Grafton and the 21st Century
  • Monday, May 12, 2014

By R. William Franklin

In the spring of 1969, I came to Fond du Lac as a Northwestern University student to do research on Bishop Charles Chapman Grafton in the diocesan archives. My subject was the Belgian Old Catholic communities in Door County with specific reference to Grafton’s deposition of the later wandering archbishop, J. René Vilatte. I was attracted to Fond du Lac by clerical scandal, but I went back to Evanston transfixed by Grafton’s vision of mission in changing times. This reflection returns to that seed planted: Grafton’s vision of the mission of a diocese and a diocesan bishop, particularly in times of crisis, and how that vision is applicable to the crises of the Episcopal Church today.

I studied next at Harvard, where my Anglo-Catholicism was nurtured, as was Grafton’s. Grafton was born in Boston in 1830. At the age of 14 he was attending the Church of the Advent, which became the principal center of the Oxford Movement in New England. As a student at Harvard Grafton regularly walked from Cambridge to the church, fasting on the way because of his belief in the real presence of our Lord in the blessed sacrament. The Tractarian who most deeply influenced Grafton was E.B. Pusey, and in 1850 Grafton had already purchased Pusey’s Paradise of the Christian Soul.

From September 1833 John Henry Newman fashioned the Tracts for the Times into instruments for a second, Catholic reformation. Newman upheld the Church of England as a “divine” or “ecclesial” institution with a social mission. In the Tracts Newman revived the notion of a communal dimension of the Church as the firmest bulwark against “all-corroding, all-dissolving skepticism.”

From 1833 to 1882 Pusey strove to recover a communal dimension of Anglicanism through revival of eucharistic worship linked to a campaign for building parishes in the industrial cities of England. In this way Pusey opposed loud voices claiming to represent biblical faith, which were attacking the sacraments and propagating the notion that their type of preaching should be at the heart of Christian worship. Against a one-sided Puritan spirituality that had deprecated the body and its senses and portrayed material externals as signs of hypocrisy in religion, Pusey held up the sacramental life as the noble heritage of the community of Christ.

For disciples of Pusey, soon known as Puseyites, the Eucharist gave new significance to earth as well as to eternity, to matter and to spirit. In Puseyite parishes justice began to flow from the Eucharist: funds for workers’ compensation, funds for worthy burial, and distribution centers for clothing, food, and other necessities. From 1840 to 1889, the bond between worship and social justice was dramatized in Puseyite parishes in commercial districts. Bishop Grafton brought this tradition to Fond du Lac and Wisconsin in 1889.

Following the Civil War, Grafton traveled to England, where he remained until 1870. He is best known for founding during these years the Society of St. John the Evangelist, the Cowley Fathers, with Richard Meux Benson and Simeon Wilberforce O’Neill, the first Anglican religious order for men since the Reformation, which provided further expression of the communal dimension of Puseyism. And Grafton also learned the missional model of Puseyism, particularly its social dimension, which he believed to be the effective way of operating a parish in an industrial, democratic society. He later wrote: “One object I had in mind in going to England in 1865 was to study the new methods of parochial work” (Grafton, A Journey Godward of a Servant of Jesus Christ [1910]). During the cholera epidemic of 1866 he served with Pusey in the East End of London, taking the Blessed Sacrament to the sick and dying. And, along with Father O’Neill, Grafton organized the first great London mission in which 140 parishes took part and more than 60,000 people attended services. There were two goals, which would emerge again in the Diocese of Fond du Lac: drawing clergy of different schools together and preaching the fundamental truths of the gospel in language that people could understand, and by this means seeking to win souls to Christ. Grafton saw the revolutionary Christian humanism of Puseyism. As he wrote:

The Movement, of which Dr. Pusey was the center, sought the elevation of mankind and, filled with the love of God, it glowed with an enthusiasm for humanity. It declared that all men were equal before God, and strove to make the sittings in the churches free. ... The Church is all aglow with enterprises ameliorating the condition of labor, making all classes, rich and poor, feel their interdependence, and their duties to one another.... Let us go out of ourselves and live for other men. O! Christian friends and brothers, as we read the lives of these great devoted Churchmen and servants of Christ, shall not our hearts be stirred afresh within us to do something more for the Master’s sake, and press on the Kingdom? (Grafton, Pusey and the Church Revival [1902], pp. 28081)

In 1969 these words of Grafton attracted me as a revolutionary Christian response to an age of revolution. In the age of the Vietnam War, I was facing the draft and didn’t know if I would be shipped far from home. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy had both been assassinated, and our great cities were burning. Even Harvard blew up in the student occupation of University Hall, the police bust of Harvard Yard, and all the chaos that followed.

