Preached at the annual gathering of the Anglican Military Ordinariate of the Canadian Armed Forces, Cornwall, Ontario, 6 June 2018
Texts for the Commemoration of Wliiiam Grant Broughton, First Anglican Bishop in Australia: Ephesians 3:14-21, Psalm 112:1-6, Matthew 7:24-29
“I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” Ephesians 3:16-17
When I first started coming to Cornwall, the preachers at the AMO (Anglican Military Ordinariate) eucharists were doddering old chaplains in the twilight of their careers. … I just never thought that that my turn would come so quickly.
Nevertheless, I was excited when I learned that I was to preach on the day of the commemoration of a pioneering colonial bishop. As a boy at St. John’s School of Alberta, I paddled in a voyageur canoe named Bishop Bompas, after the first Anglican Bishop of Selkirk. As a theology student, as part of my indoctrination into the heroes and legends of Wycliffe College, I learned the story of Isaac Stringer, famously known as the Bishop who ate his boots. As the second Bishop of Selkirk in the Yukon, Stringer escaped starvation during a long snowstorm by boiling and eating his sealskin boots. It sort of went without saying in the college ethos that any good Wycliffe grad would do the same for the sake of the gospel. Fortunately in my ministry I’ve never had to eat anything more than some ill-advised words or to have swallowed anything more than some pride, both of which are part of a good spiritual diet.
The William Broughton, who we commemorate today, was not however a heroic or especially eager colonial bishop. It’s true that not every bishop cuts an heroic, swashbuckling figure. In fact Broughton was one of those English country parsons that you find in a Trollope novel. A scholarly type, Broughton at first thought himself fortunate to gain the Duke of Wellington, the hero of Waterloo, as a patron. Sometimes however, a powerful patron can be a mixed blessing, because the Duke decided that Broughton should be the Archdeacon of New South Wales in Australia. Sometimes it’s stay grey in the shadows. Broughton doesn’t seem to have wanted this assignment very much – he said at the time that ‘there is no ground for congratulation on my appointment’. Furthermore, it appears that the Duke exaggerated the size of the stipend he would receive – in fact it just barely covered his expenses. Also, Broughton also discovered that what he thought would be a short posting was anything but – he would in fact stay for as long as the British government wanted, and it would in fact be his life’s work. Those of us who have ever been beguiled by the seductive words of a staff check during posting season can probably relate to him.
Despite being lame and dependent on a cane, Broughton was willing to travel the long outback circuits of his archdeaconry, frequently being away from his home and family in Sydney. The editors of For All the Saints certainly included him for his pastoral devotion, as well as for his diligent leadership. The choice of today’s gospel reading from Matthew, (7:24-29) with its image of a house solidly built on rock, would warm the heart of any church administrator. Broughton, like his contemporary Bishop Strachan in Upper Canada, laid the foundations for the Anglican church in England. He worked with missionary societies to recruit and train clergy to serve a small and scattered population. As the first Bishop of the colony he was a champion of education and built synodical structures for the church in Australia which would become a model for the communion.
So why is any of this important? As Rowan Williams has observed, church history is God’s history. The church across the ages, from generation to generation, is nothing less than God’s doing in the world. The church is not human activity, and sometimes the church flourishes despite us. William Broughton was a pioneer, but not all his plans were successful. His dream of an independent seminary in Sydney failed, and he was disappointed by the Crown’s hands-off attitude to the colonial church. In this respect, Broughton would have had much in common with his Canadian contemporary, Bishop Strachan. Both were high churchman in the political sense of wanting Anglicanism to be the national and established faith of the state, both were out of step with their age. There would be no established church for the colonies. Having lost these battles, both ended up believing that for the church to flourish, it must be solely dependent on the power and promises of God, on God’s word faithfully preached by a diligent and learned clergy, and on administrative and leadership talents of its bishops.
A perennial danger of our lives as clergy is to think that we are engaged in a human project, the success of which is largely based upon our efforts and skills. The annual exercise of the brag sheet reinforces this mindset, as does the accrual of coins, diplomas, commendations, decorations, promotions, and all the other bric a brac of the successful career in military chaplaincy. Were he here today, I am sure that Bishop Broughton would remind us that our business, if self-dedicated, is like the house built on the sand, soon washed away and forgotten.
In his first charge to his clergy in Australia in December 1829, Broughton spoke of the priest, as “ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God:a “ pledged by engagements so awful that every one of us by whom they are regarded with becoming seriousness must tremble, in [our] attempts to fulfil them, under a sense of [our] insufficiency”. Surely one of the great satisfactions and even inspirations of church history is realizing that others stood were we do now, contemplating the heavy spiritual lifts of the day, and realizing their own inadequacies but for the grace of God. Broughton went on in his charge to say that the only reason he could “with any degree of confidence undertake the duties with which I am here entrusted …was because of his “assured belief that God, whose Providence has guided my steps, will give me grace and power … faithfully to take the oversight of his church , and rightly to divide the word of truth unto all followers of Christ Jesus, our Lord”.
Today’s reading from Ephesians was surely one of the texts that Broughton was drawing on for this assurance. The Apostle Paul, so often accused of bombast and arrogance in our day, actually speaks of his profound dependence on the power of the gospel and the gift of grace to proclaim it. Our strength to get out of bed and put on the uniform, our faith in our vocations, our love for those who come to us for counselling – where could we find these things if they were not given to us by the Spirit? How terribly empty and tired we would be were we not “filled with all the fullest of God” (Eph 3.19).
In closing, let me fast forward from colonial Australia to very recent history, a hot afternoon in May in Hamilton as the church gathered to commend one of its own to God. Those of us privileged to be at the funeral of our brother Rob Fead heard Bishop Spence speak luminously of how Rob held up the light in the darkness, showing it to his parishioners, to his reserve regiment, to the friends and family of Nathan Cirillo, and to so many others. Rob was a strong man, but it was not his light, or his strength. It was the light of Christ, the love of God, and the strength of the Spirit that dwelled within Rob as gifts which enabled his remarkable ministry. Rob used them well, and now he has passed from our church to the church of the ages, to take his place with Broughton and Strachan and all the others, the heroic and the unlikely, who God has enabled and used for his good ends. So may it be said of us after our time, that God was able to accomplish in us “abundantly far more than all we [could] ask or imagine” and so “to [God] be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.”