Thursday, 24 September 2015

Philippe Filleul

From "The Pilot" of 1991, a rather controversial Rector. One interesting fact to note - there has been a call recently for elections to take place at weekends, and evidently some took place on Sundays in the past. Philippe Filleuil was mainly responsible in 1830 for the abolition of Sunday elections, usually taking place in church after morning service.

Philippe Filleul

The Town Church has had many notable Rectors, but few of such abounding energy as Philippe Filleul. He came to St Helier's in 1850, having been previously Rector of St Brelade's, then of St Peter's, then of St Saviour's.

He first attracted notice in his St Peter's days by his denunciation of Sunday elections, and he did not rest till he had secured the alteration of the law. A Methodist Revival was sweeping the island; but he disapproved of its methods. He challenged its preachers to public debates; he published a flood of tracts, “Christ, est if diuise? Sur le Schisme”, etc. He wrote long articles on “Religious Excitement is not Religious Awakening”. So he was well-known in the island before he came to St Helier's, where he remained for twenty-five years.

Here his dynamic personality transformed his parish, but a lack of tact made his incumbency a very stormy one. Jerseymen hate to be hustled, and Filleul had no patience with potterers. Two needs were obvious. The Town had grown so rapidly that he had more than 29,000 parishioners.

The parish must be divided and new churches built, St Luke's was then nearly completed, and, as soon as it was consecrated, he gave it an independent Ecclesiastical District. The Harbour was at this time always full of shipping; so he fitted up a carpenter's shop in Castle Street as a Seamen's Mission Church, and put one of his Curates In charge; and from this sprang the Church of St Andrew, which used to stand on the Esplanade. To this too he gave an independent District. Another Curate was sent to start Services in the Cannon Street Ragged School, from which grew St Simon's Church and yet another District.

But this division of the parish was not accomplished without friction. Civil and ecclesiastical parochial affairs are so closely interwoven in Jersey that many parishioners intensely resented being cut off from the Parish Church.

One of his ventures in this direction led to a scandalous quarrel. He bought a Chapel in Union Street called La Chapelle Sion, renamed it St Jude's, and put it in charge of Thomas Le Neveu, who later became a deeply respected Rector of St Martin's. The Curate was a stirring preacher, who rapidly filled his Church, and drew away some of the Rector's congregation.

This Filleul disliked; so after some years he withdrew Le Neveu to the Parish Church, and sent another Curate to St Jude's. But the Churchwardens there refused to allow him to officiate. Filleul then decided to take the Services himself; but, as soon as he entered in his surplice, the congregation walked out. As he persisted, some hot-headed St Judites used to follow him home hooting, and there was some stone-throwing. So he had to appeal for police protection, and eventually St Jude's was closed. It is now a store.

The restoration of the Town Church was the next task he tackled. This was badly needed. The interior was choked with a higgledy-piggledy mess of high deal pews. The chancel was filled with pews facing west. There was neither font nor alter; but a queer combination of the two, rather like a carpenter's bench, was carried In and set in front of the pulpit when needed. Large galleries hung precariously from almost every wall, threatening to collapse at any moment as their beams were rotten.

Church restoration is seldom effected without differences of opinion; but few restorations can ever have been fought over quite so fiercely. The battle began with the pews. Pews were still private property that could be bought and sold, and owners claimed the right to keep them locked, when they were not using them.

Filleul wanted to abolish the pew-system altogether; but Francois Godfrey, the eloquent leader of the Jersey Bar, made himself the champion of the new-holders, and by his tempestuous eloquence swayed every Parish Meeting to reject all the Rector's proposals. There were big fights over the choice of an architect. Every trivial detail was contested. Even when the work was done, the trouble was not over. More than one local paper stormed at the font as a Popish device, soon to be used to hold holy water. One ingenious writer even discovered that the surplice-cupboard in the vestry was so constructed that it could be used as a confessional!

Only a man of tremendous driving-power could have carried this work through success-fully; but that driving-power won for Filleul innumerable bitter enemies.

This church-building cost money; so he launched a scheme which later caused him endless embarrassment. Ten years before two of his sons had bought a sheep-run in New Zealand. They sent home such glowing accounts of the profits to be made, that their father published a pamphlet, “An Earnest Appeal to Stewards of the Lord's Goods”, inviting their aid in" the Subdivision of the Parish of St Heller's into Smaller Incumbencies, each with a Separate Endowment and Free Church for the People, by means of a Safe and Profitable Investment of Capital as Lent to the Lord and Increased by His Blessing".

The plan was that investors should buy sheep in New Zealand and entrust them to his sons, being content with 5 per cent on their money, all additional profits to go to Church extension. Filleul persuaded many Jersey people to invest, and at first all went well. The first year's dividend was 18 per cent, and next year's 22. Then came a slump. Profits disappeared, and Investors turned furiously on the Rector declaring that he had swindled them. In vain he urged them to be patient. They even clamoured for his prosecution. But eventually the industry recovered; and before his death he had repaid every investor and added a handsome bonus.

Another scheme for which he worked hard was the establishment of a Bishopric of the Channel Islands, which should also have the supervision of the Continental Chaplaincies. Between 1858 and 1865 he paid frequent visits to England, interviewing Bishops and Politicians to expound his plans; but, though he obtained some support, this project came to nothing, He died in 1875.

After his death it was found that his will made no provision for the disposal of St Jude's. So his eldest son sold It and presented the money to the Dean to form the nucleus of a Fund "for increasing the endowments of the poorer benefices of the Church in Jersey.". So St Jude's turned out not to be the Patron Saint of lost causes, after all.

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