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General Convention of the American Church

[From The Colonial Church Chronicle and Missionary Journal, Vol. VII (No. LXXVIII) (December, 1853), pages 208-212.]

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2007


[We have much pleasure in giving insertion to the following graphic summary of the American Convention and Board of Missions. The initials at the end of it will serve to identify our correspondent with one of the ablest and most distinguished of the American Clergy.]

Hartford, Nov. 4, 1853.

IT has been suggested to me that some account of our late General Convention at New York might be acceptable to the readers of the Colonial Church Chronicle, and it is with sincere pleasure that I accept the hints thus given, by a friend who well understands the dispositions of those for whom I write, and who assures me of the interest generally felt in England in our synodical affairs. Let me explain, then, at the outset, the circumstances in which this great Synod met. It is six years since it assembled in New York, the intervening Convention having met at Cincinnati. Those years have been eventful; and alike what had been done and what had been left undone in them conjoined to render this Convention, in the expectation of all, an important, if not a critical one. The case of Bishop Ives hung like a cloud before us, and it was feared, up to the last moment, that the state of feeling growing out of the New Jersey case might not be without its perils. Some very disagreeable legislation was apparently impending with reference to the "trial of Bishops"; it was known that our domestic Missionary affairs' would exhibit a very unsatisfactory state of things in that all-important department of our operations; and it was felt that the wants of California and Oregon (the case of the former being embarrassed by the anomalous claim of its Clergy and laity to be regarded as a duly organized diocese) might fail to receive sufficient attention, and that even discords might be generated in the endeavour to meet them. All things considered, even the pleasure inspired by the prospect of a delegation from the Mother Church was (we must confess) not without alloy. It was a new and untried experiment; we might find it awkward to do just the thing required by the diplomatic parts of such a novel addition to our ordinary business; we might find it difficult to meet the Delegation, with justice to the feelings of some, without overdoing with regard to the scruples or the wishes of others; remote portions of the Church might be less disposed to give prominence to this feature of our assembling than those with which the Delegates had become personally familiar; it was barely possible that even ill feeling might be developed by extreme and partisan views of a matter to which nothing but the largest and purest Christian principle had [208/209] contributed; and it was certain that our English friends, though coming not as spies, but as brethren, would necessarily see the nakedness of the land, in some sad respects--our Missionary
poverty in particular.

These considerations were sufficient to make us far from sanguine as to the results of the Convention of 1853. Still, there was a prevailing confidence that all would be well; that a reviving Missionary spirit would characterize the labours of the session; and that the English Delegation would constitute, if not its most important, still its most delightful feature. The , opening services proved very satisfactory and impressive; and although it was generally felt that the Bishop of Ohio, who preached the sermon, might with great propriety have recognised the presence of our English guests, although they were not formally delegated to the Convention itself, still it was said, in explanation, that such was the appropriate privilege of the preacher before the Board of Missions, which it would have been improper to have interfered with by anticipation. The Synodical Prayer, which follows the Litany, was read by Archdeacon Sinclair, and with thrilling effect on all present. It seemed as if the Church of England herself were, by her Commissioner, taking this important part in our solemnities.

The other public solemnities to be noticed were the sermon before the Board of Missions, and the Missionary meetings, and the consecration of the Bishops of North and South Carolina. The sermon was preached in St. Bartholomew's Church, by the Bishop Elect of North Carolina (Dr. Atkinson), and concluded with an appropriate tribute to the venerable Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and her distinguished representatives. But it was at the public meeting at Ascension Church that the strong feeling inspired by their presence was for the first time exhibited, with justice to the real depth and earnestness of its character. Bishop Meade presided, (Bishop Brownell, our presiding Bishop, being too infirm to be present,) and the members of the Delegation were the principal speakers. After appropriate prayer, and singing, they were presented by Bishop Wainwright, and introduced to the assembly; and then came their cordial and inspiring greetings, blended with fervent exhortations. The vast congregation which filled the church, and which continued till a late hour, absorbed in the interest of the occasion, were apparently moved by one spirit, and that a happy and a heavenly one. Each speaker addressed us from his own especial stand-point, and each was felt to have an especial claim and an especial mission. Bishop Spencer stood before us as the organ of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, in expounding the purposes of the Delegation, and as a [209/210] representative of the Missionary Episcopate of the Church of England; Archdeacon Sinclair seemed to symbolize the jurisdiction to which our whole Church was formerly subject, (that of the Bishop of London,) and to represent, as one of "the eyes" of his Diocesan, the interest which that Prelate must naturally take in our present condition; Mr. Hawkins, who followed with some highly practical and stirring appeals, based on an interesting review of past and present in the Anglican communion, was heard with deep attention, as one who had borne no secondary part in reviving the intimate relations of the mother and the daughter Churches; and Mr. Caswall inspired a peculiar interest, as combining in his own person something derived from both Churches, and as having contributed so largely to make each known to the other. The Bishop of Fredericton, whom all rejoiced to see among us, as a representative of that Colonial Church which is our nearest Catholic neighbour, followed these speakers, in a strain of very happy thought, which completed the effect of the evening, in a manner truly edifying, and with a manifestly animating result. The second Missionary meeting, at which the Foreign Missions of our Church were the prominent subject, and at which the speakers, including Mr. Tong, a native Chinese, were all of the American communion, received, in fact, its great impulse from the unspent enthusiasm enkindled by the former occasion.

