Project Canterbury

Early Days of My Episcopate
by the Right Rev. William Ingraham Kip, D.D.

New York: T. Whittaker, 1892.

Chapter XIX. The Special Convention

THERE is a grave defect in our present canon on Missionary Bishops. When six presbyters have been one year in a Missionary Jurisdiction as parish priests, they may organize a Diocese and elect their own Bishop. They may choose the Missionary Bishop who has been over them or not, as they please. If, through prejudice or intrigue, his own clergy decline to retain him as their permanent Bishop, they place him before the Church as unfit for the office in which he has been tried. Professionally, therefore, he is ruined.

Almost invariably, too, a frontier Diocese is one to which unruly and unworthy clergymen have resorted, as most removed from the reach of Episcopal authority. Over these he must exercise discipline; yet as soon as he attempts it, he arrays them against him and they at once look forward to the approaching election as the opportunity for retaliation. As six clergy are sufficient to elect, it places the matter in the hands of a very small clique. Four men combining against their Missionary Bishop can drive him from the Diocese.

Our venerable pioneer, Bishop Kemper, the first Missionary Bishop appointed, had this experience. After the whole North-west had gradually been formed into dioceses, and Indiana, Missouri, and Iowa, cut off from his jurisdiction by electing Bishops of their own, he was narrowed down to Minnesota and Wisconsin. In the latter State his residence had always been fixed. Here, therefore, a party intrigued to elect a diocesan Bishop of another shade of Churchmanship. Clergymen were sent in to it from the East, and every step taken to ensure a majority. The friends of Bishop Kemper discovered the plots, and at the next Convention elected him Bishop, insisting upon his acceptance. It was after my coming to California that I received a letter from him mentioning these facts, and stating that to preserve the peace of the Diocese, in fact to prevent himself from being driven out of it, he was obliged to accept the office of Diocesan of Wisconsin.

From his letter, dated "Lake Superior, Aug. 10th, 1855," I make some extracts: "They collected many hundreds to induce men to come to my Mission to accomplish their object. I can however rejoice, even in advancing old age, that the Lord reigneth and that no weapon formed against this Church or the purity thereof shall prosper. . . My all but determination never to retire from the Missionary field was really altered by these intrigues. The efforts were begun in Wisconsin, and the candidate even named for its Episcopate. Then, at the solicitation of the clergy, I consented to accept."

Four or five years have now passed, and when I look back upon these schemes, (of which I heard at this time from other sources), so disgraceful and unchristian, I realize how time has rectified all these evils. Even the "candidate for the Episcopate" who suffered himself to be involved in this matter has now been for two years in his grave. What would he have gained had he succeeded?

To remedy this, the canon should be amended to provide that when a Missionary Jurisdiction attains sufficient strength to organize as a Diocese, the Missionary Bishop may continue in charge as Diocesan if he so elect, as now the Assistant Bishop succeeds the Bishop of a Diocese. This would place a Missionary Bishop in an independent position, and by freeing him from the influence of intriguing clergy and future elections, would enable him to enforce the proper authority of his office. Such an amendment was passed by the House of Bishops in the General Convention of 1853, but was thrown out by the Lower House in their jealousy of the authority of the Bishops.

My own experience was very much the same as Bishop Kemper's. Before I had been two years in the Diocese, I found myself surrounded by a network of plots. Any little disaffection arising in consequence of my official acts, which if left to itself would soon have died away, was seized on and fostered to give it strength. In two instances where clergy had difficulties with their vestries, and where justice compelled me to decide unfavorably to them, their influence was at once enlisted against me.

When Convention met in 1856, these schemes, although they exerted no influence, had gone so far that as soon as the session was over, I felt it necessary to crush them out. One of the clergy engaged in them was presented for trial for falsehood and slander, and was suspended from the ministry. The testimony at the trial, placed in my hands full proof of the conspiracy and forever ended it. Some months afterwards, I removed his sentence, and he returned to the East. The other two who were involved with him, left the Diocese, and from that time all was peace.

The clergy took precisely the same course which had been adopted by their brethren in Wisconsin. They determined to elect me Diocesan Bishop at once, and thus remove all occasion of scheming. As I expected to return to the East in April, and could not therefore be at the annual Diocesan Convention which met in May following, it was resolved that I should be asked to call a Special Convention to meet before my departure. I accordingly received the following request:--


Missionary Bishop of California:

RIGHT REVEREND AND DEAR SIR:--The undersigned, Presbyters and Lay Members of the Church in California, respectfully request of you to call a Special Convention of the Diocese of California, at as early a date as may be convenient for you to preside in the same.

