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Alexander Gregg, First Bishop of Texas

By His Son, the Late Wilson Gregg

Edited and Extended by the Reverend Arthur Howard Noll.

Sewanee, Tennesee: The University Press, 1912.

Chapter XI. The Division of the Diocese.

BISHOP GREGG attended in 1868 the first General Convention since his consecration. He returned to Texas in November and set out upon a series of visitations which, with the exception of six weeks spent in San Antonio, in January and February, 1869, assisting in the work of the parish there, occupied him until the following June and practically covered the whole of the state where there was any population. Mrs. Gregg's health had begun to fail during the autumn of x868, and by the advice of her physician and for the benefit she hoped to derive from travel, she accompanied her husband on many of his journeys. In his annual address before the Convention of 187o, he was able to sum up some of the fruits of his ten years' labors in the Episcopate and of the twenty years since the Diocese was organized. He notes a visit to his Diocese by Bishop Quintard, who came chiefly in the interests of the University of the South, in 1890, and writes that it was the first visit made by any of the brethren of the Episcopate to the Diocese since his connection with it.

The year marked the beginning of economic changes in the state which had their influence upon the [114/115] Episcopate. Chief of these was the extension of railways. This enabled the Bishop to arrange his visitations more methodically than previously and with less waste of time en route from one point to an other. For the next five years it is estimated that he travelled annually, from October to May, five thousand miles, held one hundred and fifty services, preached 125 times, baptized on an average 125, and confirmed 220. And at the end of that period (1874), the Diocese, by official report, had thirty-four clergymen including the Bishop, seven candidates for holy orders, twenty-one lay-readers, thirty-nine parishes, thirty-four missions, and 2,567 communicants, or five and one half times as many as were reported to the first Convention over which the Bishop presided. There were 203 Sunday School teachers, and 1,362 scholars. The value of Church property was $127,050. That year the number of baptisms reported were 466; confirmations,290. Total contributions, $53,096.34.

The statistics of this time are especially interesting because of the change which was that year made by the General Convention by which the Diocese was reduced in size by the erection of two missionary districts within the boundaries of the state.

In these years the Bishop's home in Texas was broken up; his family were boarding in Galveston, and his increasing anxiety for his wife's health, added [115/116] to his advancing years and the increased severity of the Texas climate, made it necessary that he have some relief from the arduous labors which had been pressing upon him for fifteen years.

A division of the Diocese was first considered in the Diocesan Convention of 1868, and the Bishop in his annual address to the Convention of 1869 referred to the subject in such terms as to imply his earnest desire that something be done to give the Church in Texas increased Episcopal supervision.

In 1871 the Diocesan Convention, at the suggestion of the Bishop, consented to the plan then lately pursued in California "of cutting off a portion of our territory, as Missionary ground, and petitioning the General Convention to take charge and provide for it as such, by supplying a Missionary Bishop to take charge and oversight thereof." In his address to the Convention in 1872, the Bishop thus explains the fate of the petition before the General Convention:--"After full and earnest discussion in the House of Bishops, last year, the mode of relief as proposed by us was decided unattainable, on the ground mainly that no constitutional provision had been made for such a remedy. Other measures were then suggested, of which only one was finally adopted, viz.:--an amendment to Section V, Canon XIII, Title 1, of the Digest, providing additionally that 'When a Bishop is [116/117] unable, by reason of the extent of his Diocese, to discharge his Episcopal duties, one Assistant Bishop may be elected,' etc."

But the Diocesan Convention decided not to avail itself at that time of this new canonical provision, as the Diocese was not prepared to assume the increased burden of support involved by a Bishop and an Assistant Bishop. Further action was therefore deferred until 1874, the Bishop meanwhile making careful preparations for laying the matter before the General Convention in such manner that the petition of the Diocese of Texas might be granted.

In his address before the Diocesan Convention he presented a definite plan for the reduction of the Diocese showing upon his part deep study of the problems involved and very careful attention to the needs of the Church in Texas:--"The developments of the past year in the work of Church extension and the prospect of its more rapid increase hereafter with the admonition of my own personal experience in the enormous work committed to my care, have satisfied me that it will be well for us again to take action looking to a reduction of the Diocese, if no other mode of relief can be devised. And I am prepared in that event, if the support of the Diocese can be provided for, to recommend the establishment of two Missionary Jurisdictions,--that of the West, by a line [117/118] agreed upon in 1871, with one or two changes; and that of Northern Texas by a line extending from the Colorado northeast to Red River--beginning with Lampasas County, running along the northern line of that, and of Coryell, McLennan, Limestone, Freestone, Anderson, Smith, Gregg, Rush, Harrison and Marion Counties.

"This would leave the magnificent domain of Northern Texas intact, where the Church has the brightest future, perhaps, and into which the great tide of emigration is pouring,--a territory, in its rapidly developing wealth and numbers, in the new and diverse elements that are filling it up, and in the relative condition of the Church, which needs to be provided for far more than the West, and that speedily. Here more than anywhere else I have painfully felt the inadequacy of my efforts, and of the means brought to bear; and for this region, one of the finest portions of the earth, if we are to do anything, should the most effective provision be made.

