Parish History:Charles Lewis Slattery

CHARLES LEWIS SLATTERY, son of the Rev. George S. L. and Emma M. (Hall) Slattery, was born 9 December 1867 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His father was an Episcopal priest in several coastal Maine villages and later in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After his father's untimely death in 1872, Charles' mother resolved that he should follow his father's vocation and "be as good and faithful as he was." He spent his youth at his mother's family home in Maine and his adolescent years on his brother's ranch in Colorado. In 1887, he was graduated from East Denver High School in Denver, Colorado after three years, with the highest average on record at the school. He had intended to enter Yale College, but in a moment of indecision, he wrote a letter to the Rev. Dr. Phillips Brooks, then rector at Trinity Church in Boston, asking for his advice. Brooks responded at once, strongly encouraging Charles to come to Harvard College. In 1891, he was graduated from Harvard with an A.B. summa cum laude, with honors in Philosophy and was elected a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. He prepared for the ministry at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which in liberal circles was then at the height of its influence and prestige. At the completion of his studies in 1894, he received a B.D. (Bachelor of Divinity) degree and was ordained a deacon 20 June 1894 by the Rt. Rev. William Lawrence, Bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts.

In September 1894, the Rev. Endicott Peabody persuaded Charles Lewis Slattery to come to Groton School to fill the positions formerly held by the Rev. William Greenough Thayer both as an English teacher and also as Minister at St. Andrew's Church in Ayer, Massachusetts. In a letter to a friend he wrote, "I have driven down to Ayer to look over the church and to make plans for tomorrow. Everything looks promising. Ayer is fine. I could not have found a more delightful parish. And how they do listen!" And so began a two-fold ministry, prophetic of the future, for he was a teacher as well as a pastor to the end. He proceeded at once to share with his congregation what he had learned from his teachers at Cambridge, and to instruct them in the fundamental truths of the Christian religion. His plan was successful from the outset; the congregation welcomed his clear and simple instructions with eagerness. During Advent 1894, he delivered a course of sermons on Reasons for Believing in God: 1) In spite of Sin; 2) In spite of Sorrow; 3) In spite of a fallible Bible; and 4) In spite of a weak Church. He also worked tirelessly to free the young parish from debt. On 1 June 1895, just eight months after his arrival at St. Andrew's, the mortgage was paid off.

Charles Lewis Slattery was ordained to the priesthood 8 June 1895 in Cambridge, Massachusetts by Bishop Lawrence. Although he was offered the position of rector by a larger church in New York State, he declined the opportunity. He decided to stay at St. Andrew's because he was determined, if possible, to make it a self-supporting parish. Up to this point, it had been heavily dependent on Groton School. Having paid off the mortgage, he arranged to have the church consecrated, on 26 September 1895, by Bishop Lawrence. After another hard and successful year, during which the parish grew large enough to support a full-time resident rector, he officiated for the last time at St. Andrew's on 21 June 1896. It was a rare privilege to have had him as our leader.

In the spring of 1896, he was called to a position of considerable importance--dean of the Cathedral of Our Merciful Savior, in Faribault, Minnesota, the Cathedral parish of the Diocese of Minnesota, under the Rt. Rev. Henry Benjamin Whipple, the legendary missionary to the Sioux and Ojibway Indian nations. From the beginning of his time in Faribault, he was already giving evidence of the prodigious industry which would characterize his later ministry. He called indefatigably on the members of his congregation and kept in touch with them by innumerable letters. He was said to be a model young priest, always in uniform, always careful to do the proper thing, and greatly loved by Bishop Whipple, who wrote in 1901, "In Faribault you have the hearts not only of the parish but of the whole people. You are beloved throughout the Diocese and your influence is extending beyond it."

While in Faribault in 1906, Slattery completed his first major work, The Master of the World--A Study of Christ, which was received enthusiastically through much of the Anglican world. The book provided a reconciliation between traditional theology of the 19th century and modern scientific scholarship, primarily with respect to the Nicene Creed. One reviewer wrote, "He takes rank easily among the best thinkers of the Church by this notable production." At Harvard Divinity School, it was felt to be so important a work that Charles Lewis Slattery was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity in June 1907--the first honorary degree that the School had ever granted.

