Project Canterbury

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 XII. The Closing Years.

AFTER the division of the state into the three Episcopates, Bishop Gregg visited each of the Missionary Jurisdictions but once. The occasion of his visit to Western Texas was the consecration of the Cathedral in San Antonio, the corner-stone of which he had laid in 1865. He declined many invitations to make other visits which would have been a pleasure to him, for they would have enabled him to meet many of his old friends and to note the verification of his predictions of the vigorous growth of the Church in those portions of the state. But his work was as engrossing as before. With his accustomed love of order and system he arranged his visitations for the fall, winter and spring, so that every parish and mission would receive at least one visit each year; and his appointments were so nearly the same from year to year that the parishes and missions knew when to expect him, even without the lists of appointments which he unfailingly published, at first in the leading secular journals of the state, and later in the Diocesan paper established by him. In the fall and winter he visited the western and central portions of his Diocese, and in the spring the eastern [124/125] and northern portions, having found this plan best adapted to the climatic conditions of Texas. And as January was found to be the most trying month of the year he practically suspended his visitations during that month.

In 1880 railway building had so far progressed in Texas that Austin, the capital, was found to be the most convenient location for the Bishop's residence; and largely by means of a fund raised by the ladies of the Diocese, a suitable residence was purchased and the Bishop and his family moved into it in May. But the pleasure of having once more a permanent abiding-place, was sadly marred by the death of Mrs. Gregg on the twentieth day of May. The Bishop spent the following summer in Texas, and in December accompanied Mrs. Gregg's body to South Carolina for burial in the old churchyard of St. David's, Cheraw.

The Bishop had now reached his sixty-first year and it was becoming apparent to all that he was beginning to grow old. His iron-gray hair whitened; his figure, formerly straight as an arrow, became `slightly bent. But as ever before he was one to attract attention wherever he went. He always wore a beaver hat which he kept scrupulously neat. His snowy locks were always well trimmed. His face was always ruddy and clean shaven. His features [125/126] were strong but never stern. As the population of his Diocese rapidly increased and as railroad facilities were multiplied, his people saw more of him than formerly, and he became one of the well-known personages of the state. He carried on his journeys a large valise, packed to its utmost capacity, and consequently unusually heavy. It has been frequently said of him that he could get more into a valise and put more upon a postal card than any other human being. To provide against every possible phase of Texas weather, he took with him several wraps done up closely together in a shawl strap. To such forethought on his part, many of his fellow travellers have insisted that they owed their lives in some of the Texas "northers" encountered on the open prairies. In his later days the Bishop carried his episcopal robes separately in a case prepared for that purpose. He seldom suffered from lack of offers of assistance from his fellow travellers on the railway. Not infrequently these offers of assistance came from ministers of other denominations who were attracted to him by his dignified bearing and benign countenance. Upon offering to help him with his three pieces of baggage, the Bishop usually offered the case with the robes. "Thank you," he would say with a laugh, "you my carry this. It is the nearest you will ever get to wearing episcopal robes." His [126/127] humor was quiet and refined with a touch of quaintness.

He was very much more to his people than the executive head of the Diocese; he was in a true sense the chief pastor of the flock. Many of the smaller parishes and missions of the Diocese were sometimes for years without a resident minister, the services being often kept up by a lay-reader or in some instances intermitted altogether. The churches were in many cases at great distances apart and without railroad communication. In these instances it was the Bishop, who by his pastoral care and oversight preserved the feeble spark of life and kept the church from dissolution. There was no one else to baptize the children, to administer the sacraments, to preach the Gospel or in any way to represent the organization of the Church. The Bishop's annual visit was the event of the year in church circles in such places as these, and his influence was felt accordingly.

The Bishop was usually accompanied on his visitations by some clergyman, either the General Missionary if there was one, or the minister of the town last visited who would thus speed him on his way; or else someone whom he might select to accompany him. The journey was often made by stage or private conveyance across the country. These journeys were enlivened by varied conversation, the [127/128] Bishop always willingly taking the opportunity to impart instruction and advice to his younger brethren by turning the intercourse into some useful and instructive channel. He was particular to inquire closely into the needs of the congregation or the condition, making himself acquainted with all the details of the immediate field of labor. He would ascertain the difficulties which his clergy experienced, and was ever prompt to furnish assistance or advice to help them in embarrassing situations, or to reconcile any differences which might have arisen in the discharge of their parochial duties. The driver, too, was not forgotten and the Bishop would propound questions as to his work, or amuse him with mechanical problems or puzzling conundrums to relieve the tedium of the way. It was characteristic of the Bishop's consistent piety that on these journeys he would never begin the noonday luncheon without first reverently asking a blessing, and he used to relate how the circumstance of asking a blessing over a particularly meager luncheon once turned the thoughts of a gentleman with whom he was travelling to the serious consideration of religion and changed his life.

