Project Canterbury

Bishop Montgomery: A Memoir

By M.M.

[London] The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1933.

Chapter VIII. The Call home and eighteen years' work for the S.P.G.

It was on June 6th, 1901, that the fateful telegram was received that summoned Bishop Montgomery home from Tasmania. The telegram cost nearly £12. It was sixty words long and was signed by the two archbishops, and the Bishops of London, Winchester, Bath and Wells, and Newcastle. That was the committee appointed for the purpose by the S.P.G. To say that the bishop and his wife were dismayed is hardly the word. They were overwhelmed with sorrow at the idea of leaving their beautiful home, their free life, their many friends, the clergy to whom the bishop had tried to be as a father, his work in the diocese and in Australia. And the irony of it all lay in the fact that the bishop had brought it on himself. His visits to Melanesia and to the aborigines of Australia, his burning zeal for the cause of missions, his work on the Australian Board of Missions--all this had brought his name prominently before the Church at home.

Then when he heard of Prebendary Tucker's resignation, the bishop began writing home to his friends among the bishops, laying before them with insistent earnestness his ideals of what the new Secretary should be. Small wonder was it that the heads of the Church said among themselves, "Here is the right man; let us send for him."

But the bishop could not accept all at once. He felt very strongly that he had been sent to Tasmania for life, that he had formed ties there which it would be hard to break. He was doubtful, too, whether one who had been consecrated to the work of a bishop could rightly take up other work. So letters and telegrams were interchanged. The bishop wired: "Is it episcopal vocation?" The answer came back: "Worldwide oversight surely episcopal, if Australia can rightly spare you." To this the bishop replied: "Difficulty removed; Australia consents." Then the final wire came from the Archbishop of Canterbury: "You are unanimously elected."

The bishop wrote to his father-in-law: "We have never chosen our lot, and this last has been decided for us by the heads of the Church. If those six men could not interpret God's will for a churchman, then there is no such thing as the Voice of God to man through man. ... I put all the other side before them first--how I had promised to stay here, and loved this land and its new problems; every argument I could think of, but they would not have it. ... And now I can truly say that there is no post in all the world I would rather hold. To create a sort of foreign secretaryship of Anglican missions with a bishop at its head, to be a referee and guide in all Greater Britain questions. The outlook is terrifying in its possibilities. Had one the gifts, one could almost transform the general ideals of the Church and make them actually embrace the world. It strikes me at times as more Pauline in scope than that of any bishop in the Anglican Communion, and therefore most episcopal. This last point was the greatest difficulty at first, but I am clear about it now."

This was the spirit in which the bishop approached his new work. Quite unconsciously he had begun preparing for this post ten months earlier. Longmans had asked him to write a Handbook on Foreign Missions. The bishop had a good friend in Sydney who possessed a large library of up-to-date missionary books, and he had read widely on every country. The book was actually written during the voyage home. But the wrench was great, and for the elder children also. The eldest son, Harold, was devoted to riding and hunting. He had been put into the mounted infantry when very young and had won every prize for horse jumping in Tasmania. He and his brothers spent their holidays on stations in the Bush--in riding, skating, and dancing. It took Una long to accustom herself to life in England, and for many years the word "home" meant Hobart to all the family. "You always let me do that when I was in Hobart," Colin would say, though he had left Hobart as a baby in arms! It is thirty years and more since the Bishop left Tasmania, but still in the islands of the Straits, in mining camps and in the backwoods, as well as in the towns and villages, he is known as "our bishop." He held an unique place in all hearts. Years after the bishop wrote, "The roots of the gum tree were pulled up, but the ghost gum tree grows still in the heart."

The bishop and his family left Melbourne in the Cuzco in November, 1901. The Cuzco was a small boat and they were the only second-class passengers. As the ship left Melbourne the bishop began to write his book on missions, and finished the last page as they reached Gibraltar. The family arrived at Plymouth on a wet, dark Christmas morning, and camped in the station for some hours as there was no train. The bishop went to the refreshment room. The young lady said to him severely, "We only serve bona fide travellers." The bishop answered meekly, "Madam, we have just come fourteen thousand miles"!