The Consecration of the two Bishops to whom I have alluded was an event of very great importance, as exhibiting an active and historical concurrence of the two Churches in a practical work of the greatest solemnity. The Bishop of Fredericton was the preacher, and I must be allowed to say that he performed his part with a combination of those qualities which give the highest effect to such efforts of the pulpit. A lucid theological outline was filled up with such fervent illustration and impressive appeal, and delivered with such chastened earnestness of manner, that all hearts were stirred, and melted into harmony, by its inspiring effect. Then followed the Consecration itself, in which the late Bishop of Madras and the Bishop of Fredericton united with our Bishops in each imposition of hands. Here is a unity which all can understand, and which parliaments and politicians cannot fetter or restrain.

But these public occasions were by no means the only ones in which similar tokens of good were manifest: for, not only in connexion with the Convention, but elsewhere, and before the Convention assembled, the individual delegates went, to and fro among us, preaching and exhorting, and filling our hearts with glad tidings of good-will. And yet the unseen intercourse which was daily kept up between the Delegation and the [210/211] Committee of Conference appointed by our Board,--consisting in comparative statements of Missionary operations and projects, and in explanations of the peculiarities of each organization, and in counsels as to future and practical union in Missionary effort,--was perhaps the most efficient of lasting benefit of all the opportunities for carrying out the objects of the Delegation which were at any time enjoyed. A report of this Conference will be published with the Journals of the Board; and it will be seen, by every careful reader, that it embodies elements of future good to the Church and to the world, which it will require the greatest lack of faith and charity to render altogether inoperative. In a word, let me say that the Delegation has much more than fulfilled its mission. Future delegations may be the instruments of more striking results and of more immediate fruits but to this must belong the lasting honour of inaugurating a new era in the history of Anglican Missions, and of furnishing the first foot-hold for solid progress in the combination of Synodical forces between the two great branches of the Anglican communion. The presence in the Convention of a delegation from the Synod of Toronto must not be overlooked, as contributing, in no slight degree, to the same blessed consummation.

The results of the Convention itself must be gathered from its Journal, soon to be published, and copies of which are to be sent, by vote of the Convention, to every Anglican Bishop and to all the members of the Delegation. The sending of two Bishops to our Pacific coast must be regarded as the best of its doings. But the measures taken to subdivide existing dioceses, and to restore a primitive diaconate, are scarcely of less promising importance. Our constitution has been so amended (subject to the action of another Convention) as that the Lay-delegates must be communicants; and our Missionary Board has been in various ways improved, and adapted to an increase of labour and efficiency. A variety of minor measures have been carried--all looking in one direction; all tending to the adaptation of the Church to the wants of the age and of our country, and to the demolition of party, and the bitterness of partisan animosity. Peace upon Israel seems to be the blessed answer to prayer, which has been shed from heaven, like the dew of Hermon, as the result of this memorable Synod; and unless some unlooked-for "root of bitterness" should spring up and trouble us, it has prepared the way for such action, in 1856, as by God's blessing will place the Church in America in a position toward the whole country, of unexampled influence and power over the souls of men. God grant it for Christ's sake!

Our Missionary Bishop to California was consecrated on the Feast of SS. Simon and Jude, at Trinity Church, New York. [211/212] The ceremonial was a far more impressive one, owing to the architecture of the church, than that in which the English Bishops took part. Mr. Hobhouse, of Oxford, who had acted as chaplain to Bishop Spencer, alone remained of our English guests, and I was glad to find the reading of the Lessons assigned to him and Archdeacon Trew of Nassau. Bishop Kip will probably be in San Francisco before Christmas, and may the Lord prosper his Mission to the increase of "peace on earth and good-will to men." A. C. C.

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