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An Open Letter from the Bishop of Honolulu to the Chairman of the House of Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States.

By Alfred Willis.

Honolulu: The Mercantile Printing Co., 1902.

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2009

The following appeared in the Pacific Commercial Advertiser, of Honolulu, on January 24, 1902:

Suggests an Injunction to Keep
Bishop Willis From Ending
Second Congregation.

I would by all means get out an injunction
to restrain Bishop Willis from attempting in any way
to interfere with your congregation.
I am writing him by this mail in very plain terms.
--Extract from a letter of Bishop H. C. Potter to Rev. Alexander Mackintosh.

An Open Letter

My dear Bishop of Kentucky:

The pleasant recollection I entertain of the courtesy with which you received me into the House of Bishops on Monday, October 5, the fifth day of the session of the General Convention, held at San Francisco, gives me assurance that what I have now to lay before you will be carefully weighed and considered.

In the communication I laid before your House through the committee of the Bishops in Council, I undertook, through the action of the Diocesan Synod of the Anglican Church in Hawaii, to bring the Church of the Anglican Communion planted by the Church of England in the Hawaiian Islands into union with the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. The task was one for which no precedent existed in the history of the Anglican Communion. I need hardly mention that it has involved weeks of anxious care and continuous labour. At the outset we found ourselves confronted with obstacles which appeared insurmountable. But in the issue, as the record I have already sent you shows, without sacrifice of a single principle, and without deviating from the Fundamental Provisions of the Constitution of the Anglican Church in Hawaii, that Church is now "the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Hawaiian Islands," holding all its valuable property subject to the Constitution and Canons of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. Reluctant as many of our people were to part with the Prayer Book of the Church of England, the situation was cheerfully accepted, and by a unanimous standing vote the Synod acceded to the rule of worship of the Protestant Episcopal Church, and promised allegiance to its Constitution and Canons. All this had been done, and the prospect was reached that on the day on which my jurisdiction ceases I should hand over to the Presiding Bishop of the Church in the United States a diocese at unity in itself.

Should this hope fail of realization, the cause of the failure will be the unholy, uncanonical interference of the Bishop of New York, whose letter to a clergyman in this diocese has been published, urging him to take legal proceedings against the Bishop for no other purpose than to prevent the allegiance we have promised to your branch of the Church going into effect, and to carry into the new regime conditions entirely foreign to all Rules and Regulations of the Protestant Episcopal Church. If any think that Bishop Potter understands conditions here, it is sufficient to state that he was ashore here less than ten hours. His uncanonical action is based not on personal knowledge but on ex parte correspondence. This act of the Bishop of New York, by which he has stirred up the elements of strife and disaffection and aims at putting the liberties of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Hawaiian Islands under the heel of a faction which for forty years has hindered the growth and development of the Church of the Anglican Communion in these Islands is but the exposure of the hand which for months past has been directing a conspiracy against the liberties of this church and diocese.

Not to go back further than last autumn, lest I weary you, you will doubtless remember that I was introduced to your House at its morning sitting by Bishop Potter on Monday, October 7, the fifth day of the session. When recess was taken, you announced that on reassembling the Bishops would go into council on the Hawaiian question, and you asked me to attend. Since my arrival in San Francisco on the evening of the 5th, not one of the Bishops had called on me, nor had I received the faintest intimation that any action had been already taken on that matter. I had undertaken the journey to San Francisco by invitation, supposing that there would be mutual consultation as to the future of the Diocese of Honolulu, which founded originally in the Kingdom of an independent sovereign had come in consequence of the Spanish-American war within the territory of the United States. The Diocesan Synod of the Church in Hawaii had already expressed its readiness to take the necessary steps for the union of the diocese with the American branch of the Anglican Communion. Not only was the resignation of the Bishop not essential to accomplish this result, but, having made the question a special study, I may say without fear of contradiction, that without the Bishop the result could not have been constitutionally attained. It could only be reached by the voluntary act of the Anglican Church in Hawaii through its Diocesan Synod. And an act of the Synod required the concurrent consent of the Bishop, Clergy, and Laity.

Nevertheless, although it was known that I should be in the city in time for the fifth day of the Session, a resolution had already been brought into the House and passed asking for my resignation. Having been passed in Council no knowledge of it had gone abroad, and as I have already said no intimation of it had been conveyed to me, until coming into your House on that Monday afternoon, October 7, the Secretary read out the Resolution, a copy of it being placed in my hand. The occasion was one that stands, as far as I can discover, unparalleled its the history of the Church, the Bishop of an independent See invited to the House of Bishops of a branch of the Church. with which his diocese was not yet connected, and on entering their assembly of over 80 bishops, all but seven of whom were junior to himself in the Episcopate, to be called upon to address them on a resolution already passed asking him to resign.

