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A Sketch of the Life of the Right Reverend George Augustus Selwyn, Late Bishop of Lichfield, and Formerly Bishop and Metropolitan of New Zealand.

By Mrs. G. Herbert Curteis

London: J. Parker and Co., and Newcastle: G. Hickson, 1878.

Chapter IV.--Second visit to England to attend the Pan-Anglican Synod: Appointment to the Bishopric of Lichfield: Farewell Visit to New Zealand. 1867-1868.

In the Spring of 1867 Bishop Selwyn again sailed for England accompanied by Mrs. Selwyn, the faithful and untiring helpmate in all his labours and anxieties. The purpose for which he took this long journey was not to raise funds, nor to enjoy repose. It was at a distinct call of duty that he left his Diocese for "Home,"--to attend the first Pan-Anglican Synod at Lambeth, to which the Archbishop had summoned him, and in the success of which he felt the [30/31] deepest personal interest, regarding it as "the most important event which had happened to the Church since the Reformation."

In the autumn, after the close of the Lambeth Synod he attended the Wolverhampton Congress; which was soon followed by Bishop Lonsdale's lamented decease. [The ready reply made by the Bishop to a noble Lord at this Congress is worthy of mention. When speaking of the affection of the Colonial Churches towards the Mother Church, he was interrupted by the noble lord, who said in a low voice, "But you have cut the painter!" "No, indeed," replied the Bishop, "we have not cut the painter.--it has parted of itself: and we are now engaged in forging a more enduring cable, like the invisible and immaterial bonds which anchor the planets to the sun."]

A period of unusual delay followed: but, at length, the joyful news was heard that the vacant See had been offered to the Bishop of New Zealand. Offered indeed, but not at first accepted. It was some lime before he could make up his mind to abandon the country which he loved so deeply and to which he had dedicated his life. But on special request from the highest authorities in the land he dutifully yielded obedience. His words to the Bishop of Winchester were, "The Prime Minister pressed it upon me as a duty--the Archbishop pressed it upon me as a duty--the Queen pressed it upon me as a duty--and with all my feelings of loyalty what could I do?" He also said at Oxford, a short time afterwards, "I had no part in it; I had only to obey. Twenty-six years ago I was told to go to New Zealand and I went: I am told now to go to Lichfield and I go." "He was called upon to exchange the free life he lived and gloried in for the conventionalities of Old England and the manacles--they were little else to him--of a Peerage, a Palace, and the deeply worn grooves of a vast Midland Diocese established by S. Chad 1,200 years ago. What change could have been more unwelcome! What gilded fetters could have been forged for him more galling! To some men the baubles that accompany ecclesiastical rank at home [31/32] may seem attractive; but to Bishop Selwyn they were not so." [Lichfield Diocesan Churchman, May, 1878.]

He lost no time in making himself acquainted with the existing organization of his Diocese; and at once resolved to make his home at the Palace in the Close at Lichfield, as the centre of the Diocese, and as more accessible to the Clergy than the remote Episcopal Castle of Eccleshall where his predecessors had lived, three miles from a railway station. The Bishop was enthroned in the Cathedral Jan. 9th, 1868, with due solemnity. Upwards of fifty clergy in surplices were present; and the Te Deum, sung by the Choir as the procession wound round the sanctuary, seemed a true expression of the thankful and hopeful feeling of all present. Few who saw the ceremony could ever forget it.

