Preacher with the hands

Daily Reading for August 27 • Thomas Gallaudet, 1902 and Henry Winter Syle, 1890

I remember very vividly the first time that I ever saw Dr. Gallaudet. I was a candidate for Holy Orders. I do not want to say anything to give anybody pain–certainly not a priest of the Church, whose office it is to minister in the City of New York; but I was wandering about the streets of New York on a summer day–it was in August, I remember–to find, if I might, a church that was open on a Sunday afternoon in August. I am sorry to say that I was not very successful, till I came to St. Ann’s Church, where I supposed, curiously enough (such was my ignorance) that I had found my way into a church of extreme ritualistic usage, because the priest was standing before the altar in a black gown, in absolute silence, communicating by motions what he had to communicate to the people. Presently I discovered where I was, and soon fell under the spell of what I think nobody who ever saw him failed to recognize, and that was the spell of the singular eloquence–let me say it to my friends whose office is to communicate the Word of God and the mind of God by human gestures, and not by human speech–the singular grace and beauty and eloquence of Dr. Gallaudet’s action as a preacher with the hands, and by signs. Nobody who ever heard him read the service, and who knew what a singularly fine organ he had, and with what dignity and stateliness he could make himself heard in any congregation, could be unmindful that he was, as it were, putting one gift upon the shelf, in order that he might use the other for that people to whom he was bound in so many and such tender ways. I have always thought that his consecration of his gifts to their service was one of the finest things in the history of religion in this land. . . .

Dr. Gallaudet could easily be differentiated from other men by what he was not; but I prefer to remember what he was; to remember how he moved to and fro among all sorts and conditions of men, making life sweeter because he was part of it and human speech more tender, and our judgments of men more forbearing, by the exquisite patience which I sometimes think was the finest note of his character, however imperfectly we imitate and reproduce it.

I thank God for his great ministry; and I beseech you, my brethren, to whom especially he spoke, and for whom especially he lived, to carry forward the power of his life by the strong and consistent and ardent faith with which you follow and serve your Master, even as he followed and served his!

From “A Memorial Tribute to the Rev. Thomas Gallaudet, D.D. L.H.D.,” delivered at the funeral of the Rev. Dr. Thomas Gallaudet by the Rt. Rev. Henry Codman Potter, Bishop of the Diocese of New York. Originally published by The Fanwood Press, New York, in 1902. Transcribed by Wayne Kempton, Archivist of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, in 2007.

Past Posts