Project Canterbury

The Anglican Church in South America

By the Right Rev. Edward Francis Every, D.D.

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1915.


NO book about Church work in South America could be complete without some historical sketch of the Church Society which has devoted the whole of its energies and interests to that continent, and the following facts are taken from the Society's publications. It was founded at Brighton in 1844 as the "Patagonian Mission," which name sufficiently describes its objects at that time. Captain Allen Gardiner, R.N., was the first secretary. The name "Patagonian Mission" was retained for twenty years, when the present title was adapted. From 1844 to 1850 several fruitless efforts were made to establish missions in South America. Little missionary experience seems to have been accumulated at that time, and the field of work chosen was exceptionally difficult, both on account of the wildness of the country and the nomad habits of the Indians. Breaking up the history of the Society into decades from this point, we find that the first, viz. 1850-1859, may be described briefly as "Martyrdom." Captain Allen Gardiner and his party sailed for Tierra del Fuego on September 7, 1850, and owing to a misunderstanding about a ship with fresh supplies of provisions which should have followed them, wrote his dying words just a year later. Among these we find, "I trust that poor Fuegia and South America may not be abandoned," and, "If I have a wish for the good of my fellow-men it is that the Tierra del Fuego Mission might be prosecuted with vigour, and the work in South America commenced." The whole party perished from disease and starvation. That scene in Earnest Cove, Spaniard Harbour, is surely one of the most pathetic in history--the gallant little band hiding in terror from the very people they had come out to evangelize, yet facing the inevitable end with undimmed faith and courage.

The second, and apparently crushing, disaster which occurred in this period was the massacre of the mission party which landed from the ship, Allen Gardiner, at Woollya Navarin Island, on November 6, 1859. Much progress was thought to have been made, cordial relations had been established with the natives, and some of them had been brought to Keppell Island for training, so that no danger was apprehended, when this sudden act of treachery occurred. The whole mission appeared to be blotted out. The outstanding figure of the second decade, 1860-1869, is undoubtedly that of Bishop Stirling, then in priest's orders, who went out as to a forlorn hope, and with rare courage restored confidence by living among the Indians, once for months together, the only European, "God's lonely sentinel," as he himself described it. He was consecrated first Bishop of the Falkland Islands in Westminster Abbey in 1869. This period is described as one of working and waiting.

The third decade, 1870-1879, saw considerable results, so that it is described as "First fruits." Another notable figure in this Mission was that of the Rev. T. Bridges, who both possessed a remarkable knowledge of the Yahgan language, and exerted a wonderful personal influence over the natives. In this period thirty-six Fuegian natives were baptized at one time. The missionaries still had the field to themselves. There were no European or South American settlers as yet. It was at this time that Charles Darwin was so impressed by what he saw of the changed character of the natives that he became a regular subscriber to the Society's funds. The next decade, 1880-1889, may well be called one of "Trial," for it witnessed little else but disaster. The natives of Tierra del Fuego began to die off against the impact of a tainted civilization with its accompaniments of disease and drink. The Amazon Mission, a most extraordinarily difficult and expensive venture, begun in 1872, produced so little result that it had to be abandoned. And, as though this were not enough, the leader of the newly begun Mission to the Paraguayan Chaco, Mr. Henriksen (formerly an agent of the British and Foreign Bible Society), died as a result of constant hardships and exposure. The next decade, however, 1890-1899, was of a more cheerful nature, and is fairly called "Expansion." Mr. W. B. Grubb succeeded Mr. Henriksen as leader of the Chaco Mission, effected a practical entry into the country, won the confidence of the natives by sheer pluck and honest sympathy--of course at the risk of his own life--and thus securely laid the foundations of the mission as it exists to-day. Also in 1894, to celebrate the Society's jubilee the Araucanian Mission, which has since grown to considerable proportions, was founded in Southern Chile. Also in Argentina, among Spanish-speaking people, Mr. Morris' unique educational and evangelistic work was begun at Palermo, Buenos Aires, and the small but carefully planned and thorough work at Alberdi Rosario. The sixth decade, 1900-1909, saw the retirement of the much-honoured and loved missionary hero, Bishop Stirling, and the consecration (but after a too long two years' interval) of his successor. This period was marked by much progress in spite of serious deficits and shortage of funds. The work of the Indian Missions in the Paraguayan Chaco and Southern Chile were maintained and developed, and that among the dying Yahgan race in the far south was at least preserved and consolidated, by removing it to Navarin Island. Mr. Morris' schools prospered and increased in spite of the whole political machinery and social prestige of the established Church of the country being put forth to crush them, and four additional chaplaincies were started or developed with the Society's help. In the Society's sixtieth year the present house, which serves for offices and home base, was acquired at 20, John Street, Bedford Row, W.C. And in the last year of the decade arrangements were completed (mostly by means of funds raised from outside sources) for dividing the unwieldy bishopric of the Falkland Islands and establishing a new Anglican diocese in Argentina and Eastern South America.

Hence it will be seen that the Society has consistently acted as a handmaid to the Church which it helped so much in the first instance to draw out and unify. Its interests would seem to be in the order its historical origin suggests, i.e. first directly missionary, and then afterwards pastoral towards our own people. That it has only touched a few points as yet in the vast continent with which it has to deal is due to the fact of the inadequate financial support which it receives, perhaps on account of England's interest in South America being only recent, and chiefly financial. Its name, however, remains suggestive of an honourable ambition as well as partial achievement. The society retains the right of managing its own affairs in the two dioceses within which it works, which tends to make that work somewhat of an imperium in imperio, but all its agents, lay as well as clerical, receive the Bishop's licence and work under his jurisdiction. Further, the London committee is now represented by local committees in the two dioceses, of which the Bishop in each case is chairman. This arrangement makes for unity of authority and harmony in working.

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