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Charles John Corfe
Naval Chaplain--Bishop

By H.H. Montgomery

[London:] Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, 1927.

Chapter III. The Beginning of the Episcopate

In 1889, Archbishop Benson sent for Corfe in order to commission him as the first Missionary Bishop of the Anglican Church in Corea. Let me set down his own account of that interview. Any call from constituted authority was sufficient for him. Of course, he obeyed. "He (the Archbishop) told me that he had no pay to offer, that the ground was yet untrodden by English missionaries, that he had no one to give me for a companion, and that the country was unsettled and hostile to Christianity. What answer could I give him but the answer I have given? Ever since I have been to sea I have had shipmates fore and aft who constantly set me an example of devotion to duty, who have not only done dirty work cheerfully when ordered to do it, but have been foremost in volunteering for posts of difficulty and danger. Thank God the Navy teems with men and officers who are ready to jump overboard to save a drowning shipmate, or to go to the front and fight for their country. When the Archbishop asks me if I will imitate these men, how can I refuse to make the attempt? I only hope I may now profit by the good examples which have been set me."

Before his appointment was made public he went on leave in order to escape the congratulations (or condolences) of his naval friends. To another, now an Admiral, who suggested that he was going on a forlorn hope, he answered: "But, if you had orders to attack a battleship in a dinghy you would obey." That it was in the eyes of Corfe something like a forlorn hope is made the more plain by the fact that Corfe's eighteen months at Chefoo to endeavour to train men for the North China Mission is characterised by one best able to give an opinion, as being on the spot with him, in such words as these: "It was dismal, it was a failure, so far as any sincere and unselfish effort can be such in God's good providence."

But I must add a light touch--and from Bishop Scott: "It had been announced that there was to be a Mission to Corea under a Bishop sent out by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and a luncheon was in progress in Corfe's rooms at Portsmouth for about six of us. I think Edgar Jacob was one. Only the Archbishop and Corfe and I knew that Corfe had been selected, and a very pointed and searching shaft was launched by someone, 'Who is to be Bishop in Corea?' The party was small, it was difficult to parry. Providentially a pile of six very hot plates were put before our host and he instantly burnt his fingers, and under cover of a warning to his guests the question was shelved. But from that day to the end of his life ' the plates were very hot' had a cryptic meaning for dear Corfe and myself."

This is not the place to embark on a full history of Corea and its problems for the Christian Church. Those who wish to understand them can confidently be referred to Bishop Trollope's little book, The Church in Corea (S.P.G.) A few words chiefly culled from that book must suffice here. Corea--or Chosen, meaning Morning Calm, has been of late years the storm-centre of the Far East, providing the casus belli for two of the greatest wars of modern times between China and Japan (1894-5), and between Russia and Japan (1904-5). Once Corea instructed Japan in the arts, now she seems to have lost all that. For centuries she remained the "hermit nation," and till a few years before the Anglican Mission arrived no foreigners, not even Chinese, were permitted to enter. Yet French missionaries had established themselves some fifty years before, subject to great perils and sacrificing their lives. There are few episodes in the history of Christian martyrs finer than the heroism of Corean Christians of the Roman obedience. They died by thousands between 1866 and 1870.

Buddhism had been a great force in the country, though always at war with Confucianism, until the end of the I4th century when it died out, the temples disappeared from the towns, and the priests vanished. Confucianism was left triumphant as the official cult, supplemented by a vague demonology among the unlettered classes. The language is not a Japanese or Chinese dialect, but Corean. The Chinese script is used by the educated, but there is also a Corean alphabet ("En-moun").

Shortly before Corfe arrived in Cores the American Presbyterians and Methodists had begun work there, having arrived in 1884 and 1885; and the Bible Society also had not been idle, for in 1882 the Gospel of St. Luke had been translated at Mukden in Manchuria. There followed from the same place before 1890 many other portions, all by the Rev. John Ross, of the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

But even with all this effort, the ground had only been touched here and there. Even to-day, nearly forty years later, when there may be 100,000 members of the Roman Mission, and possibly another 100,000 of the American Protestants, and the 6,000 belonging to the Anglican Mission, it is certain that the Christians in Corea do not amount to 2 per cent, of the population. I have emphasised this because when the Archbishop of Canterbury called Corfe to Corea a protest was raised among some Churchmen in England on the ground that it would be an intrusion on the part of the Church of England to take up work in ground already occupied. Canon C. E. Brooke, of St. John the Divine, Kennington, whose Churchmanship none could question, waxed indignant at the protest. He comments on it: "A strange and, to my mind, a perverse straining of the principle of jurisdiction which, if acted upon in the past would have crippled the missionary effort of our Church and nation in a way altogether unbearable. . . . Why should Bishop Corfe have been singled out for adverse criticism on the question of jurisdiction when, as far as I am aware, other Missions--such as that to Central Africa and Japan--have never had a stone thrown at them on this score. . . . Under no possible circumstances can we be said to be intruding ourselves into a diocese of some other Catholic Bishop, unless, indeed, we are going to allow the claim that the Roman Catholic Church is the Church, and that therefore she has the right to divide up the whole globe into dioceses in which she is to be granted exclusive jurisdiction."

The mention of Canon Brooke's name brings me to one of the most delightful episodes in Corfe's life. Let Canon Down, with his forty years of experience of St. John's, tell the tale.

