George Herbert (1593-1633) lived a short but saintly life, remembered for being a caring pastor in the English church, and as one of the great metaphysical poets of the day. If you are a student of literature, especially poetry, Herbert is (or ought to be) a familiar name to you already.
But in the memory of the Church, his commemoration in our calendar, and especially to a liturgy blog such as this, George Herbert’s greatest gift to posterity is his short book A Priest to the Temple or, the Countrey Parson. It went through multiple publications including well after his death, and was a classic manual for pastors for centuries. I made a point of reading this book annually for four or five years, and it has made its way into my own pastoral mindset, practice, and writing noting…
- a place for godly melancholy in the pastoral life,
- advice for preaching (not only topics, but also length),
- advice for being a charitable or loving pastor,
- and even the very definition of the pastorate itself!
This lovely short book briefly walks through all sorts of subjects: the pastor’s lifestyle, education, study, and household, his prayer life, preaching, and handling of the church building and people, his teaching and ministering to the sick and his circuit of visitations, pastoral discipline, legal counsel, and medical aid, his leadership, library and love for others.
I’ll leave you with chapter 6 on the pastor’s prayer life and liturgical example (with modernized spelling).
The Country Parson, when he is to read divine services, composes himself to all possible reverence; lifting up his heart and hands, and eyes, and using all other gestures which may express a hearty, and unfeigned devotion. This he does, first, as being truly touched and amazed with the Majesty of God, before whom he then presents himself; yet not as himself alone, but as presenting with himself the whole Congregation, whose sins he then bears, and brings with his own to the heavenly altar to be bathed, and washed in the sacred Laver of Christs blood. Secondly, as this is the true reason of his inward fear, so he is content to express this outwardly to the utmost of his power; that being first affected himself, he may affect also his people, knowing that no Sermon moves them so much to a reverence, which they forget again, when they come to pray, as a devout behaviour in the very act of praying.
Accordingly his voice is humble, his words treatable, and slow; yet not so slow neither, to let the fervency of the supplicant hang and die between speaking, but with a grave liveliness, between fear and zeal, pausing yet pressing, he performs his duty.
Besides his example, he having often instructed his people how to carry themselves in divine service, exacts of them all possible reverence, by no means enduring either talking, or sleeping, or gazing, or leaning, or half-kneeling, or any undutiful behaviour in them, but causing them, when they sit, or stand, or kneel, to do all in a strait, and steady posture, as attending to what is done in the Church, and every one, man, and child, answering aloud both “Amen,” and all other answers, which are on the Clerks and peoples part to answer; which answers also are to be done not in a huddling, or slubbering fashion, gaping, or scratching the head, or spitting even in he midst of their answer, but gently and pausably, thinking what they say; so that while they answer, “As it was in the beginning, &c.” they meditate as they speak, that God hath ever had his people, that have glorified him as well as now, and that he shall have so for ever. And the like in other answers.
This is that which the Apostle calls a reasonable service, (Rom. 12:1). when we speak not as Parrots, without reason, or offer up such sacrifices as they did of old, which was of beasts devoid of reason; but when we use our reason, and apply our powers to the service of him, that gives them.
If there be any of the gentry or nobility of the Parish, who sometimes make it a piece of state not to come at the beginning of service with their poor neighbours, but at mid-prayers, both to their own loss, and of theirs also who gaze upon them when they come in, and neglect the present service of God, [the parson] by no means suffers it, but after diverse gentle admonitions, if they persevere, he causes them to be presented [chastised]: or if the poor Church-wardens be affrighted with their greatness, notwithstanding his instruction that they ought not to be so, but even to let the world sink, so they do their duty; he presents [chastises] them himself, only protesting to them, that not any ill will draws him to it, but the debt and obligation of his calling, being to obey God rather then men.