Project Canterbury

My People of the Plains

By Ethelbert Talbot, D.D., S.T.D.
Bishop of Central Pennsylvania

New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1906.

Chapter XIV. Making the Work Known

A MISSIONARY bishop is so called because he is sent out by the whole church as her representative. The church at home undertakes not only to support the bishop himself, but also to provide at least in part the means necessary to maintain a staff of missionary clergy to assist him in the work of evangelization. The conditions which prevail in a newly settled country to which a domestic missionary bishop is assigned are such that his own scattered flock, poor and unorganized, can at first contribute but little towards the maintenance of the ecclesiastical establishment. This was especially true in the case of the sparsely populated missionary district of Wyoming and Idaho twenty years ago. Indeed, it may generally be assumed that people who leave their homes, and as pioneers endure the hardships and privations incident to frontier life, are without money. The motive that induces them to make such sacrifices is that of necessity. They desire to improve their condition by taking advantage of the opportunities which present themselves in a new country. Young men in whom there is a strong spirit of adventure, and who are without family ties, are likely to form a large contingent of the population. As years go by, homes are established, towns and villages are built, and the various communities gradually become able to support their own churches. But in the more primitive and formative period of their history, unless the mother-church at home follows her children, keeps in touch with them, and supplies them with Christian privileges, spiritual neglect must inevitably ensue.

Again, when the missionary bishop is sent out it is understood that he goes as the chief missionary of the flock. He may, indeed, be the only clergyman whom the people see from year to year. But the time comes when growth and development begin. "New railroads are being built, new mines are discovered, and thousands of people are flocking in to seek homes where all is so full of life and promise. It is the church's obvious duty to be so equipped as to meet the people as they come and enlist them in Christian service. Churches, schools, and hospitals must be provided, the clergy must be supported, and there is no time to be lost. It is at such a crisis of material growth and activity that the missionary bishop feels the need of help from the church at home. Unless opportunities are seized at once they will be lost perhaps forever. It devolves upon him to make the situation known, and to induce those who have means to help him.

Occasions when he may bring his work and its needs before the church are frequently given him. The columns of the church papers are gladly placed at his disposal. Missionary conferences held every year in different parts of the country always welcome the presence of the missionary bishop or his representative fresh from the field. Once in every three years the general convention, calling together hundreds of delegates from all parts of the church, meets to consider as its chief concern the progress of the Gospel throughout the world. Then, when any pressing need seems to make it imperative, the bishop sends a personal appeal to individuals and churches for relief. Thus, in my own experience, the cathedral at Laramie, where the Wyoming University is located, the Shoshone Indian School, St. Margaret's school for girls, Boise, Idaho, and between thirty and forty churches were made possible. Of course, it is most important that the people in the missionary field should develop the spirit of self-help, and that no outside assistance should be given until a liberal and self-sacrificing devotion is evinced. Otherwise, there is danger of pauperizing the recipients and paralyzing the spiritual energy of the people. But I always found that if my own people out of their poverty gave generously, there was a corresponding readiness on the part of churchmen in the older and more wealthy communities to show practical sympathy.

It was my good fortune to make in the prosecution of my work a number of friends on whom I could depend regularly for various sums ranging from one hundred dollars to three thousand dollars a year. Among these were such noble laymen as Messrs. Harold and John Nicholas Brown, of Providence; Messrs. Lemuel Coffin and H. H. Houston, of Philadelphia, and others. Then of faithful women there were not a few who gave year by year most generously. The loyal confidence thus expressed enabled me to build up a constituency of supporters on whom I could always rely. There are still living those--men and women--who held up my hands with loving loyalty all through these anxious years, and if I were permitted to mention their names they would be recognized as large-hearted and consecrated givers, to whom such service for the Master always seems a sacred privilege which they exercise with wise discrimination and the utmost conscientiousness. Then within the limits of my missionary district was a constantly growing number of my own people, who gave of their money and their time. I was especially fortunate in having in various parts of the diocese young women who had been well trained for Christian service in St. Margaret's, our school for girls in Boise, Idaho. For this great blessing I was largely indebted to Miss Frances M. Buchan, the principal, who launched the institution from its very beginning into an atmosphere of missionary zeal, and inspired the girls with a strong desire to carry the church and its refining influences into their respective communities.

