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Charles John Corfe
Naval Chaplain--Bishop

By H.H. Montgomery

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

Chapter VII. Resignation--Further Labours--The Last Years.

The day came when Corfe, high-minded, devoted, selfless, felt that he must acknowledge failure. He had been in England for a year in 1903 trying to get workers for his terribly depleted staff and had failed. Moreover the language difficulty could not be overcome. On St. James' Day (July 25), 1904, he wrote to the clergy and. laity in his diocese. I quote sufficient sentences: "The burden of the clergy and native congregations--heavy enough in all pioneer and experimental work--has for some years been increased because the Bishop has been unable to take his due share of them. . . They have seen that the power of their Bishop to guide and support them (in the growing needs of the Diocese) was diminishing: that he can neither preach a sermon nor teach a Sunday School class. ... I may say that I did write to the late Archbishop of Canterbury more than two years since, asking him to allow me to resign for the reason I have given to the present Archbishop, and am now giving to you. That letter was never sent. I had not the courage to send it. Perhaps it will be truer to say that it seemed right not to send it until I had done all that a Bishop could do to fill the vacancies caused by the sudden loss of three of his clergy--nearly half the clerical staff. ... I have returned to find that the staff of clergy, already too small for the supply of our parishes, threatens in the immediate future to become smaller. . . . Were I able to do any pastoral work ... I should not be moved by these departures, but should remain at my post till death removed me. This was my hope in 1888, and has always been my hope, until recent years have made it evident to me, as to others, that by my ignorance of the vernacular ... I am hindering rather than helping the work of God amongst us. The pioneer stage of the Mission has been reached, and been passed. The task which now confronts us is one of a very different nature and may well require faculties in the Bishop which one who was supposed to have some fitness for pioneer work may not possess. ..."

It gives one a lump in one's throat as one reads words so humble and so dignified. He was succeeded by the Rev. A. B. Turner, who had been working in the Mission for seven years.

It will be a fit conclusion to Corfe's Corean episcopate if I call attention to the remarkable document (to which allusion has already been made), entitled The Anglican Church in Corea. It is in reality a set of Regulations touching on the whole Church life of a member of the Church. It begins with an introduction of twelve pages, pointing out that "the Use" of the diocese was not forced upon the clergy, but composed with their full assent, and in close connexion at every point with Archbishop Temple, then the Primate. Even the use of incense was not denied. There are rules of marriage, a Catechism for catechumens, and offices for all sorts of occasions. Printed beautifully by the Seoul Mission Press, it is certainly a noteworthy document and gives a fuller idea of the completeness, even to small details, with which the first Bishop laid foundations, which have never needed alteration.

Corfe did not re-visit his old diocese after his resignation, but time and again he travelled out to China to help Bishop Scott in ministering to English-speaking residents. Many a conversation we had at S.P.G, House during those years before he went out, and on his return. The following is a brief account of his work.

In 1906 he arrived in Peking and became chaplain at the British Legation for twelve months, permitting Norris to take furlough.

In 1909 he became chaplain at Newchwang, in Manchuria, in order to enable the Rev. F. H. Sprent to get a holiday, and returned after six months.

In 1910 he returned to Newchwang, bringing two clergymen for chaplaincies in Manchuria.

In 1912 he undertook the chaplain's duty at Dalny, in Manchuria, and met there the Bishops of North China, Corea, and S, Tokyo, in consultation concerning the Church's mission work in the Far East. He was not young, his health was far from good, yet four times he travelled out to do what he could. I remember how he consulted with me whether he should not go out a fifth time, but it was against medical orders, and he obeyed.

He made his home, of course, at St. John's, Kennington. I remember asking him whether now he had his books and chattels round him? he looked humorous, and said: "I think there are a few old boots." Canon Down writes: "In 1905, Bishop Corfe sent in his resignation and returned to England; but he did not settle in the parish until Canon Brooke's death six years later, when he was invited to make his home at the Vicarage. This was the beginning of an arrangement which, in some shape or other, lasted until the time of his death."

"In addition to all these activities, he undertook a large number of confirmations for his brother Bishops in England, especially in the country parishes of the Oxford Diocese."