After 11 successful years in Minnesota, he felt that it was time to return East. He accepted the call to become rector of Christ Church in Springfield, Massachusetts--described by Bishop Lawrence at the time as the "leading rector" of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts. He assumed his duties on the first Sunday in Advent, 1907, with what was said to be the largest Sunday congregation ever seen in Christ Church. Cordiality quickly grew to enthusiasm as his preaching filled the church and his pastoral calling made him known to his people. He was an extremely hard worker and a man of definite achievements. A measure of Charles Lewis Slattery's success at Christ Church was the thank offering made by parishioners on Sunday, November 29, 1908--the 70th anniversary of the parish and the first anniversary of his ministry; $19,000 was given, enough to cancel the parish debt, to build a new rectory, and to renovate the interior of the church itself. Christ Church was fortunate to hold on to him for two additional years.

Since his ordination in 1895, Charles Lewis Slattery had received dozens of offers of employment from parishes, seminaries, and universities throughout the United States. On Easter Day, 1910, he was offered the position as rector of Grace Church in New York City, considered by many to be the most influential parish in the Episcopal Church. Its order of services was for America comparable to that of Westminster Abbey for England. Its annual budget was larger than that of nearly every diocese in the Church; it owned 20 buildings in New York City, including Grace Hospital; its organization was divided into ten great departments (Religious Instruction of the Young, Missions at Home & Abroad, Industrial Education, Industrial Employment, Sick & Needy, Care of Little Children, Visitation of Neighborhoods, Fresh-Air Work, Libraries & Reading Rooms, and Friendly Societies & Brotherhoods) each with a deaconess in charge and each with up to 17 subdivisions. It was virtually an ecclesiastical city within a city and, for Charles Lewis Slattery, it was also the perfect parish.

The first sermon he preached at Grace Church, in May 1910, was entitled "Christ the Servant of Men," and it could just as well describe his ministry there. Because of the size of the parish, his day was planned for him hour by hour; he was in the office or making house calls from 9:00 a.m. to 11:45 p.m., when the last secretaries left for the day. However, his has been described as an intensely personal ministry, and he was known for one extraordinary practice, which more than any other marked his entire self-devotion to his people--his correspondence with parishioners. Whenever there was a birth or birthday, baptism, confirmation, engagement, marriage, travel, sickness, convalescence, or death, a parishioner received a handwritten note--each one individually written by Slattery himself, altogether 2,500-3,000 every year. Every member of the congregation knew him and he knew them--shared their domestic joys and sorrows and gave them spiritual comfort, sympathy, and advice. He was in a very literal sense the "Father of his flock."

In the course of his ministry at Grace Church, Charles Lewis Slattery demonstrated his competence as pastor, preacher, and administrator, and became known as one of the outstanding figures in the Episcopal Church in the United States. To those who knew him, it came as no surprise when he was elected bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of Massachusetts on 4 May 1922 to assist the his aging mentor, Bishop William Lawrence. Both the Boston Daily Globe and the New York Times reported the news of his election on page one. Later, his consecration at Trinity Church in Boston on 31 October 1922 was described in the Boston Daily Globe as "one of the most brilliant and imposing events in the history of the diocese..." Although Trinity Church could accommodate 1,400 worshippers, over 5,000 individuals had asked to attend; it was a wonderful tribute to the man about whom Bishop Lawrence wrote, "Interwoven in his character are simple piety, alert intelligence, intellectual and practical courage and a spirit of full consecration to his Master and the church."

Between his election and consecration, he served as chairman of the Commission on the Revision of the 1892 edition of the Book of Common Prayer at the Portland, Oregon convention. He had been a leader in the process of revising the Prayer Book since 1913; it had been a controversial project. Among the proposed changes were provisions to allow anointing with holy oils, use of a dipped wafer instead of a common cup, elimination of the word "obey" from the marriage service, blessing of wedding rings, and burial services for persons who had committed suicide. Slattery's tact, courtesy, and skill led to the acceptance of nearly every one of the Commission's recommendations. The 1928 edition of the Book of Common Prayer was the result.

After a brief engagement, he was married to Sarah Lawrence, daughter of the Rt. Rev. William and Julia (Cunningham) Lawrence of Boston, 19 November 1923 in Boston. They had no children.

As Bishop Coadjutor, Charles Lewis Slattery was assigned both the care and oversight of all self-supporting parishes of the Diocese and also the general oversight of the Church Service League, reorganized in 1922 to coordinate all religious education, mission, and social service activities in the Diocese. In 1925, after he observed that a large percentage of the work of the Diocese was being carried on by women, he formed the Bishop's Committee--225 lay men representing nearly every parish, with two chairmen in each county--to function as a body of personal advisors to the Bishop. Made up of the ablest men in various fields, the committee met frequently for supper and frank talk; it was of great value to the Diocese in every way.

