"FAITH OF A BRITON"
An Address by REV. CANON BRYAN GREEN
Thursday, October 30th, 1952
CHAIRMAN: The President, Mr. John W. Griffin.
MR. GRIFFIN: Members and Guests of the Empire Club of Canada: Our speaker today, Rev. Canon Bryan Green, is a native of London whose great university he attended. At the age of 17 he began to preach the Word of God in the open air and this extraordinary apostolic zeal has remained the dominant influence in his life since that time. He was ordained in 1924 and has served in churches in London, Oxford and Birmingham. During the Hitler War he was Chaplain of the 1st Anti-Aircraft Signals Group Headquarters in the centre of London. Today he is Rector of the parish church of Birmingham, which bears the unusual name of St. Martin's in the Bull Ring. He has a large and varied congregation according him full scope for his tremendous energy and abiding desire to lead men away from the overwhelming secular influence of our day. Since the end of the war he has preached missions in New York, Washington, Boston, Calcutta, Melbourne, Sydney and Philadelphia. Now he is in Toronto conducting a ten-day mission at the Colosseum in Exhibition Park. We are honoured to have so widely travelled a man, so renowned an orator, so zealous a servant of the Lord, as our speaker today.
Before calling on Canon Green I would like to tell you a story. Yesterday I was interviewing several applicants for a secretarial position which I have available. As part of my test of these young women I dictated the formal introduction which you have just heard. After some of these girls had transcribed and typed out what I gave them the word "Canon" appeared with two n's. We all know that our speaker is a Canon in the ecclesiastical sense but I am sure you will agree with me after you have heard him that he has an impact like heavy artillery. If you will pardon a strictly North American expression I will now call on "Cannon" Bryan Green-one of the big guns of the Anglican Church.
Rev. CANON BRYAN GREEN, B.D.: Mr. Chairman, My Lord Bishop, and Gentlemen: It is a very great pleasure indeed for me to have the opportunity and privilege of speaking to such a gathering of men in the City of Toronto. I count it a privilege, because, although most of us who are married like I am and married a long time like in my case, are led by a woman, it is, of course, true that in the end the men really matter, and it is nice to make that declaration in public. I have met a number of business men in Toronto, and it is nice to find a strong masculine element in this city which will not be dominated by the opposite sex.
When I was asked--it is always inconvenient to be asked about two months ahead what you are going to talk about two months later to an audience you have never seen--when I was asked for the subject I was not sure. I realized, of course, you were an up-to-date Club; on the other hand, there is an old-fashioned word in your title which we don't come across very often these days. I therefore looked around for an old-fashioned subject, and with some trepidation I announced my subject to be "THE FAITH OF AN ENGLISHMAN". You will notice the neat phrasing of the subject, to which I shall adhere very closely--it is "THE FAITH OF AN ENGLISHMAN". I would not venture to speak on the faith of a Scot: the only faith the Scot has is the faith in himself. He is too cautious to have a faith in someone else. And when I reflect upon an Irishman, as far as I can observe from their recent history and their past, they have faith in nobody, including themselves. The American, of course, is all right; he has faith in God's own country. But I leave the Canadians alone, severely. You need not infer from that that I think you have no faith.
I think it is an important subject, however, when we come to consider it, and although, as I was reflecting once in Gander when the plane was delayed for some time--I have come to use all the airlines from time to time, in spite of their claims to run on time--I was reflecting upon life in general, and the general situation in Great Britain. I sent an article back to one of the newspaper for which I write. I pointed out that our economic leadership had gone forever: our military leadership obviously had gone. I developed the theme that we still have a contribution to make along the line of moral and spiritual leadership. The paper for which I write, being a Tory paper, did not publish the article. Fortunately I write for a paper of the other Party as well, and I sent it on to them. But there is some truth in that. One of the troubles I find in England is to get Englishmen to accept that fact. By way of being realistic, I am convinced you never live life unless you live close to reality. One of the greatest "beefs" I have against the Christian Churches is that we sometimes don't live close to reality. I think if England wishes to play her part today, we have got to be realists. As Rector of Birmingham, in which I spend my time in mixing with Executives in the factories, from Monday till Friday, I must say I am not impressed by business men as a whole. In some respects I think many of them are very conservative. When it comes to public relationships they are out of date. They have had certain methods for years which they are refusing to alter. They adopt the "take it or leave it" attitude. I think there is a change coming.
