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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 XIII. Visions and Tasks

THE HIGH IDEAL of social service belonging to the episcopate is set forth in the Office of Consecration in words of wonderful beauty. Near the close of the service the Consecrator delivers to the new Bishop the Bible with these words:

Give heed unto reading, exhortation, and doctrine. Think upon the things contained in this Book. Be diligent in them, that the increase coming thereby may be manifest unto all men; for by so doing thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee. Be to the flock of Christ a shepherd, not a wolf; feed them, devour them not. Hold up the weak, heal the sick, bind up the broken, bring again the outcasts, seek the lost. Be so merciful, that you be not too remiss; so minister discipline, that you forget not mercy; that when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, you may receive the never-fading crown of glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

To realize this ideal is difficult in the extreme, but Bishop Gilbert certainly kept close to the ideal. He was never "a lord over God's heritage," but "an en-sample to the flock." His own description of his work, often repeated, was, "I go around recharging the batteries." He sometimes added, "I hope they will stay charged until I come again."

A thoughtful estimate of the Bishop and his influence is given in a paper read at the Semi-Centennial of the Diocese in June, 1900, by the Rev. Dr. Poole. It is entitled, "Bishop Gilbert and Later Developments."

We all feel that the Church and the institutions of the Church have gained something that is invaluable, taken into their life and being, from the ministrations of Bishop Gilbert. . . . When Bishop Gilbert went to visit a parish, or a mission, or one of the schools, there was a current of new interest and new enthusiasm started by his presence and his words. Everyone was glad to see him, glad to clasp his hand, glad to hear him speak. And while he was present at any place on his visitations, the interests of that particular spot absorbed his whole attention and thought and sympathy; and, as one has already truly said, Bishop Gilbert turned from interest to interest, in the manifold workings of the Diocese, with an alertness which showed that he bore them all in mind and with impartial care and thoughtfulness.

His visitations were not the perfunctory performance of an allotted round of official duties from which he hastened away, eager to escape any petty annoyances or the pressure of social amenities. He enjoyed the country and the visits to small communities, delightful in their reminiscences of his own boyhood Church life, and took as much thought for them and for their welfare and growth as if they were, as they often in some ways are, the most important agencies in the development of Christ's Kingdom. . . .

Who of us has not felt new interest, new enthusiasm, flow into our souls from his presence and stirring words? Somehow he seemed to make the outlook take on a more cheering aspect; the shadows drifted away, the burdens grew lighter for the moment; we took a new grip of the difficulties, resolved to overcome them. . . .

It might be said with truth that, while he was still rector of Christ Church, the revival of missionary effort of the Church in Minnesota began. A new spirit was manifested, and new work beyond the limits of parochial lines was begun. It seemed to be a much easier matter to raise the assessment for missions, or the stipend of the Diocesan Missionary, when Bishop Gilbert made the appeal. I think we all felt that in some way he embodied the cause of missions, and that what was given was going to take effect at once through his agency--and it did, for he was not only the inspirer but the director of the missionary work. [The Minnesota Church Record, March, 1901, pp. 68-70.]

The Bishop's "embodiment of the cause of missions" is well illustrated by the experience of a St. Paul physician who used to go occasionally to hear him preach. "I heard that Dr. Gilbert was to preach at Christ Church one evening, and went to the service, but to my disgust, instead of preaching a sermon, he began to speak in behalf of the Episcopal City Missionary Society. I could not well leave the church, so I sat and listened. Soon I found myself interested. There were blank subscription forms in the pew, and after a while I took one and put down my name for five dollars. The longer I listened the greater was my approval of the cause. It seemed the most important work in the city, and finally I put a figure 2 before the 5 on the subscription blank."

Another instance of Bishop Gilbert's ability to communicate enthusiasm is well remembered in Stillwater. Ascension Church in that city is one of the oldest parishes in the Diocese. Service was held there in 1846, and in 1851 Dr. Breck organized the church. The parish grew, though slowly, and there had been a vacancy in the rectorship for some time when in the fall of 1886, the parish took on new life. The church building was repaired, decorated, and made complete in every way; a fine pipe organ was installed, and on Easter, 1887, the church was reopened with bright hopes for the future. That very night the building burned to the ground, and, though it was partially insured, the blow seemed fatal. As soon as his engagements permitted, Bishop Gilbert hastened to Stillwater, met the vestry and other workers, planned with them, gave them courage, and left them full of enthusiasm and hope. In place of a frame church they would build of brick, and there were to be no more vacancies in the rectorship. The Bishop's comment on the matter is: "The earnest practical way in which the men take up the new burden is very commendable." A year later, on Easter Day, the Bishop had the pleasure of preaching in the new church assisted by the new rector, the Rev. Andrew D. Stowe, who helped to make the parish one of the strongest in the Diocese.

