Sunday, April 3, 2016

Bishop Frank Weston (1871-1924) - a true apostle

This is my conflation and free adaptation of two historic essays on Bishop Weston - one by Desmond Morse-Boycott in Lead, Kindly Light: Studies of Saints and Heroes of the Oxford Movement, and the other by HFB Mackay from his Saints and Leaders. I also used H. Maynard Smith's Frank, Bishop of Zanzibar. As little as possible of the original style (which some might think quaint by modern standards!) has been altered - only what was necessary to merge passages together. It is along post . . . but it will inspire you!

Here are links to some of Bishop Frank Weston's writings:

The One Christ: An Enquiry into the Manner of the Incarnation. (1907)
Ecclesia Anglicana: For What Does She Stand?(1914)
The Case against Kikuyu: A Study in Vital Principles.  (1914)
Proposals for a Central Missionary Council of Episcopal and Non-Episcopal Churches in East Africa (1914)
Important Declaration from the Bishop of Zanzibar From the London Church Times, April 1, 1915.
The Fulness of Christ: An Essay (1916)
The Black Slaves of Prussia: An Open Letter Addressed to General Smuts (1918)
The Christ and His Critics: An Open Pastoral Letter to the European Missionaries of His Diocese (1919
Our Present Duty, Concluding Address, Anglo-Catholic Congress (1923)
In His Will: Retreat Addresses (1922)
In Defence of the English Catholic (1923)

Frank Weston appears first as a little boy in suburban middle-class surroundings, an affectionate, diffident, delicate child, very highly strung. His nerves bothered him all his life, his courage was not natural to him, but was the result of a disciplined will. He had an Evangelical upbringing and a beautiful mother. Meant for the Army, he failed to pass the eye test at Woolwich. 

That was the first stroke of his discipline; he felt it keenly. Weak sight hindered his reading and baulked his games. In all this, I expected the big round-shouldered, short-sighted, rather awkward Dulwich schoolboy was going through much more self-discipline than people knew. We are told that he went up to Trinity College, Oxford, old for his age, solemn, shy, and rather repelling in manner, all signs of inward suffering.

“Honestly,” he said afterwards, “I have never conceived it possible that anyone would care to like me.” With this agonizing diffidence about himself he combined an almost aggressive certainty about the validity of his beliefs.

But as often happens, the awkward, uncomfortable freshman found himself at Oxford, and grew into a keen, attractive, thoughtful, serious undergraduate. He and his friends formed a debating society, the Moles, and debated all objects under the sun. Frank became a Christian Socialist.

Then came a great night when Bishop Smythies, of Zanzibar, king among men, stood in the pulpit of St. Barnabas, and pleaded for Africa. Weston volunteered next day and was turned down by the doctor.

He spent three years in Oxford, reading theology, overworked desperately, got a good First in the schools, and went to the College Mission at Stratford in London’s East End in the spirit of adventure. Here his powers of leadership began to appear. He had a strong, quiet manner which won the confidence of the bigger boys who called him the Cardinal and made him their confidant.

It was the heyday of Christian Socialism and growing Anglo-Catholicism. Frank went from the College Mission to St. Matthew’s, Westminster.

Two sayings had always stuck in his mind.

When he was a boy at Dulwich, the Headmaster, one day said to him, a propos of nothing, “Weston, if Jesus Christ asked you to give Him your overcoat would you go and fetch Him your shabbiest?” Weston said, “No, sir,” and he proved as good as his word. And when he was at Stratford and was speaking one night in Oxford about the Anglo-Catholic desire to “build Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land,” a Don said to him, “Weston, do you believe in the heavenly Jerusalem?”

“Yes,” said Weston.

“I wish I did,” said the Don; “and if I did I don’t think I should talk about anything else.”

The saying shook Weston’s mind into a new perspective. After sorting his ideas, praying and meditating and developing his work as a priest in the orderly devotional atmosphere of St. Matthew’s, he volunteered again for Central Africa, was accepted and went out to Zanzibar.

