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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 X. The Work of a Bishop

THE State of Minnesota, at this time comprising one great diocese, contains nearly 85,000 square miles. One may gain some impression of the vastness of this area by noting that it equals almost precisely that of England, Scotland, and Wales, combined. Simply to visit the scattered churches was a large task. At this time there were seventy-two parishes entitled to representation in the Diocesan Council; there were also listed seventy-six missions, many of them having a church organization and name. To care for this wide field there were sixty-eight priests and ten deacons.

Bishop Whipple's health now compelled him to avoid the severe winters of Minnesota, but in the spring, summer, and early fall, he usually made many visitations in the diocese, and he always gave close oversight to the various institutions. Being relieved of much of the pressure of diocesan engagements, Bishop Whipple was free to do a great work for the Church at large. He was in great demand as a preacher on special occasions, and took part in the consecration of many Bishops. His brave defence of the Red Men led to his appointment by the President of the United States on the Indian Commission. In this work for years he took a leading and most useful part. His tall, stalwart form became familiar also in England, where he was highly esteemed and loved, At great missionary gatherings no voice was more eloquent and persuasive than that of the famous "Apostle to the Indians."

Bishop Gilbert's work the first year was, naturally, one of routine and of learning the field. A few extracts from his monthly letters to the Minnesota Missionary, and from his annual report to the Council, show something of the nature of his work and of the conditions under which it was done.

My resignation as rector of Christ Church, St. Paul, took effect on Sunday, November 14th, where, at the evening service, I began my work as Assistant Bishop by confirming a class of seventeen persons and addressing them. The following Thursday, at the request of the Bishop of the Diocese, I started northward for a visitation of the parishes and missions in certain portions of the Northern Convocation.

Sunday, November 21st, I held services at the school house at Hallock, Kittson County, confirmed four persons, and addressed them. ... I organized a mission, named it St. John's, and appointed a Church Committee. . . At 3 p. M. I consecrated Christ Church, St. Vincent, and confirmed twelve persons. The arduous and self-denying work Mr. Appleby is doing in this vast region is of untold value to the Church, and the cheerful, self-denying spirit he displays is worthy of all praise. In the evening, held service in the Presbyterian church at Pembina, Dakota. . . .

Tuesday, November 23rd, in the face of what everyone said was the worst storm known here for years, Mr. Currie and I started for Bed Lake Falls, twenty-five miles east of Crookston. We had a good strong team and Mr. Currie knows how to drive, and has true "grit." Although we lost the road once or twice, yet we safely reached our destination before dark and were cordially welcomed by Messrs. Joseph and William Smith, old Shattuck boys and good staunch Churchmen. We were greeted with the remark, "We knew Mr. Currie wouldn't weaken, but we were not so sure about the new Bishop." We held service in a vacant store, where I preached and confirmed three persons.

Thursday, November 25th, Thanksgiving Day, held services and baptized one child in the little rural church at Mentor, Polk County. . . .

Friday, held services in the Methodist church at Fisher's Landing.

Sunday, November 28th, the first Sunday in Advent, I preached morning and evening in Christ Church, Crookston, and confirmed in the evening a class of nine persons presented by the rector, the Rev. Mr. Currie. . . .

Monday morning, with subscription book in hand, I started out with two of the vestry and succeeded in a very short time in securing in monthly subscriptions more than was anticipated for the salary of the rector. . . . Mr. Currie has the confidence and esteem of the people, and is in a position to do much good.

December 1, 1886, the Bishop of the Diocese, having been compelled by the state of his health to seek a milder climate, committed the Diocese to my care. This trust continued until April 20, 1887, when the Bishop returned. . . .

Thursday, December 7th, I held services in the new church at Sauk Rapids. This church is erected upon the ruins of one destroyed in the spring by the fearful cyclone, and built almost entirely of funds contributed by the parishes of this Diocese. . . .

Saturday, December 11th, I went west to Moorhead and lectured at the Bishop Whipple School for the benefit of the library fund. After the lecture I met a large number of the people socially.

Sunday, December 12th, I preached in St. James' Church, Moorhead, in the morning, and in the opera house in the evening. . . . The congregation at the opera house was very large, the Methodists and Presbyterians suspending their own services and attending in a body. The service was thoroughly Churchly and reverential.

He had spent Thanksgiving Day far from home, but the Christmas Holidays found him in St. Paul. On Christmas Day he preached in Christ Church, and also on the Sunday following. During the week he attended three Sunday school festivals, and spoke to the children. On Sunday afternoon he took great pleasure in consecrating St. Stephen's Mission, in which he had been so interested as rector.

After a holiday season thus filled with work, he resumed his visitations. The winter was unusually severe, as is shown by more than one entry.

Friday, January 7th, we found ourselves delayed by the intense cold and wind, and could not reach Slayton by rail direct. We therefore drove across the country ten miles from lona, on the Minnesota Southern, reaching Slayton just in time for service. The mercury was thirty degrees below zero, and the wind was in our faces. We were very thoroughly chilled, but were not at all frozen. The little chapel of our Church was filled.

A still worse storm was encountered at Windom a few days later, the record running as follows:

The most severe blizzard I have seen for a number of years began Sunday morning, and in the afternoon, when we started to drive to Wilder, we found it utterly impossible to see our way across the prairie and were forced to turn back. The storm continued all of Monday, effectually blockading the railroad, so that I was unable to leave Windom until Wednesday night. I improved the time of my stay by talking on Temperance in the Methodist church two evenings.