On one of his visitations, the Bishop was speaking after service with a lady whom he had just confirmed, when he turned to her husband and said, "Why weren't you in the class, Mr. B.? You go everywhere else that your wife goes." The question was never forgotten, and, though years passed, in due time the husband also presented himself for confirmation.

A high tribute was once paid the Bishop by a plain man who said, "I like Bishop Gilbert, he is so common." He was common, not in the sense of lacking refinement, but as finding common standing ground with persons of every sort. A river captain was asked if he had known the Bishop. "Know him? Why! many a time we've been fishing together. He was a great preacher, and a first rate fisherman." Mr. Lightner has said of him, "Every man, high or low, rich or poor, cultured or degraded, was to him the image of a brother man."

Something of his own thought of the Christian ministry is seen in a sermon preached at the ordination of Stuart B. Purves to the diaconate. Of this sermon an abstract only has been preserved:

Moreover it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful (I. Corinthians IV., 2).

Faithfulness, not success, is the true standard of the followers of Christ. St. Paul's words are as true today as ever. We may not have to die at the stake, or perish on the arena's sand, but this practical, utilitarian nineteenth century offers as many temptations, as many trials of faith, as any that has preceded it. Constantly faith is being tried through the many petty annoyances and discouragements. We to-day, if we are faithful stewards, "are fools for Christ's sake. We both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place; . . . being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it."

Faithfulness to the Church must be the first and chief consideration, before self, before family even. This faithfulness of which St. Paul speaks requires complete self-consecration. If a man cannot give this, it were better for him not to enter the ministry. That life, thank God, is not one of luxury or self-advancement, but one dominated by the example and pattern of the Master." [Minnesota Missionary and Church Record, February, 1889.]

Another statement of his vision of life was given by Bishop Gilbert in his address at the Commencement of St. Mary's Hall in Faribault, June 12, 1888. The class motto was Vita Vocat, "Life calls us," and was used by the speaker as the theme of his counsel.

Before delivering the address Bishop Gilbert read a cablegram which he had just received from Bishop Whipple, then in England attending the Lambeth Conference. It read as follows: "Our love and blessing to St. Mary's and Shattuck Schools." "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth" (III. St. John 4).

Bishop Gilbert then spoke as follows:

Our exercises to-day seem sadly lacking without the presence of him who is both Bishop and Hector of St. Mary's. His words of loving counsel and warm affection have always been treasured as precious things. They have sent many of St. Mary's daughters forth into the world with higher resolves and soaring spirits. His heart is with us to-day, we can be sure, and his love reaches across the expanse of the sea and embraces us all with the same feelings as of yore. We send him our greetings and our own love with prayers for his happiness and safe return.

A year of great and unexcelled prosperity to St. Mary's Hall draws to a close. It has been a year of progress and happiness which will be treasured in the memories of teachers and pupils. It is by such quiet, earnest, faithful years of work that our school has the high position she occupies to-day. The best work is not by any means the showiest, and the best school is not necessarily the most fashionable. Every year adds much to the efficiency of St. Mary's. Every appliance for securing complete and adequate instruction is being secured as rapidly as our means permit.

St. Mary's Hall has always been proud of her daughters. They are known and honored throughout the West. Family life is being made sweeter and truer by their influence. I can call to mind many communities in this State where the influence of this school is being felt through the lives and example of those who have been educated here. I could tell you of Sunday schools gathered and sustained, of mission churches kept alive, of parishes stimulated, of pastors helped and cheered by the loving Christian work of those who have gone out from this Hall. The meaning of life, first grasped here, has unfolded, as the days went on, until it has been fully accentuated in works and ways of consecrated duty-doing.

To-day we send forth with confidence, pride and love, another class to grapple with life's realities. We feel that you have received no false impressions here of its larger meaning. You have found in your schooldays what you will find in the years to come, that life is something more than drifting, and that true rewards only come as the result of genuine work. We often speak of school-life as if it were a preparatory stage, as if it were a space apart and separated from the real story of our life work. Let us rather regard it as a very real part, fully identified with it. It is not the preface of the book but it is one of the chapters of the story itself. You simply turn a new page to-day. You begin no new volume, but you enter upon the continuance of the same experience, only under different conditions.

