Project Canterbury

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 XXI.


THE year 1888, like 1887, was broken into by a visit to England, and it is only necessary here briefly to indicate its leading events. The very first day of the year was marked by the consecration of S. James' Church, Vancouver, built in the place of the building swept away by the great Vancouver fire. The Bishop's Confirmation tours were as numerous as ever, though compressed into a smaller portion of the year, and, these over, a start was made for England immediately after the meeting of synod in April.

The object of this visit was to attend the Lambeth Conference, of which it is only necessary to say that to our Bishop, as to every Churchman, the spectacle of one hundred and forty-five Bishops, assembled together from the ends of the earth, united by the tie of a common faith and a common purpose, was deeply impressive, and furnished emphatic testimony to the vigorous growth and practical unity of the Anglican Communion.

With regard to the remainder of the stay the Bishop writes--

"I was occupied, as last year, in visiting as many as possible of the parishes from which we derive most of our support, and this occupied me continuously during the months of August, September, and October."

The diocese was reached once more on November 11th, when the mountain church of Donald came into view, and as it was Sunday morning, the party was able, while the train waited, to join in a service of thanksgiving and praise. Unhappily, the Bishop came back not in the best of health, and in fighting sickness ended the year.

The work of the year 1889 was of a perfectly unexciting, if not absolutely humdrum character. The tenth year of an episcopate could hardly be so full of varied interest as the first, and as the Bishop had learned by this time the exact amount of work of which he and his staff were capable, all that he had to do was to do it, as well as under the circumstances was possible. But humdrum work, sometimes called drudgery, is not the less valuable because it fails to appeal to men's love of the sensational, so that if we here give but the barest resume of the work of 1889, it is not because it was less important than that of the preceding nine, but because the ground has already been covered in former chapters.

In one way the year was well marked--in the increase that took place both in the number of clergy and of churches in the diocese.

On Sunday, January I3th, an ordination was held in Holy Trinity Church, New Westminster, when the Rev. W. B. Allen, of Chilliwhack, was ordained priest, and Mr. Wright admitted to the diaconate.

With fresh clergy fresh churches were not long in springing up. The new church at Donald, built amid the bracing air of the mountains by men who seem to have inhaled with that air the spirit to become pioneers in the Church's work, was consecrated by the Bishop on Sunday, February 24th, at a service the impressiveness of which remained long after as a stimulus to those who took part therein. The Bishop seems to have spoken on this occasion on the sacredness of the House of God with more than his usual force and fervour.

At Kamloops, too, a new church had been erected, to the unfeigned gratification of those who had worshipped so long in a barn. The first service was held in the new edifice on the same Sunday as witnessed the Consecration Service at Donald, and the Bishop was able to be present and hold a Confirmation on the following Wednesday.

Again, in Vancouver, while the new parish of Christ Church was developing rapidly, the Rector of S. James', so far from feeling his work narrowed by the loss of a portion of his old parish, succeeded in building two Mission churches at some distance from the mother-church--S. Michael's on Mount Pleasant, and S. Paul's on Hornby Street.

Thus new work was pushed forward on every hand, and the character of the Bishop's work, during the first half of the year, was that of continual itinerancy, confirming the work already achieved, and inspiring the clergy to fresh efforts in the future.

Soon after reaching home, from an extended tour in the Okanagan country, the Bishop called together his synod, and in his address touched on many of the points raised in the Lambeth Conference, and committees were appointed to deal with several of them. In the matter of forming a Provincial Synod for the whole of British Columbia, no practical result was so far attained, the diocese of Caledonia being in practice more distant from the other dioceses than some of the eastern sees.

The great event of the year, and one which was fraught with far-reaching consequences--to the parish of New Westminster advantageous, to the Bishop personally physically ruinous--was the exchange effected between Archdeacon Woods, Rector of Holy Trinity, and the Bishop; whereby the former became rector of the little suburban church of S. Mary's, Sapperton, and the latter assumed the responsibilities of the parish of Holy Trinity. To the Archdeacon it was the means of obtaining a much-needed rest, to the parish it was the means of having the Bishop constantly in its midst, and the parish church recognized as a quasi-cathedral; but to the Bishop himself it was the undertaking of a burden far too heavy for his strength, even assisted as he was, for the greater portion of his incumbency, by a staff of two curates.

But, for the time, the impetus given to the parochial work was immense. The Bishop entered upon his new duties as rector on July 19th, and Mr. Irwin became assistant-curate a week later. The old rectory building was demolished, and the contract let for the building of a new house, which should be the official residence of the Bishop.

Mrs. Sillitoe writes at the time--

"The Bishop has now, in addition to his episcopal work, the charge of the parish of New Westminster, and this keeps him very busy--in fact, far too busy--for whilst we are living a mile and a half distant from the church, it is difficult to get through all the work. Our new house in New Westminster is being built, but we shall not be able to get into it till Christmas. As it is built of wood, we can move in as soon as it is finished. Sorry as I shall be to leave our present home, the knowledge that if we lived here the work would be too much for the Bishop, reconciles me to the change. It will be very nice to have a new house, but I fear it will have the effect of making my belongings look very shabby."

Meanwhile, the new work did not prevent the accomplishment of the usual episcopal duties, and this year, for the first time in three years, he was able to be present at the annual gathering of the Lytton Indians at Pootanie.

On November 1st (All Saints' Day) a landmark in the Bishop's work was reached in the completion of the tenth year of his episcopate.

The occasion was fitly marked by a special service in Holy Trinity Church on All Hallows E'en, when the Bishop summed up the encouragements and lessons of his ten years' work in a striking sermon from the text, "Of myself I can do nothing." A few days later, in memory of the same interesting event, a reception was tendered to the Bishop and Mrs. Sillitoe in the Opera House, which was of more than parochial interest, since representatives from many of the outlying districts attended to offer their congratulations.

It is a significant comment on this tenth anniversary which is furnished in the statistics of the close of this year. The Bishop was able thankfully to chronicle the receipt of a material increase of funds. In the parish of Christ Church, Vancouver, no less than $7000 was raised during the year. And on every hand there were signs that Church-people, naturally so slow in such matters, were beginning to realize the part they were called upon to play in building up the Church in the West. Dr. Sillitoe's ten years' unremitting toil, although not spent to obtain dazzling or immediate returns, had not failed in bringing forth much fruit to the glory of God and the service of man.

Project Canterbury