Project Canterbury

Bishop Montgomery: A Memoir

By M.M.

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

Chapter XI. Three Lambeth Conferences

Bishop Montgomery attended his first Lambeth Conference when he was Bishop of Tasmania. He was asked by Archbishop Temple to speak at the Conference on a missionary question, and it happened that his was the first speech on the first day of the session. He spoke for about seven minutes, and the gist of his speech was that it was necessary to show a more eager missionary spirit among our own people. He had been pained to find when he went to the antipodes in 1889 that the Church of England was expected to be the last in looking after its own people in new mining fields and settlements.

The following account is in the bishop's own words:--

"The Conference of 1897 met in the Guard Room (Dining-room) of Lambeth Palace, and we seemed to be easily accommodated there. Archbishop Temple acted characteristically as Chairman, wholly honest and humble and very strong. He did not pay much attention to smaller rules of procedure, but guided us in a commonsense way. He could not stand 'gas' and would put down anyone, and in the manner of a Schoolmaster. The American Bishops were nettled at first, but they soon saw the big nature of the man and his utter freedom from pretence or desire for power. . . . He was a big man. I got to love him in after days as the kindest and wisest of men. . . .

"It struck me that I had never been in a more democratic body than in this Conference of Bishops. It did not seem to matter what a man was called. You were taken at your face value. . . Success depended upon the more delicate qualities as well as on intellectual gifts. You had to be courteous, deferential, spiritually minded. And I think the Bishops were, as it were, shaken up in a bag till the biggest came out at the top after six weeks--biggest in general character; but of course genius told. . . .

"I need not say that those were days when smoking was not even mentioned. I suppose Bishops smoked in the garden. American Bishops were sorely put to it. I don't think English Bishops ever smoked, or if they did, they did not acknowledge the fact.

"The Conference concluded by a great combined visit to Glastonbury, which had just been bought for the Church of England by the efforts of Kennion, Bishop of Bath and Wells. We had great processions and a Service in the open air in the ruins. It was one of the hottest days I ever remember. Someone offered Archbishop Temple an umbrella as he sat in the sun for the sermon. He replied in his remarkable accent, 'My head can stand more than that sun, thank you.' . . . One of the American Bishops was asked what he thought of Temple. 'Temple,' he answered, 'Oh, Temple's all right, you can drink him standing!'

"A certain number of us stayed at the Bishop's Palace at Wells. Certainly I was the humblest and youngest among Canterbury, York, London, and others. The bedrooms we inhabited were afterwards inscribed with our names, and on my last visit my room still had Tasmania over the door."

The Lambeth Conference of 1908 followed after the Pan-Anglican Congress, with an interval of only ten days. It was felt that never again could the Church stand the strain of two conferences in such close proximity. Archbishop Davidson was determined that Bishop Montgomery should be in the Lambeth Conference, and in 1907, while the bishop was busy organizing the Pan-Anglican Congress, he made him one of the secretaries to the Lambeth Conference. The other secretary was Eden, Bishop of Wakefield, and Bishop Kennion was made treasurer. Bishop Montgomery was put in charge of the committees and all the details for their comfort.

For the first time now a smoking and writing room was provided for the bishops in the palace. The crypt had been newly excavated and arranged for the purpose. Just outside the crypt lockers were erected, every bishop having one with his name inscribed. These became receptacles for the pamphlets, letters, appeals which poured upon the bishops from societies, cranks, etc. It was the duty of the secretaries to acknowledge these communications and to place them in the lockers. At the end of the conference these lockers were all cleared out and a bonfire made of the contents. Most of the petitions and pamphlets were unopened!

As in the conference of 1897 the speeches were all taken down by one shorthand reporter. One copy was made. Each bishop was asked to revise his speech. Then this copy, absolutely private, was placed in the Lambeth Palace Library together with the minute-books of the conference and the committees. They were all bound alike and labelled, and it was Bishop Montgomery's duty to see to this and consign them to the library in the end.

