Project Canterbury

Bishop Bury: Late Bishop of North and Central Europe
A Memoir

By Sophie McDougall Hine

Milwaukee: Morehouse, 1933.

Chapter IV. A Far-Flung Diocese

SOME three hundred years ago, by Order in Council, it was decided that all Church of England work outside the British Isles should be considered to be in the Diocese of London. Many of our fellow-countrymen at that time were leaving England and going out to different parts of the world, the beginning of that activity that has led to the British Empire, and wherever they went they wanted still to worship God according to the traditions of their forefathers, and so desired the services of their Church and, consequently, clergy. These clergy who followed them, in course of time wished, naturally, to have some authority to explain their position, and some centre to which returns of baptisms and marriages, etc., might be sent, as very important matters of property sometimes depend upon such entries having been correctly made. They also stood in need of counsel at different times; and so it was arranged that ecclesiastical entries should be sent to London, that licences should be received from London, and that the Bishop of London should always be approached for counsel and authority and leadership.

Since those days the Church of England has made what was at that time very unexpected and rapid progress. Dioceses have been formed all over the world, and Provinces also. Southern Europe has been made an episcopal jurisdiction of its own and connected with the Diocese of Gibraltar, but 'North and Central Europe' remains as in those days of Charles I, still under the ecclesiastical authority of the Bishop of London, and for over fifteen years Bishop Bury administered that jurisdiction under commission from the Diocese of London, which commission has now been transferred to his successor, the Bishop of Fulham. He was often asked, both in this country and abroad, 'What is your diocese?' And his reply would be, 'It is easier to say what it is not, rather than what it is.' It does not, for instance, include anything that is on the Mediterranean or the Black Sea. It does not take in the Riviera, therefore, though it includes the rest of France. It is really well described as 'North and Central Europe,' and in those countries for fifteen years he travelled to and fro, making it a rule to go to every British community where there was a church and a resident chaplain once a year. He found it a great help, especially in the more remote parts of the jurisdiction, to describe himself as one of the Suffragan-bishops of London, because, as he says, every one in the world knows London, and he gives an illustration of this during his Mining Camp Mission in Siberia.

'In the farthest place I visited, Spassky-Savod, five hundred miles from railhead, Petrogavlovsk, a mining property about the size of elgium, but with a little British community of about thirty, and many thousands of Russian employees, the Russian parish priest, hearing some rumour of my visit, went to the manager of the mine and said, "Is it true that your Bishop is coming to see you?" "Yes," said my friend, "he will be with us, if all 's well, on the coming Sunday." "Where is he coming from?" "He comes from London." "From London!" he exclaimed in amazement; "do you really mean that a Bishop is coming all the way from London, and driving across the Steppe to visit a small number of people such as yourselves?" "Yes," replied the manager; "though we are few in number, our Church does not forget us." "I wonder," said he, "if he would come and see us in our church?" "Of course he will," was the answer. "We will have our Liturgy at half-past seven, and then we will all come over to you soon after eight, and join in your service." And so I had the delightful experience in that distant part of Siberia of "Brethren dwelling together in unity," and all because it had appealed to the imagination of a Russian priest and his people to hear that a Bishop was coming "all the way from London." Whilst there I went on to a still more remote part of this huge property, where there was a little family named Farmer, and not only did I have an evening service, and a celebration of Holy Communion on the following day, but confirmed the two young men, Harry and Charlie, and in the course of conversation I said, "Now, my boys, do remember that you have not been confirmed in an informal and exceptional way. Where a bishop stays it becomes a church for the time being, and so you have been confirmed in church. Not only that, but you have been confirmed in the Diocese of London; and should you ever find yourselves in S. Paul's Cathedral, or in Westminster Abbey, as you look round you can say to yourselves, 'This is the diocese in which we were confirmed.' "Nothing was more unlikely at this time than that either of them should have this opportunity, but the war came and they both joined up, entered the Air Force, and came to London, and looked about in those historic sanctuaries of ours, and said, "These are in the Diocese of London, where we were confirmed."'

