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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 XI.


THE year 1882 is marked by the absence of journeys on the Bishop's part into the more distant portions of his diocese. Two causes contributed to this.

First of all, the Bishop was engrossed at home with an overwhelming amount of parochial and diocesan business. The preparations for the formation of a synod demanded increasing attention and care; the negotiations for the transfer of property from the old diocese of Columbia to the new diocese of New Westminster dragged their slow length along in the most unpromising way, and the absence of Archdeacon Woods in England threw upon the Bishop much extra work of a parochial kind.

But, in the second place, the Bishop had begun to realize what to the lay mind is often an inscrutable mystery, that a Bishop's income is not a purse of Fortunatus, from which he may draw to an unlimited extent for the needs of himself and everybody about him.

It must be remembered that a Colonial diocese is destitute of much that the Church at home has received as her inheritance from bygone ages. It has no endowments for its clergy, few churches to supply the needs of a population coming in like the tide, no parsonages and schoolrooms to serve all the various purposes of a parish, and the parishioners are for the most part poor and struggling, and unable to contribute much in support of religious ministrations.

Thus the Bishop has added to his pioneer work of building up new churches and parishes the grinding anxiety of providing for the maintenance of the existing work and of keeping up the scanty stipends of the clergy. In such circumstances he soon finds an income, which looks large enough on paper, shrink to very modest dimensions indeed.

Bishop Sillitoe had now had time to discover this fact, that an income of less than $3000 required careful guarding to make it hold out to the year's end, and that it was absolutely requisite to resist the encroachments of the diocesan work upon his own private funds.

At a meeting of the synod committee in March, 1882, the Bishop was obliged to make an important statement with regard to the manner in which he had been obliged to draw upon his own resources, and subsequently he published the following explanation, which it is believed will be of interest at the present day to many Churchmen in the diocese, as well as to those all over the world who have the interest of the Colonial Church at heart:--

"The statement made by the Bishop at the last meeting of the synod committee demands the careful attention of Churchmen. It points to a state of things, unavoidable perhaps in the peculiar circumstances of a new diocese, but nevertheless involving such a measure of personal hardship and injustice as to require the immediate application of some remedial measures, if only of a partial character.

"The foundation of the Bishop's statement was a letter from the manager of the Bank of British Columbia, calling his attention to the fact that his private account exhibited a debtor balance of $3234, and suggesting the necessity of a speedy reduction of the overdraft. The Bishop took advantage of the meeting of the general synod committee to lay before them the circumstances that had placed him in this unenviable position. He produced a statement showing that since his arrival in the diocese he had spent no less a sum than $4253 on Church account out of private funds. Two-thirds of this was swallowed up by necessary repairs to the property at Sapperton, and though this might at first sight appear to come naturally within the limits of individual expenses, two simple considerations may be set against such a consideration.

"In the first place, the Bishop is not a settler establishing himself in the country voluntarily in search of material prosperity. To such an one his home is his own concern and no other man's. He comes of his own accord, and his coming is a matter only of the most indirect interest to others. Whether or no the time was ripe for a division of the old diocese and the erection of a new bishopric is doubtless a question which comes into consideration, but certainly not into that of the new Bishop. He supposes, naturally enough, that this question has been affirmatively decided before the invitation reached him to take the oversight of the diocese; and he has a right to expect that the diocese which asks him to devote to it his services will make proper provision for the fulfilment of his duties without unnecessary and undue personal sacrifice. And when it is remembered that the endowment of the see ($2880 per annum) was raised independent of any contribution whatever from the persons most deeply interested, i.e. the Churchmen of the diocese themselves, the expenditure by the Bishop of a considerable sum for a suitable residence, out of an already inadequate income, was not an encouraging inauguration of his episcopate.

"But there is another consideration in the same connection. When a man lays out money on a property which is his own, he has the satisfaction of the security that his heirs will enjoy the benefit, if not himself. But this property is not the Bishop's. He has not even a life tenure of it, for if his health were to fail, and he obliged to resign, the property immediately falls to his successor in office without compensation to himself or family. Repairs following on the occupation of a residence by a clergyman are undoubtedly his affair, so far as tenants' obligations go, but it is not a usual thing to charge a new incumbent with all the dilapidations of his predecessor. Moreover, there is a further obligation on this property in the shape of a mortgage of $2000, of which the Bishop has had to assume the obligation, and on account of which there is an item of $430 for repayment of mortgage and interest.

"Travelling expenses have consumed more than $600 over and above the offertories collected on the road. The expenses of the last conference, rent of the Gazette office, and other items, make up the total. But in addition to all these the Bishop has had to render himself personally liable for all the legal expenses which have been incurred since his incumbency of the see, amounting to between $600 and $700.

"Again, we say these circumstances were perhaps unavoidable in a new diocese in a poor country, but they are not the less unsatisfactory or intolerable on that account, and no one can be surprised or complain at the decision arrived at by the Bishop in regard to them.

"Considering rightly that all retrenchment should begin at home, the Bishop has largely reduced his own domestic establishment. He has determined to relinquish for the present all visitations except at the expense of the parish requiring his services, and has given notice to his legal adviser that he will incur no further liability on account of diocesan business. The visitation of the diocese has been already so complete (Kootenay alone remaining unvisited) that this part of the Bishop's decision will entail but little inconvenience. It was in contemplation to hold an Indian Industrial Exhibition in the autumn, and the abandonment of this, or, at any rate, its postponement for a year, will probably occasion some disappointment. Work, so far as present means allow, is fairly organized in every district. Confirmations were held last year at Chilliwhack, Yale, and Kamloops; and most of such other business as can arise can be dealt with by correspondence.

"By far the most important matter involved is the delay in the completion of the transfer of property from the old diocese to the new. But even here it is difficult to see how the Bishop could have acted otherwise than he has. To go on incurring expense would be to go on inflicting personal injustice for the public benefit, and it would be none the less injustice because it was self-inflicted. The synod will probably meet in the autumn, and the property of the diocese will be the most appropriate business it can first take up."

It will be seen later that the Bishop was able to undertake more work abroad than he had at first anticipated, but still the anxiety of carrying on the Church's work with very insufficient means pressed very heavily upon him all through the third year of his episcopate.

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