The following account is in the bishop's own words:--

"Now for the Conference itself. The first ten days are the most interesting. All the subjects are reviewed by the experts without voting. The programme is drawn up by the Archbishop of Canterbury by tacit consent. There are no rules for it. All depends Upon tact. No Patriarchate of Canterbury is acknowledged. Cantuar is simply the Head of the Church in its old home. Bishops from overseas come to his house from affection and respect. Any attempt to dominate other Churches officially by the Primate of all England would wreck the Conference.

"After the first ten days the Conference breaks up into committees: very important, some much more so than others. The Archbishop may go to every Committee. The third section of the Conference is the most anxious and tiring, and often the most vexatious. Resolutions have to be passed. Think of it! Hundreds of Bishops with their own ideas, some of them keen about wording, fighting over adjectives, adverbs, etc. A dozen recommendations very often as to one or two sentences.

"Archbishop Davidson was so trusted for fairness and impartiality that he won through miraculously. He used to get up and say, 'We could spend a day over this one resolution. We have six others which must also be passed to-day. Will you trust me? As soon as we rise I will guarantee that I and three or four others (naming them) will do the best we can and report tomorrow morning.' Next morning his verdict was always accepted.

"As to Personalities; I soon saw that seven or eight of the best Bishops dominated the Conference. It is always so. After the best English Bishops came a group of the best Bishops from abroad. The American Bishops stood by themselves. They were all shrewd, capable men of affairs. They always voted straight and formed an excellent jury.

"What to me was the most interesting were the private meetings of groups of Bishops with the Archbishop taking Regions separately. Nothing shewed better what they were worth. Big questions were put before them. Practically the groups were confined to the British Empire, China, and Japan.

"As the conclusion of the Conference approached Bishops became jaded, and yet almost the most important work still remained to be done--the public and united 'Message' urbi et orbi remained to be passed. As the actual debates are private, the world judges of it by the Resolutions, quite as much also by the General Manifesto set forth. This last is indeed all that is read by most. How can this be prepared and by whom? As a matter of fact its preparation is confined to one wise man who has sufficient breadth of view and sympathy with others and power of grasping the general opinion of the Bishops and their regions. He has before him, of course, the Resolutions, but he needs the right spirit and carefulness of phrase. This means one or two days and nights as well: very hard and responsible work, and I don't think even the Bishops knew who did this work.

"Then during perhaps the last two days this long document had to be read to the Conference and taken sentence by sentence for ratification. Imagine the difficulty of satisfying everybody! It required a double dose of patience, wisdom, and fairness in the President. Here again the work was enormously assisted by trust in the Archbishop.

"The last hour of the Conference was spent in thanks to the President, etc. The speakers let themselves go, and jests and fun began. Anything to relieve the strain. Of course, too, there was special Prayer and Praise, and all concluded with a big Service at St. Paul's."

The Lambeth Conference of 1920 may be described in the bishop's own words:--

"The Conference of 1920 was notable for the fact that at length an Archbishop of Canterbury had been able to preside over two Lambeth Conferences. Before Davidson's reign it had come to be believed that this could never happen. Of course it simplified matters very much, for there was no detail with which Davidson was not familiar. Moreover, his character for fairness and his obvious distaste of being looked upon as a quasi-Patriarch made all Bishops come to Lambeth without misgivings. Once more the Archbishop permitted me to be a Secretary for this Conference. I had resigned my post as Secretary of S.P.G. and was therefore a free agent. At first I was the only Secretary, and in a sense the whole organization was in my hands till the session. But later the Bishop of Peterborough (Woods) was appointed as an English Diocesan Bishop, and he naturally took first place all through the Conference itself.

"The number of Bishops had grown so much that it became a question whether even the Lambeth Library would be big enough for the Conference. It was; but the shape of the chairs had to be altered in order to save room. Special chairs had been made for each Conference which I attended, and were offered for sale afterwards to the Bishops. These chairs cost 7s. 6d. in 1897 and 15s. in 192O.

