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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 VI.--Bishop Rawle Consecrated in Lichfield Cathedral: Rev. J. R. Selwyn leaves England for Melanesia: The Bishop's second visit to America. 1872-1875.

In 1872 a striking ceremony took place in Lichfield Cathedral. The Rev. Richard Rawls, Vicar of Tamworth, was consecrated Bishop of Trinidad. Nine Bishops were present at the service, the sermon being preached by the Bishop of Peterborough. It was a source of great thankfulness and pleasure to Bishop Selwyn that the Archbishop of Canterbury had allowed the consecration to take place in the Cathedral of the Diocese where the newly elected Prelate had been a parish priest; and no pains were spared to make the whole ceremony assume the air of a high ecclesiastical festival.

[53] About this time the Bishop was much troubled by disturbances at St. George's, Wolverhampton, on the subject of Ritual. And, in order to restore peace to the parish and congregation, he removed the Incumbent to another charge and sent one whom he could not but regard as the choicest gift he could offer to them--his younger son, John Richardson Selwyn, who had been ordained by himself, first as Deacon and then as Priest, in his own Cathedral. The new Vicar soon restored harmony to the parish; and both he and his wife created a deep attachment on the part of the people among whom they worked during the short time their home was at Wolverhampton, before responding to that higher call which awaited them to go forth to the distant diocese of Melanesia. For, in 1873 this true son of his father resolved to follow his father's steps; and left his English home and friends, with a cheerful heart and a good courage, to cross the seas with his wife and infant (born at the Palace three months before and baptized in the Cathedral by her grandfather, the Bishop) to labour amongst the Islands of the West Pacific Ocean. With them went the Rev. John Still, for some years Curate at S. Michael's, Lichfield, who had been formerly a college-friend of Mr. Selwyn.

In 1873 the alterations in the Theological College were completed. The spacious stables adjoining the dwelling-house had been converted into rooms for a Vice-Principal and twenty-five students, together with a large lecture-room. This was a work of great interest to the Bishop, who used constantly to bring his visitors to see the buildings, explaining to them with what ingenuity the previous owner's "stud" had been converted into "studies." At one end of the lecture-room a small apse was thrown out to serve as a chapel. This apse was the [53/54] gift of a former student, the Rev. Frederic Beaumont, who also supplied it with suitable fittings. The Bishop opened this building with a special service, which was attended by the Choristers and several of the Clergy of the Cathedral: and ever since that day the sound of its evening-bell has been recognised by the inhabitants of the Close as a signal that "the toils of day are over" and the hour of rest has come. A large gathering of the former and present students of the College took place that summer, at which the Bishop was again present; and in the evening he gave in the Lady Chapel one of those telling addresses which always comprised so much in few and simple words. This was the last service held there for some years, as it was closed immediately afterwards for restoration, and the early College-service was transferred to the Bishop's private Chapel.

In January, 1874, on the death of the Chancellor (Rev. Thomas Law), Bishop Hobhouse was appointed to the vacant post. The Bishop, when instituting him to the office, said that his reason for appointing him instead of a barrister, was that in all differences that might arise between the clergy and their people he much preferred exercising the Christian principle of conciliation and arbitration, rather than appeal to litigation. He then went on to say, "As I have known Bishop Hobhouse for many years, and have seen his power of conciliation and peacemaking among his brethren, I believe he may be very serviceable in carrying out a system of prevention which is always better than cure. At the same time, I know him to be well acquainted with ecclesiastical law and precedents." After this, Bishop Hobhouse knelt down and the Bishop of Lichfield said "The Lord God, the righteous Judge of all the earth, who is no respecter of persons, give thee a right judgment in all things, through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen."

