Project Canterbury

Lead, Kindly Light:
Studies of Saints and Heroes of the Oxford Movement

by Desmond Morse-Boycott

transcribed by Mr Robert Stevens
AD 2000


Frank Weston

SHORTLY before the War the public was brought into familiarity with a word which will be recalled with ease on account of the difficulty of pronouncing it. I refer to "Kikuyu."

The Bishops of Mombasa and Uganda, without reference to the diocese of Zanzibar, had joined in conclave with the various Free Church denominations that were working in Africa, to find a solution of the problem of how best to meet the spiritual needs of Africans who moved from one territory into another. The dual menace of Islam and the white man who exploited blacks, together with the tug of tribal customs, seemed to them (and the average Englishman was quick to agree) to constitute a difficulty that made domestic ecclesiastical differences relatively absurd. They felt that at all costs a way must be found for the African trained by the Anglican Church in Uganda to have Communion in another territory where the Free Church was the sole representative of Christianity.

We are accustomed, in England, to adapt ourselves to denominational difficulties. In Africa they are highly embarrassing. Essential Christianity appears sharply outlined there against a background of ignorance and false religion and sin. What appear at first sight to be accidentals of Christianity tend to be regarded as immaterial. That such a view is very natural we should be the first to admit if our parish, with its sundered Christian units—Church, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Salvation Army, Congregational, Baptist—were taken into the heart of Africa and left to preach the Gospel. In the teeth of opposition, and in the face of primitive passions, we should speedily become vexed over apparently artificial divisions.

Some sort of Concordat was come to and submitted to the (then) Archbishop of Canterbury. But the Bishop of Zanzibar, Frank Weston, who is the subject of this memoir, felt that unity could not be reached by a short cut; that the old garment could not be patched without a worse rending; that interior unity must precede exterior.

He was training his Africans to believe, for instance, in the Apostolic Succession. How, then, could he send them forth to receive the ministrations of those who disbelieved in his conception of the Church? "He did not believe that ‘a Church’ with an indefinite faith, with no determined rule of life and a haphazard form of government, would be strong enough to weld Africans together, to uplift them as a race, or to defend them against being exploited by Indians and Europeans."

He wrote, accordingly, to the Archbishop of Canterbury, denouncing the Bishops of Mombasa and Uganda for the part they had played in "Kikuyu," and charging them, formally, "with propagating heresy and committing schism." If he failed to do justice to the fact that their scheme was tentative, and not in operation, they, for their part, cannot be excused for having ignored the existence of the Diocese of Zanzibar. The upshot of it was that the Bishop of Zanzibar’s position was upheld, but, as the War had broken out, Kikuyu meant little to any but anxious Churchmen. The Anglican Communion once again steered clear of the rocks, although her break-up had been prophesied, but Frank Weston, who dared to turn her from danger, was in disgrace.

Meanwhile, he was gravely disturbed by the growth of Modernism in the home Church. Foundations had been published, and the man-in-the-pew, convalescent from Kikuyu, was discussing Mr. Streeter’s curious theory of the Resurrection. The Bishop of Hereford, Dr. Perceval, a famous Headmaster, had defended the Modernists, and collated Mr. Streeter to a stall in his cathedral.

Suddenly the whole of Christendom was startled by a document which Frank Weston pinned upon the door of his cathedral in Zanzibar (as Luther nailed his Theses to the door of Wittenburg Cathedral), announcing that he and his diocese were no longer in communion with John, Bishop of Hereford, and all who adhered to him. Here was a first-class crisis. Dr. Perceval defended himself in the columns of The Times, and gravely rebuked a junior bishop for being a junior. In a headmasterly manner he went out to rap the knuckles of an irresponsible schoolboy, not realizing that to point to the youth and inexperience of his opponent was merely to trail a red-herring across the track.

Then, to Frank Weston, came the crowning blow. Dr. Hensley Henson (who since his elevation to the episcopate has moved steadily towards Catholicism from the advanced trenches of Modernism, and is the most fervent of all advocates of disestablishment) was made a bishop, after a stormy protest by many Churchmen. Modernism had seemingly triumphed. Frank Weston replied by his Christ and His Critics, and began to think of retiring from his See to live a simple Christian life among his Africans.

Most people at home, having no idea of his beautiful character, or of the conditions in Africa which moved him to act spectacularly, assumed that he was a firebrand, in love with excommunications and anathemas. They called him the Zanzibarbarian. But he had the heart of a little child as well as the mind of a master theologian and the courage of a Christian warrior. Here is an example of his tenderness.

He was sometimes obliged to excommunicate Africans who led scandalous lives.

There was one very sad case of a man [writes Canon Maynard Smith, in his biography], the godson of a dead missionary, who had been one of the Bishop’s boys at Kiumgani, and afterwards a teacher. The awful solemnity took place in church. The candles were dashed down and extinguished, but when the Bishop came to the terrible words: "We do hereby cut you off," he could not complete the sentence, but broke down sobbing. All the congregation sobbed with him, while the bell went on tolling for the doom.

There was the essential Frank Weston, never shirking an awful duty, whether in his relations with the episcopate at home or the simple African in his diocese. Vision is for the future, he would say, pain for the present.