"Owing to age, and increasing infirmity, the doctors insisted upon the reduction of all this output. It was a real sorrow when he was told that he must not go again to the East, and confine his attention to less exacting duties. This meant that during the last years of his life, though he continued to travel about at home, he spent much more of his time in Vassall Road, and became still more closely identified with the work of the parish. He made himself almost entirely responsible for the Sung Eucharist on Sunday, which preceded the Solemn Celebration, and which was of a simpler and more congregational character. He delighted in this service, nor could the congregation of children and working folk fail to have been impressed by the deep reverence and venerable dignity of the Celebrant. It was, moreover, an intense pleasure to him when he was asked to undertake the character of St. Joseph in the Bethlehem Tableaux at Christmas, which hitherto had been taken by Canon Brooke; and no pains were spared by him to make the representation all that it had been in the time of his distinguished predecessor. He was always glad, in this and in other respects, to step into any little gap of usefulness, such as an occasional sermon, or administering the sacrament of confirmation to the aged, or to others who for some reasons had not been able to avail themselves of the more public occasions."

"Possibly a few impressions made by the Bishop in these later days may not be altogether out of place. When Whitefield was asked whether a certain person was a Christian, he replied, "I do not know; for I have never seen him at home." No one who knew Bishop Corfe in the family circle would have had much doubt about his answer to that question. Not only was he punctiliously regular in all his habits, but invariably good-tempered, cheerful, considerate, courteous to all with whom he had to do. He was universally respected and beloved by the servants, who appreciated his kindness and gratitude, and who came to regard it as a privilege to minister to his needs. As a companion he was always genial, helpful, sympathetic. He had an unusual capacity for friendship and this is never possible without readiness for taking trouble and making sacrifices and this was manifested in many ways. He gave his friends of his very best. What hours he must have spent on his correspondence, which was certainly not regarded as a secondary matter, but as a solemn duty to be performed with the utmost precision and care! What fatigue must have accompanied those numberless visits to persons whom he could comfort, who needed his counsel, who had been brought under his influence, or for whom he felt some responsibility. There were the workers for the Mission, the children of the Orphanage at Portsmouth--whom he never forgot--, his old naval friends--those whom he met abroad; and all alike came in for some share of his loving service. The time and the money which he would spend upon single cases was most remarkable."

In 1913, Corfe's great friend, Bishop Scott, resigned, but being a first-rate Chinese scholar, elected, with the enthusiastic approval of the Mission, to live in Peking, giving all help to his successor, Bishop Norris. Corfe writes: "Bishop Scott is resigning, not from ill-health, but from a sense of duty. His has been a noble Episcopate, made up in equal parts of Yorkshire grit, sanctified common sense, and singular loyalty to God and his Church."

But I began to see that my friend was failing, and at the beginning of 1921 he was taken ill on his way to a confirmation. For three months he lingered, and was the best of patients, endearing himself more than ever to those about him. As his last hours drew near he had the joy of having with him the Rev. Arnold Scott, the Bishop-designate of Shantung, the diocese he had himself endowed. Indeed, next to Corea, there was no region in which he had deeper interests than in North China, He passed away on June 30, 1921: and when we assembled in St. John's Church, Kennington, to bless God for his life ere we laid him to rest at Brookwood, what was our joy to see Bishop Scott in the church, called to take a leading part in that last service. His old friend of 46 years had just arrived in England. There could not have been a happier coincidence.

With us was Admiral Sir Stanley Cecil Colville, as representing the King. Indeed, it was a memorable congregation which met that day to bear testimony to one greatly beloved. Naval men of all ranks, and many of the clergy who had known and honoured him for years. I can do nothing better than to give as a fitting conclusion to this record the artless words of a bluejacket. It was, I believe, almost the last letter Corfe received.

"Dear Sir,--I am more sorry than I can express to you how very grieved I am to find that you are ill. I called on Saturday to express my gratitude to you for the splendid recommendation you sent to my present employers that got me the job straight away; and now you are so poorly. I'm not much of a hand at praying, but I've been doing my very best since Saturday, and if our great Admiral up above understands the hearts of men He will know that in whatever shape our prayers are offered up for you, they're heartfelt and sincere. God bless you, dear old shipmate, comforter and adviser to many thousands of us on the lower deck. What a happy place a ship would have been if our quarter-deck officers only understood and studied us as you used to do. I hope you will excuse me writing to you, dear Sir, but if I cannot speak to you personally, my only excuse is I must speak to you on paper. So, please do not be cross with me, and now wishing you a speedy recovery, I remain for all time your most sincere well wisher and faithful servant."

So farewell--most selfless and humble-hearted of men--beautiful in labours on sea and land, as priest and bishop--most generous of men and best of comrades. We praise God for the light that shone thus on us. We live to glorify the Heavenly Father, because you have lived. So, farewell.

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