"The Diocese thus reduced would embrace Middle and Eastern Texas proper with an area of about 250 or 300,000 square miles, well shaped in its general outlines, the northern boundary line running nearly parallel with the coast, and the people more directly united by railroad and commercial connections, homogeneity of sympathy and interest than those of [118/119] the other extended portions of our territory proposed to be cut off. Considerations of this kind should have due weight, and in casting over the lines in the first instance, attention was directed thereto. In the number of counties respectively in the three divisions, a remarkable equality was found to exist. In Middle and Eastern Texas, fifty-five; in Northern Texas, fifty-five; in Western Texas, fifty-five,--the last two, however, containing a number of unorganized counties, though with more or less population therein. The population, taking the census of 187o as the basis, with the estimate of relative increase since by persons most competent to judge, will be--for Middle and Eastern Texas, 5,000,000; for Northern Texas, 4,000,000; and of Western Texas, 2,000,000.

"The colored population alone, taking the same basis and estimate,--a point of interest in connection with the matter already considered--would be respectively: 250,000 in Middle and Eastern Texas; 35,000 in Northern Texas, and 15,000 in Western Texas,giving the Diocese, as it would be, five times as many of this class as the other two portions combined. Five years more will doubtless give Northern Texas the preponderance in population over the Middle and Eastern sections of the state, and in wealth its relative increase will probably be greater.

[120] "The Diocese as reduced would be left with twenty clergymen, twenty-six parishes, and fifteen missions: (when I came to the State there were ten clergymen in all and fifteen parishes). Northern Texas would have five clergymen, four parishes and ten missions; and Western Texas, seven clergymen, nine parishes and ten missions; the whole presenting an increase for which we have reason to be devoutly thankful, and in view of it to be inspired with fresh hope and redoubled courage for the future. If we begin the work of reduction, my desire, for the sake of the Church, is to make it as thorough and complete as possible--painful as it is to me--inexpressibly painful--to sunder the ties which have bound me to my brethren of the clergy and people dearly beloved, and which the intercourse and communion of every successive year have only served to deepen and strengthen."

The programme for the reduction of the Diocese thus presented was adopted by the Diocesan Convention meeting in Jefferson, in May, 1874, for presentation to the General Convention to meet in the autumn of that year. This Diocesan Convention was an unusually interesting one. The Southwestern country was in a flourishing condition; the opening of that part of the state by railroads had made Jefferson a thriving, bustling town; the Diocese was at its [120/121] maximum and the Convention was of marked interest.

In the General Convention the proposition for the reduction of the Diocese of Texas met at first with some opposition. Some urged constitutional difficulties; others regarded the canonical provision made for an Assistant Bishop, which had been made with especial reference to California and Texas, sufficient relief. As yet, Texas was terra incognita to most of the American Churchmen, and there were the faintest ideas of the extent of the territory embraced within the state. In the midst of the discussion in the House of Bishops, Bishop Gregg hung upon the walls of the hall where they were sitting, a large map of Texas, with the proposed lines of the divisions marked upon it. It was a revelation to all the Bishops who were present of the immense area which had been committed to the Episcopal oversight of one man. They examined the map with deepest interest and with wonder. They beheld counties into which several of their own Dioceses could be placed. They saw with a new meaning the proposition to cut off two Missionary Jurisdictions, each one and a half times as large as the whole of New England (which then had five Bishops), and to leave a Diocese two-thirds the area of New England in extent. Bishop Wilmer, of Louisiana, walked to the map and after [121/122] examining it for a few minutes in perfect silence, turned to Bishop Gregg and said in a voice that could be heard by all the Bishops present: "I never realized before how big your Diocese was. You can have all the Bishops you want." And the measure was adopted without any further trouble. Before the General Convention adjourned, the Rev. Alexander Charles Garrett, of Omaha, was elected Bishop of the newly created Missionary Jurisdiction of Northern Texas, and the Rev. Robert Woodward Barnwell Elliott, son of the late Bishop of Georgia, was elected Bishop of the newly created Missionary Jurisdiction of Western Texas. Both of these clergymen were duly consecrated, and before the end of the year had entered upon the work of their respective jurisdictions.

Events proved the wisdom of Bishop Gregg's plan for the division of the state into three Episcopates. The Rt. Rev. Dr. Elliott, after thirteen years of exceedingly hard work in his field, in which he saw the population of the western part of Texas enormously increased, laid down his life in August, 1887. He was succeeded by the Rt. Rev. Dr. J. S. Johnston, under whose faithful service and wise management the Jurisdiction was erected into a Diocese in 1903. The wealth and population of Northern Texas increased as Bishop Gregg had predicted, and under the [122/123] Episcopal supervision of the Rt. Rev. Dr. Garrett, the Church therein grew so strong that in 1891 the Missionary Jurisdiction was erected into the Diocese of Dallas. From out these two Dioceses in 1910 was carved the new Missionary District of North Texas, for which the Rev. E. A. Temple was consecrated Bishop.

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