His war force of Africans was a marvel. Experienced officers used to gape in amazement at the way in which he controlled an awkward squad of two thousand men. Whatever he was commissioned to do, that he did. He received the O.B.E. Yet it was only through the intervention of the Archbishop of Canterbury that he received his war medals. He was a constant fighter of injustice. His pamphlet, The Black Slaves of Prussia, will never be forgotten in Africa, and his later one, The Serfs of Great Britain, has not been forgiven! He hated the colour ban. He used to say that Christ was a coloured man.

It was, however, at the Lambeth Conference in 1919 that he came into his own. At the first Anglo-Catholic Congress he had played an insignificant part, but the unforgettable scenes which took place in the Albert Hall, when a vast number of men and women pledged themselves to the service of Christ, and cast jewels and riches into the alms-sacks, renewed his confidence in the Church of England. He went from the Albert Hall to dominate and sway the counsels of the bishops assembled at Lambeth. He entered the assembly a suspected and discredited prelate. He chose a seat, and sat, and listened. He rose at length to speak. One can picture the solemn prelates of every clime and country leaning forward to see and hear the tiresome enfant terrible, in anticipation of a storm of wordy criticism. They were given the surprise of their lives. Here was no thin-lipped, harsh, narrow-minded bigot, intent on grinding a diocesan axe in and out of season, but a bronzed and finely built man who spoke as never man spoke before. There was something about him which made them listen and learn. He addressed them with learning, common sense, humour and a friendly tenderness which took their breath away. He spoke to them, some of them aged, and all of them steeped in the spirit of autocracy (for monarchical infallibility is by no means the prerogative of the Pope!), as a father might speak to his sons, but with such a winning gentleness that they were impelled, in the end, to see a vision and send out the famous appeal for unity. He left them under a spell. Had he been at the last Lambeth Conference the terrible mistake of sanctioning birth-prevention in certain circumstances would never have been made to distress Churchmen, demoralize the nation, and fill the coffers of purveyors of means of iniquity.

A few years passed by, and he was back again, worn out, but engrossed with the Anglo-Catholic Congress of 1923. Here he became the leader of the Movement at long last, such a leader as it has lacked since Newman went out in the forties. His musical voice could be heard all over the Albert Hall (there were no "mikes" in those days). Every gesture he made evoked a storm of cheering. For the first time, I venture to say, many of us who beheld him (and I sat at his feet in worship) came face to face with an Apostle. None but he could have sent the famous telegram to the Pope and survived it. Messages were being sent to Kings and Prelates . . . Christ had told us to love our enemies . . . why should we not revere the Supreme Pontiff? So he thought, and in a moment a message was drafted and put to the crowded house, and sent. Whether it went by way of Westminster at once, accompanied by a Cardinal’s comment, or was delayed until it was pointless, I know not. I have heard whisperings, which it would be good to have stilled. But here was the message:

Sixteen thousand Anglo-Catholics in congress assembled offer respectful greetings to the Holy Father, humbly praying that the day of peace may quickly break.

The next day he was torn to pieces not only by the press, and the Protestant underworld, but also by Dr. Frere and many friends, but he never regretted his action. "I am very tired," he said, as he went back to Africa. He died not long afterwards, on November 2, 1924, at the age of fifty-three. If I say next to nothing in this memoir of his early days (he was born on September 13, 1871); his evangelical upbringing; his boyhood at Dulwich College; his years at Trinity College, Oxford; and of the making of the missionary at St. Matthew’s, Westminster, it is because my space, not my admiration, is limited, and his greatness was revealed in the latter days. There has been none like him for Apostolic unction in the history of the Catholic Movement, and since his passing none has led as he.

But many a humble priest has been enheartened, and many a layman awakened by the man and his message, and his last charge to Anglo-Catholics, which follows, should both effectually make ritualistic squabbles seem futile, and give the lie to ignorant critics who suppose that Anglo-Catholics care only for chasubles and candles.

. . . I say to you, and I say it with all the earnestness that I have, if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in His Blessed Sacrament, then, when you come out from before your tabernacles, you must walk with Christ, mystically present in you, through the streets of this country, and find the same Christ in the peoples of your cities and villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the tabernacle if you do not pity Jesus in the slum. . . . It is folly, it is madness, to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacrament and Jesus on the throne of glory, when you are sweating Him in the bodies and souls of His children. . . . You have your Mass, you have your altars, you have begun to get your tabernacles. Now go out into the highways and hedges, and look for Jesus in the ragged and the naked, in the oppressed and the sweated, in those who have lost hope, and in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus in them, and, when you have found Him, gird yourself with His towel of fellowship and wash His feet in the person of his brethren.

His official biographer, Canon Maynard Smith, records the effect of the charge thus:

His splendid voice rang out through the great hall. There was a note of yearning in its tones, you could not escape from his insistent passion, his passionate love of God, his consuming pity for the sons of men. A great wave of emotion flooded the assembly . . . respectable dignitaries, afraid of compromising themselves, were swept away by the common enthusiasm. It was not only what he said, it was his character and its reality which dominated the crowd. . . . Professor C. H. Turner, looking back upon that evening, said, after Frank’s death. . . "I think the Bishop of Zanzibar was the greatest man I ever met: I know that he was the greatest orator I ever heard."

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