Project Canterbury

Charles John Corfe
Naval Chaplain--Bishop

By H.H. Montgomery

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

Chapter IV. The Quarterly Intercession Paper and the Society of the Sacred Mission

In close touch with St. John's, Kennington, Corfe before sailing laid his plans for his new work. His own ideals seem to have been plain to him from the first--clear-cut and intense. He was a man of vision without doubt; and he became the author of some unique movements which have become of world-wide importance. So much so that it is a duty to let many know facts which have too long been hidden from them.

Within a month of his consecration, Corfe inaugurated the Association for Intercessory Prayer, the paper being headed "Corea." This was the seed which has become what we now call affectionately, the Q.I .P. The direction given by Corfe to the paper at the beginning of 1890 has been followed ever since. Now let Corfe speak for himself: "Soon after my consecration I was invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury to stay at Addington. His Grace took me to see the parish church. Before leaving it we knelt down and the Archbishop said the three collects for Good Friday. I feel that whatever the Association may be or do, it will have had its beginning and first impulse there." He proposes prayer for "Corea and elsewhere." "And elsewhere" must be added "for fear we should get to think either that Corea is more important than other countries, or that God's work in Corea is different from work done for Him in other countries." Note the characteristic attitude taken. From this he never swerved. Note also that the first Secretary of the Association was the Rev. G. R. Bullock-Webster. In March, 1890, Corfe writes: "I have ever sought to make the interest in Corea a means rather than an end, a consequence of an increasing sense of duty owed to all the foreign missionary work of the Church. My own corner of the heathen world is neither less nor more important than the rest of the dark continents. ... If when I have been preaching about Corea I have succeeded in making one person think more seriously of his responsibility towards Calcutta or Shoreditch, Central Africa or Qu'Appelle, Tinnevelly or the Mackenzie River, I can truly say that I have been as thankful as if all his consequent interest had been centred in Corea. . . . Any centring of the affections on Corea will not conduce to the health of the Church at large, and therefore in the long run will not be helpful even to Corea."

I do not like to say that this firm and unwavering insistence on the "big view" is unique at the starting-point of an Association of Prayer for a special region, but it is fine, and the results have been magnificent. I have before me the little two-page issue of the first number-March, 1890. The infant--Corfe's child--Bullock-Webster is the nurse. And it grew. The Report for 1890 tells of 1136 members, 115 Local Secretaries and three Branch Secretaries Overseas. Corfe also laid down another principle: membership in the Association was by prayer, not by subscription. Many were perplexed. No subscriptions, only prayer? Yes. He wanted no money qualification. If people prayed, the rest would follow. Was this unique? Certainly it was characteristic. Seven years afterwards he writes to the General Secretary of the Association: "You have felt as keenly as I the superior value of a list of members who pray, over a list of members who pay. I have known all along that popular prejudice is in favour of the second. To many of our good friends a membership of prayer is accounted, I fear, no membership at all."

On another occasion he wrote to the General Secretary when someone urged that the Association should beg, and waxed hot: "I would rather come home, or go anywhere, certainly resign my bishopric, than climb down from the position of "Prayer and Work." I do not mean of course, that we are never to make appeals for money where money is needed--appeals to the generosity of the wealthy. But this is not--and must not be--the work of the Association. I will do it. Mr. Brooke may do it. Almost anyone may do it; but not you. And when it is done it must be carefully dissociated from the Association."

No one will object to my inserting one more quotation from a letter to the General Secretary, written either in 1893 or 1895.

"You are beginning to find--have found ere this--the great difference between affection for a person, and enthusiasm for a principle. So many of our first members joined for love of this unworthy creature. Then they found that they had caught a tartar: for they learned through me, through you, through Morning Calm, that I wanted their affection and help, not for myself, not for Corea even, but for the Church. And this, many of them, notably nearly all the naval folk, were not prepared to give. When once the principle appeared above the horizon it had no charm for these. And they have to be converted. Thus I consider that your work is, and is in the main, Mission work, and you are very gentle and patient with these friends of mine, ... I wish, indeed, we could see our way to affiliating whole groups of other Associations; e.g., Bloemfontein, Capetown, etc., on the distinct understanding that no money was to be given to Corea, or diverted from other Associations into other channels. And this only for the sake of getting their daily prayers for all 'Foreign Missions.'"

Corfe carried his "principle" right through the ideals of the Corean magazine. In July, 1890 there came into existence Morning Calm. Into the frontispiece--and it has remained the same ever since--he introduced, in a sense, his beloved Navy. The Compass adorns it. Such a compass! I cannot but quote his own strong step in the same direction. In the first number of Morning Calm, and as its central contribution, there appeared The Spirit of Missions--the first of a continuous series giving news of all Missions of the Church overseas. And of deep interest it is to know that the first editor of these articles was the Rev. W. E. Collins, afterwards Bishop of Gibraltar. In 1897 Collins had to give up, owing to pressure of work.