He went out with the highest ideals, and with theories to put to the test of experience. When he got out he found himself dissatisfied at every turn. He thought the life and discipline of the mission was too relaxed. He was to train some of the teachers for ordination under conditions which he thought impossible.

He disliked the tendency to Europeanise the Africans, for he had come out intending to help the Africans to plant an African Church and develop through its power an authentic African civilization. Some people would have come home, other people would have submitted, others, again, would have begun to question their own judgment. Weston did none of these things. He attacked everything he objected to and started to build a theological college. At the same time, it became clear that he was ill suited to the climate, and so his labours were interspersed by sharp bouts of fever.

All that side of Weston which had made him a red hot socialist at Stratford gave itself to the Africans. To the Africans he became an African to an extraordinary degree. Not only was he the first Swahili orator and scholar, but he came to think in Swahili, which latterly affected to some extent his English style. Many men who have given themselves to be Africanised have deteriorated, but when he died the British Administrator at Tanga wrote, “I think the Bishop was the very impersonation of our race at the highest to which it can attain.”

Frank enjoyed looking after the Small Boy’s Home. They were delightful and most affectionate children, but at once he had to face huge moral problems in a form which wrung his heart. It was not difficult to make these children religious, it was very difficult to keep them at all decent in conduct, and it was immensely difficult to make them see that the one had anything to do with the other.

The Catholic missionary bears in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus. From the children at Kilimani the young missionary began to receive the wound in the Sacred Heart. He led a very ascetic life with his theological students when he got them round him. He found, like St. Francis de Sales, that he must make the Blessed Sacrament the centre of their lives. When he told us that we must fight for our tabernacles he spoke out of this experience. He instituted the service of Benediction and drew his students into a real love of the Lord Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.

Weston was constantly being called upon to give missions and retreats, but  the high personal cost (as we would say today) as well as the loneliness and weariness of his ministry can be felt in a rare comment: “Nobody does anything for me.”

After a while he was made Principal of the elder boys’ school at Kiungani. His fellow-priests here, like himself, were anxious to try their vocation for the Religious Life, and they petitioned the Bishop to allow them to do so, but he refused.

Weston was a great success at Kiungani and had happy years there. He dominated the whole place, and the boys were devoted to him. But he returned from furlough in England to find a sort of revolt going on against his authority, and a layman in his place. The layman soon retired, and Weston resumed work, but this was a bitter trial. The boys had wavered and Weston thought his fellow-missionaries had turned against him. It was not really so, but he was shy and sensitive and formidable, a difficult combination.

During this time he lived very much to himself among the Africans, whose company he preferred to the Europeans. As it turned out, this was all part of his training. It was his Gethsemane in which he came especially close to our Lord, and from henceforth his special devotion was the loneliness of Christ. In it he found his way deeper into the African heart and mind.

The period ended by his being made Canon and Chancellor of the Cathedral, with charge of the educational work of the diocese, and the duty of lecturing to the European residents in Zanzibar.

It was after this that he visited England to appeal for men, and made his great speech at the Livingstone Commemoration in the Senate House at Cambridge. It was a great occasion, the Vice-Chancellor in the chair, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Public Orator, many of the great personages of Cambridge present. Weston’s speech was a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit. The entire audience more deeply moved. The Bishop of Manchester, who also went over from Oxford, says that he was still trembling when he got into the train to go home. Nothing but the spirit of a life of martyrdom can so shake strong men.

In 1907 Frank Weston was consecrated Bishop of Zanzibar. He landed on November 6th and was enthroned that afternoon. Next day, the Bishop sang Pontifical High Mass in his cathedral; before him stretched a brilliant mass of colour, white and black people mingled together in brilliant garments. Next day the Bishop delivered his charge, and on the days following he presided over the Synod. He issued a Pastoral in Swahili to the African people beautifully suggestive of Apostolical times, and soon began his episcopal visitation of the vast tropical diocese on foot; in one six months he walked nine hundred miles. His Apostolic labours were truly like those of St. Paul.

