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Pioneer Church Work in British Columbia
Being a Memoir of the Episcopate of Acton Windeyer Sillitoe, D.D., D.C.L.
First Bishop of New Westminster.

By the Rev. Herbert H. Gowen, F.R.G.S.

London: Mowbray, 1899.

Chapter IX.


"HOTEL SILLITOE" was the name often applied to the residence of the Bishop of New Westminster, and no sobriquet was ever more appropriate. It was seldom, indeed, that the house was not full of visitors, and the sick, convalescent, and homeless clergy and laity, were always sure of the heartiest welcome from the Bishop and his wife.

The Bishop reached home on September 16th, and the first meeting of a conference called by him was on Monday, the 19th.

One sentence in the Bishop's address was prophetic.

"I venture to look forward," the Bishop said, "to the day when besides the great confederation which joins together politically the various provinces of the Dominion, there will be a confederation, too, of the Church of England in Canada, joined together in the unity of the spirit and by the bond of peace, and strengthened in her work by the happy realization of the fundamental truth that we are 'all of us members one of another,' living stones of one temple built upon 'the faith once delivered to the saints.'"

It was the Bishop's joy in the last year of his life to see this prediction fulfilled--nay, more, to help materially by his personal influence to secure its fulfilment.

Among other subjects dealt with in the address were the means of securing clergy and their stipends for various parts of the diocese--a perennial question this--the supply of churches and parsonage houses, insurance and repair of Church property, registration of births, marriages, and burials, the Christian education of the young, the formation of a Diocesan Endowment Fund, and the establishment of a Diocesan Synod.

The subject of religious education was ever in the Bishop's mind.

"I may say," he said, "that this is a subject never absent from my thoughts. I feel its incalculable importance as much as any of you and months before I ever set foot in the country, I occupied myself in laying plans for the education of both boys and girls."

He described the result of his efforts. Columbia College for girls had been only moderately successful, the support of Church people not being commensurate with that which had been expected. In a new country, where free education prevails, where few people are at all wealthy, and where a good secular education is provided in the public schools, it is difficult to convince people of the fatal defect in a non-religious system of teaching; and perhaps, after all, the real remedy will come in time rather from the clergy finding opportunity to teach Church children for an hour a day in the public schools than in the maintenance of separate schools. With regard to a school for boys, the Bishop had plans, not, however, sufficiently matured to be laid before the conference.

It is greatly to be regretted that the Bishop's recommendation with regard to diocesan endowment was not carried out. Parochial endowments are unadvisable in a land where parishes are continually changing shape, size, and character, but the suggestion that "there should be immediately started a Diocesan Endowment Fund, on ever so small a scale, which should be allowed to accumulate and be invested in the names of a missionary board, who should have the management of it, and apply the interest only in augmentation of insufficient incomes, or in starting new parishes," is exactly what is wanted to secure to every colonial diocese in time freedom from pressing insufficiency of funds, independence of the grants of our great missionary societies, and a proper regard for the future as well as for the needs of the present. [A Diocesan Fund was eventually established.] The formation of a synod was a step requiring careful consideration, so, much as the Bishop desired to hasten the provision of this means of constitutional Church government, he deemed it best for the present, to appoint a committee to study the whole question and report on the difficulties to be encountered and the way to overcome them.

Of the general work of the diocese the Bishop spoke as follows:--

"To pass in general and brief review the work of the diocese, I would say that we had very much reason to 'thank God and take courage.' There is no district that is not showing signs of growth, if all are not growing alike. Everywhere I have found earnest hearts and willing hands, and, best of all, a sense of the necessity for sacrifice if any good work is to be done. Personally, I have no language to acknowledge the kindly warmth of the greeting which has awaited me in every corner of the diocese; it makes me sometimes afraid lest I should be unable to make the return of spiritual help which so much heartiness deserves. And indeed, 'I can, of mine own self, do nothing,' but I try to humble myself by the recollection that it is only the grace of God in me that can make me acceptable to any of you, and I know that that grace in me God can make sufficient for all His Church's needs."

No sooner was the conference over than another special and no less important task was taken in hand in preparation for the ensuing ordination. We cannot do better than give the following account written at the time by one present:--

"The whole staff of the diocese was present. The Bishop, realizing most acutely the dangers that beset the clergy in their lives of comparative isolation in this extensive diocese, knowing how much the spirituality of the work depends upon the maintenance of a high tone of piety and devotion in all to whom the care of souls is committed, and deeply alive to the importance of fostering a spirit of brotherly kindness between himself and his spiritual sons, 'yea, rather, brethren beloved,' is aided by his zealous and honoured wife at no little cost and trouble in the preparation he makes for affording a retreat whilst the examination of candidates proceeds.

