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Mahlon Norris Gilbert: Bishop Coadjutor of Minnesota 1886-1900.

By Francis Leseure Palmer
with an Introduction by Daniel Sylvester Tuttle, Presiding Bishop of the American Church.

Milwaukee: The Young Churchman, 1912.
London: Mowbray, 1912.

Chapter IX. Election to the Episcopate

AS EARLY as 1873, in his address to the Diocesan Council, Bishop Whipple suggested the approaching need of the division of the Diocese. The great size of the state and its rapidly increasing population would soon compel action. Two alternatives were proposed: the election of an Assistant Bishop, or the adoption of the provincial system, by which Minnesota, though divided into two or more dioceses, might remain united as one Church province. A large committee "on the division of the diocese" was appointed and the whole subject was discussed in Council and in the Bishop's address in the following year. At that time Bishop Whip-pie made a strong plea for the provincial system, and steps were taken to introduce suitable legislation at the General Convention.

Years passed and nothing was done. The great plague of locusts in southern Minnesota impoverished the people and hindered the work. There was also great reluctance to divide the Diocese. Through Bishop Whipple's wise and strong administration Minnesota had become famous for its great institutions, for its Christianizing of the Indians, for its united and progressive spirit, unhampered by school or party.

In the meantime, anxiety, hardships, and exposure, left their marks on the great Bishop. His health was seriously impaired, and some relief must be given. At the Twenty-fifth Annual Council, in 1882, Bishop Whipple again presented the need of "additional episcopal oversight." Again there was delay. In 1884 after a winter of illness Bishop Whipple asked for the election of an Assistant Bishop and the raising of a suitable endowment. On motion of Mr. Gilbert the matter was referred to a special committee, and a report was made; and yet again, in the Council of 1885, there was a similar committee, and it was recommended that an Assistant Bishop be elected, and that the Bishop call a special council that fall for this purpose. Of both of these committees Mr. Gilbert was chairman, and did what he could to carry out Bishop Whipple's wishes, but the financial problem blocked the way, and nothing was done. However, the discussion had slowly prepared the Diocese for action, and when the Council met on June 9, 1886, at Gethsemane Church it was expected by all that the great work of the Council would be the choice of an Assistant Bishop. For months this had been the topic of chief interest in the diocese. Two men were constantly mentioned as worthy of this high office--the Rev. Elisha Smith Thomas, for ten years rector of St. Paul's Church in the city of St. Paul, and the Rev. Mahlon Norris Gilbert.

There was no question of the suitability of Mr. Thomas. He had been a member of the Standing Committee for many years, and was now its president. In the city and the state he was recognized for his ability and his integrity. ITe had been in the Diocese since 1865, and seemed to many the ideal man for the office. It was known that he was the choice of Bishop Whipple, and his election seemed both fitting and probable. On the other hand, Mahlon Gilbert had appealed in many ways to the hearts of the men of the Diocese. Though he had been with them only five years, many felt that they knew him better than they did the older man. His youth and his energy and his personality made a profound appeal. Another factor in his favor was that he was a graduate of Seabury Divinity School, and was a strong favorite with many who had known him there.

On the second day of the Council, June 10, 1886, after pledges had been made in open session for the endowment of $15,000, to assist in the support of an Assistant Bishop, an informal ballot was taken for the nomination of a Bishop. By vote of the Council, no nomination speeches were permitted. Before the voting Bishop Whipple spoke of the great importance of their proposed action, and the whole Council knelt with him in silent and earnest prayer.

The result of the informal ballot showed, as was expected, that there were but two men seriously considered for the office. Mr. Thomas was the favorite with the clergy, leading by 21 votes to 17, while Mr. Gilbert led in the lay vote by 38 to 36. Of scattering votes there were ten from the clergy, and twelve from the laity. Thereupon the laity asked and obtained permission to retire for half an hour for consultation. On their return the first formal ballot was taken. It showed that Mr. Thomas was still leading by 23 to 21 in the clerical vote, with five scattering; but the lay vote stood 46 to 35 for Mr. Gilbert, with only two scattering votes. In the afternoon voting was resumed with no marked variation. The laity stood by the same majority for Mr. Gilbert, while Mr. Thomas led in the clerical vote, though without a majority. On the fourth formal ballot there was a change. Of fifty clerical votes 27 were for Mr. Gilbert, while Mr. Thomas remained at 21; the lay vote gave Mr. Gilbert 51 out of a total of 89, and Mr. Thomas 36. Mr. Gilbert was thereupon declared duly elected Assistant Bishop of Minnesota. At once, with characteristic generosity, Mr. Thomas moved that the election be made unanimous, and, when that had been done, on Mr. Thomas' motion the Council rose and sang the Gloria in Excelsis.