[55] The idea here dwelt upon by the Bishop is one which was well known to be a prominent consideration with him. Indeed it formed the key-note of his address at the diocesan conference held soon afterwards at Lichfield, June 4th. The law of love, in his judgment, should be the only one needed by the clergy in their relations with their people, and still more with their Bishop. In the concluding words of his address at the conference he said, "The Church of England has its own special mission. The duty of the Anglican Church is to approach as nearly as possible to the standard of the Primitive Church, holding fast all Catholic doctrine and all essential points of Christian worship, but claiming and exercising the power to ordain rites and ceremonies as a particular and national Church. Let us have a standard of our own--an Anglican standard--admitting as much flexibility and variety as the Church itself may direct for the good of the souls of her people,--Cathedrals, parishes rich and poor, in town and country, missions at home and abroad, special services for every especial need, each (like the various sections of a mighty army) having its distinctive uniform and its own drill, but all alike 'under authority.' I go this autumn to the Synod of Canada and to the Convention of Bishops in the United States. What message shall I take to them? Shall I tell them that as a united diocese we greet them in the name of the Lord, who would have all men to be one? Shall I tell them we are all--men in authority and men under authority,--Bishop, Clergy, Laity, subject one to another in the unity of the spirit and the bond of peace, and that we pray for them (as we pray for ourselves) that that outpouring of the Holy Ghost which, like the oil upon the waves, calmed down the troubled sea of human passions in the Apostolic Church, may unite us all in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity?"

[56] Indeed, as it has been truly said, "he was ever calling people to unity, while he was the last to make light of fundamental truths: and within the last few months of his life, on two occasions--with a courage not less noble than that which supported him often in perils among the heathen--he sheltered faithful incumbents from their enemies and declined to deliver them over, on the testimony of three puppet parishioners, to be harried by the Church Association." [Saturday Review, April 20th, 1878.]

An account of an Ordination-week, at Lichfield, in 1874, may serve to remind some readers of happy days spent, on this or on similar occasions, at the Palace. "Few, save those who have experienced them, can have any idea of the deep anxieties of an Ordination-week. It is, however, permitted to those who live in the Cathedral City, and are acquainted with the Candidates, to form some conception of what those anxieties must be. The positive hard work of the examination; the uncertainty, in some cases, about the final result of it; the excitement of the private interviews with the Bishops; to say nothing of the ever-deepening appreciation of the solemn step about to be taken--all combine to make Ordination-week a time which most men would be sorry to pass through more than twice in their lives. It would, however, be impossible for any one to pass an Ordination-week at Lichfield, especially at this time of the year, without carrying away with him many pleasant memories. The Close is most lovely with its fresh spring foliage, and the refreshing breeze from Stowe pool contrasts pleasantly with the oppressive closeness of the Examination room. Then, with some of the candidates, there is the sight of old faces; and what a world of pleasant thought an old face often brings with [56/57] it! There are the early morning prayers in the Cathedral before the day's toil begin, and the evening services in the Bishop's chapel when they are 'past and over.' There are the addresses given by men of large sympathies and varied experience; by Dean Champneys, who laboured so hard and so well in the parish of S. Pancras; by Bishop Abraham, whose best years were given to New Zealand; by the aged Bishop of Newfoundland, who is on the eve of returning to the wild diocese over which he has presided for thirty years; and yet again by our own Bishop, who spoke as he only can speak, and whose words made a deep impression on all who heard him. All these things will remain very pleasantly in the memory, long after the anxieties of the Ordination-week are forgotten. The examination was finished on Thursday, the result being published early on Friday morning. Friday and Saturday were spent in private interviews with the Bishops, pastoral addresses, and in taking the required oaths. On Sunday morning there was morning prayer in the Cathedral at nine o'clock, at which the candidates were present. The great service of the day began at eleven o'clock. The candidates were seated under the central spire on either side of the screen gate, and after the 'bidding prayer,' the service was at once commenced by Archdeacon Moore, who preached an excellent sermon from the words "How can these things be?" (S. John iii. 9.) At the conclusion of the sermon, the candidates were ushered into the choir, and the Ordination service began. Every English Churchman ought to witness an Ordination; and, perhaps, nowhere is the ceremony more solemn and affecting than in the Cathedral at Lichfield. The choir was occupied by the choristers and the students of the Theological College. The Bishop sat in his chair before the Holy Table--the [57/58] Coadjutor Bishops occupying seats by Bishop Lonsdale's monument, and the Dean and Canons sitting opposite in the sedilia. The service was most effective. The questions were answered by each of the 24 candidates separately. The Bishop's manner was very grave, and both he and those on whom he laid his hands seemed to feel the solemnity of the act in which they were taking part. No one could have witnessed the ceremony without being sensible that if any of the English Clergy appear to be unfaithful Pastors, it is no fault of the Church that they are so. Every care which can be taken is taken: every promise, which can lawfully be asked is asked, and given: and the fact that the Ministers of the Church are sometimes other than they should be, simply proves that it is impossible to keep the field free from tares so long as there is an enemy to sow them." [Lichfield Diocesan Churchman, June 1, 1874.]