"At 6 a.m. the calling bell arouses all from slumber, and by seven the chapel is occupied by silent worshippers preparing for the Eucharist, celebrated by the Bishop himself every morning at 7.30.

"It is needless to any one acquainted with the Bishop's regard for order and reverence, to add that the administration of Holy Communion is invested with the solemnity and impressiveness that befit the Divine Mysteries.

"At eight breakfast is partaken of in silence, whilst each in turn reads from some book of an edifying character. This season we read Milman's 'Love of the Atonement.' ... At ten the examination of the candidates is conducted by the Archdeacon. . . . Dinner at 1 p.m. with reading in turn, as also at tea, which is at six. ... It is with almost a feeling of reluctance that one returns to the custom of making such occasions periods of social relaxation and common talk. Friday is passed in a still more marked manner, though it is generally termed 'a quiet day.' Absolute silence is enjoined on all by the Bishop, himself not excluded, from the rising of the sun till the breakfast on the day following. On the walls are posted the proceedings in which all are expected to take part; . . . subjects for meditation suitable to the ministerial life, and earnest addresses by the Bishop and others are given in the chapel, concluding with a special service at 7.30, to which the parishioners generally are invited. So the day of separation from the world, of self-communing, and personal exhortation passes away,--but not so, we trust, the deeper insight into ourselves, the high resolve, the kindled desire and the chastened spirit. . . .

"The ordination on Sunday last was an event to be remembered. Three were to be admitted to the diaconate, and one to the priesthood,--in itself a circumstance of no light moment in the present condition of the diocese.

"A large congregation was gathered at 11 a.m., Mattins and Holy Communion having taken place at 8 a.m. The Bishop and clergy entered while the processional hymn, 'When God of old came down from heaven,' was being sung, after which the Bishop ascended the pulpit and announced his text, Matt. 1. 23: 'God with us.' The burning words which fell from his lips, weighted and tremulous as they evidently were from the anxious sense of responsibility resting upon him as chief pastor admitting so many as co-workers with himself in his arduous field of labour, will not pass away with the occasion that called them forth; they all live in the recollection of many who will not forget the impression that fell on all as he turned to address the candidates, or that eloquent, 'not I, but the grace of God within me,' that brought his discourse to a sudden close, amidst a scarcely suppressed sob from many overpowered by the force and power of his words."

It is not hard, even after the lapse of fourteen years, to imagine the impression made by the direct appeal of the following exhortation:--

"Oh, dear young brethren, who are to take upon you this day the yoke of Christ, . . . remember that wherever your Lord sends you He goes with you. He does not bid you go in your own strength, but in His. Your weakness in Him is omnipotent power; your foolishness in Him omniscient wisdom. 'You can of your own selves do nothing, but you can do all things through Christ strengthening you.' You can 'bind up the brokenhearted' by His love working in you; you can 'preach deliverance to the captives' by His Spirit operating through you; by the light of His word you shall recover sight to the blind, and by the authority of His commission you shall heal those whom sin hath bruised. 'God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself,' and Christ in you will carry on the work. But you must have faith. Yes, faith is the connecting link that joins you to Christ. 'According to your faith will it be unto you.' 'If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed,' you shall be able to remove mountains of prejudice and corruption, and cast out devils of unbelief, hard-heartedness, and pride. Believe in your commission, believe in your sacred calling, believe in the reality of that glorious heritage of grace which by the love of Christ has been mercifully preserved from age to age, and then Christ Himself will 'add to your faith virtue, and knowledge, and temperance, and patience, and godliness, and brotherly kindness, and charity,' and if these things be in you and abound, they make you to be not idle nor unfruitful unto the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."

The candidates at this ordination were the Rev. C. Blanchard, ordained priest, and Messrs. A. H. Sheldon, R. C. Whiteway, and T. H. Gilbert, admitted deacons. The last named was an accession to the Church from the ranks of the Methodists.

The new clergy were distributed as follows: Mr. Blanchard to Cariboo, where the people had enthusiastically risen to the occasion in the matter of providing a stipend; Mr. Sheldon to the curacy of Holy Trinity Church, New Westminster; Mr. Whiteway to the Indian Mission at Yale; and Mr. Gilbert to the charge of Maple Ridge and Langley.

Several of the newly licensed clergy had a narrow escape on proceeding to their destinations, for the steamer in which they travelled was burned to the water's edge, and although able to save their lives, they had to endure the loss of most of their effects.

Unfortunately, being "burned out" is not a rare experience for colonial settlers.

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