The present action of the Bishop of New York throws a side light upon an action which was to me at the time incomprehensible and inexplicable. It is perfectly true that after the annexation of the Islands had taken place, I signified my readiness to resign on condition of the continuity of the See being secured, should such a course be desired by the House of Bishops. But my offer on that condition had not been accepted. Moreover, the aid given to this diocese by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, which included my entire stipend, had been withdrawn on June 30, 1900, and from that date I had maintained the status of the Church in the Islands, through the aid of a few earnest churchmen, without receiving a dollar from the Church in the United States which in 1898 had claimed the ultimate jurisdiction over the Church in the islands. That notwithstanding the cutting off of an annual grant of $4,250 per ann. not a single mission had been abandoned, constituted, I still venture to think, some claim on the consideration of your House; nor was it a presumption on my part to expect that the first step on the part of your House, if a change in the Episcopate was desired, would be to confer with me with regard to the renewal of the offer I had made in 1899 and to ascertain the true position of the diocese in respect of its property, clergy, and institutions. Until the publication of our Diocesan statistics in the General Convention Souvenir Edition of the Catholic Witness, it was impossible for members of your House to have had any real knowledge of the position of affairs in this diocese.

Nor could the whole state of the diocese be learned from that statistical table. For, holding most strongly that for a Bishop voluntarily to resign his See is to look back from the plough to which he has put his hand, I have rooted myself in these Islands as deeply as any Bishop in the United States is rooted in his diocese. An important educational institution has from a month after my arrival in 1872 been carried on, on my own private property, which would have ultimately become the property of the Church. By a will executed in 1897 I had made my successor in the See legatee of much that I possess in trust for the Church. The House of Bishops having now called upon me to tear up my roots in these Islands, "forcing me out" in the language used by Bishop Potter to the Secretary of the S. P. G., in his letter of April 20, 1900, incorporated in the Society's Memorandum of October 4, 1900, that will must now be revoked. Such being the true position of affairs, how came it about that a House composed of the leading men in the United States passed a resolution so eminently unfair to a brother in the Episcopate? I am persuaded in my own mind that the consent of the House was obtained under a false impression conveyed by the Bishop of New York. I have already in my Address to the Synod, a copy of which I have sent you, criticised a memorial from these Islands which was presented to both houses of the General Convention. I need only add that it was not promoted by Americans, and that it never lay in a public place for signature, which would undoubtedly have been the case had the promoters been acting honourably and constitutionally. I stated in my Address my belief that it had been signed by all sorts and conditions of men, women and children, and not a word has been said in Synod or out in rebuttal of that statement.

My criticism of that memorial did, however, elicit one important statement which appears on the Journal of the Proceedings of the Synod now in the press. It was this, that the promoters of that memorial acted on the instigation of a prominent churchman in the United States. It was no secret that the prominent churchman was the Bishop of New York. Now, Sir, you have the story in a nutshell. Bishop Potter corresponded with certain disaffected persons in the Islands and persuaded them to place a Memorial in his hands, and armed with that lever he secured in Council the passage of the Resolution asking me to resign.

And now, not content with this, he has continued in correspondence with a clergyman in this diocese who for years has held no communion with his Bishop and brother clergy in the Sacrament of the Altar at the opening of our Synods, and urges this man to institute proceedings in a civil court against the Bishop to whom he owes canonical obedience. As I said at the outset the difficult work intrusted to us has been carried through on constitutional lines. If there was one duty devolving on me more imperatively than another, it was not to leave to my successor entanglements to unravel, or bequeath to him obstacles to the free exercise of his ministry in his own Cathedral. And if through the intriguing and interference now brought to light a factious opposition to the acts of the Synod continues to exist, to the disturbance of peace and harmony, the responsibility for it must rest with the Bishop of New York.

For myself I have endeavoured unreservedly, and with the same loyalty to the Constitution and principles of the Protestant Episcopal Church, as if I were to remain in the See, to leave the diocese on a sure foundation, and to remove from the path of my successor certain hindrances to his liberty of action, and I am confident that, when the work of our Diocesan Synod is examined and understood, it will (to use the words of the Preface to the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England) have the approbation of "all sober, peaceable and truly conscientious sons" of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States.

I remain, my dear Bishop.
Sincerely and fraternally yours.

ALFRED WILLIS, HONOLULU, Bishop of Honolulu.
Jan. 30, 1902

To the Rt. Rev. T. U. Dudley, D.D., Bishop of Kentucky,
Chairman of the House of Bishops.

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