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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 XVII.


IN the report issued at the end of 1884, the prevailing note is unmistakably that of disappointment--a disappointment all the keener inasmuch as it appeared to the Bishop that the gloominess of the outlook was attributable to causes within the control of Churchmen in the diocese.

There was disappointment with regard to the synod, which was poorly attended by the lay delegates, and the Bishop speaks out with great plainness and candour as to the failure of the laity to rise to their opportunities in this matter.

"Eighteen lay delegates," he says, "had been elected, but of this number only eight put in an appearance. . . . But further, with regard to the business transacted, it is the merest euphemism to say that expedition characterized the whole proceedings. The Committee on S.P.G. Attorneys recommended the Executive Committee to attend to the business. The Committee on Marriage Laws 'respectfully recommended' the Bishop to look into them and get them altered if he thought it necessary, and they added three other 'recommendations' to whom it might concern, extremely good as to the matter of them, but devoid of practical force. . . . Now, the question is pre-eminently a layman's question. The laity called for the synod in the first instance, and it was granted to them, although by many amongst us regarded as inopportune. It is, therefore, not unreasonable to require that the laity shall take an interest in the synod, and that the lay members shall cheerfully and patiently devote themselves to the business of the diocese.

"If the synod is simply to pass resolutions recommending the Executive Committee and the Bishop to do the work, we can do the work without such a recommendation at all. ..."

A similar feeling of disappointment pervaded his lordship's remarks on Church schools, in the cause of which he had sacrificed so much time and money.

"It seems to be entirely ignored," he says, "that these institutions exist, not as private speculations, but for the promotion of religious education on Church principles. It is simply a question as to whether such an object is desirable or not. I established these schools because I believed that it is, and because I was encouraged to do so by the repeated solicitations of Church people. I am naturally, therefore, disappointed at finding Church children sent indiscriminately to Roman or to free schools, while our own are left to languish for want of support, and I myself am consumed with anxiety on their account."

Other subjects called for equally plain expressions of feeling, the uniform depression of the Bishop's statement being only broken by a more hopeful forecast of the prospects of the Indian work and schools.

The great anxiety which no doubt clouded the Bishop's estimate of the whole diocesan work was the serious financial outlook resulting from the decrease of offerings both in England and within the diocese. On this point the Bishop writes--

"While I would be the very last to regard the financial prosperity of the diocese as an absolute test of its success, nevertheless I am strongly of opinion that where a Church fails to attract the willing and hearty support of its members, the circumstance betokens a want of confidence and harmony for which there must be a cause, and for which it is the duty of all, and especially for those in authority, to seek a remedy."

One cause to which the Bishop called special attention, whether rightly or wrongly the present writer has no knowledge, lay in a direction upon which he speaks trenchantly and with characteristic courage.

"There is, however, another way of reading our financial embarrassment, and one which the solemn obligations of my office forbid me to overlook, viz. as affording an indication of the relationship existing between pastor and people. And herein, again, I must guard myself from being misunderstood. I do not for one moment allow that the personal relationship of any one to his parish priest is a lawful or proper measure of his obligation to support his Church. A man's duty in this respect belongs to a region far removed from all personal considerations. Nevertheless, unfortunately for human nature, we know only too well that personal relationship is the pivot on which a large proportion of our religious contributions turns, and the first and commonest indication of friction in the running of the parochial machine is often the failure or falling off of contributions. It would be childish to ignore that there is friction of a serious character in some of our parishes, and such friction as ought to be avoided, and could be avoided; for in every instance at present in my mind, self-will and no principle whatever is the originating cause of it. Self-will is equally unlovely, whether in priest or people, but it is undoubtedly less excusable in the former, who should have the more evenly balanced and more perfectly sanctified mind. 'It is impossible but that offences will come, but woe unto him through whom they come.' The responsibility, whether to priest or layman, is a terrible one, while the insignificance of the matter in dispute is an aggravation of the scandal and a wanton outrage to common sense.

"The shepherd is quick to complain if his flock do not follow him, but he complains also when they follow him in the path of self-will. He claims that to him is committed the cure of souls, and his conscience must not be fettered in the exercise of it. My brothers, there is a cure of souls of higher responsibility than yours, that is, your Bishop's, and his conscience is to him a matter as solemn as your own. You can, by submission, throw your responsibility on to him; he cannot dispose of his own. He may certainly err, but the blame is his, not yours, if you have yielded to his judgment; whereas your errors are his responsibility if he has suffered them to continue.

