Project Canterbury

The Nashotah Mission of the American Church

From The Colonial Church Chronicle and Missionary Journal, Vol. II (No. XXIV) (June, 1849), pages 446-450.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2007



THE well-being and extension of the American Church cannot fail to interest deeply all English Churchmen. There are ties between us which draw us closely together, though many a lonely league of the "Oceanus dissociabilis" be stretched between us: we are sprung of the same stock, we offer the same prayers and in the same English tongue, and if the honour of Seabury's Consecration was, to our shame, yielded to the sister Church of Scotland, yet his colleagues, White, Provoost, and Madison, received their Commission at Lambeth. It is not that we love other Churches less; but there is no Donatism in loving these more. Therefore, we may especially be glad and thankful to see the unequivocal signs of vigour which the Nashotah Mission exhibits; a sample, we trust, of the manner in which the Missionary work is done by the American Church elsewhere.

In the triangle formed by the vast lakes Superior and Michigan, and the Upper Mississippi, is included the territory of Wisconsin. Eight years ago, the only inhabitants, besides the Aborigines, were a few backwoodsmen who had come westward to escape the poverty of over-crowded cities; but in this short time the whole face of the country has been changed by the perpetual influx of new settlers, and the territory has become one of the States of the Union. Happily the work of the Church began while the field was thinly peopled, and has been continued with remarkable success. "In 1847," says the Report of the Diocese of Wisconsin to the General Convention, "we organize, as a Diocese, with 22 settled and working Clergymen; with 25 organized parishes; and 2,744 individuals enrolled on parish registers; with 969 communicants; with 407 children under catechetical instruction. You will further perceive that 1,123 persons, including infants and adults, have been baptized; that 393 have been confirmed; that $1,614 have been contributed for charitable purposes, and that $28,400 have been expended in the erection of places for public worship. Constituted now a Diocese, and entering upon a glorious career, with a Bishop elect, the choice of all, the happiest results are anticipated." When we recollect that in 1841 there were but seven Clergymen and two or three churches, we can but wish that the needs of our increasing population were as well met in England.

But it is rather to the way in which this work has been done, and is doing, that we would call our readers' attention. The main instrument, under God, by which the good seed has been sown, and carefully tended, is the Mission-school, or Brotherhood (so it is called) of Nashotah. It was founded by its [446/447] present head, the Rev. James Lloyd Breck, who came with two companions in 1841 into Wisconsin, then, as we have said, little better than a wilderness. No doubt they bore in mind, "If one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken." [1] [Eccles. iv. 12.] They remembered how the seventy went out two and two, and returned with great joy, and they trusted that the more closely they could imitate those first Missionaries, the more they might look for the blessing of their common Master. Accordingly, their plan has been to have a home to which they might return from their circuits, which should serve also as a School for the education of candidates for Holy Orders, and consequently as a standard and encouragement for the rest of the Diocese. At home their operations are of this kind: the Brotherhood wait upon themselves, and being accustomed, most of them, to agriculture, make a small farm attached to the Mission very productive; it is good that they who have chosen the rough path of Missionary life should learn to take harder living as their ordinary lot. Daily Service is observed, not without the beauty of music, and discipline is strictly kept: no one at any time of the year is allowed to be absent over two weeks at a time, and those who are not candidates or teachers, over one week. In September of last year they had twenty-eight students upon the ground, and more were expected to join in the winter. The young Brethren aid in teaching some of their own body, and conduct (four of them for three hours a-day each) a parish school, numbering sixty pupils; and they do this work so well that youths are sent from the towns on Lake Michigan, a considerable distance, and are boarded in families living on the Mission grounds, in order that they may have the advantage of this education under Mr. Breck's supervision. There were sixteen of these boarders last September, and Mr. Breck, with the ready tact of a man who turns all his materials to the best account, is training them as a nucleus for an Academical department, which will occupy buildings situated apart from those allotted to the Theological students, but under constant superintendence day and night. In the summer, the strictly Missionary labours of the Nashotah Clergy commence; study is for a while suspended, and it appears that part of the Brotherhood attend more exclusively to the work of their farm, while the Clergy set forth on their journeys. Like another band of Israelites, their way lies through the wilderness; like them, they go out "harnessed;" but with the peaceful armour of righteousness, as warriors of the Cross; and like them they carry their Tent; dispel, wherein [447/448] they may offer the morning and evening sacrifice of prayer and praise; and though the pillar of cloud and of fire goes not before them, nor rests visibly on their Tabernacle, yet in very truth the unseen armies of God are about them, and HE HIMSELF as certainly present as when His glory shone most brightly on the Mercy-seat. Thus they take their journey from one lonely settlement to another;--

"And where, at dawn, the prairie fox did bark,
    Are heard, at night, sweet canticle and chaunt:
Where sung before no choirist, but the lark,
    Ring out the Church's anthems jubilant." [1] [Coxe's Christian Ballads, p. 147.]

