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An Apostle of the North
Memoirs of the Right Reverend William Carpenter Bompas, D.D.

By H.A. Cody, B.A.

London: Seeley, 1908.

Chapter XI. A Synod in the Wild (1876)

"Do Thou in ever-quickening streams
Upon Thy saints descend,
And warm them with reviving beams,
And guide them to the end."

As soon as possible after his consecration Bishop Bompas began to organize the forces at his command, and made preparations for the holding of a Synod. But his men were few and far removed, and months passed before word reached them at their distant posts. At last the difficulty was overcome, and on September 4, 1876, the first Synod of the vast diocese was held at Fort Simpson.

The general idea of a Synod is a large city, splendid church or cathedral, enthusiastic gatherings of earnest people, hearty services, imposing processions, and learned discussions, where

"Grey champions bowed and thoughtful, Young knights of mettle fine, Meet as of old in councils vast, Grave questions to define."

But reverse all this, and behold a Hudson Bay post in the northern wilds along the great Mackenzie River, a few houses clustered together, a small church, a congregation composed mostly of Indians, and a Bishop with only three clergy, besides a few schoolmasters and catechists.

Though small, it was still an interesting assemblage which met on that early September day, unlike any Synod ever before held. Foremost of the three clergy was the Ven. Archdeacon Robert McDonald, who had come from Fort McPherson, on Peel River. [Appointed Archdeacon in 1875. (From notes among the Bishop's papers.)] Noble champion of the faith, he had endured more than all the rest in sickness and hardships for the Master's sake. Next came the Rev. W. D. Reeve, who at that time was steadily making his mark in the great work, and upon whom in after-years devolved the care of the Churches in the diocese of Mackenzie River. The third was the Rev. Alfred Garrioch, recently ordained. Besides these there were Messrs. Allen Hardisty and William Norn, catechists, and George Sandison, a servant of the Hudson Bay Company.

There were many things to consider at this meeting. In August, 1875, the first provincial Synod of the ecclesiastical province of Rupert's Land had been held at Winnipeg, and the Bishop wished to confirm the resolutions then made. There were also questions to discuss concerning each post, and many details to be considered. But the most important work of this Synod was the division of the diocese into four parts. The Bishop found it impossible to be always at hand to settle any question that might arise in the remote portions of his field. The year previous to this meeting he had traversed, so he tells us, "the extreme breadth of the diocese from north-west to south-east, a distance of about 2,000 miles, covering, in going and returning, about double that distance, and visiting all the mission-stations and other posts on the route.

"These extended travels," he said, "prove inconsistent with domestic life, and Mrs. Bompas, being left alone in the rigorous climate, and among the sometimes chill hearts of our northern clime, has lost her health from exposure to cold and insufficient food. There is no doubt that the domestic hearth, when it can be had, will convey Christian lessons to the Indians." [Archdeacon McDonald in a letter to the writer.]

The arrangement of the force under the Bishop's command at this time was as follows:

1. Tukudh Mission.--Rampart House, Mr. K. McDonald, catechist; La Pierre's House, Henry Venn, native catechist; Fort McPherson, Peel River, Archdeacon Robert McDonald, missionary.

2. Mackenzie River Mission.--Fort Norman (Trinity Mission), Mr. J. Hodgson, schoolmaster; Fort SimpsOii (St. David's), the Bishop, missionary; Mr. Alfred Garrioch, catechist.

3. Great Slave Lake Mission.--Fort Rae, Rev. W. D. Reeve, missionary; Hay River Fort, Mr. William Norn, catechist.

4. Athabasca Mission.--Fort Chipewyan, Rev. A. Shaw, missionary; Mr. Allen Hardisty, catechist; Fort Vermilion, Mr. G. Garrioch, catechist.

These were the workers scattered over the vast diocese, and after careful consideration the following plan was agreed upon:

To the Rev. R. McDonald was entrusted the Tukudh Mission, in the extreme north-west, on the Yukon and its tributaries; to the Rev. W. D. Reeve, the Mackenzie River Mission; the Great Slave Lake Mission to the schoolmasters; while the Bishop kept the Athabasca Mission, comprising the southern district and the Peace River, to himself.