During the greater part of my episcopate in Wyoming and Idaho I owed much to the munificence of an English churchman who lived in London. I met him by chance in Boise, where he was visiting a friend. I have rarely known a more godly man. To him religion was the great concern of life, and the church, which embodied in his mind the religion of the Master, received the unstinted homage of his heart. While a very successful business man, it was evident that his chief motive for making money was to have the joy of bestowing it where it could be of the greatest service to his fellow-man. It was not necessary for me to ask him for money. He was constantly writing me to ascertain my plans and to inform me that at such a time in the near future he would be glad to send me a draft for some specified amount provided I had an object which I deemed important to accomplish. He was greatly interested in the building of the cathedral at Laramie, and from time to time made large contributions towards its completion. During the latter part of his life I was his guest for several days at his quiet home in London. In several instances when I was confronted with anxious financial problems and needed assistance in carrying out certain important plans, his check would unexpectedly come quite unsolicited, bringing me almost the exact amount I required. If this had occurred only once I should have thought but little of it, but, happening again and again, I could not but regard it as a direct answer to my prayers. On two occasions during my Western episcopate I went to England to attend great missionary gatherings. In 1894 there was at St. James's Hall, London, a meeting in the interest of foreign evangelization which brought together not only a large representation of the bishops in England, but many from the colonies and distant sees wherever the Anglican communion had planted itself. At the opening meeting Archbishop Benson, who then occupied the throne of Canterbury, presided. His kindness to me I shall never forget. Of course, I realized that it was inspired by a strong desire on the part of his grace to do honor to a bishop, however unknown, who came from America. While he was in residence at the palace at Addington Park he invited me to visit him. When I reached his home, Mrs. Benson received me, as the Archbishop was riding horseback, a diversion in which he was wont to indulge morning and evening whenever his busy life permitted. Of Mrs. Benson, Mr. Gladstone is said to have remarked that she was the cleverest woman in England. She certainly possessed a rare grace of manner which immediately set one at ease. In making me at home she tactfully directed the conversation to subjects connected with Wyoming and Idaho, with which she naturally assumed some familiarity on my part. I was impressed by the range and comprehensiveness of her leading questions. Matters in which women generally take little or no interest appealed to her. By the time we had talked for an hour or two, while afternoon tea was being served, I felt that Mrs. Benson could pass as good an examination on the agricultural, mineral, stock-growing, political and social features of the new West as I could myself, including the experiment of woman's suffrage. So fully was I convinced of this that, after the Archbishop joined us and began in his kindly way to seek information about my part of the world, I told him that if after I had gone he should discover that he had forgotten any point of interest I was sure Mrs. Benson could fully enlighten him.

After dinner that evening, an hour or two was spent in conversation in the library, and then prayers were said in the chapel. About ten o'clock the ladies withdrew, leaving me alone with the Archbishop. I knew he was a busy man, with many cares of church and state weighing upon him, and a large official correspondence demanding his attention; besides which, I was aware that he was then engaged in writing his great work upon the life of St. Cyprian. Hence, feeling a delicacy about detaining him longer from his duties, I arose and extended my hand to bid him good-night. He begged me to sit longer, but when I insisted on withdrawing, suggested that I join his two chaplains in their office where they were just finishing his correspondence. He added that the young men would have much to ask me about America, and that he would call for me later. I found these university graduates very agreeable, and the time passed pleasantly. When I thought the hour had arrived when his grace should be calling for me I glanced at my watch, and was somewhat startled to find it about midnight.

"Oh," said one of the chaplains, "please continue. His grace will knock at our door at two o'clock."

"Two!" I exclaimed. "Does he expect me to sit here until two o'clock?"

"Certainly," was the answer. "He never retires until that hour."

Promptly at two the Archbishop appeared, candle in hand, and conducted me to my room. As we walked through the long corridor of the palace I ventured to express some surprise at the late hour. He then told me that he always retired at 2 a.m. and arose at seven, and took a ride before breakfast. As we entered my quiet bedroom he remarked:

"It may interest you to know that you will occupy to-night the bed on which the great Thomas Arnold slept at Rugby, and on which he passed away."

The next morning his grace pointed out to me with evident interest the tree under which our beloved Presiding Bishop Williams of Connecticut, stretched himself, and delighted them all with his charming American stories. I shall always cherish the memory of that visit with peculiar pleasure. It was a privilege to know this truly great and lovable prelate in the privacy of his own home. He took the liveliest interest in our American institutions, and entertained a genuine admiration for our people. He was a favorite of Mr. Gladstone, who, when prime-minister, had nominated him to his high office, and it will be remembered that his lamented death occurred when he was visiting the great statesman at Hawarden Castle.

A few years later, when on my way to the Lambeth conference, I called with three other bishops on Mr. Gladstone himself, driving out from Chester. He had been ill, and when we presented our cards at the door the servant said he feared Mr. Gladstone could not see us, as he had been denying himself to all callers of late. But when he discovered, as he afterwards told us, that we were American bishops, he came down without delay. We asked one of our number, the Lord Bishop of Niagara, as a British subject, to present us. When Mr. Gladstone heard the title, Bishop of Wyoming, he manifested quite an interest.