I make no apology. We have got to be realists there as history has proved. Although we have had many failures in Great Britain, we have many great things and things we never need to be ashamed of. No man who reads English history needs to be ashamed of being an Englishman.
And therefore, Gentlemen, there is nothing to worry about in one sense or to be ashamed of. If our glory in some respects is in the past, I always remind my American friends--I have the privilege of going to the United States oftener than to you, perhaps because my work is more necessary there, and in certain respects I thing it is more necessary when it comes to talking about England in the Middle West--that we still have something to give. As one of your great Canadians and a great personal friend of mine, General Basil Price, said, he believed that England still can give a moral and spiritual leadership to the English-speaking world.
Therefore my topic is of great importance-WHAT IS THE FAITH OF AN ENGLISHMAN today? There are three things I would say about, his faith. First of all, he has the religion of his country. It is a strange thing about an Englishman, he has deeply imbedded in him the religion of his country for 2,000 years. It is not for nothing that Christianity has been the religion of England for 2,000 years. It is in the blood; the ideas of the Bible are there in the woof and warp of his thinking.
It is interesting, with an Englishmen, he says he is a Christian although he does not go to church. He has a kind of a hunch of what a Christian ought to be. I want to tell you that I made it a rule many years ago to be gravely concerned when the conscience of the Englishman disapproves of anything in the Christian church. I am not at all sure, that when the ordinary Englishman, in large numbers, disapproves of some stand or attitude of the Christian Church, he is not right. I don't wish to be controversial. If you can guess the issues I shall be very glad. I believe, in fact, that deep in the minds of Englishman there are the Bible ideas--a kind of background idea of Christianity, and that the great virtues of moral integrity, of truth and honour, stem from the Bible.
As we mix with Englishmen, the new business type, the new managerial type, the new technical type, the new professional doctor type, we see to our dismay a decay of these Biblical virtues of truth, honour and integrity. I don't wish to give illustrations because that would take time, but I certainly could show what is worrying many of us most deeply, for there has been undoubtedly in England for many centuries a diffused Christianity, which is in the heart and life of English people generally. It pervades not only our big private schools but also our State schools. You find it in the attitude of doctor to patient, you find it in the professional attitude of lawyers, the diffused religion of their country, just because they are English, and because these traditional virtues have been inculcated in their very being.
I will cite an historian, Professor Butterfield, in "CHRISTIANITY AND EUROPE", and it is worth reading. He makes the point that the great contribution of the Christian Church to European civilization is that it brought into the world a new form of charity, organized charity, gentleness, humanitarianism, and in fact against the rude paganism, the Christian Church produced this charity, out of which hospitals, charity to women and children, arose.
For two thousand years we have had the Christian Church in England, and those Christian virtues are part and parcel of our country.
Secondly, I would point out to you that the Englishman's faith is centred in the religion of his church. Now you can't get rid of church spires, not even Americans, who have divorced with great care, government and religion. The parish churches of England with their spires and towers speak to the Englishman of the religion of their church; and if you had a vote in England today you would get hardly any support for disestablishment of the Church of England. I know they would prefer the State church to take the leadership, than a Ministers' Fraternal Association with a new Chairman every year, which you have in the United States. In every city of the States you have your group of Ministers, and you never know which Chairman you get the next year.
My observation is that pastors are not jealous of the Church of England. The State Church is given the leadership gladly and willingly. If a pastor is a brother in Christ to all his fellow Christians, then the leadership is gladly and willingly given to it, and I believe that is of importance, if I may say so, and I have some right to say so because I am, the Rector of Birmingham, which is one of the larger churches in England. Birmingham is one of the few cities left where the Rector is the recognized leader of the whole city. The parish church of Birmingham is 700 years old, and the city looks to it for leadership. The Englishman likes to see the state schools coming there to service, the whole of the police force come to service, the Judges come before the Assizes, the Lord Mayor comes there after the election every year. And do you say, Does that make any difference?