Only a week later the Bishop was again snow-bound. He was on his way to Redwood Falls, when the train was blocked at E"ew Ulm, fortunately so that he was able to reach a comfortable hotel. A young commercial traveler who was at the hotel with him, remembers what good company the Bishop was. He gave some talks upon his travels and experiences, which were listened to with great interest by the young men snowbound there with him. On the second day, the storm having abated, Bishop Gilbert arranged for a sleigh with driver and horses to take him thirty-two miles to St. Peter, where he would be able to get a train for Minneapolis. Before leaving he bought a large piece of warm goods for an extra wrap. The journey was made in safety, though with much suffering from the cold. Many times during his episcopate he exposed himself to hardships like this, that he might, if possible, keep his appointments. It is remarkable that, with his impaired constitution, he was able to endure such exertions and such exposure, for so many years.

Another item from the record is of special interest: On Thursday, January 20th, I had the blessed privilege of ordaining to the diaconate Joseph Wakazoo, a Chippewa Indian, presented by the Rev. Mr. Gilfillan. He is a man of unusual intelligence, and passed a most creditable examination. He is in charge of the Indian Mission field at Lake Winnibigoshish.

The summary of Bishop Gilbert's acts shows that in the first seven months of his episcopate he visited 99 different parishes and missions, ordained one deacon and one priest, consecrated eight churches, celebrated the Holy Communion 44 times, confirmed 427 persons, and delivered 237 sermons and addresses. He also made 15 visitations in the Diocese of Wisconsin.

At the annual Council of the Diocese of Minnesota, held in June, 1887, both the Diocesan and his Assistant delivered addresses setting forth their episcopal acts in detail, and adding suitable exhortation and suggestions for the future. This custom was followed at each Council of the Diocese. Bishop Gilbert's opening words are characteristic:

Before reaching my report, I desire to humbly and devoutly return my thanks to the Great Head of the Church for His watchful and preserving care over me and for the many manifestations of His loving providence.

I desire also to express my heartfelt appreciation to the Bishop of the Diocese for the warm and generous heart-welcome he has from the first given me, and for his wise and fatherly counsels in the prosecution of my work. May our Heavenly Father long preserve him to the Church he honors, and to the Diocese in which he is so lovingly and tenderly revered.

Moreover, I cannot refrain from thanking my brethren of clergy and laity for their cordial greetings, always and everywhere given, and for their unfailing and sympathetic cooperation. May God reward them for their kindness!

If the summary of his routine work is somewhat monotonous, it suggests that much of the work of a bishop has that character. Bishop Gilbert was fortunately able to enter into that routine with that large and kindly spirit which has marked many of our American bishops in their pioneer work. As the men of an older generation still with deep affection remember Bishop Whipple and the vigor and inspiration of his ministrations, so a younger generation loves to tell of the joy and uplift which came each year with the coming of Bishop Gilbert. He brought with him an atmosphere of hope, of love, and of faith. Burdens grew lighter, and life was a larger and a better thing. "When you heard him it seemed so easy to be good."

At the close of his first address to the Council, Bishop Gilbert outlined his policy as suggested by his. experience up to that time:

In the first place, we ought to pray more earnestly for laborers in the Lord's Vineyard. . . . We want men who realize the blessedness of self-sacrifice. . . . People everywhere are ready to welcome the Church. Readily will they receive her ministrations, if they be offered to them in all their sacred attractiveness. Not only ought the Clergy who minister, to be men of consecration, but they need to be well furnished mentally, with sterling common sense, with a knowledge of affairs, and able to grapple with the problems of the day. Better by far that a field should remain vacant than to have it occupied by a clergyman who cannot win souls to Christ, through the Church.

Secondly, we must never lose sight of the importance and blessedness of simple ministrations. In our natural anxiety to see immediate results, we are apt to minimize this great duty. Throughout this great state there are hundreds of families who have not the privileges of the Church. They are scattered over our broad prairies or gathered in little hamlets. To look after these people pastorally, to preach to them the Word, to administer the Sacrament, to give them from time to time the services of our dear Church, is a Christly work. Let the rectors and the missionaries hesitate not to seek out these hungering ones, even if a congregation cannot be formed or a church erected. Church building should be the natural outgrowth of a real need, the second or third step in Church work, never the first.

Third, the missionary spirit needs to be cultivated more in our parishes. Episcopal though we are in our government, yet too often, I fear, there is practical Congregationalism. This narrow parochialism should be always discouraged. Present the claims of the Church Catholic first; provide for her just demands; then press Parochial claims. Gifts for the former will never diminish, but rather increase, the latter. . . .

Fourth, there should be more certain provision for our aged and infirm clergy, than is to be derived from spasmodic and irregular offerings. No cause appeals more strongly to the heart of our laymen than this. Let it be definitely and personally presented, and I am confident that in a few years this fund will be generously endowed.

In conclusion, let us give ourselves more entirely to the Master's service, cheerfully doing the work committed into our hands, and more and more filling ourselves with enthusiasm for the dear Lord and for the Church which He has purchased with His blood.

"The work to be performed is ours,
The strength is all His own."

These suggestions show wise leadership. The principles here set forth have come more and more to the front in the Church's plans and deeds. None of the problems has received full solution, but substantial progress has been made along the lines here pointed out.

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