No doubt, at first, his heart was often sad with thoughts of "the widowed sister diocese," as he termed it; and he used to pace up and down the terrace in the Palace garden, after the 8 a.m. College-service in the Cathedral--(from which when at home he was rarely absent)--refreshing his eyes with the blue waters of Stowe Pool as a reminder of his beloved faraway ocean. But he shewed no sign of regret. He at once set vigorously to work to improve the Church machinery of his Diocese: following up the preliminary steps taken by Bishop Lonsdale to get the consent of the Clergy and Laity to form [32/33] a Diocesan Synod, and holding meetings in every Rural Deanery for this purpose. How much he valued the concurrence and help of the Laity may be gathered from a remark made by him at the Archidiaconal Conference at Stafford, May 8th, 1868. In reply to Lord Harrowby's objection to the word Synod, he said "he would rather be in a Conference with Lord Harrowby than in a Synod without him: "and accordingly the word 'Conference' was adopted. This incident may also serve to illustrate his words some years later, when speaking of the division of the Diocese, "I have lived long enough to learn to be content with the second-best plan, rather than to stop all proceedings by insisting on that which appears to me to be the best." Although in some of these meetings he encountered opposition--too often from those who should have been his chief supporters--still his good judgment and patient wisdom overcame all obstacles. It was amusing and instructive to watch him on these occasions, and to notice the never-failing courtesy and kindliness with which he listened to what everybody had to say, charming away all asperities with the wave of his long quill-pen, and accepting the decision favourable or unfavourable with unruffled temper. [Bishop Selwyn quotes, in his Pastoral letter of April 13, 1868, the express words of Bishop Lonsdale spoken in the Upper House of Convocation on June 4, 1867. "Feeling the importance of the subject (Diocesan Synods) and knowing the strong convictions that were held upon it, I addressed a circular to my Rural Deans at the beginning of the year. They are 48 in number, and I requested them to bring before their several Chapters the general desirableness of different Diocesan Synods. Different have received a great number of answers; and knowing the Clergy, I confess I was very much surprised at the extraordinary unanimity of concurrence. I do not think that amongst all there was a single instance of dissent. They expressed various opinions as to the details of the plan by which the object might be carried into effect, but they expressed only one opinion as to the desirableness of Diocesan Synods in general. I am glad to have the opportunity of expressing my opinion, and at the same time correcting the statement that I have determined to hold a Synod in the course of this year; though if it please God to give me health and strength, I shall probably do so some time or other."]

As it had been in New Zealand, so it proved to be in Lichfield Diocese. His very presence was a power. And his own energy was caught up by his clergy to such an extent that, probably, in no Diocese in England has so much material and spiritual progress been made within so short a time. He came at a difficult period. But his whole previous life had trained him to cope with difficulties. He came to work, and work he did without ceasing until the close of his life.

A characteristic account appeared at this time in a local journal of the way in which the Bishop worked. "The [33/34] Bishop began in the Potteries On Saturday by preaching a stirring sermon on the Resurrection, and consecrating a new piece of land joined to the Churchyard. Three sermons and three Consecrations were his work that day. On Sunday he preached three times. On Monday an address delivered at Stoke from the altar steps, on the Ministry, with a celebration of the Holy Communion; then a two hours' meeting about establishing the Diocesan Synod; in the evening a sermon at Sneyd for the Schools. On Tuesday the bells of Newcastle told by their ringing that something unusual was occurring, and a stately procession of Mayor and Corporation, &c., welcomed the Bishop at the Town Hall and conducted him to the Old Church. After service the Communion was administered to some 200 communicants. A lunch followed at the Hotel, and by three o'clock he was busy again, with exemplary patience, studious attention, and pleasant repartee, hearing and answering objections to his proposal to establish a Diocesan Synod. A Missionary meeting was held at the Town Hall, attended by all classes, in which he told his simple manly tale how he owned the natives of Australasia for brother-men, and how he had worked among them for six and twenty years of his life; which was received often with expressions of assent, such as 'that's a good un, he is!' So ended the fourth day. On Wednesday the village of Talke witnessed an impressive scene. A little iron Church was that day opened for worship, having been erected by the exertions of some lathes. It only held about 100 people; so the silk dresses and broad-cloth soon filled it. But while the hymn was singing before the sermon, the Bishop was seen leaving the tiny chancel and forcing his way towards the door through the crowded gangway. People's hearts began to beat, thinking the four days' [34/35] work had exhausted him and he was obliged to go out for air. Nothing of the kind! The good Bishop took his stand at the porch and tuning to the hundreds of colliers outside, addressed them in the most simple and touching words which went home to their hearts, making them feel he was indeed their own Bishop, a real man like themselves. The Bishop's head was uncovered; the rough men and lads kept on their hats; but their looks were rivetted on him and, no doubt, many of them took home to their hearts the Word of life thus made plain to their understandings. In the afternoon the Bishop left for Ilam, where he preached twice on Thursday, administered the Holy Communion, and held a meeting about the proposed Diocesan Synod." [Staffordshire Sentinel, May 4th, 1878.]

The history of these five days is an illustration of the Bishop's labours in his diocese, and of the missionary energy with which he at once made himself acquainted with every part of it.