Welcome they are to all; for when sound words, and prayers, and rites are rare, they are prized; their coming is longed for by converts, and by hardy backwoodsmen, by parents of unbaptized children, by new comers, and by more familiar faces; and many a hearty "God speed" is bidden them when, after the next morning has heard the "sweet canticle and chaunt" again offered, the tent is struck, and the Missionaries move onwards. They have sent from Nashotah lay-readers, licensed by the Bishop, to different stations, three of whom have been ordained to serve the people among whom they had been working. The Report quoted above, speaks thus in testimony of the Missionaries educated in this school of the prophets:--"Their untiring efforts in the cause of our Master; their self-devotion, zeal, and perseverance, under impoverished circumstances, prove them to have been taught that uncomplaining self-denial is one of the first duties of a Christian Minister; while their presenting the Church as she is in the Liturgy is an evidence of the soundness of their faith." Those who have been accustomed to go barefoot are not afraid to walk on flints.

Their success among the Red Indians of the Oneida tribes, hitherto, it is believed, almost impenetrable by any attempts to Christianize them, has been remarkable; and of Europeans they number among their communicants Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, Swiss, and, which comes nearer home to us, Welshmen; while nearer still, there has been organized a parish composed of English Dissenters, who have by the efforts of a lay-reader become Churchmen. Next month it is our intention to print a most interesting letter by Mr. Breck, which we have received, entering into some particulars of the Mission with a freshness and simplicity which we cannot induce ourselves to spoil by presenting it in a mutilated form.

It is much to be wished that the Missionary Societies formed by members of the Church here in England, would follow [448/449] the good example of kindred societies in America. The first Missionary Society there was originated by the present Bishop of Missouri, [1] [Dr. Jackson Kemper; the sketch of his domestic life which appeared in the first volume of this Journal (p. 221), is a good companion picture to Mr. Breck's letter.] in 1812, "for the advancement of Christianity in Pennsylvania;" in 1820, a more extensive Society was composed, to meet, as well as might be, the increasing calls at home and abroad. The government of it was strictly according to that Apostolic rule, "Let nothing be done without the Bishop." Its state, however, was but feeble for several years, when a few active Clergymen and laymen made great efforts, and with very encouraging success. At last, in 1835, at the General Convention, it was ordered by the joint action of the Society and of the two Houses of Convention, that it should be re-organized according to a plan which is now in force, and not likely to be superseded. Every baptized person is a member of the Society; in other words, it is co-extensive with the Church, and thus is asserted that much-forgotten principle, that the Faith is given to men in trust for others. The General Convention, at its triennial meetings, appoints a Board of thirty members, who with the bishops, are called the "Board of Missions," meeting annually, which Board appoints a Committee of four Clergymen, and four laymen for domestic, and a similar one for foreign Missions. Every Bishop has a right to attend the meetings of the Committees. The Board appoints for each Committee a Secretary, and a general Agent; the business of the latter being to collect information, conduct correspondence, and devise plans of operation, subject of course to the Committee's approval. No Clergyman can be appointed to a Mission without his Bishop's recommendation, nor of course sent to officiate in any Diocese, without the Diocesan's sanction. Thus by judicious subdivision of responsibility and labour, the whole of the work is directly done by the Church: and funds are supplied by the Offertory, a practice revived by Bishop Doane, in 1833, and certainly the best means of collecting (to say nothing of its Apostolical origin), at least to secure permanency. That which is happily called "the religious world," must have some kind of excitement to live upon: while it needs the sustaining principle of steady-mindedness, (sofrosunh,) to induce a man to keep on, month by month, or week by week, laying by for one object. By this systematic method of contribution and government, the American Church has a unity of operation which cannot fail to produce continued fruit.

And the steady and quiet extension of the Church in [449/450] Wisconsin is doubtless to be numbered among the fruits of the establishment of the "Board of Missions." But it would be withholding praise, where praise is due, to forget how much Wisconsin owes to Mr. Breck. He gave himself in heart and intention to the work when quite young, and when the time came he "hated" his father and mother, and left the many comforts and refinements which wealthy American homes can supply. He has been allowed to see--what would be dangerous to a heart less well regulated than his--the seed he has sown grow up into a plentiful harvest. And what is the secret of his success? No doubt, the simple straightforwardness of a mind which knows it is at God's work, and never dreams of doubting that HE will give or withhold visible blessing as seemeth HIM fit; no doubt, the absence of self; no doubt, his faithful unwavering prayers, and whatever can be included in one word, Faith. But there is one principle besides all these, the want of which goes far to mar the good they would work: yet it is much forgotten. He has taught positively, not saying, "That is an error; avoid it," but, "This is the Truth; follow it." Teaching, which depends almost for its very existence on controversy, will not lead to the most excellent gift of charity, it destroys the singleness of mind and purpose, needful to all Christians, but especially to Missionaries; to honest and good hearts it is, at least, unsatisfying; and, if it prove not repulsive, will turn their sweet into bitter. Those who have read, as all should, the Bishop of New Zealand's Charge, will remember how he deprecates controversy; his course is a kindred one to Mr. Breck's, and we doubt not that the success of both is attributable, in a great measure, under GOD, to the same positive teaching. [1] [See pp. 22-27 of the Bishop's Charge. We cannot forbear quoting his words in two places. "Of controversy I would say in general, that it is the bane of the Gospel among a heathen people." "The simple course seems to be, to teach truth rather by what it is than by what it is not. Let us give our converts the true standard, and they will apply it themselves to the discovery and contradiction of error."] That it has been Mr. Brook's principle our readers shall judge next month from his own letter, not indeed from any distinct avowal that such is his principle, but from the undesigned evidence which the entire absence of any controversial spirit supplies.

Project Canterbury