Much that I held to be sacred seemed to be falling apart, including the university and our nation. And yet the Episcopal Church seemed a solid rock. We had 3,615,643 members. Dwight Zscheile writes of that era:

The Episcopal Church saw its role and purpose in sanctifying society from the center, with access to power and privilege. While other mainline denominations built large churches in the capital during this period, only Episcopalians would presume to call theirs the National Cathedral. In the words of Ian Douglas, the Episcopal Church saw itself as “a chosen people among an elect nation.” (People of the Way: Renewing Episcopal Identity [2012], p. 24)

This is no longer true. We now have fewer than two million members. As Bishop Douglas observes:

Seemingly innumerable congregations are struggling with declining membership while precariously eating away at their endowments in order to maintain buildings and programs that serve increasingly fewer and fewer people. The loss of the national church ideal has resulted in a crisis of identity for the Episcopal Church. It is a cruel irony that the icon of the national church ideal, namely the Washington National Cathedral, has recently been shaken both figuratively and literally to its foundations.” (Foreword, People of the Way, pp. xiv-xv)

I arrived in Western New York in 2010 to find a diocese that had lost 40 percent of its members in the previous decade. The diocesan staff had been reduced to four full-time and two part-time officers. Fewer than half of our parishes are served by a full-time priest. I have sought to translate Bishop Grafton’s vision of how a bishop and a diocese can respond to such a crisis.

After serving as rector of the Church of the Advent in Boston for 16 years, Grafton was elected Bishop of Fond du Lac in November 1888. His consents were not refused like those of James De Koven. Grafton’s success in the episcopal consent process owed largely to the support of Bishop Horatio Potter of the Diocese of New York. Grafton described Potter as “a broad, liberal, ecclesiastical statesman” who “seemed best to understand my position of being an Evangelical at heart, while in belief a liberal Catholic” (Journey Godward, p. 159). Phillips Brooks, rector of Trinity Church in Boston, who would soon have a battle over consents when he was elected Bishop of Massachusetts, gave consent for Grafton while serving on the diocese’s standing committee.

Grafton felt the call to Fond du Lac was imperative, to what was practically a missionary district, not unlike Pusey’s mission field in the East End of London and industrial Leeds, but the situation was worse than that. We speak today of the “missional church” at a time of economic and demographic decline. That is exactly what the Diocese of Fond du Lac faced in 1889. Grafton’s predecessor, Bishop John Henry Hobart Brown (who was younger than Grafton, who was nearing 60 at his election), had broken down “under strain of worry and work.” He “fell like a soldier shot down at his post” (Journey Godward, p. 160). Out of 33 clergy, only 18 were actively engaged in ministry. Twenty parishes or missions were without clergy. In the whole diocese only nine parishes were self-supporting, and 40 were at mission status and needed support. In a number of small towns, missions no longer held services at all, and people did not even care that services be resumed. Fond du Lac’s cathedral was forlorn following a terrible fire, empty, and had a $15,000 debt. Bishop Brown had once said that he was the first Bishop of Fond du Lac, and might be the last.

There were reasons for this disaster.

First, as Grafton wrote, “poverty was everywhere,” in a region of economic decline (Journey Godward, p. 154). The pine trees had mostly been cut down, and the lumber industry was moving west. Lumber interests had built up small towns, with their little Episcopal churches, but now “the timber kings” departed, taking their money.

Second, Belgian and Czech immigrant labor had been imported into many small towns to work in the woods, cutting trees, and in the timber mills. But the immigrant population could hardly cope when the lumber jobs moved. They had little or no skills. They could not become farmers. They became unemployed and declined into hard circumstances.

Third, many lumber barons had paid for and run small Episcopal churches. There was little or no tradition of stewardship, so when the barons left, the remaining population focused on their own business enterprises and struggled for family maintenance. Grafton wrote: “The duty and privilege of giving to God, in the way of supporting His Church, was little appreciated” (Journey Godward, p. 163).

These three points almost completely describe the economic and demographic context of Diocese of Western New York today, faced with the decline of the steel and car manufacturing industries and the Erie Canal in the last 60 years. Then and now, what is to be done?

At first Bishop Grafton tried preaching in Eastern Seaboard churches to gain funds for his diocese. On the first occasion he collected $9 (about $225 in 2014 dollars). On a second occasion one man gave him $10 as he shook his hand at the end of the service (Journey Godward, p. 164). The only way to proceed was to change.

