AT the meeting of the General Convention in Baltimore in 1892, San Francisco, Saratoga Springs, Denver, and Louisville were mentioned in considering the place for the next meeting of the Convention. The two Houses did not agree, and in the discussion which followed, Judge Atwater of Minnesota advocated Minneapolis. In his characteristic speech he alluded to the unity which had distinguished the diocese of Minnesota, and playfully said that he "could assure the Convention that Minnesota would satisfy all parties in the Church: that there was St. Paul for the conservative, old-fashioned Churchmen, St. Anthony for those of more advanced views, and for all there would be the open-handed hospitality of the West, with the object-lesson of a household at unity with itself." Other Minnesota delegates joined in the invitation, and Minneapolis was decided upon.
The General Convention is composed of two Houses. The House of Bishops, of which every bishop is a member, meets by itself under the presidency of the senior bishop present. It has its own chairman who is elected for three years. The House of Clerical and Lay deputies is composed of four clerical and four lay delegates from each diocese, and one clerical and one lay delegate from each missionary jurisdiction. The clergy and laity vote separately, each representing its own order, and the affirmative vote of the two orders are necessary to carry any measure. And this must be adopted by the House of Bishops before it becomes the action of the Convention.
In 1789, when the General Convention was organized, there were four bishops of the American Church, while there are now ninety.
The absence of the Rt. Rev. John Williams was regretted by all. This was the first time of the meeting of the General Convention west of the Mississippi River, and in God's providence the bishop presided in his own diocese, the scene of his labors for thirty-six years.
The committee of the clergy and laity of St. Paul and Minneapolis had been indefatigable in their preparations, and no General Convention has been received with warmer welcomes by the Churchmen of the diocese and their fellow Christians.
To quote from a letter of my brother, the Rev. H. P. Nichols of St. Mark's Church, Minneapolis:--
The interest felt in the Convention's coming to Minnesota, and the welcome extended to its members, knew no limitation of church boundaries. The doors of our hospitable citizens were all wide open, and the crowded congregations at every service included a large proportion outside of our own Communion; and it was the general verdict that the city of Minneapolis surrendered to the Convention all its strongholds. The community gave itself up with every possible demonstration of honor, after elaborate preparations, to the entertainment of the guests of its Bishop. It was a spontaneous tribute of appreciation by every class and creed to the work which the Church under his leadership had done in the state and in the cathedral city.
Our friends found, too, certain problems confronting our American Christianity and Churchmanship worked out along wise lines in this diocese. It was a surprise to many to find the Church established to such good advantage in the smaller cities and towns of the state, strong in the esteem and affection of the inhabitants. There is little in the diocese of suspicion and hostility toward the Episcopal Church, found so largely in the rural communities in our country.
The opening service was in Gethsemane Church. The procession was led by the Rev. Dr. J. J. Faude, rector of the parish. The surpliced choir, the white-robed priests, and the seventy bishops were in strange contrast to my first service in Minneapolis, held in a rude frame chapel. Minneapolis was then a village of five thousand inhabitants, its houses dotted over the prairie.
I celebrated the Holy Communion, with Bishop Neely and the Rt. Rev. Dr. Machray, Archbishop of Canada, as Epistoler and Gospeller. The sermon was delivered by the Rt. Rev. Dr. A. C. Coxe.
The debates of the Convention were characterized by a spirit of charity and love. The Rev. Dr. Joseph T. Smith, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, was received by the bishops at the House of Bishops, and no one who heard his address on the subject of Christian unity could forget his words, which came fresh from a heart mourning over Christian divisions.
There were many pleasant receptions given to the Convention,--among them one by Mr. and Mrs. James J. Hill of St. Paul, at which Archbishop Ireland and other distinguished clergy of the Roman Catholic Church were present. [Archbishop Ireland, of St. Paul, is devoted to the welfare of the flock committed to his care, and while a firm believer in the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, he is a patriotic American, desiring that his people may be worthy citizens of the Republic, and not believing it wise to have a little Sweden, an Ireland, or a Germany within our borders. His work in behalf of temperance among his people is worthy of grateful recognition.] A reception was given at the West Hotel to Bishop Gilbert and myself at which about two thousand guests were in attendance.
Perhaps nothing was of greater interest to the Convention than the extent to which our diocese has incorporated with itself the members of the Swedish National Church. It was a revelation to many of those who thronged to the services of St. Ansgarius, to find children of this sister church under the fostering care of the American Church, even as it was in the colonial days of Delaware and Pennsylvania.
