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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 XXVI.


AT the beginning of this year the Bishop was hopeful that his illness was over and that the opportunity of vigorous work had returned.

But others were not so hopeful, and even the English committee, though far away from him, were not reassured by the bright optimism of his letters. In February Mr. Mogg writes--

"The committee, knowing the state of things, begged him to give up for some months, and an offer was made to meet the expenses attending an entire rest. His answer overflowed with gratitude; he pointed out the difficulties of leaving, and continued, 'I cannot go away until I have given the parishes the opportunity of Confirmations. . . . We must try and make up for the falling off last year. Again, I do not think I need go away for six months. I am now very well, my only trouble some symptom in my heart, which last year's attacks seem to have left rather shaky; but quiet, and, above all, peace of mind, are the best relief for this.' He felt, whether wisely or unwisely, he could not give in. God had placed him in his responsible position, and as long as any strength remained, he would be at his post and fight on with undiminished hope. This was emphatically his character."

So, weak as he was, he started out on his round of Confirmations.

First of all, he visited Trenant to hold Confirmation there. This passed off happily, and the Bishop greatly cheered the vicar in his difficult work during the short stay he made before proceeding to Victoria. Immediately after this, with completest self-forgetfulness, he went off to Tacoma, Washington, to officiate at the funeral of his old friend, Bishop Paddock. He little dreamed that in three months Bishop Paddock's successor would act in a similar capacity beside his own grave.

On returning home to New Westminster he had at once to leave for a Confirmation at Kamloops, arriving early in the morning after a whole night's travelling, and returning again the night following. On Palm Sunday, though feeling very ill, he took the early celebration at the cathedral, and morning service with sermon, and then went over to Vancouver for a Confirmation at S. Paul's. Here he broke down, and was compelled to omit the usual address after the laying on of hands. Taking the Rector of S. Paul's back with him, to officiate for him in his stead at the cathedral (for at this time the Bishop was taking the cathedral services almost single-handed), he returned to New Westminster, and was at once ordered to bed. Here he remained over Easter, and was prevented from fulfilling various Confirmation engagements for Holy Week.

But as soon as he was the least bit stronger he moved up to Lytton, believing that the bracing air, which he had always found so beneficial before, would suffice to restore him. Lytton had always been a favourite resting-place for him.

The Rev. H. Edwardes, writing of this visit, says--

"It was my privilege to have the Bishop and Mrs. Sillitoe as my guests shortly before his death. He came to Lytton, which place he always loved, despite its evil winds, hoping to build up his health again, but day by day we could see there was no improvement, and that he was growing weaker and more nervous and sleepless. But he still struggled daily with the work of his diocese, and with miserable worrying difficulties which would follow him, dictating his letters to me when he was utterly unfit for any worry, or work, or correspondence at all."

Meanwhile, he had determined upon the cutting off of one great source of labour and worry in the resignation of his post as Rector of Holy Trinity, New Westminster. That post he had accepted under circumstances which entitled him to believe that it would be to the great advantage of the parish. This it undoubtedly proved, but the double work, and its attendant worry, was fatal to himself, and for some time his resignation had appeared inevitable.

Early in the year he had written in his report--

"It is already, I think, generally known that I have determined to divest myself of the office of rector of the parish. I had anticipated that it would be possible to hold the office nominally, while the duties should be performed by a deputy, but I have learned that there is more in a name than I had thought; and having convinced myself that the parish could be better served by an actual rector permanently resident, I am now about making such an appointment. What little hesitancy I may feel in taking what appears to be a retrogressive action in this matter is amply compensated for by the satisfaction of having accomplished the work of establishing so successful a mission in the parish as St. Barnabas', the consummation of which work I still hope to see in the elevation of the Mission into independent parochial life before I lay down my office."

Both these wishes were realized at Eastertide, when the Rev. A. Shildrick, late incumbent of Kamloops, was licensed to the Rectory of Holy Trinity, and the Mission district of S. Barnabas' was constituted a separate parish under the present writer.