On June 16th, a Choral Festival was held in the Cathedral, a bright red-letter day in the memory of many, the sun shining and the bells ringing merrily as the Bishop and Clergy came in procession along the Dean's-walk. On the following day the first Diocesan Conference took place in the Guild Hall, at which about 400 members were present. The Bishop in his address said, "Since I have been among you I have been very happy. I have been received most kindly everywhere, and the difference of opinion I have met with proves that it is possible to differ widely and yet remain friends. Now the meeting of to-day will put the colophon upon our work; and I trust it is a good and hopeful work. In addition to those already existing, other great works are looming in the distance. You will hear to-day of [35/36] an organized system of lay-agency, to supplement the scarcity of clergy in our populous districts. Beyond that, and following upon it, is the subject of the Lichfield Theological College. We shall want a Diocesan Fund, not restricted to special objects, but available, under direction of the Diocesan Council, for Church works and needs of every kind,--the fund not to be frittered away in small grants here and there, but devoted annually to great diocesan works tending to give strength and stability to our system. * * Some of this fund will be applied towards giving free admission to the best of the lay agents to be educated at the Theological College." * * We want funds to buy unattached advowsons, which circulate through the auction mart from hand to hand, that the Diocese may be able to present livings to its own servants, drawn from its own people, educated in its own College, proved in its own ministry, and found faithful. And, when their strength fails, and they require to be released from duties which they discharged so well, we will not leave them to waste the remnant of their lives in trying in vain to be what they were before, but we will supply them with retiring pensions and quiet homes under the shadow of the Cathedral, that they may end their laborious days in peace. * * * What is there for Synods to do? Half our population to be won back to the Church of their fathers, fifty colonial dioceses looking to us for help, two-thirds of the human race to be brought to Christ,this is a summary of the work to be done. May God give this Conference strength and wisdom to do its part!"

In this address the Bishop sketched out many of the new works which he subsequently organized and set on foot. Other schemes were added from time to time, such as a Mission to the barge-men and floating population on the canals, and the [36/37] personal Institution of new Incumbents publicly in church, the offertory on such occasions being always devoted to the assistance of students in need of help at the Theological College. Once when he was challenged as to the possibility of carrying out all he proposed to do, the Bishop answered in George Herbert's words, "that it was good to shoot at the moon, even though you only hit a tree: and he should be satisfied if he hit a tree."

On July 2nd, 1868, the Bishop sailed from England, accompanied by Mrs. Selwyn and his younger son, to be present at the General Synod in New Zealand and to say farewell to his former Diocese, leaving the Diocese of Lichfield in charge of Bishop Trower for six months. Bishop Patteson came from Norfolk Island to see his beloved friend once more, and to attend the farewell service held at Auckland before Bishop Selwyn started for England. The grief of the younger Bishop in parting from his spiritual Father must indeed have been great. But he says in a letter, "I don't grudge him one bit: there is no room for small personal considerations when the great issues are at stake. I can't yet look at his photograph with dry eyes." [Life of Bishop Patteson, II. 309.]

"Perhaps the young Church of New Zealand has never known so sorrowful a day as that which took from her her first Bishop; a day truly to be likened to that when the Ephesians parted with their Apostle at Miletus. At the last service at S. Paul's Church more than 400 persons received the Holy Communion where there were four Bishops administering in the body of the church and the transepts; but in the chancel the Primate and his beloved son in the faith were partaking together for the last time of the Bread of Life." [37/38] Then "the crowded streets and wharf (for all business was suspended, public offices and shops shut), no power of moving about, horses taken from the carriage as a mixed crowd of Maoris and English drew them to the wharf. Then choking words and stifled efforts to say 'God bless you,' and so we parted!" Parted, never to meet in this world again.

The following is the Farewell Address from the General Synod of New Zealand to Bishop Selwyn.