In 1857, during my rectorship in Chicago, the Rev. G. Unonius, Rector of St. Ansgarius' Church of that city, resigned his cure to return to Sweden. He asked me to take it under my charge, and therefore one of the three services which I held every Sunday was for the Swedish congregation. In my work for them I became deeply attached to the Scandinavian race for their love of home, their devotion to freedom, and their loyalty to Government and 'God.
Thirty-one years ago I said in a Convention address, "The position of the members of the Church of Sweden in our state has long been of deep interest to me. With a valid ministry, a reformed faith, and a liturgical service, they ought to be in communion with us. For lack of their own Episcopate as a bond of union between them, they are becoming divided, and are losing their distinctive character as members of the Church.
"The Bishop of Illinois, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Whitehouse, to whom the Church owes so much for his efforts in behalf of Catholic union abroad, has received into his diocese clergy and laity of the Church of Sweden. During his late visit to Sweden he met their primate and many of their bishops, and their intercourse was most fraternal. The Archbishop of Sweden received the Holy Communion at his hands, and arrangements were made whereby the clergy should give letters of recommendation to us where they had no clergy of their own."
Minnesota has an enormous population of Swedes and Norwegians, who are among our best adopted citizens. Minneapolis alone has nearly fifty thousand Scandinavians. Often and often I have tried to devise plans whereby these children of a sister church might become fellow-heirs with us, the heart of my dear coadjutor beating with me. At one time we had a Norwegian clergyman of rare talents and a marvellous gift of oratory, who translated the Prayer Book into Norwegian; but his services left no permanent result. Sectarianism was doing its fatal work in dividing those who had been of one faith into separate communions, and often these divisions brought bitterness and strife; but where we knew no way, God made a way.
In September, 1892, the Rev. Olaf A. Toffteen, who had been ordained by the Bishop of Quincy, came to Minnesota from the diocese of Quincy, and held his first service with a congregation of not over fifteen or twenty persons, the average number up to Christmas. It was then proposed by the Rev. H. P. Nichols that there should be a grand Christmas service in St. Mark's Church, at five o'clock in the morning. Five hundred Swedes were present, and I doubt if there were hearts which sang Christmas songs that day with more gladness than those of the Rev. Mr. Nichols and the Rev. Mr. Toffteen. The service seemed to take every Swede back to the home of his fathers, to the parish church, and the voice of the Mother was heard welcoming him to the home in the Church of the land of his adoption. Those of us who have sojourned in foreign lands can recall the thrill of joy which came to our hearts when we heard in the dear liturgy our Mother's voice; and with no people does the love of home burn more brightly than with the Scandinavians.
That Christmas service, under God, was the prophecy of success. In March, 1893, a parish was organized and named after St. Ansgarius, who carried the gospel to Scandinavia. The services were held according to the Prayer Book of the Church in Sweden, and those persons who had been confirmed in Sweden were accepted on letters dismissory; and to-day Mr. Toffteen has a congregation of eight hundred.
During the autumn and winter two other Swedish congregations were organized, the Church of St. Johannes and the Church of the Messiah. In the spring of 1893 a Swedish church was organized in Litchfield, and then one in Cokato, while the one in St. Paul has the promise of being the largest Episcopal congregation in that city.
The Swedish clergymen whom we now have are honored and beloved by their brethren, and have exhibited a self-denial and devotion worthy of the purest days of the Church.
A prominent priest of the Roman Catholic Communion wrote me: "I have carefully watched Mr. Toffteen and his work; he is truly a man of God, and I only wish we had a man of like spirit to do the same work for us among the Scandinavian population."
I believe that the Church of Sweden was our twin sister at the time when great-hearted souls were carrying the gospel to the ancient Britons. Men of like zeal and consecration were taking the glad tidings to those who sat in darkness in the northern forests of Sweden. When, by persecution, Sweden lost its pastors, men like Siegfried were sent from Britain to aid in rebuilding the waste places of the Church of Sweden.
At the Lambeth Conference of 1888, in a report which was made by a committee composed of some of the most distinguished bishops of the Anglican Communion, are these words:--
Your Committee consider that in view of the increasing number of Swedes and other Scandinavians now living in America and in the English colonies, as well as for the furtherance of Christian unity, earnest effort should be made to establish more friendly relations between the Scandinavian and Anglican Churches.