On January 1st, 1902, Bishop Montgomery walked into Delahay Street without splash or introduction. He was at once taken charge of by Mr. Pascoe, who from that moment "watched over me, instructed me, and worshipped me till the day I left office."

The limitations of the old house in Delahay Street were immense, and the organization most primitive. There were no typewriters or shorthand clerks. Letters were all copied. On the day after the Standing Committee the Secretary used to spend the whole day, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., writing the letters for abroad.

A list is given in one of the reports of the Monthly Meetings of all the organizations and departments started in those seventeen years. It seems incredible. The bishop never laid credit to it all; he worked through others and begged them all to organize in every direction.

From the first, Bishop Montgomery's ideals were in marked contrast to those of his predecessor. Consequently there was much dissension between the "Old Guard" and the younger generation, and the atmosphere was very tense at the Standing Committee. The Secretary at length approached the Archbishop and told him that no blessing could come to the Society unless the meetings were made peaceful, and after this a rota of diocesan bishops was suggested to take the chair. On the same day, and without any collaboration, the Secretary received a letter from two of the oldest members. They recognised that he was not going to work on Tucker's lines, and felt that they had better retire from the committees. Bishop Montgomery thanked them warmly and from that day the worst troubles were over.

The bishop's relations with his staff were similar to those with his clergy in Tasmania. They were his family. He shook hands with every one of them after morning prayers. He never shut himself up, and his office was open to everyone. If he wished to be undisturbed he would go to the Athenaeum. He never denied himself to visitors, and the staff had orders to leave their work when visitors wished to be shown over the House. Needless to say, missionary bishops and missionaries from abroad received the warmest of welcomes. In the new Secretary they met one who understood all their problems and could sympathize with their difficulties and anxieties. Montgomery had orders from his lifelong friend, Randall Davidson, to bring all bishops from abroad to Lambeth Palace on Thursday mornings. At 8.30 there was Celebration in the chapel, when the bishop collected the alms, and then all breakfasted together. The Archbishop relied on Bishop Montgomery to keep him posted up in all missionary problems and in the work of the Church abroad, and in return the bishop took all his difficulties to Lambeth Palace to be solved.

At first the Secretary tried to interview all the candidates for work abroad, both men and women, but he could not keep this up. In the same way he offered to visit all the public schools and Oxford and Cambridge in order to interview men, but after a while he found it impossible to continue this or to preach away on Sundays. He was obliged to keep it partly as a day of rest and partly as a day on which to write his articles and reports. His visits were confined to centres, where he met the workers as Secretary of the Society and was the only speaker. Then he would take them into his confidence, tell them of the biggest problems all round the world, and answer their questions.

Did the new Secretary have any troubles from being a bishop? It must have been hard for one who had ruled over a diocese, and had been "the bishop" all over the Island, to come home and be the servant of the Society: never to take the chair, but to sit at the side of the chairman and keep the minutes; to lead an office life and keep office hours after the free life of Tasmania. Yes, once or twice only the bishop forgot that he was a paid secretary, and was rudely reminded of the fact by one or two men. "There was nothing to do but to humble oneself." One of his friends wrote of him later: "From the first, Bishop Montgomery 'blew in' among us with his radiant and inspiring appeal, none the less effectual because veiled by his gentleness of bearing and sweetness of character."

The following letter, written on the bishop's seventieth birthday, illustrates the love the staff had for their "father":--"We, the regular staff of S.P.G., offer you our warmest and most affectionate greetings on your seventieth birthday, and hope you will accept this small token of our good wishes." (An electric torch.) The bishop replied: "My dear friends, I am quite overwhelmed . . . your present, how delightful--a torch to light me on the way--not a great light, just sufficient for one step at a time. One wants no more. But indeed age makes us delight in half-darkness, or whole darkness, or anything so long as it be His Will. . . . Age tells me to be ready to go. I shall go with my torch and your affection."

When he left in 1918 the staff gave him a case of six Dunhill pipes.

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