Arrived at his destination, the Bishop, after resting from the fatigue of the journey, would at once start upon a round of parochial visits, going from house to house among the members of the congregation. [128/129] So constant was this habit that every family was prepared to meet him, the children all arrayed in their best clothes, and the older members assembled with befitting gravity to await his call. His memory of names and faces was very remarkable and he would ask about any absent member of the family, inquiring by name for even the smallest child, and recalling perhaps some trifling incident or childish ailment which had marked the last visit. He was particular to get the names of all the children who might be awaiting baptism, and to impress the importance of this sacrament upon the parents. In the case of vacant parishes his visit was frequently the only opportunity presented during the year for the baptism of children, and the little ones were gathered together, often without regard for the weather. In 1887 he stated to the Rev. Charles M. Beckwith that of the number of men, women, and children baptized in the Church in Texas he himself had baptized two-thirds.

If the service were to be held on Sunday, the Bishop would be on hand at the Sunday School and have the children range in due order before the chancel to be catechized. This exercise would include not only the questions of the Church Catechism, but questions and instructions concerning the Church, the service, and the Bible. He was particular to inculcate the importance of reverence in the public services of the [129/130] Church and to explain the reasons for such observances as bowing the head at the name of Jesus in the Creed, etc. In the service he invariably preached from manuscript and his sermons were marked by such strong common sense, sound churchmanship and real piety that they were eagerly listened to, and left a deep impression upon all classes, not only in the Church but among outsiders as well. It was frequently the custom for preachers of other denominations to dismiss their congregations that all might have an opportunity to hear the Bishop. On Sundays the service would be the full Morning Prayer and Holy Communion with sermon by the Bishop, and when possible he would also select the hymns to be sung. In the evening there would be the Evening Prayer and Confirmation with another sermon by the Bishop and an address to the confirmation class. After the services the Bishop would step out into the aisle for greeting and mutual inquiries. At some convenient time during the visit the Bishop would assemble the vestry and make full inquiry into the condition of the congregation, not forgetting the finances, the minister's salary, Council assessments, and other particulars.

It will be seen that he was a true father in God to the people placed under his charge. The bond of personal relationship between him and every member [130/131] of the flock in the Diocese was a strong and intimate one. He knew and was known by each individual, and the acquaintance was characterized by deep sympathy on one side and the highest respect and confidence on the other. Everyone looked up to him for guidance, counsel, and consolation. All were strengthened by his inflexible righteousness and manly piety, and he came to be regarded as the standard of upright conduct and holy living throughout the length and breadth of the Diocese; and indeed throughout the whole state.

Bishop Elliott, of Western Texas, speaking whereof he had every right to know, said "Alexander Gregg is the best-loved man in Texas," and because of the truthfulness of the remark it has often been quoted. And abundant evidence might be adduced of the high regard in which the first Bishop of Texas was held by men of prominence who were not to be suspected of any religious bias. "I never go to any religious meetings," said a prominent business man, "except when Bishop Gregg is here. Then I go, not to hear fine oratory, but because I am impressed with his sincerity. He has a moral influence such as no other man whom I know."

"I value his presence in my house beyond measure," said a distinguished lawyer. "He is both the most liberal and the most conservative man I ever [131/132] met. If I ever unburdened my soul to anyone it would be to him."

"I do not care much for religion," said a prominent railroad official, "but when I am where that man is I feel that I am a villain. I am not fit to black Bishop Gregg's boots."

"I have been acquainted with Bishop Gregg for twenty-five years," said a certain banker, "and he is the only man I ever saw who was always the same--straightforward, outspoken, absolutely sincere."

Such statements as these might be multiplied indefinitely, showing the general regard for him. It was not strange that he was often summoned to adjust differences, sometimes to places far distant from his home, and was looked up to as the only man who could bring peace. Many of these were cases which were extreme, as was characteristic of Texas in the early days of his episcopate.

He stood by his clergy and saw that they suffered from no ex parte testimony, nor from the varying whims of vestrymen. In one such typical case of a vestry demanding the resignation of their rector, though as it afterwards appeared wholly without cause, the Bishop was by consent of both parties called from a distance to adjust the difficulty. He listened with patience to the claims of each side, and then took the floor and summed up the case. And [132/133] finding that it was deserved, he rebuked the vestrymen for their unwarranted mistreatment of a worthy clergyman, as the evidence produced clearly showed they had done. As a result, the vestrymen, with one exception, submitted to the judgment of the Bishop, and the affairs of the parish were resumed without further disturbance. The exception was a gentleman of wealth who had been inclined to assume the dictatorship of the parish. And though he remained a personal friend of the Bishop ever afterwards, he withdrew, perhaps fortunately, from all participation in parochial affairs.

The devotion of the clergy and the laity to their Bishop was manifested in 1887, by the presentation at the Council of an episcopal ring, and in 1890 by the presentation of an episcopal staff.