"I am glad you call it Wyoming," he said. "I like to hear the full vocal sound. We had a poet about forty years ago, Mr. Thomas Campbell, who wrote 'Gertrude of Wyoming.' To scan the metre one had to accent the antepenult and say Wyoming. I never liked that."

Then the Grand Old Man launched forth and asked me many questions. At that time his hearing was seriously impaired, and I have always thought that the mere accident of sitting near him and answering his questions distinctly explained the fact that he honored my diocese and myself with so much of his time and interest. Or perhaps this may have been due to the resemblance which he fancied he saw, and which seemed to hold his attention and startle him, between myself and a "very dear university friend, young Selwyn," the great missionary bishop. He was particularly curious about the question of woman's suffrage as adopted in Wyoming and Idaho, and also evinced a surprising familiarity with our leading industries. Our visit was not a protracted one, but nothing could have exceeded the graciousness and cordiality of Mr. Gladstone towards us. My good and genial brother, Dr. Kinsolving, the Bishop of Texas, facetiously remarked as we were leaving the castle:

"Well, Wyoming, if the Grand Old Man had only known what a desert you have to preside over, and could once see your sage-brush and bowlders and jack-rabbits and coyotes, he would not have wasted so much time in asking about your country. Why, he didn't have a word to say about the great State of Texas, a mighty empire in itself."

It was during this same sojourn in England while we were attending the Lambeth conference that all the bishops were invited by her Majesty, Queen Victoria, to meet her at Windsor Castle. The Archbishop of Canterbury, at that time Dr. Temple, who extended the invitation on behalf of the Queen, reminded us that as her Majesty was rather feeble and could not comfortably stand so long, she would receive us from her carriage, and while she would be glad to shake hands with all of us, he thought she had better be spared so great an effort, as there were about two hundred bishops. He therefore suggested that only the archbishops and metropolitans and higher dignitaries of the various national churches be formally presented. At the appointed hour, as the bishops were grouped under a large tree in the garden of Windsor Castle, the royal carriage containing the Queen and some members of her family approached. The bishops gathered around so that we could hear and see distinctly. After the presentation of a few of the older dignitaries the Queen noticed two African bishops, and asked that they should be presented. Of course, our colored brethren were greatly honored, and I remember that the Bishop of Kentucky, Dr. Dudley, himself a Southerner, remarked to those of us standing near him:

"Brethren, this is the first time in my life that I was ever tempted to regret that I am not a negro."

On our way out to Windsor Castle that afternoon it was my privilege to occupy the same compartment with His Grace the Archbishop, Dr. Temple. In the familiar intercourse existing between the several bishops after many days of the conference, Dr. Temple wTas led to dwell upon some incidents of his early life. He told us that his father had died, leaving his mother in reduced circumstances, and largely dependent on her son's help. He was very anxious to enter the university, and by dint of the most rigid, economy it was at last made possible. But when once admitted, he was so poor that he could not buy the fuel required to heat his room nor the oil for his study-lamp. He was therefore compelled to do his studying under the hall-light furnished by the university, and to keep warm by wrapping himself in a blanket. He said that at one time when he could hardly see how it was possible for him to remain longer in the university he had received a draft from a London bank for fifty pounds, sent him by some unknown friend. He had never been enabled to discover to whom he had been indebted in that dark hour, but had often felt he would be so happy if only he could show his gratitude to his mysterious benefactor. His story impressed me at the time as revealing a new side of the life of a man who had reached the highest dignity in the gift of the nation. While similar experiences of early struggles with poverty are not unfamiliar to us in the lives of celebrated Americans, we are hardly prepared to hear of them in England, especially in the case of an archbishop. Other distinguished ecclesiastics in England were good enough to evince an interest in my missionary field and to extend to me much gracious hospitality. Among these I am indebted for particular and repeated courtesies and unfailing welcome to His Grace the Archbishop of York, and Mrs. Maclagan, to the Lord Bishops of London, Lichfield, Norwich, Winchester, and Lincoln, and to the Very Rev. Dean Gregory of St. Paul's, and Canon Farrar of Westminster.

Among the prominent laymen who welcomed me as an American bishop to their beautiful country-seats, and were thoroughly identified with the missionary cause, are to be mentioned the Duke of Newcastle, Lord Ashcombe, Sir John Kcnnaway, and Sir Robert White-Thompson, all noble types of English gentlemen, loyal sons of church and state.