You can almost certainly forecast the future of your lives by your careers in this earlier portion of it. I mean you can tell, almost to a certainty, how you will fare in the midst of life's surgings and buffetings. If, with cheery resolution and hopeful courage, you have taken hold upon the duties of your school-life, you can be sure that even so will you meet the duties opening out before you. A bright, sunny, hopeful nature will win by its own contagious enthusiasm.

"A cheerful heart is what the Muses love;
A soaring spirit is their prime delight."

Therefore, dear friends, go forward and onward into the mysterious future with a buoyant, courageous heart. Do not look for the dark side of things. Do not be easily dispirited. Our Heavenly Father has filled you with the power of making the world in which you live better by making it brighter. That has been the secret always of a Christian woman's influence. The love of the Master, shining in her own soul, has reflected its brightness in the sun-lit face, in the sweet content of the nature; and others looking have been warmed into a newer and brighter life by it.

Vita Vocat, calls you up out of the shades, up out of the darksome valleys, up to the reposeful heights where the sunlight of God ever abides. There is a ringing clearness in its note to-day as it comes to you standing upon the summit of a "divide" in your lives. It is a call full of meaning, fuller and deeper than you have ever before realized.

What is your response to the call? Is it a firmer resolution, a most heart-felt prayer, to go out into the life before you with duty inscribed upon your hearts? That word, controlling, will make your life work certain, happy, full of content at the close. Life calls you to that high mission, that sublime service. Always true to the call of duty--let this be the simple sentence which can be written over your lives, when at length "it ringeth to evensong."

Vita--not the indulgent bodily gratification, that would be life degraded; not the flippant career of the mere ephemera of society, that would be life soulless; not a mere mental or intellectual development, that would be life narrowed and cramped; not an existence without God or faith or religion, that would be a life utterly meaningless; but the life that calls you to-day, and calls us all, is that wonderful composite of body. mind, and soul, which makes for righteousness, which binds duty and God ever closely together.

Keep that life clearly before you. Let not your ears be closed to its call. Go steadily on toward and into its many duties and demands. Yours then will be lives worth the living. Yours then will be examples and memories which will quicken and inspire others, who also in this very place, and out yonder in the broader world, will hear the "Call of Life."

We go out from this world and into the other--we die, but not the effect of our deeds. All other sounds

"Die in yon rich sky,
They faint on hill and field and river;
Our echoes roll from soul to soul,
And live forever and forever."

How well Bishop Gilbert followed his own counsel, how gloriously he transformed vision into reality, is shown by a great cloud of witnesses. Bishop Whipple, writing from England, in 1888, said: "The Assistant Bishop has been the foremost Missionary of the Diocese. He has eased the burden from my shoulders, and brought joy to many hearts for the noble record of his faithful work."

Two years later, Bishop Whipple said in his annual address to the Council:

No words of mine can express the debt of grateful love which I owe to my son and brother in the gospel, the coadjutor Bishop, for his most abundant labors and for his loyal love and devotion to myself. May God reward him in that day we look for and long for. No Bishop of this Church has had his declining years made more blessed by the love and devotion of a brother's heart.

Still later, in 1897, Bishop Whipple wrote from England to the Council:

God has been very kind to me in sparing my life to see the fruition of plans we laid in faith, but most loving in giving to me such a Coadjutor Bishop and helpers in the Lord. . . . There never was a Coadjutor Bishop who shared more thoroughly in his Diocesan's confidence, plans, and hopes.

At the Council of 1890 Archdeacon Appleby bore this testimony:

The general mission work of the Church is in a highly prosperous condition throughout the State, largely due, under God, to the presence of Bishop Gilbert in every field, whether large or small, without distinction, and to that wonderful magnetism and power which infuses itself into God's work wherever he goes.

So the years passed with increasing labor, with increasing success. Using his episcopal office, not as a dignity, but as an opportunity, in season and out of season he devoted himself to the cause. In the East he came to be known as one of the best of missionary speakers. When in attendance at missionary conferences, or at the General Convention, he was much sought as speaker or preacher. He also took every opportunity to address divinity schools or Church students in colleges, hoping to interest some in the work of the ministry, and to attract some to the Church in the West.