Leaving Lytton on May 5th, the Bishop once more set out for the coast for Confirmations at Vancouver and New Westminster. The journey was managed better than had been expected, but a very bad night followed with no sleep. The Confirmation at S. Michael's, Vancouver, was successfully administered, and a second one at Christ Church, although the Bishop's voice sounded very weary. In the evening he left for New Westminster, and again a sleepless night followed, with a sense of weakness in the morning. Several hours' rest during the next day enabled him to confirm at the cathedral in the evening for the two parishes of S. Mary's, Sapperton, and S. Barnabas', New Westminster, and on the 8th he left again for Lytton.

Mr. Edwardes writes--

"He returned to Lytton decidedly worse after the excitement and exertion of services, confirmations, and worrying meetings in New Westminster. A number of Indians had been prepared for Confirmation, and so again he braced himself up to give them the precious Gift. On Whit Sunday we had all ready for him at the Indian Church by 8.50 a.m., when he came to the door supported by Mrs. Sillitoe. The Indian churchwardens and sidesmen received him, and the big congregation rose as he entered. It was a touching and anxious service for all of us, a service full of self-sacrifice, for he could hardly get through it, and his words to the confirmed Indians were very brief and to the point. We are proud and thankful that his last public act of service was for the poorest and most ignorant, but by no means least loved, of his scattered flock.

"He had intended to celebrate the Holy Eucharist later that morning in the Lytton Chapel for the white people, but was utterly unable to do so. ... The last time he celebrated the Holy Mysteries was at the altar in the little Mission Chapel on Ascension Day. On Monday in Whitsuntide he left us for Yale by the doctor's orders, and the end came rapidly after that. Compared with the terrible time of suffering which clouded his last days, the time at Lytton was for him a season of rest and peace, and for that we are thankful indeed."

Removed to Yale, he became decidedly worse, with sickness off and on during the day, followed by sleepless nights. It was, says an account written shortly afterwards--

"A time of terrible sufferings, a literal fighting for breath. His almost ceaseless cry was, 'O God, help me!' At other times he would be whispering prayers, and at one of the worst attacks he repeated aloud a psalm of praise. This continued till Sunday, May 27th, and his delirious condition seemed hopeless. The parsonage at Yale, where the Bishop stayed, is close to the church, and on Trinity Sunday, as he sat in his bedroom with Mrs. Sillitoe, he followed Mattins and Evensong, joining in all the responses. During some of the periods of delirium the only thing that soothed him was the reading of psalms and chapters of Holy Scripture by the hour together. The doctors had now ascertained the real cause of his malady, which they held to be incurable. With their consent, Mrs. Sillitoe telegraphed to Victoria for the Bishop's old friend and medical attendant, Dr. Hanington. He came and remained several days, during which he fought the terrible blood-poisoning, superintending the nursing himself. After five days an improvement manifested itself, and there was a return to consciousness. Again the doctor's untiring efforts brought him through a collapse from extreme weakness which had all but taken him away. It was during this time that accounts reached New Westminster of his serious condition. The Archdeacon thus writes of it: 'Then there came a time of almost unbearable anxiety to us all here. The river rose in a few days, owing to the rapid melting of the snow on the mountains, to such a height that railway bridges, permanent way, telegraph lines were so injured that traffic was interrupted and telegrams could not be forwarded; so that, though we knew of his illness, we could get no definite intelligence as to his actual state.'