The rectors of a number of the large London churches begged me to tell their people the story of my Western work, and insisted on giving me the offerings for my cathedral. The fact that I had in Wyoming and Idaho so many Englishmen who had written their friends about my visit made this request a natural one. In one London church, where I was asked by the vicar to describe some of my missionary experiences, I told incidents calculated to provoke a smile, and the congregation did not hesitate to give visible expression to their feelings. After the service the vicar said:

"I cannot tell you, my lord, how greatly we all enjoyed your address. It was most picturesque and thrilling; but some parts of it actually made my people laugh, don't you know. The fact is, I could hardly keep from smiling myself. I hope you will excuse my people."

He seemed much relieved when I told him that I expected them to smile, and should have been disappointed if they had not done so.

When as the guest of the Lord Bishop of Norwich I was stopping at the palace, I was invited to spend the night with Canon Hinds-Howell, a venerable and greatly beloved clergyman, whose parish was about seven miles in the country. He was nearly ninety years of age, but was wonderfully alert, and still in the full possession of his remarkable intellectual gifts. In his prime he had been an active participator in many of the stirring scenes of English church life and politics. The morning after we arrived he took me to visit his parochial school, where the little children of the parish were taught. There were two rooms separated by folding-doors. On the occasion of my visit these were thrown together, and the children had gathered flowers and evergreens and decorated them quite attractively. In addressing the school I asked them a number of questions about the Bible and the catechism, and found them well instructed in both. They had been greatly interested in my coming, as they had never seen a bishop, and the idea of seeing one from America, and especially from the Rocky Mountains, appealed greatly to their imaginations. I said:

"Now, children, I have come to you from the Rocky Mountains. I am the Bishop of Wyoming and Idaho. That is my diocese. Can any one of you tell me what a diocese is?"

Several of them held up their hands, eagerly begging to answer my question. One little, fair-haired boy on the front seat was particularly anxious to tell me. I therefore said to him:

"Very well, my little man. Tell me now what a diocese is."

Quick as a flash he stood up and said: "A diocese, my lord, is a district of land with the bishop on top and the clergy underneath."

There was a peal of laughter from the visitors and children, and the vicar himself was delighted, saying that he did not believe even an American boy could do better than that.

Of course, there were times when it was quite impossible to leave the mission field, however urgent the demand for money, and on those occasions it was convenient to ask some brother bishop who could get away just then to represent one's work and speak of one's special needs. It was my good fortune to have as my next-door neighbor Bishop Leonard of Salt Lake, who often helped me in this way, and between whom and myself there existed a life-long friendship.

Bishop Leonard and I were born in the same little town, Fayette, Missouri, were baptized as children together, started to school the same day, and sat on the same bench. We subsequently attended the same fitting-school, and prepared for college together. While I had set my heart on going to Yale, when the time came I could not separate from my friend, and followed him to Dartmouth, which college had been the Alma Mater of his distinguished father. Rooming together at Dartmouth, and graduating there in the class of 1870, we both entered the General Theological Seminary the following September. After a three years' course in theology we were graduated together, and ordained at the same time as deacons in the Little Church Around the Corner, New York. We then returned to Missouri, our native State, and served as clergymen in neighboring towns. We were ordained to the priesthood together in the church, St. Mary's, Fayette, where we had been baptized and confirmed. At the time of my marriage he performed the ceremony, and I officiated at his wedding, and we baptized each other's children. Finally, to complete this remarkable series of parallelism, we were elected missionary bishops within a year of each other, he being sent to Utah and Nevada, and I to Wyoming and Idaho. At my consecration, which came first, he was one of my presenting presbyters, and at his, I preached the sermon. There may be other instances where two lives have run on thus side by side for so many years, but I have never known so remarkable an illustration, and I cannot tell the story of my Western work without mentioning one with whom I was so intimately connected, and who, in so many ways, was identified with me in the work itself. His lamented death, which occurred recently, deprived the church militant of one of her noblest and most devoted bishops.

Thus, through the great kindness and co-operation of friends in the missionary field and throughout the country, I could find on my election to the diocese of Central Pennsylvania in 1897, abundant cause for gratitude and some results of my eleven years of labor in the West. Inadequate as these results seem, they could never have been accomplished if my efforts had not been seconded by as noble a band of faithful clergy as ever cheered a bishop's heart. Above all, and more than all else, I had the assurance of a confidence and affection on the part of the people, which, however undeserved, will always be cherished as yielding my greatest reward.

The territory once constituting the missionary district of Wyoming and Idaho has, since my departure, been renamed and readjusted, and assigned to four wise and efficient bishops, who are to-day, in their several districts, moulding morally and spiritually the lives of those new communities. These leaders of God's militant hosts are laying foundations for the future civilization of a large section of our common country, which must in time play an important part in its destiny. They need and should receive for the sake of the highest interest of the nation as well as of the Church the generous support and confidence of broad-minded and patriotic men and women in the stronger centres of the East.

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