We are met here to-day for a service which is, to say the least, unusual in this country. The translation and re-interment of the remains of a friend is not at all unusual; only too common an occurrence, unfortunately, in the constant shifting of population characteristic of our day and our land. But it is not often thought necessary or expedient that it should be accompanied with any special ceremonial; and so the question may be asked, and fairly,--asked, perhaps by some here present,--why should we have any special service of commemoration now? And the answer is simply, "Lest we forget." What is it that we should not forget, and should recall to mind especially this day and in this way?
I shall try to answer this question in a very few words.
A generation ago it was my privilege to take part in a somewhat similar service in the city of Portland, Maine. The actors in it were the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, represented by the officers and men of one of her greatest battleships; the President of the United States, similarly represented by officers of the Army and Navy; the Governor and Legislature of the State, and a great concourse of eminent men of New England and New York. The subject of the commemoration was one who had grown from a New England country boy to become a great merchant of London. Why was this special and extraordinary honour done to the memory of George Peabody? Not for any wealth or social or political eminence, nor any office which he ever held. It was only for one thing--that he had devoted himself, all that he was, and all that he had, to the service of God and the good of his fellow-men, in ways for which God had given Him special ability and opportunity.
And that, my dear friends, is precisely what we are not to forget, and to commemorate with gratitude and love, in him whose mortal remains are brought back to-day to his diocese, and the home in which and for which his glorious life-work was wrought.
On this day, and I might almost say at this hour, begins the seventieth year since the Diocese of Western New York was founded, and WILLIAM HEATHCOTE DE LANCEY elected its first Bishop: both within a few hours, on the All Saints Day and its duplex of 1838. It was then just half a century since the western half of the State of New York, up to that time an absolute wilderness save for the huts of pioneer settlers where Utica and Geneva now stand, began to have a recognized existence as one county of the State. It was hardly more than thirty years since the missions of the Church in all that region were begun by DAVENPORT PHELPS, and much less than that when its people began to know what the word "Bishop" meant, when they first looked into the face of JOHN HENRY HOBART. Under that lion-hearted leader and his few faithful missionaries, the Church had grown in one generation from the merest handful to a strong and efficient part of the Diocese of New York, though still small in numbers. You will remember that Western New York was settled almost entirely by two classes of people. One, comprising the great bulk of the first comers, was from New England, chiefly from Connecticut; and everywhere among these nominal Congregationalists (later Presbyterians) deeply prejudiced against "Episcopacy" and still more against all liturgical worship, were here and there sturdy Churchmen whose fathers had battled for Episcopacy under Bishop Seabury. Another and smaller class, most conspicuous in Geneva, were families from Virginia and Maryland, largely Churchmen; a few from Albany and New York, and a few Scotch families of good birth who were intelligent Church people. All these were almost lost in the multitude of the "Standing Order" through the earlier years; but they became the nucleus of a great diocese. You may not remember that among these transplanted New Englanders, and mostly right here around Geneva, there grew up the most wonderful variety of religious delusions and social experiments which any country ever saw. I need only name Jemima Wilkinson and her followers at Jerusalem on Seneca Lake, Anti-masonry exalted into a religion from its birth in Canandaigua and
Batavia, Mormonism from Mormon Hill near Palmyra, and Spiritualism and Communism from other near-by sources, to show how susceptible a grave and thrifty people of New England origin had shown themselves to every priest and prophet of new things. Such, briefly, was the Western New York of 1838.
Fifty clergymen and one hundred laymen gathered in the little Trinity Church of that day on the Feast of All Saints, for a work never before attempted in this country, the foundation of a new Diocese out of an old one,--a Diocese which was not a State. The very name "Diocese" was hardly known as yet; the term used in all Church documents till then is "State." It is not strange that many good Churchmen dreaded the consequences of such rashness; some on the Eastern border of the new Diocese sent in formal petitions to be left in the old one, and were most thankful a few years later that their request was denied. But the great question now which had been the subject of anxious thought for months and years, was, Whom should they ask to be their leader?
You all know how that question was answered--in the providence of God and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we may reverently say, if such answer was ever given to the Church of God in any land. You may not remember that it was an answer unexpected not only by the Church at large, but by a great part of the Diocese itself, and that it very narrowly averted the choice of one of two or three men more popular and widely known, whose after career, good and great as they were, proved a sad and striking contrast to the Episcopate of Bishop De Lancey.