San Francisco, Nov. 5th, 1856.
Rev. James W. Capen, Rev. Frederick W Hatch, D.D. Rev. Edmund D. Cooper, Rev. William H. Hill, Rev. Orange Clark, D.D., Rev. David P. Macdonald. Rev. Elijah W. Hager, Rev. J. Avery Shepherd, Rev. John L. Ver Mehr, LL. D.


Christ Church, Auburn.--E. D. Hopkins, John Russell.
Emmanuel Church, Coloma.--George Searle, P. B. Fox, H. W. Miller.
Emmanuel Church, Grass Valley.--Melville Atwood, G. A. Montgomery, St. George Scarlett, C. J. Lansing, James Walsh.
Grace Church, Sacramento.--J. F. Montgomery, M.D., C. Theo. Hopkins, Jos. W. Winans, P. B. Cornwall, O. I. Hutchinson, F. W. Hatch, Jr., L. F. Reed, Jas. L. English, J. B. Harmon, Samuel Youngs, Jno. S. Bein.
Grace Church, San Francisco.--David S. Turner, J. D. Farwell, Stephen Smith, E. J. Vandewater, Wm. Blanding, Kenneth McLea.
Church of the Sacraments, Sacramento.--Henry Hare Hartley, Charles D. Judah, Thos. M. Logan, M. D.
St. John's Church, Oakland.--John F. Schander, Andrew Williams, Rob't Worthington, E. A. Suwerkrop.
St. John's Church, Stockton.--E. K. Eastman, B. Walker Bours, John Ferris, B,. Manning, Allen Lee Bours, Lewis M. L. Hickman.
St. John's Church, Marysville.--W. Wilson Smith, W. P. Thompson, John W. Reins.
St. Paul's Church, Bcnicia.--Paul K. Hubbs, Joseph Tuttle, John Currey, Eugene Van Ness, U. S. A., T. Jefferson Cram, U. S. A.
Trinity Church, Nevada.--Chas. W. Mulford, Thos. H. Caswell, J. H. Gager.
Trinity Church, Folsom.--A. C. Donaldson, James S. Meredith.

From a feeling of delicacy, I hesitated some time before I complied with this petition, well knowing that their object was my own election. I received, however, so many private requests from the laity of the Diocese, who took the ground, that the wish was so nearly unanimous that I had no right to refuse it, that finally, December 5th, I called the Convention to meet February 5th, 1857.

It accordingly met in Grace Church, Sacramento. The sermon at the opening of the Convention was preached by the Rev. Dr. Hatch, the oldest clergyman in the Diocese. After the preliminary exercises, I made the following address:--


"For the first time since the organization of the Church in this Diocese, you have been called to assemble as a Special Convention. So widely are our parishes separated that I realize what great personal sacrifice both clergy and laity make to gather at any one place in this diocese, especially at this season when facilities for travel are diminished. I would not, therefore, without some urgent reason, issue any summons which should call you together.

"In the present case, however, I am relieved of all responsibility. In the end of November, I received a request 'to call a Special Convention of the Diocese of California at as early a date as might be convenient for me to preside in the same.' A copy of this paper will be handed to the Secretary to be published in the Convention report. This request was signed by every clergyman now in the Diocese having a seat in Convention, and by members of the vestry of every Parish (with one exception), in union with the Convention. [Of the only clergymen in any way connected with the Diocese whose names were not signed, one was absent in the Atlantic States, and the other suspended.] Members of the vestries of two other Parishes, which had been organized since the last Annual Convention, and which have just asked for admission into the Diocese, had also added their names. [Christ Church, Auburn, and Trinity Church, Folsom.] In complying, therefore, with this request, I felt that I was responding to the almost unanimous voice of the Diocese.

"There was, in addition, my brethren, another consideration of a personal nature to myself, which caused this request to harmonize with my own views and feelings. It will not be in my power to be with you at the Annual Convention of the Diocese in May next. An absence of now more than three years from my former residence at the East, renders it necessary that I should be there in the end of May, to attend to some matters of private business. I shall be obliged, therefore, to return to the Atlantic States (Providence permitting), by the steamer of April 20th. I am happy, therefore, to avail myself of this opportunity to meet you once more united as a council of the Church.

