The Ministering Children's League


The Ministering Children's League


Overviews the founding and purpose of the Ministering Children's League, intended to train children of the rich to teach children of the poor.


Meath, M.J.


December 1888


Walter Crane (illustration)


essay (class politics)


pp. 78–80


“My hopes are centred in the children," was a passing remark once used in my hearing, and one which has doubtless often occurred to a clergyman when entering upon the grave responsibilities involved in taking over a new parish. The words may have been lightly spoken, but they were not destined to fall unheeded. I was at that time desirous of starting a society to interest the children of the rich in the needs of the poor. In my home circle philanthropic work was often a topic of conversation, and I was constantly hearing of the lamentable lack of workers for labours of love. A very natural way to remedy this evil in the future seemed to be to bring together bands of children as little workers for the poor, so that in years to come they might develop into the needed helpers. When therefore the Rev. C. J. Ridgeway, then the new vicar of the London parish of Christ Church, Lancaster Gate, happened to refer to the children of his congregation in some such words as those which I have quoted, it immediately struck me that possibly he might be willing to lend me a helping hand.

Nor was I disappointed; the aims and objects of the proposed Society were laid before him, and also the simple way in which it was to be organised. He at once suggested that a card of membership should be drawn up, and the Association inaugurated, by calling a meeting of his parishioners, with their children. This was done on the 10th of January, 1885— an inclement winter's day. Some fifty names were enrolled of those who were willing to join the first branch of the new society, the children becoming members; their parents, associates, or guides to the little ones. A local hon. secretary was also duly appointed. The young folks were asked to observe one rule only — "Try to do at least one kind deed every day," and to use a short prayer specially drawn up for their benefit. They were enjoined to be helpful and loving at home, to remember the needs of the poor (for whom they were invited to make clothing and useful articles of all descriptions, as well as to buy or mend playthings for little toyless brothers and sisters in poverty-stricken homes), and the members were to regard every day as wasted during which they had not tried to be kind to others.

The "M. C. L." having been thus unpretentiously started, the difficulty next arose of how to spread it — a greater one than some would imagine who have not had practical experience of the reluctance which is felt by people in the country in adopting any new scheme, more especially if the great ones of the earth have not signified their approval of it.

"Nothing succeeds like success,'' and until this has been achieved it is wonderful how many cavillers crop up to pick holes in a new project Indeed, in this case I was informed that I should do more harm than good in promoting the cause of the new League, a consideration so painful that I sometimes felt disposed to abandon my pait of the enterprise. However, Mr. Ridgeway proved himself to be a true friend to an Association with which he has ever since been identified, and interested many in the League, amongst others the Rev. Dr. Forrest (Prebendary of St. Paul's). The largest English branch (now numbering some 600) has been started in connection with his parish. This clergyman, who is so deservedly beloved by his congregation, has since become one of our heartiest supporters, and the society owes him a debt of gratitude for encouragement given at a time when, at any rate, one of its promoters had many a mauvais quart d’heure after listening to real or imaginary objections. The Children's League was destined to have, in the autumn of the same year, a most unexpected impetus given to it. Lord Meath and I had arranged to take a trip to America. Crossing the Atlantic in these days is fast becoming a most ordinary occurrence, at least to our energetic Transatlantic neighbours, who think nothing of travelling 3,000 miles and braving the storms of the ocean for the sake of a few weeks' enjoyment of change of scene. It was not so with me; it was the first time — I sincerely trust not the last — that I had visited the New World, and I was very anxious that the journey should not be wholly profitless. As central secretary of the Ministering Children's League, I had provided myself with papers relating to the Society, and on reaching Canada, I spoke of it to a lady at Toronto, who is president of an Association for benefiting young women. She took a most friendly interest in the scheme, which led to her making the practical suggestion of calling a few ladies together from various parishes, with a view to starting the League in Toronto. This was done, and the results were most encouraging.