So he was called, and consecrated, and came here to live and to work for twenty-six years. All I shall say more is to try to set forth in a few words, not what he did, for that is beyond the time and the occasion, but what he was, as a Bishop for his Diocese and for the Church as a whole, and as a Man chiefly among those who knew him so well and loved him so much here in Geneva. Most of you are more or less familiar with the story of his Episcopate, as it is given in full in the History of the Diocese published a few years ago at the request of the Bishop and Clergy. I speak of this because that story has never been told in full in any other way.
I. What Bishop De Lancey was to this Diocese, as an executive head or worker; and as a spiritual head, or leader in the thought and practical life of the Church and her members. I am not sure which ought to go first.
The Diocese then, and for thirty years later, covered the whole western half of the State from Utica to Buffalo, with an area of 21,000 square miles, and a population of somewhat more than a million. There were two cities, each a little larger than Geneva is now; not a hundred miles of railroad, the Erie Canal being for many purposes by far the best thoroughfare. There were seventy-five clergymen, ninety-six parishes, only one-third of these self-supporting, and about 4,000 communicants. For the support of its own missions the Diocese contributed annually about seven hundred and fifty dollars; all beyond this came from the Diocese and City of New York in a rapidly diminishing amount,--nothing, then or later, from the General Missionary funds of the Church. The Bishop's very first work was to build up almost from the beginning an independent and sufficient diocesan support. The one only way to do this was to appeal to the hearts and consciences of his people, and to awaken to the utmost in every possible way their zeal and sense of duty. Never was a harder burden laid upon a diocesan Head; never was it more patiently borne, never more triumphantly was it made the crown of glory of the Head and of the members. It was this grand work of building up the Church through year after year, accomplished largely, mainly, through absolute loyalty to the Head, and perfect confidence in the wisdom of his leadership, which gave to Western New York, from the whole Church, the name of "the Model Diocese." Without that perfect confidence and unity of spirit, such work could not possibly have been done, even by such enormous and untiring personal labour as Bishop De Lancey habitually gave to it. Beyond all the personal love and devotion which he evoked more than any other man I ever knew from all who came in contact with him, there was the consciousness that he was a born leader of men, in wisdom, in judgment, in sincerity. I have quoted often the saying of him that ''he was sure to do the right thing at the right time in the right place," and, it might be added, in the right way; that those who differed from him (as of course some did) in theology or ecclesiastical polity, those who thought him too slow or too fast, too lenient or too severe, at and rate recognized sooner or later that his judgment on any point was pretty sure to be accepted heartily as the judgment of the Diocese, and also, generally speaking, as the judgment of common sense, however it might contravene their opinions or wishes. There were of course efforts from time to time by clergymen or laymen to express their views in action by changes in the work and policy of the Diocese; efforts not always factious or in any wise blameable. But if, in the judgment of the Bishop, they were inexpedient, or tended in any way to impair the unity and efficiency of its work, that was enough; no such plans could possibly succeed.
Such confidence and loyalty called forth by the Bishop's character from his whole diocese, was thus the great characteristic and crowning glory of his Episcopate. I do not mean to say that it was without precedent or example, for I believe Churchmen are as a rule glad to follow their Bishop--perhaps I ought to say especially laymen, even when they do not agree with him. But I do not believe that the ''lamp of obedience'' ever burned more brightly in any Diocese in this country than it did in Western New York in the days of Bishop De Lancey.
I was speaking of his great foundation of missionary work. It may seem a small thing to note that in the first three years of his Episcopate the seven hundred and fifty dollars of annual offerings had grown four-fold, and was sustaining, though on a lamentably narrow scale, the largest diocesan missionary establishment in the United States. But it is one evidence of what I have elsewhere said, "how deeply the Bishop felt the importance of this work, how carefully all its details were studied by him; how the conditions, wants, prospects and trials of each mission and missionary were always borne upon his mind and heart; something which no one who knew him personally could ever forget. How he would labour to build up the Church in this or that feeble or almost desert place, not only by visits and correspondence, but by large contributions from his own small means. It was sometimes thought and said that he exalted this diocesan work unduly, but the records show that during his whole Episcopate the offerings of the Diocese for objects exterior to itself were more than for its own missions, and increased four-fold while those for the Diocese trebled."
All this I have given simply as an illustration of Bishop De Lancey's character as a leader in the work of his Diocese. It is impossible to give illustrations here, which come to mind readily enough and in abundance, from his other spheres or diocesan work. Again I must ask you to read the story for yourselves if you care for it. But two things I cannot pass over without simple mention; one is his work for Hobart College, the other one instance of his prevision for the work of the Church at large.