It is not for nothing that we have a church sense in the sense that we have a State church. Of course, I know you can scoff at it. You can say, most Englishmen only go to church on odd occasions. You can say, Englishmen are "four-wheeler" Christians, they go to church in a pram to be baptized, in a car to be married, and in a hearse to be buried." To which I reply, I am very glad they come at all. They certainly need it on the last occasion, and it is a privilege to be there to bury them.
Some scoff at the idea of church marriages saying, "they just like the show and the music". I want to give you my testimony. For ten years I was vicar at one of the fashionable churches in London. I learned by interviewing couples four times before I married them, for two hours each time, that when men really love, God is very near. If God is love, you would expect it, and at that moment in life, men are particularly susceptible to deep feelings of religion. If a parson takes the trouble, fashionable wedding services could be a spiritual reality in the lives of those young couples, because they came to be married, not in the Registry office, but in the parish church. Following that up afterwards in life I have confirmed that diagnosis.
True, in the latest census, we have heard that only about twenty percent of the English people go to church at all regularly. That only five percent of the population go every Sunday; but we still have the church in the heart of English life, and I have never yet met an Englishman in our factories even a politically pink one, who has said "I would like to abolish the churches."
In fact, I remember one famous occasion. I was a padre during the war. I did all right with the men, but I found, for eight years, the women extremely difficult. Women in uniform are quite adamant about it. The high ranking officers were quite upset. You can't put women into uniform without destroying individuality, and that is characteristically feminine. As I was saying, I found these women extremely difficult to approach. So one day
I said, "This morning, girls, I am going to give you eight reasons why I think it would be a good thing to destroy all the churches." For twenty minutes I gave them all the reasons that I had picked up in Hyde Park, why the churches should be abolished. I sat down. Well you should have heard them. For twenty minutes they were on their feet, attacking me violently, with anger and bitterness. The one thing that came out was that they never wanted to get rid of the parsons and churches. I said, "If you think all that about the churches and parsons, why don't you come to church every Sunday?"
So you see, Gentlemen, the faith of the Englishman then is the religion of his country, something in his bones. It is the religion of the State church, supported magnificiently by the other churches. This unity of the churches can be magnified. There is a very good opportunity in all the churches.
And finally the religion of the Englishman is still in a queer way the religion of his family. It is a strange thing how many Englishmen like their children to go to Sunday School, not simply because they want to sleep on Sunday afternoon, but because they want their children to have something. They like the wife to go, it keeps her good. They prefer to put their child under a Headmaster who has religious principles.
That is very interesting. I lectured to the teaching profession because I was Inspector of Schools for four years, and I pointed out to them the fact that the surest way to become a Headmaster was to be a Christian. A remarkable development of the past twenty years has been the splendid deep and spiritual character of many of the leaders of our Education. I believe that is no accident. I believe the fact is that men, deep in their bones, want their family to have religion. A great number of Englishmen say their prayers. You would be surprised at the number who say their prayers-business men, in their offices, talking sensibly to God in prayer. It is surprising, the number of business men you discover who actually read a few verses of the Bible every night. It is quite surprising also how people listen to the religious broadcasts. One-third of our listening population listens to religious broadcasts.
If you would write for the national papers as I do--I write 1,000 words for the BIRMINGHAM GAZETTE, you would be surprised at the number of men who take the trouble to read what you write.
There is no doubt at all, that still in his family life, the Englishman has some kind of religious feeling, a feeling that home life needs something to do with God in it. And the faith of an Englishman is bound up like that with the religion of his country, the religion of his church and family.
But, you say, it is not very decisive, it is not very active, it is rather nebulous; in fact, you might almost say the Englishman is living on borrowed capital. It is rather a kind of bedraggled faith. It is a faith that has been handed on. So many Englishmen will say to me, "My mother taught me this", or it was "my grandmother." It has now gone back a generation. That is what disturbs some of us. What worries me about the accuracy of this lecture, I just wonder if I am describing the faith of an Englishman of thirty years ago; whether I really am describing the faith of an Englishman today. That is the thing that concerns me, whether perhaps in the generation behind you, I am accurate; whether I am describing your generation and mine,--that I am inaccurate.
There is no doubt that there is a widespread ignorance of the Christian faith today. I find a number of people who can not tell me what happened on Easter or Good Friday, or on Christmas Day, and they are not trying to do anything to remedy that ignorance. It is said a little girl, who was asked, "Is your father a Christian?" replied: "Oh, yes, he is, but he is not doing much about it lately."