It is pleasant to record that the very next Bishop chosen in the American Church was this same Elisha Smith Thomas, for in the following February, on the first ballot, he was elected Assistant Bishop of Kansas.

At the close of the day, before dismissing the gathering with prayer, Bishop Whipple spoke to the Council, "with much feeling and earnestness."

In his remarks he declared his belief that there was not a diocese in the land where deeper love existed between the clergy and their Bishop than in our own. Referring to the election of the Assistant Bishop he said, it would not be long before the Bishop's staff must be committed to his charge, and he believed in his heart, God had granted them to do all he could have asked for. [Journal of the Annual Council of the Diocese of Minnesota, p. 56.]

On the eighth of July, Mr. Gilbert wrote the following letter of acceptance to the chairman of the committee appointed to notify him of his election: Rev. T. B. Wells, D.D., Chairman.

REVEREND AND DEAR BROTHER:--I am in receipt of your communication informing me of my election to the office of Assistant Bishop of the Diocese of Minnesota.

I have delayed my reply thereto in order that I might give the matter my earnest, conscientious, and prayerful consideration.

I now write you my acceptance of the office, subject to the approval of the General Convention. I could have wished that the choice of the Diocese had fallen upon one of wider experience and of more approved worth, but coming to me as it does with so much unanimity of sentiment, I can only believe that it is the call of God, and that He will overrule my mistakes to His glory, and give me such wisdom and understanding as will enable me so to watch over His flock entrusted to my care, that it may suffer no injury at my hands. It will be a source of lasting satisfaction to me to lighten the labors and stay up the hands of our venerable and beloved Diocesan, to whose side you have called me.

I ask of my brethren, of the clergy and laity of this Diocese, what I know they will gladly give me, their sympathy, their cooperation, and their unceasing prayers.

Praying that our future labors together may advance always the prosperity of our beloved Church, I am very truly and faithfully yours,


In June, Seabury Divinity School conferred for the first time the degree of Doctor of Divinity, and selected naturally for this honor the Bishop-elect. The nomination was made by the Rev. E. S. Thomas, a member of the Board of Trustees. (In the following year, Mr. Thomas himself received this same degree from Seabury.) Hobart College, which in 1880 had granted Mr. Gilbert the honorary degree of Master of Arts, now also gave him the degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology. Thus, at the age of thirty-eight, Mahlon Gilbert received the highest formal honors that could be given him--Doctor and Bishop in the Church of God.

There are some whom elevation to high office changes for the worse; it mars their naturalness and their sincerity; it adds a false sense of dignity, and new perils of selfishness. It is sometimes harder to bear adversity in high estate than in low, and it is a strong soul that is not moved by adulation or flattery.

Through all these perils Mahlon Gilbert was to pass unharmed. He sought not his own; he was not easily provoked; he thought no evil; he bore, and believed, and hoped, and endured unto the end. To him, as to many, the episcopate was a great opportunity, an opportunity for glorious service for God and man.

In the summer Mr. Gilbert went for a few weeks to Montana to gain strength in the open air for his coming work. In August he wrote his resignation of Christ Church, to take effect in November. As Bishop-elect, he made the address at the opening service of Shattuck and St. Mary's Schools in the Cathedral at Faribault. It was a strong plea for high standards of study and character.

Call to mind the wonderful fruits of knowledge which open out before you on all sides. Eecall those living examples of the wise and great men of the past. Eecall the wonderful work of scholars and thinkers in earth and air and sea. Ere they reached that knowledge which enabled them to attain such marvellous results, their feet passed over the same hard, unro-mantic paths that are yours to-day. There is no royal road to the enchanted land of knowledge and wisdom. Its milestones are duty, faithfulness, perseverance, and enthusiasm. . . .

