One may understand his dislike of the hideous and pretentious architecture which disgraces non-conformity, and sympathise with his desire for more beautiful services in nonconformist chapels; but it is not so easy, while he remains a nonconformist, to understand, or to feel any considerable degree of sympathy with, his tendency towards practices which are the very antithesis of the nonconformist tradition.
All the same he is a person of whom we should do well to take at least a passing notice, for he witnesses, however extravagantly, to a movement in the Free Churches which is not likely to lose momentum with the next few years—a movement not only away from sectarian isolation but towards the idea of one catholic and apostolic Church. There is certainly unrest in the Free Churches, and Dr. Orchard is a straw which helps us to understand if not the permanent direction of the wind, at least the fact that there is a breeze blowing in the fields of religious freedom.
Not long ago I asked one of the greatest figures in the Anglican Church what he thought of Dr. Orchard. He replied by raising his eyebrows and exclaiming rather disdainfully: “A ritualistic Dissenter! What is it possible to think of him?” I said that he attracted a good many people to his services in the King’s Weigh House Church, and that I had heard Mrs. Asquith was sometimes a member of his congregation. “That,” answered the dignitary, “would not make me think any higher of Dr. Orchard.”
For many people, it must be confessed, he is a slightly ludicrous figure. He presents the spectacle of a sparrow stretching its wings and opening its beak to imitate the eagle of catholic lecterns. And he has a singularly nettling manner with some people which must add, I should think, to this unpopularity. He seems sweepingly satisfied with himself and his opinions, which are mostly of a challenging nature. He does not discuss but attempts to browbeat. His voice is an argument, and the expression on his face and the fire in his eyes suggest the street corner. He would have greatly distressed a man like Matthew Arnold, for the only method against such didactics is to send for the boxing gloves.
All the same he is a man of no little force, perhaps a scattered and dispersed force, as I am inclined to think; and he is a fighter whose blows, if not a teacher whose opinions, are more worthy of attention than his sacerdotal pretensions might lead one to suppose.
In appearance he may be compared with Dr. Clifford, but Dr. Clifford reduced to youthfulness and multiplied by an infinite cocksureness; a small, eager, sandy-haired, clean-shaven, boyish-looking man, with light-coloured eyes behind shining spectacles, the head craning forward, the body elastic and restless with inexhaustible energy, the whole of him—body, mind, and spirit—tremulous with a jerkiness of being which seems to have no effect whatever on his powers of endurance.