"The whole of the lower part of Yale was under water. At Ruby Creek steamers took the place of the train, carrying passengers to New Westminster, and then by train to Vancouver. Entire places were under water, and it was no uncommon sight to see wooden houses sailing down the Fraser at a great speed. The realization of what this would mean to a colony already suffering from failure of trade, without doubt added to the anxiety of the Bishop, and hastened his end. Still, there seemed real improvement, and on Friday, June ist, he was considered strong enough to start for his home. He was carried to the train by Doctors Hanington and McGuigan, attended by Mrs. Sillitoe and a nurse. They were astonished at the way in which he stood the journey, and felt quite hopeful about him, holding out prospects of his being in time able to get away for complete change. He reached New Westminster on board one of the river steamers, which had been sent by the C.P.R. to connect the broken links of the railway. Mr. Abbot, general superintendent of the line, had sent his private car to bring him down; but, though the car reached Yale, it was unable to return because of the floods. Towards night on Saturday the pains returned, and the laboured breathing. All Sunday he was growing worse, and in the afternoon the doctor's verdict was given that there was no hope. His first thought, when he was told, was for Mrs. Sillitoe. 'My poor little wife,' he said, 'this comes very hard upon you.' He then said how he trusted she would be an example to others, showing how a Christian should bear sorrow. Then he spoke of the affairs of the diocese as being left, he hoped, fairly in order. His domestic chaplain, Mr. Croucher, who had given the Bishop unfailing attendance since the time of his coming to Yale, and had accompanied him to New Westminster, suggested his receiving the Holy Sacrament. The Bishop at first demurred, thinking a communion in the evening inconsistent with the practice and teaching of his life, but upon the chaplain's urging the immunity of the sick from the Church's rule, and the desire he and others felt to receive the Communion with him, he consented. He made immediate preparation, and joined devoutly in the responses all through the service. This was the last act he performed in full consciousness. On this Sunday notice was given in more than one church that the daily celebration would be with special intention on behalf of the Bishop, and in five of the churches arrangements were made to have ceaseless intercessions offered from 6 a.m. to midnight each day. The circle of the whole twenty-four hours could have been easily completed had it been possible to communicate with outlying parishes. As it was, New Westminster, Sapperton, and Vancouver shared the sad yet blessed and hopeful privilege between them. Describing this period, the Archdeacon writes--

"'We all knew he whom we loved so dearly, and so deservedly valued, had entered the borderland, but none could tell whether it was to be for life or death. We asked (if it might be God's will) life, and "Thou grantedst him a long life, even for ever and ever." Once during that anxious week I saw him for a few minutes, but he did not seem to know me. When I stood beside him and laid my hand on his head to give him my blessing, he bent his head reverently, was silent for a few moments, his delirious talk ceasing, and then raised his eyes to mine, but still, so far as I could judge, not knowing who I was.'

"Monday and Tuesday during this week were days of pain, but on Wednesday the Bishop was restful. It was during the closing half-hour of the last two hours' watch that was being kept at S. James', Vancouver, on the Saturday night, that he quietly breathed his last, and entered, on the Lord's day, the blessed and more lasting joy of Paradise."

Expected as the departure had been, it came that Sunday morning with a great shock, not only upon those who were numbered among his flock, but to all of every class and every creed who admired and reverenced the man and his work.

A day or two before his death one of the Vancouver papers had the following words in its editorial:--

"The very deepest interest is taken in the condition of his lordship, Bishop Sillitoe. Beloved by those to whom he especially ministers, he has endeared himself to all creeds, and has formed a large part of the highest and best life of this portion of the province. The cutting short of so useful a career would be deplorable. At this time, when cant and fanaticism seem to be holding their carnival, broad-minded men like his lordship are wanted to teach the lesson of charity that is of the very essence of religion. Prayers are being offered up in the various Episcopal churches for the Bishop's recovery, and all his friends are asked to participate in the services." (The World, June 5th.)

And immediately after the sad event had become known another secular paper stated as follows:--

"The death of Bishop Sillitoe is an event which will be regretted by many besides those who are members of the Church to which the late Bishop belonged. In his death the Church of England in this province loses not merely one of its chief pastors, but also one of its most energetic leaders. Zealous for the interests of his Church, Bishop Sillitoe set a worthy example to the clergy and laymen of his diocese. The welfare and prosperity of the Church was a sentiment which pervaded every action of his life. In a vast diocese like that of New Westminster even the ordinary performance of the duties of the Episcopal office is sufficient to absorb all the energy which the incumbent of it may possess. But Bishop Sillitoe did not remain satisfied with the carrying out of the mere perfunctory obligations imposed upon him. 'To spend and be spent' in the service of the Church was his motto. The necessities of the diocese, the need for more clergy and Church buildings, in order that the widely scattered settlements might be afforded spiritual ministrations, were ever before Bishop Sillitoe. Not merely did he strain every effort to make the Church more effective for the end for which it was founded; there is every reason to believe that the anxieties and disappointments which he suffered as the result of his perception of the inadequacy of the means at his disposal had also a serious effect on a frame not robust. But he has laid well the foundations, and those who may come after him will find their abilities and zeal taxed to the utmost, if they carry out to the full those works to the planning of which Bishop Sillitoe devoted the best efforts of his life. His example will remain, though he has passed away."

