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From the late 1850s there was some opposition to Catholic practices in the Church of England. Some of this came from “aggrieved” parishioners who resented the liturgical changes that priests had introduced. Much came from Protestant groups who opposed everything Roman Catholic and regarded Tractarian teaching and ritual as “Popery.” Anglo-Catholic church services were sometimes interrupted and protests made. The notorious John Kensit who worked for the Protestant Truth Society instigated much of this “brawling” in church. In 1874 the Public Worship Regulation Act was passed to suppress the growth of “Ritualism.” The wearing of Eucharistic vestments and the use of incense were particularly abhorrent and “spies” were sent to “Ritualistic” churches to report on what they saw. This often resulted in prosecutions of offending clergymen and between 1877 and 1882 four priests were imprisoned. It soon became clear that the Public Worship Regulation Act was not working and in order to bring about a measure of uniformity the Bishops agreed to forbid certain liturgical practices in their dioceses whilst allowing others. One of the things forbidden was “the use of incense during the Service.” Fr Kirkpatrick gave a robust response and wrote in the S. Augustine’s, Kilburn parish magazine of November in 1899:
“In accordance with the directions of the Bishop of London, the ceremonial use of incense during Divine Service to which the congregation have been accustomed for the last few years, was given up on Sunday, the 8th of last month. The use of incense during processions, before or after the service and at the singing of the Introit, has been substituted for the previous use, as being outside the Prayer Book and not in any way contrary to the recent opinion of the Archbishops, nor to the reasons upon which it was based.
The Protests against the Lambeth Decision, a copy of which appears in this number of the Magazine, is now laying in the Church for signature by the whole congregation. It is, of course, important that as many signatures as possible should be obtained without loss of time, as the Churchwardens are anxious that it should reach the Bishop on or before the 14th instant. Separate sheets for signatures by families, persons at a distance, or sick people, can be obtained of Mr Eades, Mr Crosland, or of the Editor.”
John Kensit rented a property in S. Augustine’s parish and was therefore a parishioner. Kensit attended the Easter Vestry meeting of 1901 and had himself nominated by one of his supporters as people’s warden against a Frederick Holiday. Mr Holiday had been a resident parishioner for twenty nine years and was greatly respected in the parish and throughout the diocese, being a member of the House of Laymen for the Province of Canterbury and served on the London Diocesan Conference and the Diocesan Board for Schools; he had been closely connected with the building of the church and its schools and had served as churchwarden for the preceding nine years. At the vote, as expected, Holiday was duly elected, upon which Mr Kensit demanded that a poll should be taken of all those who lived in the parish for which the law provided should there be serious disagreement (even though it was Kensit himself who had caused any disagreement that there might have been!) The Vicar knew the law and wisely agreed that Kensit should have his way and announced that the poll would take place a fortnight later.
In the meantime, Kensit addressed a meeting in Kilburn Hall at which he enlarged about the distress at what he had seen at S. Augustine’s and the “Babylonish Vestments” worn by the clergy. “The enemy has sowed his priestly tares,” he proclaimed. In the meantime churchwardens and sidesmen distributed a letter of support for their Vicar and Mr Holiday. On the day of the Poll the Eucharist was celebrated for the peace of the parish and the man who was persecuting it. A little later the doors opened and for twelve hours the friends and enemies of the Church had an opportunity of recoding their votes in the parish room. Towards the end of the voting grew more brisk and the crowd in the streets grew. At eight o’clock the Vicar ordered the closing of the doors for the count. Mr Holiday polled 290 votes, Mr Kensit 49.
Despite the Vicar’s request that there should be no cheering a tremendous cheer went up when the crowd heard the figures. Mr Kensit and his friends quietly left, being protected from the crowds by the police, and sought the retirement of Wycliffe House. The Vicar was escorted home too.
“Let’s see the old man home” rang out the affectionate cry and, accompanied by his people, the faithful and much loved pastor returned to the Vicarage to rest from the trouble and distress brought upon him by John Kensit.