At Ottawa the success attending the efforts which were made, were, if anything, greater. Not only did the wife of the bishop, the late Mrs. Lewis, postpone an intended journey for the sake of a meeting being held in her house, but she became the first president of the many branches which rapidly sprang up. This lady has since died, and in her memory has been established the first M. C. L. Institution, a Convalescent Home for Children. It was known that she desired greatly to see a house established, where ailing little ones could obtain country air. When, therefore, her lamented death occurred, some of those who were most interested in the League, and notably Miss Gordon, its able local hon. secretary, wished to establish near Ottawa such a Home in memory of their first president. This has been actually accomplished; a suitable house has been hired in the meantime, but it is proposed shortly to erect a special building, land having been given for the purpose.

In the United States the little League was equally appreciated. The fact of its being new and almost untried, proved no hindrance. "What a good thing!" was the remark, when I attempted to explain the aim and objects of the League, but exception was taken to the Association being started for the moral benefit of children of the upper classes in a country where class distinctions are not supposed to exist. This difficulty was easily overcome, as it was agreed to establish the League in the United States on the wider basis of teaching all children, irrespective of social standing, to help others. Several ladies were found to volunteer their welcome assistance, and a small meeting was held in a New York drawing-room, the outcome of which was that fourteen branches were, within a short space of time, established in and around New York, whilst Miss Emery, a lady belonging to a family well known as charitable workers, became central secretary to the Association in the United States. Branches spread far and wide; even in the wilds of California were found those who were glad to establish the League in their midst.

In the meanwhile, my husband and I had bidden a sad farewell to our friends in Canada and America, and when crossing the Atlantic, on our return voyage, our thoughts lingered regretfully with those who had shown to us, strangers, such true hospitality.

On my return, my labours of promoting the Society in my own country were positively depressing. To find indifference and lack of energy after having been accustomed to the warm enthusiasm of a people famous for their powers of organisation, was a strange contrast. However, in England, we may take the flattering unction to our souls that if we are slow to take up a new idea, we are perhaps surer than the inhabitants of the daughter country. Now that the League had been fairly started its progress was assured. Seven branches were the outcome of the first year's efforts, forty were established before the conclusion of the next year, whilst this number will be more than doubled in 1887. A new worker came to our aid, the present hon. organising secretary, Miss Blanche Medhurst, to whose faith and unflagging energy in promoting this union for work and prayer for the young, its subsequent success is greatly due. The good example which was set by the brave workers in Ottawa, in establishing an M. C. L. Home, has not been lost upon us, for we are founding a somewhat similar institution in England, a home for destitute children. A piece of land, comprising over seven acres, has been purchased at Ottershaw, a peaceful country village in Surrey, and a picturesque building has been erected, destined to hold twenty little boys. It is not expected that this good work will end here, for it is hoped that a series of houses will be built to form cottage-homes for little ones; the support of each will devolve on the charitable labours of our members.

The number of those who belong to the League has greatly increased since the day when (little more than two and a half years ago) it counted but fifty. It is calculated that not less than fifteen thousand now belong to it, scattered over a wide extent of the globe. Not only in Canada and the United States does it exist, but its members may be found in the West Indies and in Hindostan. Indeed, a good lesson of geography might well be given to our little ones in narrating to them the many and various places where our young Leaguers are learning, we trust, that the surest way to happiness lies in loving self-sacrifice.

Such is a brief sketch of a Society which has been little heard of, except by those immediately connected with it. Readers may possibly wonder if there was any real need for any such Association being established. Some hold that this is a doubtful point, as unselfishness is a homely virtue, taught by every wise parent, and best learnt from a mother's lips. Very true, but it would require a person to be gifted with a singularly sanguine disposition to imagine that all parents are wise, or their offspring always ready to listen to their advice.