Before you there stretches out a new school year. It seems long as you look forward into it, but it will only be long to those who are laggards and unfaithful to duty. Look forward to it one and all cheerily. Make it, with the help of God, a marked year in your lives. Eeflect within your lives this year a new and added glory to Shattuck and St. Mary's. Be inspired by the loftiest standards. Be never satisfied with work half-done. Remember the hopes that center in you, and the prayers that follow you from the dear ones at home. Let them not be ashamed of your record, but let them rather be proud of the son or the daughter they have sent to these Christian Schools. [Minnesota Missionary, October, 1886.]

On Sunday, October 17, 1886, in St. James' Church, Chicago, Mahlon Norris Gilbert was consecrated to the episcopate. It was hoped in Minnesota that the service would take place in Christ Church, St. Paul, but since the General Convention of the entire Church was in session in Chicago it seemed both appropriate and convenient that the consecration should take place during the Convention. Several of the most distinguished American Bishops took part in the service, and the great church was filled to its utmost capacity. The processional hymn was, "Christ, whose glory fills the skies." The Bishop of Albany, William Croswell Doane, began the office; the Bishop of Western New York, Arthur Cleveland Coxe, was the Epistler, and the Bishop of Ohio, Gregory Thurston Bedell, was the Gospeler. The sermon was preached by Mr. Gilbert's dear friend, Dr. Daniel Sylvester Tuttle, Bishop of Missouri. His text was Galatians iv., 26: "But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all." His theme was "The Motherhood of the Church." The sermon is preserved in pamphlet form and a part may well be quoted.

We gather this day to commission and send forth one more chief Shepherd in the Apostolic line, to feed the flock and to do the set duty of watch and guidance; and we seek to strengthen his heart and refresh our own with thoughts and thanks about our Mother, the Church.

There follows a thrilling description of the glory and the freedom of the Church, with a moving plea for loyalty to her. One element of the Church's freedom he finds in her love for those who scarcely recognize her claim.

If penitence for sin, and holiness of life, and unselfish devotion to other souls, and loyalty to Holy Scripture, and undying trust in the mercies of the blessed Lord, and untiring effort to walk the way of His foretreading footsteps, be marks of a true disciple-ship--I claim them so--then are Methodists, and Presbyterians, and Congregationalists, and Baptists, and others, by multitudes on multitudes, walking in the way appointed, true disciples of their adored Master, and true children, though they may not know and count the truth to all its fulness, of their own Mother, the Catholic Church. . . .
I do not mean that we are to be one whit wanting in the staunchest Churchmanship. But only that we be full of the abundant and affectionate and allowance-making charity that goeth with it. ...

My brother, through our voices God calls you to the apostleship. By our hands this day you are to be commissioned thereto. Apostle is but Greek, you know, for missionary. What it is to be a missionary you have counted years ago, you shall count it the more if God spares your life, in years to come. . . .

Coming out from a past of close association, going into a future of like grave responsibility, you and I stand together now for a few moments of hesitancy; the listening ears will forgive us a little personal allusion.

My brother, you've been Sunday school boy, classical pupil, parish school teacher, deacon, presbyter, chaplain, missionary with me. Eleven years ago this very day you were ordained priest by me, in St. James' Church, Deer Lodge, Montana. . . .

The future. The episcopate is only a larger pastorship. The pastor, anywhere, may help to turn many to righteousness. Blessed be he then. He may preach to others and be himself a castaway. Some of us in our infirmities, selfishness, and sins feel keenly how that may be true.

It is the greatest honor on earth to be a Bishop; a successor of the Apostles; a chief ambassador of the Master. But if great and loving service go not with it, it will be a canker-eating curse to the holder, in the day of stewardship.

Be great in duty; great in loving service; great in patient and watchful helpfulness, my brother, and let honor take care of itself.

The solemn service proceeded. The Bishop of Indiana, David Buel Knickerbacker, and the Assistant Bishop of New York, Henry Codman Potter, presented the Bishop-elect to the Presiding Bishop of the Church, the Right Reverend Alfred Lee of Delaware. The formal testimonials were read. Then the nine Bishops present, including the Bishop of Minnesota, Dr. Henry Benjamin Whipple, laid their hands upon the candidate and he was made a Bishop in the Church of God.

On the following day, Bishop Whipple, according to custom, introduced the new Bishop to his brethren in the House of Bishops. It was the eleventh day of the session, and there remained ten days in which the new Bishop quietly adjusted himself to the men and the methods of the Upper House.

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