On 30 May 1925, Bishop Lawrence transferred to his Bishop Coadjutor complete administration of the Diocese. Nothing delighted Bishop Slattery more than his new responsibility for the care of Candidates for Holy Orders. While maintaining the very highest educational standard, he greatly increased the number of postulants and candidates in the Diocese. The son of a minister himself, he also took a special interest in encouraging other ministers' sons to follow in their fathers' calling.

Two years later, Bishop William Lawrence announced his retirement. On 1 June 1927, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Charles Lewis Slattery became the eighth Bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts.

From the first day of his episcopate, he had been an ardent advocate of Christian unity. To achieve it, he wrote, would take "infinite patience, infinite endurance, infinite welcome, infinite love,--so God works:--and in the end men know the truth because they know love, and God." He began his work within the Episcopal Church itself through the Church Congress in the United States, an organization that represented all schools of thought within the Church. He reasoned that if the problem of "agreeing to differ" was to be solved by Christendom as a whole, it must first be solved among Episcopalians. "As we face the problem of Church Unity," he said in a convention address, "we must pray for imagination, for grace, for unbounded love, to put aside every preconceived idea, to open the heart wide to the influence of the Holy Spirit, asking Him and Him only to guard and protect His Church."

In April 1929 at a memorial service, he remarked, "There are two types of successful men. One undertakes only such tasks as can be completed triumphantly within a definite time.... [The other type] dares to gaze far beyond the limits of one man's life or of the immediate century or age." Fortunately for the Episcopal Church, Charles Lewis Slattery himself was of the second type of successful men, although his dreams of Church Unity, even among Episcopalians, remain unfulfilled.

He was the author of 25 books, including The Master of the World, 1906; Life Beyond Life, 1907; The Historic Ministry, 1908; Present Day Preaching, 1910; The Authority of Religious Experience, 1912; The Light Within, 1915; Why Men Pray, 1916; The Gift of Immortality, 1916; A Churchman's Reading, 1917; With God in the War, 1918; How to Pray, 1920; The Ministry, 1921; Prayers for Private and Family Use, 1922; The Holy Communion, 1922; The Words from His Throne, 1927; In Time of Sorrow, 1927; and Following Christ, 1928.

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Charles Lewis Slattery died suddenly 12 March 1930 at his home in Boston at the age of 62. Nine bishops, led by his father-in-law the Rt. Rev. William Lawrence, and 250 clergymen, together with Governor Frank G. Allen and Mayor James M. Curley and other prominent figures, were present at his funeral at Trinity Church in Boston. The services were broadcast live on WBZ radio. Simultaneously, memorial services were held at Grace Church in New York, Christ Church in Springfield, and the Cathedral of Our Merciful Savior in Faribault, Minnesota. He is buried with his wife at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Sources:
1. Bennett, Mrs. Frank Silas History of St. Andrew's Church: Ayer, Groton, Forge Village 1892-1942 (Ayer, Massachusetts: St. Andrew's Church, 1943), 9-10.
2. "Called by Grace Church," New York Times, New York, 28 March 1910, 5
3. Christ Church Parish: Springfield, Massachusetts 1817-1927 (Springfield: Christ Church Guild, 1927), 74-80.
4. "Dr. Slattery Elected Bishop Coadjutor," Boston Daily Globe, Boston, 5 May 1922, 1.
5. "Dr. Slattery to Wed Bishop's Daughter," New York Times, New York, 6 November 1923, 19.
6. Fraser, Harold L. "Elaborate Ceremony Tuesday at Bishop Slattery's Consecration," Boston Daily Globe, Boston, 29 October 1922, E9.
7. Kimball, Marguerite "The Chronicle of a Life which Served," The Church Militant (April 1930), 4-8.
8. "Miss Lawrence Weds Dr. Slattery," New York Times, New York, 20 November 1923, 19.
9. Robbins, Howard Chandler Charles Lewis Slattery (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1931).
10. Stowe's Clerical Directory of The American Church 1929 (Minneapolis: Andrew D. Stowe, 1929), 306.
Original author: Richard C. Dabrowski. This text is released under GFDL.
Photograph from Charles Lewis Slattery, by Howard Chandler Robbins, frontpiece.
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