I would like to tell you of the general feeling I have about all classes of Society.
The very rich have not done much about Christianity for a long time, they are too rich to bother, quite forgetting money does not follow one after death.
The very poor have not bothered about God, they are very bitter with Society, with which feeling I sympathize.
The strength of England has been the group in between, that great solid basis of English life, and there was the Englishman's faith, and there, if England is to recover her faith, it must start.
So what we need in England today more than anything else is a revival of deep, basic Christian belief. Now how it is going to happen? We can't have missions, like we have in Toronto, every day. But those missions don't touch the matter. Don't make the mistake that I think this mission is very important. It is important, but not very important. It is only a useful, valuable incident.
There are three major ways by which England can recover her faith, and if in Canada you feel I am hitting any nail on the head, if you feel the cap fits you, then wear it. I suggest these three ways are equally applicable to you.
First, if we wish in England to recover a true Englishman's faith, which has made stable Christian homes. We have got to practise and begin to re-practise the Christian way of life. We can not let the spirit of aggression, the spirit of force, the spirit of slackness, the spirit of the smart aleck, the spirit of expediency, the spirit of compromise hold us. We must start to practise the Christian way-belief in armaments will never save the world, but belief in the way of Jesus will. To compromise with evil is always wrong. We must believe in the basic qualities of generosity, discipline and duty, the right use of talents and stewardship. To practise these virtues matters, and we have got to practise them, and we will not get faith back to England until Englishmen start to practise them again.
Second, we have got once more to reassert that Englishmen must attend church. The Roman Catholics have set us a magnificent example, they have taught their people to go to church every Sunday. You may be cynical and say it is because of fear. Well, that may be true. There many things I do because of fear. There are some representing the great insurance companies who are glad that you have fear enough to insure your property and business. Don't be silly and sneer at fear in religion, it is cheap. Whatever is the motive, the Roman Catholics are right when they have said to their men and women, "Go to church every Sunday". But if I want to catch the spirit of Jesus Christ, then I put myself in the Church of Christ where I shall likely catch it. Therefore I make no apology to say in England, and to you, it is your business to be in church every Sunday. I am not interested about your golf, or gardening. If you claim to believe in the Christian faith and the Christian virtues, it is your duty, and your paramount duty, to take yourself into some branch of the Christian church once every Sunday for prayer and corporate worship in the Christian instruction and faith.
Now that is a paramount duty, to practise the Christian virtues and to belong to some branch of the Christian church.
Third, me must take Christ into our home. One of the great tragic things which every parson, who is a friendly human person, finds when he gets behind the door of the home is that the children have no religion because the parents obviously have not. How can my little boy, six, see the importance and follow the way of Jesus unless he sees I believe in it with all my heart?
I say, Gentlemen, then if we are to recover the true Englishman's faith, which I think I have set before you, we must practise again the Christian way, we must belong to the Christian church and we must take Christ and His teaching into our home.
There is, of course, one other point to state. All what I have said is of absolutely no avail unless I take the spirit of Christ into my own personality, in personal faith and acceptance. I must give you, as I sit down, my own testimony, that I can not be too glad that when I was a boy of sixteen, brought up in a religious home, there came the time when the truth of Christ came to me, and I dedicated my life to Christ.
I have a daughter of seventeen, of whom I am very fond. She takes after her mother, which is an additional reason I am fond of her. I have three wishes for her.
I wish her to be happily married, because I can recommend it. I want her to be happily married. Incidentally, I would like her to come to Canada.
Secondly, I want her to have a real career, where she can live as a self-supporting citizen, previous to her marriage, to show she can support herself.
Third, I want her to be a broadminded person with good interests and wide culture, so that she can be a good companion to her husband and children and a person worth knowing, because she knows so much.
When I have said those three things, I have not said the fourth, which I most wish for her. I most wish for her that she shall, somehow, at some point, give herself over to Christ, and know in her heart the power of the spirit of God, to give real faith and real stability and a real direction to life.
Gentlemen, I want her to be a Christian more than I want her to be anything else.
That, Gentlemen, is what I want an Englishman's faith to be.
THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Mr. R. C. Berkinshaw.