Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Episcopal Bishops and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1865-1918

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Episcopal Bishops and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1865-1918

Article excerpt

The opening of the Great American West to Euro-American settlement in the years after the Civil War provided the Protestant Episcopal Church with a number of opportunities. Although the church had vied for second place among all Christian denominations at the onset of the American Revolution, by the late 1860s it claimed only about 160,000 communicants and had fallen to a distant sixth. This decline has largely been traced to the church's failure to conquer the ante-bellum frontier. Anglican high church theology emphasized the church (not the Christian state) as the chief visible society to proclaim grace, and this view placed it in theological and social opposition to much of pre-Civil War evangelical America.1 Moreover, unlike the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Protestant Episcopal Church sent out few "frontier" bishops, either north or south of the Ohio River. Rather, the church viewed the arrival of their bishops as the "last stage" of a region's development.2 Consequently, by mid-century the Episcopal population remained largely confined to the urban Northeast, the South Atlantic coast, and the small town aristocracy. Ante-bellum contemporaries acknowledged that the Episcopal church had little influence over the population at large.3 One historian even described them as an "ecclesiastical exotic."4

When the post-civil war frontier opened in the late 1860's, however, church leaders vowed not to repeat their earlier mistakes. On this second frontier, the missionary bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church genuinely led the way. A compilation of the most prominent late-nineteenth/early twentieth-century bishops would include such figures as William Ingraham Kip (California); Daniel Sylvester Tuttle (Montana, Idaho, Utah); George Maxwell Randall (Colorado); Ethelbert Talbot (Wyoming and Idaho); John F. Spaulding (Colorado); Benjamin Wistar Morris (Oregon, Washington); Franklin Spencer Spalding (Utah); William Walker (North Dakota); James B. Funsten (Idaho); and J. Mills Kendrick (Arizona and New Mexico). The list could easily be extended. These men arrived with the first Anglo-American settlers and in many ways helped shape the development of their regions.

Virtually without exception, these bishops formed a multi-talented group. They were well educated and generally effective organizers. Often from prominent families themselves, many maintained important contacts with wealthy co-religionists in eastern church circles. Faced with enormous dioceses, few western parishioners, and ever-pressing social needs, the western missionary bishops were forced to become very creative.

The heart of this creativity lay in their establishment of a variety of church-related institutions. When the bishops first arrived in the West, they confronted a society that lacked any institutional infrastructure. On a salary of approximately $3000 a year (with, perhaps, an additional $1500 for travel and $1500 for missionary work) the bishops attempted to supply this missing infrastructure. They did so by establishing the following: small parish churches; cathedrals, usually with a school, diocesan newspaper, and other organizations attached; theological schools; colleges, especially for women; an entire school system for Utah; dozens of hospitals, often linked with schools of nursing; and miscellaneous outreach programs, social clubs and orphanages. By the close of the First World War, many a western institution traced its origin to these Episcopal roots.5


Although exaggerated by the newspapers of the day, there is no doubt that many new western towns lacked even the semblance of social order. When Rev. G. D. B. Miller arrived in Boise in 1864, his first impressions were that "the street seemed to be paved with cards thrown out of the gambling saloons, and these seemed to be mostly the sort [of] buildings along the street...."6 The bodies of six recently hanged horse thieves greeted Rev. …

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