, or in the cloud of glory over the Tabernacle Door. The Son of God, our Saviour, is here, in His Word, in His ministers, and, above all, in His sacraments; while we are here, we are with Him: keep fast hold of that thought.

And because of the near presence of the God of holiness, the public worship of God must be conducted with reverence and solemnity.  Walter Hook maintained that while in private prayer a certain degree of informality and intimacy is appropriate, when we enter the sanctuary we approach God in a different way:

There, in communion with all that is holy, we offer the sacrifice of prayer and praise, and we render our homage to the Ancient of Days, whose throne is like the fiery flame, thousand thousands ministering unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand standing before Him … And so the Church, when she approaches the King of kings in public worship, adopts a liturgy full of forms and ceremonies, – not fervent, but calm, solemn, dignified in its tone – not passionate, but calculated rather, when duly solemnized, to excite feelings of reverence … It is in this faith, and with these feelings, and with that attention, in consequence, to minute details, in which a loving and reverential heart delights, that this your beautiful house has been reared; this house which the Almighty God has vouchsafed through His servant, your Bishop, to accept at your hands, to be a place where His people may do Him homage. And may he grant that its light may so shine as to lead them to understand the nature of public worship, and the spirituality which may exist under the outward and visible form of a decent, if not a splendid, ceremonial.

Worship conducted in this way, said Keble, brings us specially close to heaven:

The services of God’s Church are so many breathing-places, through which the light and air and fragrance of Paradise and of Heaven may find for a time some way into our prison, refreshing our languid senses, and preparing them gradually for that which would be otherwise too much for them to bear.

Rev. Robert Wilberforce

Third, it was to be a place where there would be daily offices and frequent Communions. As a church which owed its origin to the Oxford Movement, St John’s was to have a strong sacramental emphasis. This was unusual at that time, for in those days, even in the Episcopal Church, the celebration of the Eucharist was not nearly so frequent as it has become in more recent times. Robert Wilberforce devoted his sermon, preached immediately after the first incumbent had been instituted, to the theme of ‘The Christian Sacrifice’. He maintained that while the sacrifice of Christ on the cross was unrepeatable, nevertheless the Eucharist is a Christian sacrifice:

The Holy Communion is that wherein the offering to God of the first fruits of His creatures is most clearly set forth, while, at the same time, it best carries back the mind to the grand sacrifice on the cross for man’s salvation.

The centrality of the Eucharist to the Christian life is a topic which recurs at various points in the sermons. William Dodsworth, taking ‘Frequent Communion’ as his theme, argued that receiving the Sacrament as often as possible was necessary for our salvation:

Rev. William Dodsworth

There can be no doubt that the demands of Christianity are not answered, unless we receive this Sacrament always, whenever it is administered, except there is some satisfactory reason to the contrary … If we hope to be saved, we must do all we can in using the means of grace; but we can receive the Holy Communion very often; – some every Sunday – some every holy day besides. Then, if we deliberately and wilfully neglect this duty, we can have no right to indulge the hope of salvation.

Keble, for his part, spoke first of the need to recover the church’s pattern of regular and frequent offices, and then went on to speak of the Eucharist as well:

If then the Psalmist made a rule to praise God seven times a day, depend upon it, it must be a good thing for Christians to do the same, solemnly and regularly (for that is the kind of praise intended), as often as they can.

And if this hold concerning other services, other modes of praising God, both in His Church and elsewhere, much more of that which is the top and corner of all services, – the Eucharist, or Thanksgiving of Thanksgivings; the Holy Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. In that service, more than in any other, the Incarnate Son presents Himself close to the very eye of Faith; it is, more than any other, a rehearsal of such joy and thanksgiving, such humble and hearty devotion, here for a short time on earth, as that wherewith the angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven, laud and magnify God’s glorious name in their never-ending anthems on high. How, then, can it be too often celebrated?

This, then, was the special purpose for which St John’s was built: to be a place of beauty and holiness; to be a church where worship would be offered with reverence and dignity and a sense of the greatness and majesty of God; and to maintain a pattern of daily offices and frequent regular celebrations of the Eucharist. The services on the occasion of its dedication set it off on this path, and thereafter, as Perry has said, “St John’s, Jedburgh, went quietly on with its daily services and its weekly Communions”.

Entries in St. John’s ‘Book of Strange Preachers’ (register of visiting preachers) for 15th – 18th August 1844

Page 1
Page 2

Bishops’ and preachers’ autographs on the flyleaf of the prayer book that the Marchioness of Lothian bought to mark the consecration.

Lothian Prayer Book flyleaf

[1] W Perry, The Oxford Movement in Scotland, Oxford, 1932, p.45.

[2] W H Teale (Ed), Six Sermons Preached at the Consecration of The Church of St John the Evangelist, Jedburgh (Edinburgh, 1845). The quotations in this chapter are taken from this book.