He spoke thus at Harvard, at Brown, at Trinity, at Hobart, at Lehigh, at Kenyon, and at most of our theological schools. His own record of addresses during or following the General Convention of 1889 in New York City is as follows:

I had the opportunity several times in different churches to tell the story of our own work, and I trust excite considerable interest therein. The Diocese of Minnesota stands high in the opinion of Churchmen of the East, on account of its aggressive missionary work and its spirit of harmonious and conservative Churchmanship. It is the keenest pleasure to observe how universally beloved and respected our own Bishop is, and what a position of commanding influence he occupies in the Councils of the Church.

I preached and made addresses in the Churches of the Holy Spirit, St. Andrew's, St. Luke's, and St. George's, in New York City; in St. Paul's, and St. Peter's, in Brooklyn; in Glencove, Long Island; in St. Paul's, Englewood, and Grace, Orange, New Jersey; in Hyde Park, New York; in All Saints', New Milford, Connecticut; and in Sherburn, and Oswego, in Central New York.

(On the way home), I also addressed the Woman's Auxiliary in Indianapolis, and Chicago, and St. Louis. In St. Louis, also, I preached an ordination sermon in the Cathedral, and was one of the speakers at a mass meeting of St. Andrew's Brotherhood.

With this manly organization, the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, Bishop Gilbert was a great favorite. They looked on him as "a leader, a counselor, and a friend." An editorial in St. Andrew's Cross at the time of his death pays him this tribute: [St. Andrew's Cross, March, 1900, p. 144.]

Bishop Gilbert's busy life and his work in the Northwest did not permit of his presence at general conventions of the Brotherhood as frequently as was desired, but when he was able thus to speak to them his message came with a manly vigor, a cheerful confidence, and a reverent purpose that carried conviction and inspired to better living. To the Brotherhood men of his diocese he was ever a comrade and a leader. At the time of his death and for several years previously, he was President of the St. Paul Local Assembly. If the Brotherhood men of that city should ever fall short in realizing his ideal for them, it will be in spite of the example he set of facing difficulty and overcoming it, of bearing responsibility patiently and bravely, of doing his duty as he saw it, and leaving others to gather in the poor praise of men."

We may well close this chapter with an extract from Bishop Gilbert's Council Address of 1892. It reveals his sympathy, his wisdom, and his faith.

The details of my work for the year being presented, it remains only for me to say one word in conclusion. [He had made 192 visitations in 118 parishes and missions; had confirmed 750, delivered 315 sermons, lectures, and addresses, had visited Winnepeg to assist in the consecration of the Bishop of Mackenzie River, and had visited Florida to consult with Bishop Whipple.] It is to accentuate what you already realize, viz., the greatness of the problem before us and the inadequacy of means and men. I believe no diocese over had a band of more earnest, consecrated, common-sense clergy than ours. They are full of the spirit of the Master. Their salaries are small, their fields of work large and difficult. Yet where they receive the hearty support of the laity, whether many or few in number, they labor with a cheerful zeal which is beyond all praise.

My heart goes out to you, dear brethren, in tenderest sympathy. I know your trials, your difficulties, your discouragements. In heart I share in every sorrow; in person, as much as may be, I try to help in the carrying of your burdens. The cheery welcome you always give me sends me on my way with a lighter heart. Your burdens are my burdens, your, joys are my joys. God grant that so it may be always. Let us understand and realize with a large charity, although we may have differences of opinion, although we may at times err in judgment, that the work in which we are engaged is common to us all, that the cause of Christ is of far greater importance than the accomplishment of our own little plans.

"Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice; and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you."

All around us the battle rages. We are in its midst. Ours it is to be leaders in this conflict, this struggle against sin and the foes of the Faith. Let our hearts be tender and strong, our heads clear, our whole example one which men can imitate, and around which they can gather and be brave. "Stand fast in the Faith."

Let us in this annual assembly take sweet counsel together as to how best the work of the Church of Christ may be enlarged. With this one aim in view we shall make our labors a definite stimulus that will be felt in the remotest mission of the Diocese. When our duties here are finished, may we all return to our respective fields with hearts so aglow with renewed ardor for our work that others, too, will be filled with greater enthusiasm, out of which shall grow the spirit and the purpose of larger endeavors and fuller realizations. In His name, "who hath done great things for us already, whereof we rejoice," let us speak unto the people that they--Go Forward!

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