The earliest Continental chaplaincies, using the word 'chaplaincy' in its present-day meaning, were those connected with the great trading companies. The first English churches built on the Continent were those erected by the Merchant Adventurers at Bruges and Middleburg. The same company had also at various times factories and chaplains at Hamburg, Delft, Amsterdam, etc. The Russian Company in later years had its stations at Archangel and Moscow. The Levant Company likewise had trading posts at Constantinople, Smyrna, and Aleppo. In all these cases the stipend of the chaplain presented little difficulty. It was paid by the company and, if the Levant Company may be taken as typical, these company chaplains were not badly paid as compared with the home clergy. In the early seventeenth century the chaplain received £50 a year together with 'diet in the company's house,' and £20 towards the cost of outfit. In the middle of the century the stipend was increased to j£ioo, and there is evidence that the chaplain was allowed to supplement his income by a limited amount of trading in cloth.

The work carried on by Bishop Bury in North and Central Europe really began at Archangel, where a few Scottish merchants went, carrying with them a letter of introduction to Ivan the Terrible, during the reign of Edward VI, and as they built their warehouses they also built their churches, two in number, which are there to this day, and which were used during the Murmansk expedition, one being near the docks and the other more in the town. Their operations extended themselves to Petrograd, and especially to Moscow, where, up to the war, most of the influential people were still Scottish, and the church was dedicated to S. Andrew. Bishop Bury has fully described the development of this work in his book, Russia from Within.

An important feature of the episcopal office in Europe is that the bishop is the one centre of unity. He comes to every place as a voice from the Old Country, and brings home to the people their importance in the great Church of Christ. It can easily be seen, therefore, that a bishop travelling in North and Central Europe for episcopal work is not merely having a confirming tour, so to speak, but is a real centre of national and spiritual unity, linking up those scattered communities and making them feel part of a great whole.

In an article which appeared in 1924, the writer says that' The Church in the Desert' was the description given to the Church's work in Northern and Central Europe by a competent observer in the middle of last century. Acting under the authority and sanction of the Bishop of London, the Rector of Upper Chelsea had made careful inquiry into the state of the Church of England congregations in France, Belgium, and Switzerland in the autumn of 1849. Mr. Burgess was specially qualified for the task. He had been chaplain at Rome and Geneva, was profoundly interested in the development of the Church's work in those particular countries, and was not without scholarship. The results of his inquiry were embodied in a small pamphlet, published in 1850, of which unfortunately few copies exist. Apart from Biber's small book, it is the sole record that remains of the condition of the chaplaincies eighty years ago.

Burgess acknowledges at the outset that little or no progress had been made since the beginning of the century, though he fails to give full weight to the disorganization caused by the revolutions of 1839 and 1848. The chief cause, he writes, is 'the want of that order and discipline without which the Church is not presented in its integrity and efficiency of administration.' He also deplores the 'Act for facilitating marriages,' etc., which made every consul or consular agent abroad a registrar for births, marriages, and deaths, and gave him the power to perform the marriage ceremony. 'Thus the Church has lost on the Continent these privileges and rights which it maintains at home.'

Except for one or two edifices set apart by Bishop Luscombe, but not secured in perpetuity, there was not a single consecrated building belonging to the Church of England. Very few even looked like churches. Eight were used conjointly with other bodies. Eight had formerly been chapels attached to convents. In other cases, services were held in rooms used during the rest of the week for secular purposes.

Equally varied was the position of the chaplains. Five or six had accepted a licence from Bishop Luscombe. Eight held a licence from the Bishop of London. The rest held no licence of any kind. Most of these were sole tenants of the building used as a church. They let sittings, or raised their income as they thought best, responsible to no one but themselves. In six cases the appointment lay with the Foreign Office; four were appointed by trustees or private individuals. The rest were either appointed by the congregation or had themselves initiated the chaplaincy. It is not surprising that under such conditions scandals were not unknown. The publicity which Burgess gave to the Church's responsibility and opportunity has borne abundant fruit. In no part of her missionary work is the Church better served to-day than by her representatives on the Continent of Europe,

Bishop Bury used to say that he found people abroad so much more approachable, especially when visited in sickness; and much more inclined, strange as it may seem, to go to church when abroad than they are in this country. On every possible occasion he emphasized the necessity for maintaining the English Church on the Continent.