I was called a few days ago to write a memorial inscription for one of the noblest and most gracious men that ever lived in Geneva,--I might say in the world, for that matter,--Benjamin Hale, the third President of Hobart College. I said that "through his labour, patience, self-denial, this College was saved and renewed for its work and fruit of later years.'' There is not one word of exaggeration or even of sentiment in this; it is simple plain tact as some among us can bear witness from personal knowledge. But mind you, exactly the same words might be said as truly of Bishop De Lancey. I doubt indeed whether either one could have saved and renewed the College without the other; each had his own sphere of work for that object, and each fulfilled it to its glorious ending. Again I must say that if you care to read the story, you will find facts in abundance to corroborate what I say here. It was Bishop De Lancey who through years of indefatigable exertion and personal as well as official influence which no other man could have had secured the foundation endowment from Trinity Church, New York, which all had felt must be, as it proved, the turning point between absolute failure and death, and renewed life and strength; who gave it the beloved name of its great founder John Henry Hobart, to proclaim forever its true character as a Christian and a Church College; who watched over its interests through his whole Episcopate, never losing an opportunity to enlarge and to make known its work for Christ and the Church. It is not too much to say that but for him there would have been no Hobart College here at this day, so far as human eyes can see.
I can only allude here to Bishop De Lancey's far-seeing judgment as to the future of the Church in this country, in his proposition laid before the House of Bishops in 1850, almost sixty years ago, for the erection of a system of Provinces covering the whole of the United States. In the principle he had been anticipated not only by President Hale, in his article on the division of the Diocese of New York, but by Bishop White in his Memoirs of the Church; but Bishop De Lancey was the first to bring the subject before the Church in General Convention, in a day when in strength and number through the whole United States it was not anywhere near equal to the one State of New York at this time. The Provincial idea has never been lost since Bishop De Lancey's day, but it is only this past month that the House of Bishops has finally adopted his plan with such enlargement as the enormous expansion of the country and the Church has made necessary.
And now only a few words instead of so many that might be said on the Bishop's spiritual leadership of his Diocese, and especially to those who were privileged to know him here, personally and intimately, through so many years.
It was his good fortune, we may say, to be the resultant, as it were, in ecclesiastical, theological, but especially in spiritual life and character, of two men who more than any other in their day or any day, moulded the whole tone of the American Church,--William White and John Henry Hobart. Of both of these Bishop De Lancey was the disciple and intimate friend, and from both he inherited principles which in combination made him, as I believe, not only the most typical Churchman but one of the broadest minded men of his day, in the best sense of that much abused epithet. He seemed to me to unite most wonderfully the theology of Hooker, with the spiritual insight of Jeremy, Taylor, of Andrewes, of Keble. I do not mean of course to place him side by side with those great men of the centuries, but no one could listen to his preaching or his conversation without feeling that he drank deeply of their spirit. Ecclesiastically he led his Diocese steadily in the path of Seabury and Jarvis and Hobart; spiritually, I think he ascended to greater heights than they attained. One most striking evidence of this was the unanimity with which, without one word from him, or one word even of nomination, his Diocese chose as his coadjutor and successor the one man in whose "Christian Ballads" had been pictured with the glow of a Poet and the inspiration of a Seer, the ideal Church and the ideal Churchman we had learned through all those years to love and revere in the Episcopate of Bishop De Lancey.
And what can I say of the memories of him which we cherish who had the happiness to see and know him here in his daily walk of life,--in his singularly devout and reverent part in the Services and Sacraments of the Church here in old Trinity, where he was the personal teacher, guide and example of his younger clergy and candidates for Holy Orders,--in his deeply felt and beneficent influence in citizenship and social life,--above all in the cordial and delightful hospitality of his simple and unpretending home near the College, which with a happy sense of incongruity we called "the Palace,"--hospitality doubled in charm by the sweet graciousness of its other Head,--the wife whom he called "Mother," and whose rest and comfort were the last thought which found expression in the last hours of his life. Some of you who were but children in his later days can at least remember what loving comradeship he had for every child who claimed it from him,--how the dignity of the Bishop, which every one felt in his presence, melted into the benignity of the Father and the Friend.
But I must not go on. The faint and feeble sketch I have been giving--not one quarter of what I would have been glad to make it--might be paralleled, no doubt, in the history of many an American Bishop in the thought of a loving disciple. But for me, and for the Churchmen of his day and his Diocese you cannot think it strange that there is and ever will be only one Bishop like WILLIAM HEATHCOTE DE LANCEY.