In 1889-91 the Intercession Paper appeared in Morning Calm. In Jan., 1892, it became a separate sheet. In 1900 the paper, under its present title, was adopted by the Junior Clergy Missionary Association (S.P.G.)--the Corean Association still using it under its new title. In 1925, 77,000 copies were in circulation, and in all parts of the world.

In a volume published by Father Kelly, in 1898, entitled The History of a Religious Idea, it is definitely stated that the "Founder" of the above Society was Bishop Corfe. That is true in a general sense. To be more accurate, Corfe entrusted to Kelly the foundation of the "Corean Missionary Brotherhood" which, in time, developed into the Society of the Sacred Mission and went its own way. The Religious house now at Kelham has so great a reputation that I tell the story of its infancy.

The Rev. F. Kelly was on the Staff of St. Paul's, Wimbledon Park, from 1886 to 1890. There he felt he had hardly yet found the work best suited for his life-work. In 1890 he heard that Corfe, after four months' search, had not obtained a single priest to accompany him to Corea. Although not drawn to Mission work abroad he was impelled to offer himself. [It was a mere coincidence, but interesting, to know that Corfe had been under Kelly's father in Guernsey.] But he also went to consult Canon Scott Holland, who advised him to call on the Rev. C. E. Brooke, at Kennington; he also supported the suggestion that he should join the Corean Mission. Thus Kelly, Corfe and Brooke came together with fruitful results. At first a plan was formulated that Kelly should train men in Corea. Kelly was against it, and Corfe's own experience in China was averse from the idea. Finally it was arranged that the one priest Corfe had obtained should not accompany him abroad, but remain at home to train men for Corea. At the same time the outlook was to be world-wide, not Corean in an exclusive sense. The training home was to be with Brooke. During 1890-1, twelve men had offered themselves to the Bishop. Of these only one faced Kelly's conditions, which were as follows:--"Remember that men coming will not require any money, unless for some short visits home. They will be provided with clothing. On the other hand they must remember that the Corean Mission gives no stipends and that we do not promise ordination. They must come for the sake of the work only, not any particular kind of work: priest or lay servant or catechist. They must be ready for anything the Bishop may choose."

The keynote was self-surrender---absolute: giving up everything for God's service. All was also to be on Brotherhood lines, and men supported by the Brotherhood do not possess separate incomes. Their first home was 99 Vassall Road, and they entered it on January 1, 1891, with two men. In the first six years, 51 were admitted, and from all trades, such as printers, blacksmiths, farmers, etc.

The first recruit for Corea went out in 1892. Meanwhile Kelly was definitely tending towards the formation of a Religious Community on definite lines. Thus in 1893 there came into existence "The Society of the Sacred Mission." In 1896 it left Vassall Road--outgrowing in many senses its first home--and betook itself to Mildenhall, with a cordial welcome from the Bishop of Ely. Up to 1898 eight men had been sent to Corea. After that, no new recruits were sent out to that Mission, though the older men remained at work in Corea for some years longer. The explanation of this gradual parting is perfectly simple and honourable on both sides. Bishop Corfe had chosen in Kelly a very strong man, stronger than he or any one else knew at the time. Kelly had strong views and possessed originality, and he was a genius. Once started on his career as director he developed what is now a remarkable force for the Church overseas and destined to be greater still. Corfe also had his own strong views. It was a case of two strong men working 8,000 miles apart under differing circumstances. They held together as long as they could and never lost affection. As early as 1894 Corfe writes: "I am at present full of Kelly's men, the first of whom (as ordained) are to leave this time next year. You know, perhaps, that he has formed this community into a Society with rather strong rules, which seem admirable as long as they remain in Vassall Road. How the rule will fare out here is another matter. I do not know his side fully. He knows his own men and does not know the extraordinary conditions of life out here."

At the same time, when the men came out he was full of appreciation for them. In 1897, at the Annual Meeting of the Association in London, he said (as quoted in the Church Times) "he could not tell them of the work (Kelly's work at home), but he would tell them of its results. Last spring two men came to him who had been with Father Kelly for four years. Better men, better missionaries, he never wished to have in his diocese--most humble, most loyal, most faithful, most gentle, most obedient. He desired to speak of the men and of Father Kelly with the greatest affection, the greatest respect, the greatest hope." There is no discrepancy between the two statements. It was something like the case of a parent faced with the development of a splendid son who evidently had a future, but not exactly on the lines of the paternal home. I can imagine how Brooke, with his shrewd sense and great humour must have watched the growth of these two missionary forces--one abroad, and one at home. I have no doubt when the Brotherhood took its flight from St. John's, Kennington, he must have known that each of his dear friends would go his own way, and that he blessed them both.

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