Nor were these the only occasions on which Bishop Selwyn's animating influence was felt within the precincts of his ancient Cathedral. The meeting of the full Chapter,--consisting of the Canons Residentiary, and of the Prebendaries scattered throughout the diocese,--had almost fallen into desuetude, having been rarely held of late years except for an official purpose, such as the election of a Bishop. But it was now no longer allowed to remain dormant. It was summoned to meet annually by the Bishop as president: its Statutes were revised: committees were appointed for various diocesan purposes: and the Cathedral Chapter was thus elevated once more to the fulfilment of its true functions, as a standing-council of the Bishop and as the heart of the whole diocese. [See Diocesan Cycle. Appendix.]

In August, 1874, the Bishop started for his second visit to America, accompanied on this occasion by the Rev. Edward [58/59] Jas. Edwards (Trentham), Rev. Nigel Madan (Polesworth), and Mr. Hodson, the Bishop's legal secretary. After touching at S. John's, Newfoundland, they arrived at Montreal, and attended the Provincial Synod of Canada where the presence of the Bishop called forth the most enthusiastic welcome. He gave a short address in which he spoke of himself as the representative of church missions, and as earnestly desiring--with his companions--to extend to sister churches the right hand of fellowship and unity. Addresses were also read from the Archdeacons and Rural Deans of the Lichfield diocese inviting the members of the Canadian Synod to attend at the Church Congress to be held at Stoke-on-Trent in the following year. After this the Bishop took a short tour in the north-west. His travels extended to Nebraska (500 miles west of Chicago) where he was entertained by Bishop Clarkson, at Omaha. While he was staying with the Bishops of Huron and Minnesota, he addressed some Indian tribes by means of an interpreter, touching on those circumstances of his experience in New Zealand which bore upon themselves and their own gathering into the Christian church. To this their chief made a short reply on behalf of his people, expressing his own and their gratitude to the English for having brought the gospel to them.

No doubt their gratitude was not undeserved. But still it cannot be said that the English church in bygone times had really done the best she could for America. For, as the Bishop said when addressing the missionary meeting at Montreal, the early system of sending out only Presbyters to America was one which had starved the Episcopal church. The true plan was to send out a Bishop first, who would build up a church. "Let him, if necessary, be bishop, priest and [59/60] deacon all in one. And let him not only visit Churchmen, but if a man is said to be an infidel don't believe it, but go and talk with him, and you will find he is no more an infidel than yourself." As to the support of missions, it was their duty to give, a duty which they could not cast off. It was a mistake to say that what a man has is his own. As John Wesley, that good presbyter of our Church, replied to a man who asked if he could not do as he pleased with his own, "There is the mistake you make; it is not your own." He then spoke of the great work in store for the people of the Dominion; and prayed that they might be guided to do it well.