The Bishop's life in the years following the division of the Diocese was comparatively uneventful, as his Diocese assumed the character of the normal diocese. After the death of Mrs. Gregg his household included his two devoted daughters, both widowed, Mrs. Cochrane and Mrs. Wilmerding. Improved economic conditions in his Diocese enabled him to secure more opportunities for reading and writing. Besides revising some of his sermons on important topics, he wrote new ones as suggested by the times. He gave especial attention to his triennial charges, which [133/134] were upon such subjects as the following: "The General Growth of the Church"; "Sectarian Teaching"; "Family Prayers"; "Religion Divorced from Education"; "The Essential Points of Difference between our own Church and the Church of Rome"; "Forgotten and Neglected Rubrics and the Rubric of Common Sense"; "The Order for the Visitation of the Sick"; "The Power of Discipline"; "The Christian Naming of Children."

In the fall and winter of 1890-91 the Bishop suffered from serious attacks of illness, which left him much debilitated. It was by the utmost effort that he was enabled to continue his visitations, but such was his indomitable energy that he persisted in going to every place to which he had been accustomed to go, and the confirmations that year showed but a slight falling off from previous years. The needs of the Diocese were so near to his heart that it was with regret that he brought himself to broach the matter of an assistant even then. In his annual address to the Council in May, 1891, he said:--

"I had hoped that I might struggle on a few years longer without asking for an assistant, and in so doing add to the burden my devoted Diocese has been so long bearing. But my long sickness during the past fall and winter, and increasing debility became so serious, that I felt constrained at length to [134/135] yield to loving entreaties; and so, not without painful emotions, I leave the matter in your hands, to provide as you may deem best, feeling assured you will act for the good of the Church and the welfare of the Diocese."

The Council at once took up the matter and in a committee of the whole, two-thirds of the parishes having pledged themselves to double their assessments, they resolved to make provision for the support of an Assistant Bishop. The election was held and resulted in the choice by the clergy of the Rev. Thomas B. Lee, Rector of St. David's Church, Austin. Mr. Lee, however, while appreciating the great honor conferred upon him, felt that he could not undertake the responsibility of the charge of the Diocese, and declined to allow his name to be placed in nomination, and therefore the laity referred the matter back to the clergy without action. On the following day the clergy again cast their ballots, and the laity confirming their choice, the Rev. Charles M. Beckwith, Rector of Christ Church, Houston, was nominated for the office of Assistant Bishop of Texas. After mature deliberation, Mr. Beckwith also declined and the choice of an assistant was left over until the following year.

The Bishop's health during this year was too feeble to admit of his assuming the duties of chief pastor [135/136] over the Diocese with its growing needs and varied calls, and in December, 1891, after making eighteen visitations, he returned to his home in Austin for a much needed rest. In January following, at the urgent request of the Standing Committee, he consented to desist from further labor until his health should permit him to resume it, and in the meantime to turn over to that body the care of the Diocese. With this action his work as Bishop of Texas came to a close. Henceforth he remained at home surrounded by the comforts and tended by the ministrations of his family, and taking the rest that he had earned by the arduous labors of an episcopate which had extended over almost the third of a century.

In May, 1892, the Council again met and elected the Rev. George Herbert Kinsolving, D.D., Rector of the Church of the Epiphany, Philadelphia. After due deliberation and coming to view the field, Dr. Kinsolving accepted and was consecrated Bishop in Baltimore during the meeting of the General Convention in the next autumn. He proceeded to Texas and at once took up the duties which had become too heavy for the enfeebled shoulders of his chief. Bishop Gregg was only too glad to lay upon him the entire responsibility of administration and leadership, and to devote his remaining years to repose in the bosom of his family and to communion with God. The Assistant [136/137] Bishop assumed full charge of all the details of diocesan work, ministering to the aged prelate in Austin in the intervals of his journeys.

On the tenth day of July, 1893, the brave and faithful spirit returned to its Maker, and the first Bishop of Texas, after a long and eventful episcopate, passed to his final rest. Of the thirty-seven Bishops of the American Church at the time of his consecration only four survived him and of the four who were consecrated with him only one was alive at the time of his death. At the time of his consecration there were fourteen clergymen, twenty-three parishes and about six hundred and fifty communicants in the Diocese of Texas, then coterminous with the state. In the same territory at the time of his death there were one hundred and fifty parishes and missions, more than sixty clergy, and more than seven thousand communicants. A very large proportion of this growth was due, directly and indirectly, to the labors of Bishop Gregg. So faithful had he been to the things entrusted to his charge, so greatly had God blessed the work of his hands, who can doubt that correspondingly great will be his reward in the day of final awards?

The funeral services were held on Wednesday, July 12th, in St. David's Church, Austin, conducted by Bishop Kinsolving, assisted by the Rev. T. B. Lee, Rector of St. David's Church; the Rev. S. M. Bird, Rector of Trinity Church, Galveston, President of the Standing Committee; the Rev. Messrs. F. S. Leigh, B. A. Rogers, H. D. Aves, J. C. Waddill and W. W. DeHart; the Rev. F. R. Starr of Western Texas, and the Rev. Edwin Wickens representing Northern Texas. After the services the body was carried to South Carolina and interred in the historic churchyard of old St. David's Church in Cheraw, in the parish of which he was rector at the time of his election to the episcopate.

Project Canterbury