Grafton showed faith in the presence of God in the Church. He stopped looking down at his shoes, thinking it was his burden to sustain the Church, and started looking up in thanksgiving for God’s presence, which alone would assure its future. Grafton wrote:

I was in no way disheartened. I had a very rich Father. He owned the whole universe. I was His child, and I knew He would give me all that was needed. To share, however, in Christ’s riches, one must share in His poverty.... My religious training had accustomed me to go without comfort, and instead of keeping house I took two rooms and boarded at ten dollars a week. This left me something financially to work with.... All that I am and all that I have belongs to God.... I must only take out of His treasury sufficient to meet the proper expenses of food, raiment, traveling expenses, and shelter. The diocese was poor, but for that reason I had been sent to it. (Journey Godward, p. 153)

Second, he had confidence in tradition. As he wrote: “In the Anglican Church I heard a living Voice, declaring the ancient Faith, and possessed of the priesthood, the Sacraments, and the ancient worship of the Church. Thus I was led to adopt these two principles for my religious guidance. I believed wholly in Christ and in all He said, because He said it; and in His Church, because it was the living organism through which he spoke and communicated Himself to us” (Journey Godward, p. 59).

Third, he moved the diocese from establishment status to being a sent people, urging “adaptation or accommodations” (Journey Godward, p. 171). For instance, Grafton welcomed flexibility with Lutherans, for whom there was a “German Mission.” Thus, he did not require “adult Lutherans to come publicly forward for confirmation.” As he wrote: “They have already witnessed their belief in Christ before a Christian congregation. They have received, too, a pastoral blessing, which is good as far as it goes. On being admitted to our communion I have only asked them to come at a separate service and receive the laying on of the hands of a bishop, and so gain the grace of confirmation” (Journey Godward, p. 171).

Grafton also practiced parallel liturgical development with the Belgians. He was aware that 70 percent of the diocese’s population was made up of recent immigrants to the United States or their descendants in the second generation. He was willing to accept parallel liturgical developments to reach out to these groups. Former Roman Catholics, mostly Belgians, in Door County had become Old Catholics. Grafton followed his predecessor and permitted use of the Old Catholic liturgy from Switzerland in Belgian parishes that formed a sort of uniate church within the Diocese of Fond du Lac. The clergy serving these parishes took a canonical oath to the Bishop of Fond du Lac, who made annual visitations to Old Catholic Missions for confirmation. But in doing so he made use of their liturgy.

One of these Belgian churches is the Church of the Precious Blood, formed in 1885 with a building completed in 1889 in Gardner Township, Wisconsin. It was so named to emphasize that, unlike Roman Catholic practice of the time, the parish gave Communion in both kinds. The early clergy were ordained by Old Catholics. Precious Blood was known as an Old Catholic congregation in both name and ritual but it was, from its founding, a mission outreach of the Episcopal Diocese of Fond du Lac.

A second example came as Belgians moved into the city of Green Bay. In 1908, Bishop Grafton gave money to build a new church for Belgians on the north side industrial district, the Church of the Blessed Sacrament. The mission used the liturgy of the Old Catholic Church but was under the episcopal authority of the Bishop of Fond du Lac. For 45 years, services were then conducted in one of the two official languages of Belgium. Today, this congregation is the only Episcopal church that survives in the city limits of Green Bay.

Third, Bishop Grafton supported a large congregation for Native Americans on the Oneida Reservation, after it was relocated to Wisconsin from New York in the 1820s. This is the oldest continuing Indian Mission of the Episcopal Church, with roots back to Anglican missionaries in the early 1700s. For the use of this Native American mission church with the aid of Cornelius Hill, he translated and abbreviated a form of the Holy Communion into the Oneida language. A branch house of the Sisters of the Holy Nativity was established on the mission grounds for the purposes of teaching. A hospital was built to care for the needs of the Oneida people.

Beset by controversy and division, from first to last
Grafton never lost his confidence in the Church. In the words of James O.S. Huntington of the Order of the Holy Cross, preached at Grafton’s funeral:

Bishop Grafton believed in the Church, in which he ministered as one of its chief pastors, as a part of the mystical body of Christ. He knew her failings and defects, and he grieved over them. But he never despaired of her, never doubted that God was with her, never forgot that to her, as to his spiritual mother, he owed his birth into the family of God, and all the richest blessings of his life.

Thanks be to God, for the model bequeathed to us by Charles Chapman Grafton: ever rooted in tradition, ever open to the future, ever loyal to the Church.

The Rt. Rev. R. William Franklin is bishop of Western New York. This essay is adapted from a paper presented during a 2013 commemoration of Blessed Charles Chapman Grafton.

Bishop Grafton and the 21st Century


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