"We, the Bishops, Clergy, and Laity of this branch of the Church of England, respectfully and affectionately address your Lordship on your resignation of your office as President of the Synod. When your Lordship first came to this country, more than twenty-six years ago, you began work as Bishop of New Zealand. You end it now as Primate by providing for the permanent maintenance of your own Melanesian Mission, offshoot of the New Zealand Church. This Synod is itself the result and witness of your unwearied efforts for organization of the Native and Colonial Church of New Zealand, and of your missionary labours in the islands of the West Pacific Ocean. The Natives of New Zealand, the English Colonist, and the Melanesian Islander, are all represented here. With respect to the native Church, a Maori Diocese has been constituted and Maori Synods have been held; seventeen native Clergy have ministered and do minister faithfully and loyally in different parts of the country; churches and schools have been built, endowments been provided, clergy and catechists maintained, collections for Melanesia made by Maoris. And now we think, my Lord, how twenty-seven years have passed to-day since you received episcopal office,--years marked by extraordinary events in our history--an episcopate, marked in [38/39] an extraordinary degree, by your work of faith and labour of love and patience of hope. We humbly believe that, by your wide and varied experience of many forms of human life, bringing you into contact with men in every stage of barbarism and civilization, on lonely journeys in the solitudes of the New Zealand forest and on the waves of the West Pacific, God's Holy Spirit has been training you for an even greater work than any that you have hitherto accomplished, for which all that has been done may be but the preparation, the crowning work, it may be, of your life to which He has now called you. It seems as if you had been sent first to warm the most distant members here, and were called now to quicken the very heart of our dear Mother-Church at home, that so the life-blood may circulate with fresh vigour throughout the body. We know full well that you will never cease to pray and labour for us; and you need no assurance from us that we will ever remember and pray for you. How can we ever forget you! Every spot in New Zealand is identified with you. Each hill and valley, each river and bay and headland, is full of memories of you. The busy town, the lonely settler's hut, the countless islands of the sea, all speak to us of you. Whether your days be few or many, we--as long as we live--will ever hold you deep in our inmost hearts. All will pray for you and yours: the clergy to whom you have been indeed a father in God, the old tried friends with whom you have taken counsel, the younger men of both races whom you have trained, the poor whom you have relieved, the mourners whom you have comforted, the sick to whom you have ministered, the prisoners whom you have visited, all think of you now and will think of you always with true and deep affection, and will offer for you always their fervent prayers. We humbly pray God, who has [39/40] given you the wisdom to conceive and the power to execute your great designs, that your high and noble example may be ever affectionately remembered and dutifully followed by us all; that the mind and spirit of its first Bishop may be stamped for all generations upon the Church of New Zealand; and that the multitudes of the isles may learn in years to come the name of their first great missionary, and rise up and call him blessed." (Signed by all the Synod.)

The Bishop replied in the following words:

"I might well say, in words of Wordsworth, 'the praise of men had often left me mourning.' It is most difficult and painful to one placed in my position to have to reply to such kind expressions as are contained in the address; but in this case the pain is much mingled with pleasure. Suffice it to say that I have sought for support and counsel from many whose services are not so conspicuous as my own, though they deserve equal praise with myself, if not more. I would say, as has been said on a different occasion, 'Give God the praise, we know that this man was a sinner.' All the prosperity of the New Zealand Church is the work of God. The finger of God has been manifested in all that has taken place from the time Samuel Marsden landed here in 1814 until now. It is the comforting prophecy fulfilled that 'the little one should become a thousand.' It is a comfort that what one man had begun should become, in little more than half a century, what the Church of New Zealand now is. When I think of the time when I came to Sydney and found Bishop Broughton there with a small band of Clergymen round him, and when I reflect that now that little band has extended into all the provinces of New South Wales with its Dioceses of Tasmania, [40/41] Western Australia, South Australia, and these provinces of New Zealand with all its satellites in Melanesia, I feel that the power and influence of God's Holy Spirit is being manifested on earth, and that it has pleased Almighty God to enable us to see His power with our own eyes, so that we may not walk by faith alone but also by sight. * * * I leave to you the native Church as a special legacy, and hope that no increase of European population may absorb your interests so as to cause you to neglect that remnant which, though a poor one, is a remnant of the congregation of Christ."

The following is a translation of the address from the natives of Te Waimate and the Bay of Islands, in their own language, presented by Rev. Matiu Taupaki, Oct. 5th, 1868.

"Sire, the Bishop! salutations to you and to mother (Mrs. Selwyn)! We, the people of the places to which you first came, still retain our affection for you both. Our not seeing you occasions us grief, because there will be no seeing you again. We rejoiced at hearing that you were coming to see us; great was the joy of the heart; and now, hearing that it cannot be, we are again in grief.

"Sire, great is our affection for you both, who are now being lost among us. But how can it be helped, in consequence of the word of our great One, the Queen!

"Sire, our thought with regard to you is that you are like the poor man's lamb taken away by the rich man. This is our parting wish for you both: Go, Sire, and may God preserve you both! May he also provide a man to take your place, of equal powers with yourself! Go, Sire, we shall no more see each other in the body, but we shall see one another in our thoughts. However, we are led and protected and sanctified by the same Spirit. Such is the nature of this short [41/42] life to sunder our bodies; but in a little while, when we shall meet in the assembly of the saints, we shall see each other face to face, one fold under one shepherd. This is our lament for you in few words:

'Love to our friend, who has disappeared abruptly from the ranks!
Is he a small man that he was so beloved?
He has not his equal amongst the many.
The food he dispensed is longed for by me."

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