My interest in behalf of California had been awakened long before I ever expected to be personally connected with the Church on the Pacific. When I was living in Albany, as Rector of St. Paul's Church, my family physician had a brother-in-law, who was one of the Wardens of Trinity Church, San Francisco. His letters were regularly read to me, until I became acquainted with the history and advancement of the Church in that city.
In 1852, Mr. Mines, the Rector of Trinity Church, died, and the Vestry wrote to friends in the East for a successor. The charge was offered to several persons, and at last to the Rev. Christopher B. Wyatt, Assistant Minister of the Church of the Holy Apostles in New York. About this time, when one day talking with my physician on the 'subject of California, the question was put to me, I believe by his wife, as if a sudden thought,--"Why would not you go?" The suggestion struck me favorably. I had been fifteen years in Albany,--had built up a large congregation, and it seemed as if there was no room for progress or enlargement in the future. On the other hand, in San Francisco was a new field,--a rising empire,--and there was a freshness and enterprise in founding the Church in that region which rather fascinated my imagination. I seemed too to be more free from family ties than most clergymen. I had only two children. My eldest son, Lawrence, was a cadet at West Point, so that I had but one living with me, a son not yet fourteen, and if I went, he could accompany us. After discussing the matter, therefore, I almost concluded, that if Mr. Wyatt did not go, I would.
Shortly afterwards, I received a call to St. Peter's Church, Baltimore, vacant by the removal of Dr. (since Bishop) Atkinson, to Grace Church. I determined not to accept it, but having occasion the next week to visit Baltimore, to lecture before some association, I deferred my answer till then. On the afternoon of my arrival, I called on my old friend Bishop Whittingham. As I entered his study, he greeted me with--
"Well, I hope you have not come here to tell me you are not going to St. Peter's!"
I answered him that such was my decision, and then we talked it over. In the course of our conversation I mentioned, incidentally, that if Mr. Wyatt did not accept the call to San Francisco it would be offered to me, and that I was strongly disposed to go. Bishop Whittingham seemed to catch at this as suggesting new thoughts. He looked down a moment, and then said in his rapid, impressive way:
"I've new light! I've new light! You must go to California, but not as a Presbyter. You must go out in another capacity. If you'll go to California, I'll pardon you for not coming to St. Peter's!"
This was the germ of the California Episcopate. Here was the first suggestion of what afterwards developed into a plan which has changed my whole life. From this conversation grew up the idea of sending out a Missionary Bishop, and with this, my name, through Bishop Whittingham's suggestions, became necessarily connected. Subsequently, Mr. Wyatt determined to accept the call to San Francisco, and sailed in April, 1853; so that the idea of my going as a Presbyter was abandoned and I had nothing to do but remain quiet and await the leadings of Providence.
In October, 1853, the General Convention met in New York, and the subject of Episcopal supervision for California was a prominent matter before it for discussion. Some time before, the Convocation in California had formed itself into a Diocese, and the question at issue was, whether, as Missionary Bishops, by Canon VIII. of 1844, are elected "to exercise Episcopal functions in States or Territories not organized into Dioceses," one could legally be appointed for California. The House of Bishops, after a long debate, determined, as they had not yet received California into union with the Convention or recognized it as a Diocese, to ignore its formation and treat it entirely as Missionary ground.
I was accordingly nominated by my old friend Bishop Wainwright. Bishop Williams told me afterwards that the talk which ensued was exceedingly amusing. My qualifications were freely discussed, then those of my wife; then our parents were talked over, and finally they got back to our grandparents, showing a belief in inherited traits rather unusual in this country. Some of the Bishops who were afraid my Churchmanship was rather too elevated in its character, proposed to Bishop Alonzo Potter (of Pennsylvania) to nominate a distinguished Presbyter of his Diocese. This, though a strong friend of mine, he felt obliged to do, and the vote was taken. It stood twenty for me, and six for the Rev. Dr. -----. Bishop Potter then himself moved that it be unanimous, which was passed. I would here mention, that on my arrival in New York, a few days afterwards, Dr.----- (the other candidate), came to me with his warm congratulations, and assured me that his name was used entirely without his knowledge or consent. He has since been elected to one of our largest eastern Dioceses.
At the same session, the Rev. F. T. Scott, D.D., of Georgia, was nominated as Missionary Bishop of Oregon and Washington Territories.
Both these nominations were at once forwarded to the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies, where they met with some opposition. The point with regard to California was the constitutional difficulty which had already been mooted in the House of Bishops. With regard to Oregon and Washington Territories, it was thought by many that the appointment was premature. Both were, however, confirmed by a large majority.
On the same day I received several telegraphic messages from New York, informing me of the result and urging me to come down at once. The nest morning's mail brought a shower of congratulatory letters from my friends among the Bishops, and I accordingly departed for New York.
I confess, this matter came upon me as a surprise. Although it had been so much talked about for the last few months, I had doubted to the last moment whether any decided action would be taken by the House of Bishops.
Before this, too, going to California was a thing to dream bout now, it became a reality, and for the first time there was forced upon me the consideration of how much I should leave behind. Again, going as a Presbyter was a different matter as I could at any time resign and return. But, going as a leader in "the consecrated host of God's elect," seemed engaging in a contest from which there could be no retreat. Upon talking to Bishop Whittingham he said:--"You must go. They should have had a Bishop in California three years ago, and if you do not go now, they will not have one for three years to come. The House of Bishops is breaking up, and we cannot elect any one else. The responsibility of this will rest upon you."
This was in fact summing up the matter. There was no room for hesitation or discussion on my part. After twenty-six Bishops had said it was my duty to go, all I could do was to assent.