New Church Worthies
Rev. Dr. Jonathan Bayley
The Model Deacon, and Friend of his Society at Argyle Square, and of the Church in general
IN the very early days of the Apostolic ministry it was manifest that there were many duties for the comfort and charities of the Christian church which could be efficiently performed by faithful men who, though not endowed with great gifts in preaching, could yet be intermediate between the ministers and the people, relieving the former of many labours impairing their studies and devotion to the Word, and encouraging the others by gracious little attentions and acts of kindness. Hence SEVEN DEACONS were appointed, and the first, Stephen, had also the distinction of being the FIRST MARTYR.
St. Stephen's Gate, at Jerusalem, leads down to an open space as one goes to the garden of Gethsemane, which is still known as the place of the martyrdom of Stephen.
Hence deaconship became a recognized arrangement in the Christian church, and the character becoming for deacons is spoken of in language but a little less elevated than that used for ministers of the Word—then called BISHOPS OR OVERSEERS OF THE CHURCH: "Let the deacons be grave," said the apostle; and again, "Let the deacons rule their children and their own houses well. For they that have used the office of deacon well, purchase for themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus" (I Tim. iii. 12, 13.).
The usefulness of kind, courteous, and intelligent deacons, cannot be too highly estimated. They relieve the minister of small cares, they make known to him the circumstances and wishes of the congregation with which he might not so readily be acquainted. They suggest ideas of great usefulness and value, which, when carried out, contribute to the success of the grand cause—the diffusion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the general aim, and blessing of them all.
Mr. Watson was in all these respects a model deacon. He was also an earnest New Churchman, always punctual in his attendance when not out of town, and seldom from home.
During all my time of nearly twenty years at Argyle Square, and for several years before and after, until his last illness, he was the ever-ready helper in the vestry, ready with any kindly attention to a stranger, or ready with any little act of courtesy in the congregation; never flurried or disagreeable, always at hand with the gentleness of a Christian gentleman.
His family had been amongst the few who were very early attached to the visible organization of the Church. The name of Gerardin occurs nearly from the first in the modest meetings which they called Conferences, and Mr. Watson's father married a sister of Mrs. Gerardin, and the husbands of the two sisters became partners in a business under the name of Gerardin and Watson in Poland Street, which remains to the present day. They were partners in business and partners in religion.
Hence, Mr. Watson had inherited the blessing of a New Church home; both parents having themselves been educated in New Church principles from early childhood, and greatly esteemed as members of the Cross Street Society.
They died within a few months of each other, leaving Thomas (Mr. Watson of our present sketch) at twenty-three years of age, in the winter of 1834–5, the head of a family of five, three of them comparatively young.
He attended well to the family and the business and probably the early responsibilities of which he acquitted himself so well, combined with his evident devotion to the New Dispensation, marked him out for the respect of the Church.
It may be safely declared, that few have laboured more assiduously in the offices of the Church, few have filled so many important positions, or exerted themselves for so long a period for her real and lasting welfare.
In 1839 he became secretary to the Society then recently formed in Burton Street, and in a small memorandum book of that time he entered a representation of the place, and a drawing of the interior, giving a plan of every pew and sitting, and the name of each occupant, in his inimitably neat handwriting.
When the friends of Burton Street united with the Society of Friars Street, Doctors Commons, under the Rev. Manoah Sibly, who died in 1840, he was made secretary of the united body, and when they removed to the newly-erected church at Argyle Square he continued in the office of secretary for twenty-eight years, until he resigned it to be taken up by his excellent eldest son.
As a secretary he was all that a secretary should be, and it has been well said that a good secretary is ONE-HALF towards the success of any office or business with which he has to do.
Mr. Watson was always punctual to time, entered all business in a clear and orderly manner and in a most neat and beautiful hand; while his ever cheerful and affectionate temper diffused a sunny atmosphere about him, and kept everyone in good working harmony together. He was a model secretary as well as a model deacon.
He had a habit of keeping small diaries, in which the entries were made in small writing, but in characters so clear, perfect and exquisitely written, that they would be taken for excellent printing; and in one of these every incident in the history of almost every society, and of every individual of any mark in the Church, was noted down.
He was so esteemed in his own Society, that he was invariably sent as one of the representatives to the Annual Meetings of the Conference during twenty-eight years, and he was so valued by that body that he was soon elected a Trustee of Conference, and the general confidence in his good feeling and good sense was such, that his presence was usually sought on as many important committees as possible.
For more than twenty years he withdrew, like Mr. Broadfield of Manchester, from business, that he might devote himself to the welfare of the Church.
He was a zealous member of the Swedenborg Society, which he entered in 1833, was soon elected on its committee, and was made its treasurer, which office he continued to hold with one short interruption as long as his health would permit.
He was governor of the New Church College, and seconded the efforts of his friend, Mr. Bateman, in his many endeavours for the good of the New Dispensation.
In fact there was no effort for the good of the Church which did not find in Mr. Watson a friend and helper.
He had a very gentle heart for the poor and needy of every kind; hence he assisted in founding the Argyle Square Benevolent Fund, in 1842, for the relief of its poor and aged members, and was its secretary and treasurer until his death. His presence was the life of its monthly meetings, and his delight was to aid the old friends with a kind word and a liberal hand. His cheerful way of bestowing assistance made it doubly valuable. Whether at home, amidst his amiable family of five, two sons and three daughters, where piety, order and elegance reigned—at church, as deacon superintending the communion or other arrangements, or extending to visitors or strangers a courteous and kindly welcome—he was just what a New Churchman should be.
He was a devoted husband; and probably the engrossing character, night and day, of the long illness of Mrs. Watson, brought on the heart disease which seriously impaired his naturally excellent health, and ended his earthly career on Tuesday, September 22nd, 1879, at the not very extended period of sixty-seven years.
The influence in a congregation of a man so pious, so orderly, so clever, possessed of so much good taste, and so genial as a friend, is invaluable. The minister enjoys it, the people feel it, and it diffuses over the whole congregation an atmosphere of peace and goodwill, the surest prelude and presage of success. I have had the aid of such-like deacons as the one dear Mr. Watson, of whom I now speak so tenderly and so warmly, I have such assistants still, and I regard them as the very salt of the earth.
Mr. Watson's illness was not a protracted one. His habits and spirits were so excellent, that his health was usually almost uniformly good. When sickness however came, he endured it patiently. On the departure of Mrs. Watson, it was evident to his friends that much watching and concern had worn him very seriously, and rest and change were essential.
With these, and a sojourn at Hastings, his impaired health did appear to improve, and he attended the annual meetings of the Swedenborg Society, and his own—the Argyle Square Society, on the 16th of July.
The Conference being held at Kensington that year, 1879, he attended once, and enjoyed the greetings of the many old friends there on the Thursday of Conference week.
On the very day following he was reported to be again seriously unwell, with heart difficulty and other serious complications. With great care he continued for about three weeks, not getting seriously worse; but then came an aggravation of the disease until the close, borne with Christian patience and fortitude. I was with him very nearly to the last; and after a short season of prayer he clasped my hand fervently, and kissed it, saying, "Oh, my second father!"
Such was Mr. Watson, the Model Deacon. "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like His."