In regard to the Swedish Church your Committee are of the opinion that, as its standards of doctrine are to a great extent in accord with our own, and its continuity as a National Church has never been broken, any approach on its part should be most gladly welcomed, with a view to mutual explanation of differences, and the ultimate establishment, if possible, of permanent inter-communion on sound principles of ecclesiastical polity.
This report was signed by fifteen bishops, among whom were men foremost in the Episcopate as theologians: the Archbishop of Dublin, Bishop Harold Browne of Winchester, the Bishop of Cashel, the Bishop of Salisbury, the Bishop of Lincoln, the Bishop of Lichfield, and the Bishops of Central Africa, Cork, Derry, Dunnedin, Gibraltar, Iowa, Albany, North Carolina, and western New York (Bishop Coxe).
The Lambeth Conference adopted the recommendations of this report; and it is in the spirit of this declaration of one hundred and fifty bishops assembled at Lambeth, that our Swedish work, which has borne the blessing of Almighty God, has been carried on. And with many of my brethren I see in it a prophecy of the reunion of Christians.
The citizens of Faribault invited the bishops and deputies to visit the Cathedral town. The committee of arrangements was composed of Churchmen, Roman Catholics, and members of other religious bodies; the following incident will show the kindly spirit of my fellow-citizens. One of the committee, a Roman Catholic, said, "There must be a four-horse carriage for our bishop," and when it was suggested that the bishop would think it unnecessary, he exclaimed, "The bishop shall have a four-horse carriage if I pay for it myself!" And when a Roman Catholic livery man was asked how many carriages he could furnish for the occasion, he answered, "You can have every horse and carriage in my stable without a dollar of expense." Special trains were generously furnished by Mr. Roswell Miller, president of the railway. On arriving at Faribault four hundred carriages were waiting for the guests. The streets were decorated with floral arches and flags, and bands of music sounded a welcome. The line of the procession passed the state institutions for the Blind, the Deaf and Dumb, and for Defective Children, and then on to the schools. Seabury Divinity School came first, with its gray stone buildings in a park of thirty acres, where is still preserved the small frame building first erected for the theological school. Then St. Mary's Hall with its pleasant grounds, and Shattuck School in a park of one hundred and sixty acres.
In the Shattuck armory the ladies of the town served a collation to seven hundred and fifty guests.
During the sittings of the Convention the Woman's Auxiliary to the Board of Missions convened in Christ Church, St. Paul. I delivered an address of welcome to these daughters of the Church, and on behalf of my brethren, the bishops and clergy, thanked them for their faithful labors and their offering, which amounted to over fifty-six thousand dollars.
The Woman's Auxiliary, organized in 1872, by a few faithful women of the Church, now has branches in every diocese and missionary jurisdiction of the Church, and has proved one of the most efficient instruments in the spread of the gospel.
The Church Club of Minnesota gave a dinner to the General Convention, at which fifty-seven bishops and many members of the House of Deputies were present. Judge Nelson's welcome to the guests was responded to by Bishop Potter, of New York, and others of the bishops made characteristic speeches.
On the last day of the session, my brethren of the House of Bishops presented me with a beautiful loving cup.
It was at this time that the northern counties of the state were made a separate Missionary Jurisdiction. The great increase of population in the iron mining district of Lake Superior, the lumber camps scattered throughout the vast pine forests, and the settlement of the Red River Valley, opened for the Church an amount of work which made it impossible for my coadjutor and me to care for faithfully. The following year the Rev. Dr. Morrison was elected Bishop of this Jurisdiction.
One of the wisest acts of the Convention was the election and confirmation of the Rev. Dr. T. P. Rowe as bishop for the Missionary Jurisdiction of Alaska. Fifteen years ago, when I visited Alaska and saw its heathen red men, my heart went out to them in deepest sympathy; and had I been unfettered, I would have offered myself to carry to them the gospel. During this visit I learned much of the wonderful mission of Mr. Duncan at Matakalatka.
At each subsequent General Convention I plead with my brethren that our Church should establish a missionary jurisdiction in Alaska and send out a bishop; and so my heart thrilled with joy when dear Bishop Rowe was finally elected. Subsequent events have proved the wisdom of the Church's choice. The story of his journeyings over icy fields and mountains and the blessing of God upon his labors remind one of the stories of apostolic days. When objections were made to this election on the ground of additional burdens on an impoverished missionary treasury, a generous layman of New York offered to pay the bishop's salary for three years.