"And to my lay brothers may I not justly say that in their contentions there is more of self-will than of principle, more self-assertion than argument? 'We will not have these things so,' is neither convincing nor provocative of charity. It is possible to compel peace with a sword, but it is only the peace of a slumbering volcano, a breathing time for the vanquished to prepare again for the contest. A true peace is one for which both sides long, and for sake of which both sides are ready to yield."

Be the cause what it might, the Bishop had to bid the friends of the Mission at home and abroad to face the unpleasant fact that the diocese was practically bankrupt, and its chief pastor compelled to meet urgent liabilities out of his own private resources.

"It is not within the bounds of reasonable expectation," he writes, "that I should go on doing this, even if I were in a position, which I am not, to afford it. I am under no obligation to contribute more than one-tenth of my income for Church purposes, whereas during the last five years I have contributed more than one-fourth."

That this was a time of grievous anxiety to the Bishop was fully borne out at the time by the testimony of Mr. Justinian Pelly, treasurer to the Home Committee, then on a visit to the diocese, and who worked indefatigably to improve financial matters. He wrote as follows, under date of January 31, 1885:--

"... Since I arrived here I have occupied myself in making a complete investigation of the financial position of the Mission, and I now send you, under separate cover by book post, an abstract of the Mission accounts, from the time the Bishop entered upon his duties. I have endeavoured to put this abstract in such a form as shall be intelligible to persons not versed in accounts, as it is the opinion of the Bishop, subject to the concurrence of the English committee, that it would be expedient to have it printed and circulated among all interested in the diocese. . . . There are some remarks regarding the several items of expenditure, which I venture to submit to the committee. 'Travelling Expenses' is necessarily a very heavy item. The cost of the journey of each employé coming from England was, until last year, £70. By arrangements with steamship owners in England, and with railroads in America, the cost has latterly been reduced to under £50, and negotiations are in progress for still greater reduction. Travelling expenses in the diocese are likewise very heavy. To those unacquainted with the condition of the country, it may be surprising to be told that the ordinary charges at the roadside inns, where only the very roughest accommodation is to be had, far exceed those of first-class hotels in England. The distances, moreover, from place to place are very great. With regard to the journeys of the Bishop, he has been treated with great liberality by the innkeepers and by the authorities of the railway company, who have given him a free pass over the line so far as completed, and have been equally liberal with regard to other clergy when travelling on ministerial duties. Moreover, the special donations and offertories which the Bishop has received in his journeys up-country have frequently exceeded and generally equalled his outlay. These contributions appear on the credit side of the account, under the head 'Offertories,' and are included in the sum of $5151 appearing there. I would here venture to remark on what appears to me the largeness of the sum so contributed by offertories, donations, and sales of work in the diocese, and for the general purposes of the Mission, as this does not include what was raised in the several parishes for church-building, maintenance of services, and clergy stipends. I find from the annual parochial returns that these in the four years, 1881-1884, amounted to $23,193.57.

"With regard to 'General Expenses,' I have looked through the several items charged under this head, and could not discover any outlay beyond what was absolutely necessary. Freight and duty on mission goods, included under this head, is either recouped by sales of work, or benefits the parishes for which the goods are destined, without appearing in the accounts.

"The finances of the Mission are managed by an Executive Committee of which the Bishop is president, and the strictest economy is exercised."

As the months went on the situation did not become less acute, and the quarterly paper issued in July, 1885, makes the following announcement:--

"Owing to the very unsatisfactory state of our funds, the Bishop has felt it his duty to come home next year and try to stir up more interest in his diocese. The necessity of this step comes at a most inconvenient time, for the completion of the C.P.R. especially demands his presence in the diocese to try to meet the fresh demands which will be made on the Church for her ministrations to the new settlers from England.