"An office for the Conference was opened in Morton's Tower, just below the rooms of Mr. Bell, the Archbishop's Chaplain, afterwards Bishop of Chichester. Here I was installed, and it is needless to say that Bell was a very strong helper and adviser in everything. Mrs. Bell, too, presided most efficiently over the 'Book Room,' now opened for the first time.

"In my office Honor Thomas was installed as my Secretary. She showed such marvellous aptitude and ability, she was so accurate and had such a memory, that gradually I left almost everything to her, and this fact soon came to be recognized by all the Bishops.

"In this Conference, too, the work of the Hospitality Committee developed greatly. Not only was hospitality found for all the Bishops and their families, but for the first time a most successful attempt was made to entertain the wives of the Bishops while their husbands were in session. For six weeks, three days a week, entertainments were arranged or expeditions planned to places of interest in or near London. Historical houses, ancient Churches, city factories, Hampton Court, Richmond Park--all these and many other places were visited and tea provided for. A fleet of omnibuses stood ready on the appointed days outside the National Gallery. Evening receptions were given by famous London hostesses, and everything was done to make the Lambeth Conference of 1920 a time of pleasure as well as profit for the visitors from overseas. Several of the Bishops had brought children with them. For these, visits to the Zoo, to the King's stables at Buckingham Palace, and a large children's party at Bishopsbourne, Chiswick, were organized. So splendidly was all this work done that it added enormously to the success of the Conference.

"Another development from former Conferences was the smoking! A large room on the third floor of Morton's Tower was made into a writing and smoking room. Right well was it utilized! The growth of smoking filled me with astonishment. I remember one wet, cold morning, as I was going to my office, I met coming down the stairs a solid, impenetrable mass of smoke! Moreover, one could hear above a roar of voices. It seemed as though there must have been a hundred Bishops all smoking and all talking together at the same time. Then, too, whenever the Conference adjourned, it was not uncommon to see 150 Bishops strolling about, nearly all smoking pipes. And I noticed that some of the most Evangelical Bishops were the greatest smokers. I used to wonder what the next development would be in 1930. Surely they will not smoke in the Conference itself!

"The photographic department was also extended. Russell & Sons, as in 1908, had the sole right of photography inside Lambeth Palace, and they were permanently stationed at the big entrance to the Library. Photographs were being taken all day long, and for the first time snapshots were taken of Bishops strolling about, sometimes of pairs walking together, who were poles asunder in their views. A collection of these would be of great interest. Of course, Russell paid for this privilege and they must have made a fortune. They gave me a photograph of myself in colour, worth 9 guineas.

"The Conference itself. I need not detail the usual beginning, Services, etc., nor the Audience with the King, nor the visit to Canterbury, to which city we went just for the day. The Conference of 1920 will ever be memorable for its appeal for Reunion in Christendom. The story has often been told, I merely mention some leading points.

"I think the finest and most moving speech of the whole Conference was by the Archbishop of York (Cosmo Lang) in laying before the Conference in the first week the whole problem of Reunion. It was one of the most powerful speeches I have ever heard. So again the presentment to the Conference by the Bishop of Oxford (Burge) in the first week, of the problem of Spiritualism, was magnificent.

"The Committee on the Reunion question was enormous. I think 120 asked to join it. The Archbishop often went. York presided. They said they made no progress for days. Suddenly they came to an agreement, and on such lofty lines that all felt it was a descent of the Holy Ghost. They drafted the wonderful 'Appeal.' I believe York, Zanzibar, and Bombay were really at the back of it. When the Appeal came before the whole Conference the effect was wonderful--no one expected such unanimity. The President spoke, York, Weston, and others, and the effect was tremendous. A kind of awe fell on all. The President finally pleaded for an unanimous vote. In all only four voted against it. ...

"Three negro Bishops were present at this Conference, all excellent men. Whenever they spoke they were listened to with respect. . . .

"When all has been said it was a very remarkable Conference, an example of how the Holy Spirit guides numbers of average men, with an infusion of a comparatively few big men, to good and solid conclusions."

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