Owing to the floods, which cut New Westminster for a time completely off from Eastern Canada, the news travelled slowly; but it evoked a unanimous outburst of sorrow and regret, all the more sincere, perhaps, because but a year before Churchmen there had seen him at work actively umong them, lecturing and preaching, from city to city, in order that he might disseminate knowledge respecting his distant diocese. From the many notices in Canadian Church papers that from the Church Guardian may be quoted here as representative of all:--

"The sad news of the severe loss which has fallen upon the whole Church of England in Canada through the death of the Right Rev. the Lord Bishop of New Westminster, on the Qth of June, only reaches us on the 22nd instant, owing, doubtless, to the interruption of mail and telegraphic communication through the late floods in British Columbia. We cannot express how deeply we feel the loss which has befallen the Church. It is not our custom to write words of eulogy of the dead, great or small, but there are occasions when expression of loss through the removal, in God's providence, of leaders is not only expected, but is just. And this is one of such occasions, for the late Lord Bishop of New Westminster was a Bishop in every sense of the word--apostolic, self-denying, laborious, and devout, and one who in his short episcopate (as we reckon time) has built securely, and must have left behind him an undying record. We feel, too, that the Church in Canada owes him a debt of gratitude, for we think that it was, under God's good guidance, largely through his influence that a direct conflict was avoided in regard to the formation of the General Assembly of the Church in Canada, and that that important event was finally carried through. The loss, humanly speaking, is appalling; but faith looks beyond the present, and realizes that God overrules as well the destiny of individuals as that of the Church, and that He can and will provide a worthy successor for the first good, able, and devoted Bishop of this now bereaved See."

And in England, where, however, the Bishop was less known, the regret was real and profound. The Home Committee announced the sad news in the following appropriate words:--

"'Grant them grace to witness to the Faith'--thus have ever prayed the members of our Guild; and God, in a special way, has answered the prayer in the case of our first Bishop. It has been granted to him to witness to the Faith even unto death. In all our sorrow, in the bitter personal grief which so many of us feel that we shall no more welcome him home amongst us, we would first try and thank God for thus allowing him the lofty privilege, at times permitted to the saints, to die rather than give up his work and the fulfilment of his duty to His Holy Church. The words of the telegram received on June nth have a touching, simple pathos seldom found in such messages: 'Bishop asleep.' A brief sentence, but the essence of a lengthy statement full of information. 'Asleep' after that toiling life of activity, never sparing himself, refusing to leave his post, though pressed to do so, and warned by medical opinion of the probable result. Others wanting rest were encouraged to go back to the old country, but, thoughtless of himself, he stayed on, not only weakened by repeated attacks of pneumonia, but worried by the effect on the Church of the commercial depression under which the Colony has for some time been suffering."

And, last to be mentioned, but by no means least prized by Mrs. Sillitoe, I place the following letter, received from the Lytton Indians, who had received so much love from the departed Bishop:--

"June 10, 1894.

"The Indians very sorry because the Bishop is die, because he loves them very much and takes care of them. They awful sorry Bishop die, because they all feel they belong to him. The people hear he die last night, and that what they are awful sorry for. From to-day they will pray all the time for his happiness in Paradise. They want these three days to say prayers for him till the funeral. They are sorry they have lost their things through the water, but more sorry the Bishop is die. They want Mrs. Sillitoe to let them know if she is well or not, because we love the Bishop very much, and we love Mrs. Sillitoe too, and they will all pray to God that He will comfort her in her sorrow."

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