THE earliest Convention (so called) was held in Trinity Church, San Francisco, in July, 1850, as it is expressed in the report,--"for the purpose of organizing the Diocese of California.'' The opening sermon was preached by Dr. Ver Mehr, and the Rev. Flavel S. Mines was appointed chairman. The Convention met for eight evenings in succession, and adopted a constitution that could have been expanded to meet all the wants of a Diocese the size of New York. Besides the ordinary Standing Committee, they appointed a Board of Trustees of the Episcopal Fund; a Board of Trustees of the Diocesan Fund; Trustees of the College and Theological Seminary; and a Board of managers of the Presbyterium, (a place for disabled clergymen,) and of the Sanitarium, (a home for infirm widows). Most of these institutions, after a lapse of years, have not yet commenced their existence.
It is a fact but little known to the Churchmen of this day, that the early founders of the Church on this coast had no idea of uniting with the general Church at the East. There is no recognition of it in any of their proceedings.
They ignored the name of the "Protestant Episcopal Church," and called their organization "the Church in California."
Knowing that while in this position no Bishop would be consecrated for them, the question of attempting to procure the episcopate from the Greek Church was discussed, previous to the meeting of the Convention. The Missionary Committee had cut off the stipends for California. Dr. Ver Mehr and Mr. Mines were of the opinion that the ecclesiastical authority at the East had no jurisdiction over the doctor, who never had been a missionary, or over Mr. Mines, whom by their action they had discarded; and that, therefore, they had a right to organize independently.
But, apparently abandoning the idea of recourse to the Greek Church, the Convention elected as their Bishop the Rt. Rev. Horatio Southgate, who, having been consecrated for a Mission to Turkey, from which he had lately returned, was already a Bishop. He, however, declined the invitation. Then three years passed away, during -which time nothing further was done to organize the Church. And when the Convention met in May, 1853, in their report they say: "The Diocese of California, organized in 1850, has remained about stationary--we are obliged to confess it; nay, it may in the eyes of some have seemed to be defunct. It exists, but in verity we cannot say more." The Rev. Flavel S. Mines had been removed by death. Marysville, 'where the Rev. Augustus Fitch had commenced a parish, was vacant, by his removal to the East in the previous year, and the Standing Committee reported: 'At this time the pariah at Marysville is defunct." The same was the case with Sacramento and Stockton. The two parishes in San Francisco--Trinity and Grace--alone were reported by the committee as being "in a progressive condition."
Still no advance had been made in procuring Episcopal supervision. The idea was entertained here, that as they had regularly organized themselves into a Diocese, the General Convention could not appoint a Missionary Bishop over them. They therefore appointed a committee to correspond with different Bishops, and procure from some one of them a visit for temporary services. The report of the Standing Committee contains the following equivocal language: "As a Diocese we ought to manage our own affairs. Whether we ask for admission into union or not, we can no more rely on missionary help." A resolution, however, was finally passed, "to apply for admission into union with the General Convention," but without any declaration that they subscribed to the government of the Church general in the United States.
At the General Convention of 1853, therefore, California was regarded in the House of Bishops with an evident feeling of distrust. The impression seemed to be, that the Diocese wished in some way to be independent, and that its organization was made to prevent the appointment of a Missionary Bishop. The General Convention, therefore, entirely ignored the action of the Diocese, on the ground that it had not subscribed to the Constitution of the Church,--refused to receive its delegates, (two lay delegates being present,)--and the House of Bishops proceeded to the election of a Missionary Bishop.
Before I left New York, considerable doubt was expressed as to the state in which I should find things on my arrival on the Pacific coast. The last conversation I had with one of the members of the Missionary Committee, (Rev. Chas. Halsey), on board the George Law, just before she left the wharf, was on this point. He said to me:--"If there is any opposition, we will at once send into the Diocese half a dozen missionaries, who will give the majority to right principles, and be the Diocese." I subsequently learned, that on the news of the election reaching California, some, whose schemes had been thereby defeated, held a caucus to discuss the question, whether or not they should nullify it. Fortunately for them, they determined to bow to the decision of the Church. For my own part, I came prepared for whichever course they might take. If I should be met in a proper, Churchlike spirit, I was ready to respond to them with like feelings. If they took the opposite course, I should have refused all recognition of the recusants, as Churchmen, and, regarding them as schismatics, should have considered the Church in this Diocese as including those only who paid a proper respect to its authority.