"Notices were issued on the 5th of December for the Special Convention, and this day was chosen, thus affording two months for the preparation and careful consideration of any business which it may be judged expedient to bring before you.

"And now, brethren, I commend you, in all your deliberations, to Him 'who by His Holy Spirit did preside in the councils of the blessed Apostles, and has promised, through His Son Jesus Christ, to be with His Church to the end of the world.'"

Calling the Rev. Dr. Clark to the chair, I then left the Convention. After appointing a committee to bring in a report on the power of the Diocese to elect and the expediency of doing so, the Convention adjourned till evening.

In the evening, the committee reported in the affirmative on both points submitted to them, and it was determined at once to proceed to the election. The choice was unanimous, both with the clergy and laity, nine clergymen being present and nine parishes represented.

I was at that time the guest of John B. Harmon, Esq., and at about nine o'clock in the evening, he drove up to his house to say, that the election was over and the members of the Convention desired that I should return to their meeting. As I entered the church they all rose, and when I reached the chancel the election was announced to me by the Rev. Dr. Clark. I then made them an address of which this was the substance:--

"Called, my brethren, by your request, to meet you once more in this Convention, I am happy to avail myself of the opportunity to thank you for the mark of confidence you have given by the unanimous election which your President has just announced to me. It is not the mere absence of any dissenting voice which causes me to regard it with so much satisfaction. It is the hearty feeling which has characterized all your proceedings, and which, since the first calling of this Convention, has been displayed in the expressions volunteered to me, not by the clergy only, but by the laity also, in every part of the Diocese. You have now officially placed on record a declaration of these feelings, and I regard the manner in which it has been done as a compensation for the labors and trials incident to this office, during the last three years.

"This endorsement of the course I have pursued is the more valuable from the peculiar circumstances in which we have been placed. I have no hesitation in saying, that the difficulties which surround us in laying the foundation of the Church in this portion of the Pacific coast, are without a parallel in any other region of our country. We have a population, earnest and intellectual, gathered from every quarter of the world in the last few years, as yet strangers to each other, and engaged in the hot and eager struggle after gain.

"This is a land of intellect, yet of intellect devoted to this world's purposes. It is a land of gold, yet but little of the gold thereof is consecrated to the service of Him whose are the treasures for which men dig and delve. Few, too, will interest themselves in the great interests of the country, for the majority have little intention of founding here their permanent home. Yet to this population, so excitable and fluctuating, we are to bring the gospel, and ours is the task to endeavor to mould them into a united and Christian people.

"But if these things render the work difficult to you who minister in holy things, the difficulties are doubly increased which gather around him who is to act as your Bishop. He is to be the arbiter in every dispute, and the reference for every complaint; and if he cannot remove every evil, remedy every disappointment, and obviate difficulties which are often the result of the folly or the inefficiency of the sufferers, he is denounced as not worthily discharging his high duties. Unlike an old community, there is here no established Churchmanship, or even settled religious tone, on which he can fall back.

"The spirit of insubordination, too, which reigns around us is liable even to infect the Church. There is a constant need of discipline, and yet the very authority to enforce that discipline must be vindicated against the unruly and the evil. In such a state of things how difficult becomes the duty (inculcated upon him in the consecration service,) to 'be so merciful, that he be not too remiss,' to 'so minister discipline, that he forget not mercy!'

"Under these circumstances, my brethren, more than three years have passed. They have been the most important years of this Diocese, when the foundation of the Church has been laid, and those principles have been settled, (sometimes not without contest,) which are to guide us in our future course. And now, that your unanimous vote has stamped the approval of the Diocese upon my administration in the past, I feel that it is a pledge for your support, should we be fellow laborers in coming days. And what I have been, you will always find me. The warfare in which we are engaged is one of principle, and from that I cannot swerve. Should opposition arise, I can only say to the gainsayer--'With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment; he that judgeth me is the Lord.

"With regard to my acceptance, it is impossible for me at present to give an answer. The decision of this question depends upon considerations which cannot be settled here. On my return to the East I shall be able to determine; and should it be the will of Providence that we are again to be fellow laborers in this land, I trust when the summer months have passed, we shall be found ' with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel.'"

During the summer, the election was confirmed by the Bishops and Standing Committees of the different Dioceses, and then the Church matters of California settled down into a peace which to the present time has remained unbroken.

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