Are not children now-a-days proverbially spoilt, and is not the innocent, loving child, content with the simplest of pleasures, and only anxious to share them with others, somewhat exceptional? Some young folks are scarcely emerged from nursery precincts before we learn that they are "awfully bored " and find things very "dull." Far from contenting themselves with home amusements, they require to be taken from place to place in search of entertainment, a somewhat hopeless task where tastes are very fastidious. These blasé individuals, in short petticoats or oftener in Eton jackets, are intensely selfish. They have lost the halo which, in olden times, used to be thrown around persons and things in youthful days. They have little respect for parents, contribute nothing towards the happiness of home, and give no promise of turning out useful members of society when manhood or womanhood is reached. They are not perhaps to be greatly blamed, for unconsciously parents, teachers, servants have all combined to make these young persons — misnamed children — imagine that their food, their clothing, their education, and their amusements are the objects of the greatest importance in the whole universe, and it is possible that no one has ever tried to impress upon them the necessity of showing a due regard for the welfare of others. Mercifully, what erring mortals mar, a beneficent Providence moulds. Thus it may often come to pass that the discipline of life, its trials, and crosses transform the spoilt child into the devoted man; but how much has had to be unlearnt, how much suffering has had to be undergone, and how great has been the loss to the individual of the enjoyment of simple pleasures, sometimes beautifully preserved even into old age! Amongst these, none is purer or more certain to be preserved than that derived from doing good to others, and the sooner in life this lesson is learnt the better will it be for the individual. This lesson the "M. C. L." strives to inculcate upon the minds of even its youngest members. It was, however, more for the sake of helping the poor than for the moral training of the children of the rich that the Society was established.

We are not living in times when any effort in a right direction to ameliorate the lot of the lower orders can afford to be relaxed. On the contrary, such efforts must be multiplied ten, twenty, nay, a hundred-fold. With the growth of wealth in our country has come an enormous increase in our town population, and truly the poet was right when he said, "God made the country, man made the town," for wherever masses of people congregate together misery prevails, and he too often makes the cities which his hand raises the very centre of everything that is vicious. Green fields, trees, flowers vanish, and in their stead rise up large factories, whose tall chimneys pour out smoke and noxious vapours which destroy vegetation. Round the factories are too often seen dirty, over-populated dwellings, and crowded public-houses, out of which issue haggard-looking men and women, whilst pale-faced children play in the gutter, whose ragged clothing cannot conceal their ill-nourished bodies. Brave men and women, exiling themselves from pleasant surroundings, from beauty, from the charms of a peaceful life, are content, almost single-handed, to combat evils which, to outsiders, would appear irremediable. Much encouragement, derived from a sense of nobly-fulfilled duty, must attend the labours of these gallant workers, otherwise they would sink beneath the burden of their voluntarily-undertaken responsibilities; but it is sad that these valuable lives should be shortened, and their work fail to bear all the good fruit which might result from it, because they "who live at ease" will not go to their assistance.

Truly a vast army of ministering men and women are needed to teach the poor to help themselves, and to raise out of physical and moral degradation thousands of English men and women; and the promoters of this League hope that this army will, in the future, be largely recruited from those who once were "ministering children.'' Time will show if these hopes are doomed to disappointment. We may be pardoned if we do not believe it, and, on the contrary, hold the persuasion — possibly an erroneous one — that if, from some unforeseen cause, the progress of this little society were to be arrested and it were completely to collapse, the lessons of unselfish devotion which have been, however imperfectly, taught to the members, would live on in the hearts of some of the children. "To do a kind deed every day, why, that is the very rule which my mother gave me as a boy, and I have always tried to keep it," said a hard worker in the cause of good, to me in Philadelphia. Is it not possible that in long years to come many a man and woman may say, "I joined the ‘Ministering Children's League ' as a child, its rule and its prayer first led me to work for others, and if my life has been in any degree a useful one, I owe it to this Society"? In our little League we cannot and may not deal with great things, but we are content to wait and to look forward to glorious possibilities in the future.

M. J. Meath

Papers respecting the Ministering Children's League can be obtained on application to the Secretary, 83, Lancaster Gate, London.