I, however, had no cause of complaint. The day after my arrival, the Standing Committee waited on me to present a series of resolutions of welcome, and at our Convention, four months later, the following preamble and resolutions were adopted.
"Whereas, this Convention, at its session in May, 1853, adopted measures to obtain an Episcopal visitation of the Diocese of California, by some one of the Bishops of Dioceses in union with the General Convention, under the supposition that California, being an organized Diocese, was precluded from the privilege of having a Missionary Bishop placed in charge over her; And whereas, the General Convention, at its session in October, 1853, judged it canonical and expedient to send a Missionary Bishop to this Diocese, therefore,
"Resolved, That this Convention desires to express its devout thankfulness to the overruling Providence of Almighty God, and its very cordial satisfaction, that this Diocese has thus so soon been permitted to enjoy the benefit and consolation of a Bishop's care.
"Resolved, That this Convention eagerly embraces this first opportunity to express its hearty approval of the action of the Standing Committee as the representative of the Diocese, in promptly receiving the Rt. Rev. Wm. Ingraham Kip, D.D., Missionary Bishop to the Diocese of California, with a reverent and affectionate welcome, to be the shepherd of the sheep in this portion of Christ's fold and our beloved Father in God."
On arriving in California, the question for me to decide was, whether I should regard the Church as still without an organization--mere missionary ground--(which the very action of the House of Bishops in electing rue would have justified my doing), and thus begin de novo; or, accepting the legislation of the Diocese as it stood, go on with it. As a matter both of prudence and convenience, I determined on the latter course.
My first Convention in the Diocese met May 3rd, 1854, in Trinity Church, San Francisco. But two Clergymen were present, the Rev. Orange Clark, D.D., late Chaplain of the U. S. Marine Hospital, and the Rev. C. B. Wyatt, (the only parochial clergyman in the Diocese,) of Trinity Church, San Francisco. There were lay delegates from three Churches, Trinity and Grace, San Francisco, (I had taken the rectorship of the latter,) and St. John's Church, Stockton. The first and most important business was to place the Church in this Diocese in a proper attitude towards the Church general in our country. I therefore brought this forward in my address:--
"In concluding this address, my brethren of the clergy and laity, I would ask to call your attention to one point connected with the organization of the Church in this Diocese. You are aware that the application for admission to the General Convention, at the late meeting of that body, was not favorably received, nor were the delegates from this Diocese admitted to seats, on the ground that there was no provision in your Constitution, or in the resolutions requesting admission for your delegates, which subscribed to the Constitution and Government of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. The omission of this clause was, of course, inadvertent, and, it seems to me, that the very application to be admitted into union, was ipso facto a declaration of your assent to the Constitution of the Church general. So, however, it was not regarded by the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies, and your admission, therefore, into union with the Church at the East was necessarily postponed until the meeting of the next General Convention.
"There is nothing, that I can discover, in the Constitution of the Church here, which impeaches the validity of its past action or its present organization as a Diocese. To prevent, however, any further mis-construction and to remove any obstacles which may thus exist in the way of our entire union with our brethren at the East, would it not be well for you to remedy this omission in your Constitution? I would, therefore, submit this question as a subject for your consideration. In that mighty conflict which the Church finds each year gathering more closely about it, the sources of its strength are the ties which link together those who are fighting under the same banner and whose cry amid the strife is, 'Who is on the Lord's side?' While, therefore, we are seeking to brighten once more the chain of brotherhood which unites us to our Mother Church beyond the seas, doubly pleasant is it to strengthen every tie which binds us to the altars in our own land, where once we worshipped, and where our earliest vows were uttered.''
A committee was thereupon appointed,--consisting of the Bishop, Rev. Dr. Clark, Rev. Mr. Wyatt, and D. S. Turner, Esq.,--who reported an addition to the proper article in the Constitution, by which this omission was supplied. And then the Church in this Diocese was prepared to take its proper place in the Church in our country.