At this time the estimated population of the diocese was 10,000, of whom half were Roman Catholics, 3,000 with the Church of England, and the remainder heathen. The Bishop had 100 children in the various schools, and the same number of communicants.

But it was not all business that was carried on at this first diocesan Synod; there was something of a very different nature, and that was the charge given by the Bishop to his little band of men. Portions of it must be set down here, not only for its interesting and instructive nature, but because it is the only address delivered by the Bishop to his clergy of which we have any record.

"1. At this, our first meeting in diocesan Synod," he began, "it is right that I should congratulate you on the band of union which this Synod forms, to link us not only to one another, but also (through our connexion with the newly formed province of Rupert's Land) first with Manitoba and the whole of the North-West Territories, and more remotely with the Churches of Canada and England.

"2. The Right Rev. Bishop Machray, as our Metropolitan, forms the connecting-link between the four dioceses of Manitoba and the North-West Territories, while the Archbishop of Canterbury, being our Primate, assures us that our connexion remains unbroken with the ancient Mother Church of England. Again, the Church of the Dominion of Canada, containing now two ecclesiastical provinces (a northern and a southern), should not be considered as disunited but connected by the arrangement, just as the two provinces of the English Church (a northern and a southern), at York and Canterbury, offer no obstacle to, but only complete the union of, the Church of England as an undivided whole.

"3. It is also a matter for congratulation, in these dangerous times, that, by the provisions of our provincial Synod, our Church is secured in safe attachment to the faith and formularies of the Church of England, which all must admit to be Scriptural and moderate. At the same time we are happy in being removed by distance from the controversies at home."

After speaking at length about the contention between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church in his diocese, the Bishop continued: "The day of trial, we are assured, shall declare who amongst the builders of Christ's Church has wrought with God's own materials, the gold, silver, and precious stones of His holy word; and who, on the other hand, have used the wood, hay, and stubble of man's invention. 'If any man's work abide, he shall receive a reward. . . .' It is important for us to see that our own work be deep and thorough. Let us not accept any as Christian converts in connexion with our mission but such as we believe to have been the subjects of a real change of heart by the grace of Christ and His Holy Spirit. Others must, of course, be admitted to instruction, and from such an endeavour should be made to select those whose hearts are touched to form a band of inquirers for more careful and constant training with prayer and pains.

"4. The most common and the most open vices of the Indians, and those which seem to keep them most from the reception of the Gospel, are the practices of gambling, conjuring, and impurity. To their abandoning of these habits, therefore, our efforts should be specially directed, and no Indian should be considered as a Christian convert until he has entirely abandoned them. Dishonesty also, although not originally habitual to the Indians, has now become very general with those about the forts, and efforts should be made to check it.

"5. The practice, which it would be wrong to discontinue, of baptizing all the Indian children who are brought to us for the purpose throws upon us a great obligation to provide for them, as they grow up, instruction in the Christian faith. It seems impossible, at present, to keep the Indian children regularly at school in any numbers, and the only alternative seems to be to arrange a short form of elementary instruction, which shall be systematically taught to the children by rote at their camps, or wherever opportunity may offer.

"6. It is a melancholy fact that there is still but one completed church in our diocese, and this, though more than two years have now elapsed since a grant of £500 was offered us by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge for erecting additional churches. The school-church at Fort Norman is, however, now approaching completion. Let us all make an effort to have some plain buildings erected at our different mission-stations for Christian worship. The House of God is the chief visible sign which we are still allowed to retain of God's presence amongst us, and I take it to be of great importance that the heathen should be reminded, by this constant memorial before their eyes, 'that the introduction of Christianity into their country by the missionaries is a reality, and more than a mere tale; and I do not know of any way in which we may better seek to call down a Divine blessing on the land in which we live than by exerting ourselves for the erection of places of worship in the name of the Saviour whom we serve. All might do something in this matter by providing us with labour, materials, or furniture for the new churches.

"7. Our plans for education, in which I have heen interested ever since my arrival in the country eleven years ago, have also proved hitherto partly abortive, and I take this to be a lesson that, in missionary work, efforts for education must follow and not precede the work of evangelization. Meantime the missionaries themselves have to undertake educational duties. I am still, however, earnestly desirous that at least one school be formed in the diocese, where the elements of a sound English education for children should at all times be procurable. It is very desirable that this subject be further considered by us in Synod and private conference, with the hope, by God's help, of arriving at last, by perseverance, at some successful scheme of education.