'Some clergy in this country,' he once wrote, 'do not hesitate to say that we have no business to have any churches and clergy abroad. They tell us that when abroad travellers ought to attend the Church of the country and be in true Christian fellowship with them. They hold that it is sectarian to worship apart as we do, and that it does not make for what is called Reunion in the future. A very little reflection, it seems to me, will show how mistaken this view really is, even with travellers spending only, say, a month or six weeks, or not even that, in some tourist resort, yet in that time wishing to receive Communion, and knowing they would not be allowed to do so in the Church of the country. They also wish to realize their fellowship with those at home, and to feel that they are, although separated, using the same prayers, psalms, hymns, and thanksgivings. There are the children also to consider, who are receiving all their ideas of Church duty and membership for the future, and would only be perplexed in being taken for an hour or two to a service they could not possibly understand and with which they were not familiar; and there are also the people of the country themselves to think of, for it makes a great impression, in every part of Europe, to find how English people, even when only travelling through a country, wish to be loyal and faithful, and show it, to that part of the Church in which they feel God has placed them. There is no question whatever as to what the duty of the Church at home is towards these places, and especially to a permanent British community, such as there is in Paris.

'I am thinking, as I write, of one of the most successful English business men, bearing one of the most honoured names in commerce, who went with his young bride as soon as their honeymoon was over to live in Paris, and who has brought up there his own family and seen his grandchildren. Can any one possibly consider that he and his young wife ought to have begun attending the Church of the country when Paris was to be their home? In due time most certainly, for they would wish to have Communion, and their children confirmed, they would have had to join the Roman Church and would have been lost to their own. As it is, like most right-minded people who live abroad, while grateful and appreciative towards the country in which they have lived now through three generations, they yet remain truly British in their sense of nationality and loyal members of the National Church, and exercising, consequently, a special influence in the French capital.

'Yet there are many of our own countrymen who, when they go to Paris, will think that they are doing their Christian duty by neglecting their own Church and going to Mass at Notre Dame or the Madeleine, where it is not really too much to say that their presence is neither desired nor appreciated. What members of the Roman Church, as far as I have known them and had them as my friends, really expect of us and appreciate in us is that if we are members of the Church of England we ought to be absolutely loyal to it. It is reported of Cardinal Newman that when an inquirer went to him, not very long after his own secession, with "doubts and difficulties" about his position in his own Church, expecting to be welcomed and persuaded, he said to him, "Now let me understand. Are you feeling that the salvation of your soul depends upon your making this change?" "No," it is said that the man replied. "I have not got as far as that." "Then," said Newman, "go back and wait till you have."

'Surely we are in the Church of Christ where we believe that the Providence of God has placed us,' Bishop Bury goes on. 'We are not in the Church of England, we believe, by chance or hazard. There can be no such things in a God-governed world, and we must therefore surely feel, if we have any sense of duty at all, that we are English Churchmen and Church-women by the grace of God, and so do our duty there with absolute loyalty, unless we feel, as some unquestionably do, that the providence of God calls us elsewhere. I cannot possibly regret myself the divisions of Christendom, nor can I regard them, as one of our prayers says they are, as necessarily "unhappy divisions," for it seems to me a matter of rejoicing, with all the remarkable varieties of religious experience that there are in the world, that if one finds one's spiritual needs are not being met in one part of the Church of Christ, then they may be in another. If we are also to attain to what is called Reunion, but which I prefer to think of as a fuller and truer unity, how can it possibly be done except by absolute loyalty to that part of the Church of God in which one finds oneself, and respecting similar loyalty in others? '

It is the greatest possible mistake to think, as some people do in this country, that a chaplain abroad has next to nothing to do but Sunday services. This is the case in some of the season or holiday chaplaincies, but not in permanent communities, where the needs and opportunities are just those of an English parish. The Bishop always insisted that the very best men are needed for the work abroad.

'Certain bishops,' he says, 'have now and then written to me and asked if we had any vacancy abroad, closing their inquiry with some such words as these: "The man I have in mind is a very good man, but not quite good enough for us, and so I thought he might do for you abroad." It should be distinctly understood that we want abroad not men who are not quite good enough for this country, but who are the very best men we can possibly get. It is altogether different now from the days of which Mr. Baring-Gould writes in his Reminiscences, telling us that when he first began to travel abroad as a youthful member of a large family, his father would not let any of them attend services in the place where they might be, as the chaplain was utterly unworthy of his position!'

Dr. Davidson, the late Archbishop of Canterbury, also stressed the importance of maintaining a high standard for Continental chaplains:

'The Continental chaplain,' he said, 'has got a job to do, if he does it rightly, about as difficult as can be set to anybody here on earth. These men have got the responsibility of being officially regarded outside England as representing what the Anglican Church stands for, and I believe that civic authorities, much more than formerly, are regarding the chaplaincies as being official positions of a very responsible sort for our country's life.'

Project Canterbury