"Bishop Corfe, during most of his life, was a wanderer; but wanderers generally like to have some sacred spot at home to which they can naturally turn, and for Bishop Corfe that sacred spot was the church and parish of St. John the Divine, Kennington. His long connexion with them can be traced back to the year 1872, some six years after his ordination. It was in the summer of 1872, apparently, that he felt drawn towards a nearer acquaintance with English parochial life in our large towns, and was recommended by Father Benson (Founder of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, Cowley) to try South London. 'You had better go to Elsdale,' he said, 'who is working a mission at St. John's, Brixton.' This happened quite in the early days of a venture which has been signally blest, and before the stately church in Vassall Road had been completed. The advice was taken, and his decision was the occasion of bringing him into touch with the staff of clergy who were building up the great work in the district now occupied by St. John the Divine, and more especially with Charles Edward Brooke, who became henceforward his lifelong friend. It is not known how long that first visit lasted--not many weeks, probably, since an extended residence would have been incompatible with his naval duties, but long enough to enkindle a warm affection for the place which he always regarded afterwards as his spiritual home, whose fortunes he followed with sympathetic interest, and which he deliberately chose as the scene of his closing years. Bishop Corfe was never officially connected with the parish of St. John the Divine, but when on furlough, or when waiting for a new commission, he invariably gravitated towards Vassall Road, giving the clergy, during his visits, all the assistance which lay in his power, and not seldom acting as officiant at the Solemn Eucharist, for which, by reason of his musical knowledge and natural dignity he was singularly qualified.

"On his accepting the post of Bishop in Corea, these old ties were strengthened rather than diminished. Canon Brooke, who had by that time become Vicar of St. John's, was chosen to act as his commissary; the early Festivals of the Mission were held in the parish; and Morning Calm was for many years edited by one of its clergy."

Corfe was consecrated in Westminster Abbey by Archbishop Benson, together with the late Bishop of Reading and the Bishop of Derby, on All Saints' Day, 1889. The Church Pennant for October, 1889, comments thus: "It is not often, indeed we do not know of a case since the days of the saintly Bishop Ken, that a Naval Chaplain has been called upon to take on himself the work and ministry of a Bishop. . . " It is a fact that Ken was a Naval Chaplain; Corfe used to refer to the fact, and delighted to call himself a naval bishop.

Corfe, after his consecration, wrote monthly letters to his friends. The second of these was to children, and characteristic of him. They were his special delight. One extract, and from that first letter to diem, must suffice. He spoke of a hospital in Corea, saving souls through kindness to bodies. "Many of you know that I have been a sailor for a great part of my life. Sailors are my best and kindest friends. You will hardly believe how true a sailor's friendship can be. Do you remember what St. James says about taming wild animals? "Every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed and hath been tamed of mankind." No one tames animals so well or so quickly as sailors. They tame them with kindness--and that is how they tamed me. They made a pet of me long ago, and now I want to shew that their petting has not spoilt me. ... My sailor friends, I believe, are going to help build me a hospital. Our Navy has performed many glorious deeds, but I do not think any of them will be more glorious than this. It is a beautiful thing to do good, hoping for nothing again. For a long time the people of Corea will not know even how to say thank you. ... I want my children friends to give me a penny now and then to help me build our Orphanage." A children's branch of the Association of Prayer was formed, and it is needless to say that the Portsmouth Seamen's Orphanage had a very tender place in his heart.

The following account of Corfe's visit to Lancing in 1889, soon after his consecration, will be of interest.

The Rev. H. W. McKenzie, a former head master, says: "He came quite soon after his consecration to take a confirmation in his old school. It was, I think, the first confirmation he took. What was then unusual, he required the Christian names of each candidate, and so confirmed him. Using each boy's name (or names) made a great impression on the school at the time. Corfe also took a choral Celebration, and even now, after some 36 years or so, I remember the natural way in which his beautiful voice came out. He gave a standard which I have never heard reached since that morning. No effort, no desire for effects, just musical talking and praying. That also had a great effect on the school. Had any one more attractive blue eyes? It was the more difficult in those far off days to sing a service, as the chapel was in the crypt."

Corfe's fourth Monthly Letter was to "My dear friends of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines," in gratitude for starting the "Naval Hospital Fund" for Corea. It was to a large extent for Corfe--anything to help him; and Corfe was wise in asking for hospitals, and one of them to be at a seaport easily visited by the Navy. So Seoul, the capital, and Chemulpo, the seaport obtained their hospitals, and for years Corfe gravitated between these two centres. The Duke of Edinburgh was President, the Rev. J. B. Harbord the first Secretary; admirals and officers of all ranks were Vice-Presidents and members of committee, and Corfe hoped to get assistance from every ship in the Navy. The Navy spoke of "Bishop Corfe's Mission." Corfe himself pressed all the time for the world-wide duty of the Church.

He now passed on to secure Women's Work. He visited the Community of St. Peter's, Kilburn, where an Association was started for him. In due time the Sisters went out and were an untold blessing, and have remained so still. A few years afterwards he wrote as follows from Corea; "I have never been shipmates with women, and I don't understand them, except when they are Sisters, and then it is all cut and dried so far as I am concerned. They are so well drilled that they give no trouble. I never expected any when they came, but could never have supposed that these three years would have been so entirely free from all friction between them and me as they have been. They are good women: true, sensible, devoted, humble women, who have never given me a shadow of anxiety since they landed."

All that I have recorded was but six months' work, and all the time he was preaching and speaking constantly in all parts of England. Surely there can be no better example of laying foundations which endure. I recapitulate: The beginnings of prayer, which blossomed into Q.I.P.; the training that has become Kelham; the children at once enlisted: Morning Calm and the "Compass" evolved: and the Hospital Naval Fund and Sisters secured. Then by himself, he embarked by way of America for his missionary sphere in July, 1890, arriving on Michaelmas Day; soon, however, to be followed by the Rev. M. N. Trollope--the present Bishop.

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