"More men will mean more money. At present some work will have to be given up, and though one of the saddest things in mission life is to give up work, yet it is better to do this than to get into debt. We are doing our best to avoid this, and to keep clear of owing money--though there are clergy out there now, hard-working men, who have not received the wretchedly small stipends due to them in full for the last six months. It is much better that our readers should know this. So many promised to collect for us and have given it up; so many were eager for boxes, but have become tired; so many clergy who gave offertories now say that they really cannot manage to give us a sermon once a year. Is it that the love of many is becoming cold? Is the interest in the welfare of our poor diocese so small that, at a critical time like the present, our old friends will not rally round us? ... May God raise us up some helpers speedily, that the work may not fail."

It is a melancholy story, and by this time probably to the reader monotonous, but the reality was monotonous too, and it is just as well that this fact should be appreciated.

In the fall of. the year came another letter from the Bishop, dated September 24, 1885, on the now too familiar subject. We quote this at length--


"My quarterly contribution to the paper cannot be a cheerful one. I am bitterly disappointed at the failure of support from home, and while I am cast down at the prospects of the Church here, I cannot help feeling some indignation as well at being left to do the best I can with obligations which home support, a year or two ago, encouraged me to incur.

"It would probably have been better had the money then given us been withheld. We certainly could not, in that case, have enlarged our borders as we wished to do, and as was really necessary to be done, but we should not have been in our present position of financial collapse. It is only another proof, were any needed, of the falsity of the principle of giving out of a temporarily excited interest, rather than out of a sense of duty and a love of God.

"I hope I shall be forgiven for writing somewhat severely, but it must be remembered that, on the strength of contributions in former years, I have opened up missions and brought men out from England to occupy them; I have established schools, and sent for teachers to superintend them; and then suddenly, and without one word of warning, contributions fail, and no alternative is left us but to abandon much promising and prosperous work.

"I am not exaggerating. Two churches are now closed, and a third will be closed at the end of a month; two have been reduced to fortnightly services. One school was closed last June, and another is to be closed at Christmas. We are in debt to the clergy for stipends, due on June 30th last, about £90, and we have about £20 in hand to meet this and the stipends falling due on the 30th inst.; and I have had to borrow money on the mortgage of Church property to meet liabilities which could not wait, and have made advances myself to the very utmost of my ability.

"I have no heart to write of work while this financial burden is weighing on me. A responsibility, heavy enough under any circumstances, becomes almost intolerable in such a case.

"'Why not come home and beg yourself?' say some people. I cannot afford to come home at present, but, further, it ought not to be necessary for me to come home. Where is the use of great missionary organizations like S.P.G. and C.M.S., or of the multitude of lesser 'committees,' 'councils,' and 'agencies,' if, after all, the Bishops have to do the begging? I maintain that we are sent by the Church to do her work, and our reports of the work doing and to be done ought to be sufficient. It is a degradation of our office to have to make 'appeals' to conjure pence out of people's pockets wherewith to do God's work.

"There is something wanting in a system that requires such appeals, but the supply of what is wanting is a subject altogether too big to be entered upon here, even if it were within my capacity to discuss it.

"I append a summary of the treasurer's statement, to show that (in the single item of stipends) we have in hand about £20 to meet about £220.

"Yours faithfully,


This has been a short and dull chapter, but it will not have been dull in vain if only Church people in England can be induced to think of the way in which our colonial Churches are starved in their tender infancy, rendered puny and weak for want of the nourishment a rich Mother Church has it in her power to give, and if they can be induced to think, too, of the way in which a Bishop's heart is crushed within him at the apparent indifference of those who have sent him forth.

Our dear old Church has had her martyr-bishops who have freely shed their blood in savage lands, but it has had, and still has, its martyrs also of another type--martyrs whose life-blood is pressed out of them drop by drop.

Still there was another side to the shield, and though the Bishop's heart was made sore within him by these and other trials, there were not wanting signs of great things, both achieved in the past and promised for the future. The opening of the C.P.R. during this year was a determining crisis in the history of the colony, and brought the Mission into closer touch with the rest of the Church work in Canada, while opening up the country more effectually to the ministrations of the Church. The Indian Missions went on apace at Yale and Lytton. In both places church-building proceeded rapidly, priests and people working enthusiastically together, and many converts were gathered into the fold by baptism. On every hand we see during this year that the influence of the Bishop's work was felt, and producing a far larger harvest of good than was at first sight apparent.

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