"8. Economy of funds and scarcity of provisions oblige us at present to confine our mission agents and stations to as few in number as possible. The stations proposed to be occupied at present are the Forts Vermilion, Chipewyan, Eae, Simpson, Norman, McPherson, and Rampart House, at each of which it is earnestly desired that a church may be erected.

"9. I am glad to be able to testify, in returning from my recent journey, that the Indians of the Tukudh Mission are making fair progress in Christian instruction. I had the pleasure of administering the rite of Confirmation to more than one hundred of them. At Fort Norman, also, I was pleased to find among the Protestant Indians a readiness to learn. At Fort Simpson I was very pleased to find, during the first winter after my return from England, a marked increase of attention and attachment to our mission among all resident at the fort. I cannot feel, however, that this has been sustained as I could have hoped during the past winter; but I would trust the Christian spirit among you may now be revived and increased again. At Fort Chipewyan I am glad to hear of a regular attendance at Divine service, and at Fort Rae of a spirit of inquiry among the Indians. I would fain hope that the efforts now making to extend and strengthen our mission in the southern portion of the diocese may be permanently successful."

When the Synod ended the little band of workers had to hurry away to their distant posts, as winter was fast approaching. And away, too, went the Bishop. There were stations to visit which needed his attention, and he was delayed for some time. On his return in November he found Mrs. Bompas quite ill. Concerning the Bishop's return Mrs. Bompas speaks in her journal of that time:

"On the 11th I was in bed, feeling very poorly and distressed, a bad headache in addition to my other pains, when suddenly, about 4 o'clock p.m., my French girl (whom I had got over from the French Mission to help me in my extremity) went to the window, hearing the sound of sledge bells. In another moment she turned quickly to me and said, 'C'est votre mari, madame.' Never shall I forget that moment of joy and thankfulness. He was at my bedside the next instant, looking so well and handsome, his beard all hoary with frost, in fur cap, mittens, and deer-skin coat, etc., etc. Almost from the moment he arrived he set to work to make me more comfortable. My room hitherto, I confess, had been very cold and comfortless, and I seemed to have no strength to make it less so. But now every day seemed to take something off my burden and anxieties. Oh, it seemed impossible to be thankful enough! I could only lie in my weakness and pray to be more thankful."

That sickness, which was so hard to bear, was in reality a blessing in disguise, as after-events proved conclusively.

With the opening of navigation Mrs. Bompas started on her long journey of over 1,000 miles to Winnipeg. Of this trip she wrote:

"I am thankful to have come to the end of my long journey from Athabasca, which, by God's mercy, I accomplished with less fatigue than I anticipated. I met with much kindness on my way at the various mission-stations, and also at the Company's forts, and I visited many Indian camps, where one seldom fails to meet with a hearty welcome. Sometimes I had prayers with some of the women and children in my tent. They seem to like to come, and enjoy singing hymns. . . . My boat's crew from Isle & la Crosse to Cumberland was composed of Stanley men, and a more orderly, well-conducted set I never saw. They had a nice little service every morning and evening among themselves, which I always attended; it consisted of a hymn (beautifully sung in parts), a few words of Scripture, and a few of the Church prayers. Some days the poor men were quite worn out with hard work at the portages, and for two days their provisions ran short and they were nearly starving, but they sang their hymn and had their prayers without fail, and when relief came in the shape of two canoes bringing bags of flour and pemmican, their shout of delight, I think, must almost have reached Salisbury Square. . . .

"I came with the Governor-General from the Grand Rapids. His Excellency and Lady Dufferin were kind enough to invite me to join their party, as they heard that I was anxious to get on.

"I am thankful to find all my powers gradually returning, and the state of woeful emaciation to which I was reduced giving way under the influences of milk and other luxuries, of which I was deprived at Athabasca. I deplore my having to leave my work so soon, but I earnestly trust in God's mercy to bring me back to it again in the early spring." [Church Missionary Society Gleaner, January, 1878.]

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