Soon afterwards the Bishop preached at the opening service of the Convention of the American church in New York at which fifty Bishops were present: and he and his party were afterwards introduced by the president to the Convention, who received them as warmly as before. The president's words were these: "I introduce the Right Rev. the Bishop of Lichfield, whose name is as dear and familiar beyond the bounds of Christendom as within them, and especially dear now to the American church." The whole assembly remained standing whilst the Bishop--who was greeted with loud applause--responded in a few words referring to his former and to his present visit, and giving an account of the presentation of the alms-bason which has already been mentioned. He then read the addresses from his diocese, which were similar to those sent to the Canadian Synod, inviting the Convention to attend the Congress at Stoke-on-Trent in the following year. After this, the rest of the visitors were severally introduced, and were received with that courtesy which is so welcome to the stranger and so well understood by the members of the American church.

[61] The following letter to Mr. Edwards from the Rev. Dr. Whitaker, Provost of Trinity College, Toronto, shows how the Bishop's visit to the Synod of the Church of Canada was appreciated. He writes, "I am unwilling to let you leave this continent without endeavouring to convey to you my impression as to the happy result which we may hope to follow the visit of the Bishop of Lichfield, as the representative of the Church at home, both to ourselves and the sister Church in the United States. Assurances in writing of Christian sympathy, conveyed to us across the Atlantic, are by no means valueless or ineffectual. But, when a leader of the church, like Bishop Selwyn, honours and gladdens us by his revered and genial presence--'drawing us with the cords of a man,' by look and tone and gesture--far more is done than can be achieved by the wisest written words, to impress on the hearts of men the great lesson of Christian love, the reality of the Communion of saints. The Bishop's sound wisdom and delicate sense of the relation in which lie stood to those whom he was addressing led him to give counsel indirectly, by narrating what the church in New Zealand had done under similar circumstances; and the Synod was well aware of the exceptional privilege it enjoyed in hearing from Bishop Selwyn's own lips the results of his long experience and having the plans of this wise master-builder submitted to it by himself for its guidance. I am satisfied that whether from the far west, from Fredericton, or from the assemblage at New York, the like testimony will be borne as to the happy results of this noble endeavour to give a substance to that which men too often regard only as an attractive shadow, and to present before us by living word and deed an impersonation of Christian love."

A correspondent to the "Lichfield Diocesan Churchman," [61/62] October, 1874, gives an account of the last day spent in New York by the Bishop and his party, which also illustrates the kindly feelings of the American church on the occasion of this second visit of the Bishop to the Convention. "'The Russia' in which we had taken our passage, was to sail on Wednesday, September 7th, and on the day previous, the Bishop with ourselves took leave of the House of Deputies. At the conclusion of his lordship's short parting address, the whole House, at the instance of one of its members, went down on their knees to offer up a prayer to Almighty God, which the president read aloud from the American prayer book, for our safe return to England, concluding with the Lord's Prayer. I know not that I ever felt so truly the power of church unity as on this occasion, when, in the midst of the ordinary discussions of this great assembly, all business was suspended, to offer this farewell prayer for strangers (as we must call ourselves with an ocean to separate us) yet felt to be friends in the triple ties of blood, language and religion. In the evening of the same day, Tuesday, we were present by invitation in the Academy of Music,--a vast interior with its orchestra, pit, and great galleries,--in which three to four thousand people of all ranks were met. The subject of the evening was 'Missions to the Indians,' and the Bishop made his final address to the Protestant Episcopal Church of America, and was received, as ever, with the same cordial welcome, Then, once more, at a sign from the presiding Bishop, this great multitude knelt down and prayed that we might return in safety to our homes. Such an incident as this leaves a sense of the strength of church heartiness and sympathy on the minds of those present like ourselves, which we never can and never ought to forget." [62/63] In memory of this visit to New York, £200 was subscribed by the clergy and laity of the diocese of New York for the foundation of a "Potter-Selwyn Prize," in Lichfield Theological College. This was awarded for the first time at Midsummer, 1878.

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