He fought with witchcraft in various forms and came up against forces which are sometimes said to lie latent and suppressed in countries of Christian culture. This contest with the principalities and powers St. Paul talks of drew out forces in the Bishop’s personality. Things happened such as are recorded in the lives of saints.

After walking all day through country which was leafless, remember, because the sun had withered up the leaves and in which, after rain, the grass grew twelve feet high, the Bishop would pray under the stars half the night. “Of all that he taught me,” said an African priest, “of all that I watched him do, this was the greatest wonder to see how he prayed.”

We are not surprised then at the tale that when he was confronted after mass by a non-Christian chief who implored him to pray for rain, he gathered the Christians together and prayed in the presence of the chief, and that day torrential rain fell; and that when he prayed vehemently by a woman far gone in death, her soul was drawn back and she confessed her sins and was absolved, and then died. When the Catholic life is lived in its fullness and in the power of the Holy Spirit, such things, explain them as you will, occur.

As Bishop Frank had to sit as judge, hear cases, and impose public penance. But he always did so with such a love of souls that he became the father and consoler of all his black children. There is a story of a rebellious sinner and his excommunication from the altars of the Church. The awful ceremony proceeded, the lighted candles were hurled down on the ground and extinguished, and the Bishop came to the final sentence, “We do hereby cut you off-” and then burst into a torrent of tears, and amid the sobs of the Bishop, priests and people, the church bell tolled out the news that the doom had been pronounced.

A Bishop must expect to find his work imperilled by the assaults of the Devil; he ought not to have to encounter the assaults of the Bishops and Priests of his own communion, but such was Bishop Weston’s lot, and the result was his battle of Kikuyu and his battle with Modernism.

The Church, the Apostolic Succession and the Sacraments were at stake in the Kikuyu controversy, in which the Bishops of Mombasa and Uganda had sought to establish a conclave with the various protestant denominations working in the region. Using arguments from Scripture and the ancient Fathers (similar to those we have had to use with regard to the “ordination” of women), Weston won his chief points, and we like to think of his departure from the second Kikuyu Conference to the sound of his opponents’ cheers. His presence, speech and charm were irresistible.

With regard to Modernism (what today we more often call “liberal theology”) - in which the issue was the Person of our Lord - Bishop Weston was in a position to see where it would lead. The Muslims of Cairo were deluging Zanzibar with proselytising tracts in which they pointed out that the liberal Anglicans in England were teaching a doctrine of our Lord’s Person indistinguishable from Mohammed’s view of Jesus, and that the Church’s learned men were now making it perfectly clear that Mohammed had been right all the time!

The Anglican world was startled by a document which Frank Weston pinned upon the door of his cathedral in Zanzibar, announcing that he and his diocese were no longer in communion with John, Bishop of Hereford, and all who adhered to him. Here was a first-class crisis.

Dr. Perceval defended himself in the columns of The Times, and gravely rebuked a junior bishop for being a junior. In a headmasterly manner he went out to rap the knuckles of an irresponsible schoolboy, not realizing that to point to the youth and inexperience of his opponent was merely to trail a red-herring across the track.

Then, to Frank Weston, came the crowning blow. Dr. Hensley Henson - one of the leading liberal theologians of the day - was made a bishop, after a stormy protest by many Churchmen. Modernism had seemingly triumphed.

Frank Weston replied by writing his book Christ and His Critics, and began to think of retiring from his See to live a simple Christian life among his African friends.

Most people at home, whipped up by the press, assumed that he was a firebrand, in love with excommunications and anathemas. They called him the Zanzibarbarian.

In reality he was far more complex: he had the heart of a little child, the mind of a master theologian and the courage of a Christian warrior.

Then the War broke out, and the Bishop, who was in England, got back to his people. He discovered that he was cut off from the greater part of his diocese, which was in German territory. The disorder which war brings had reached Zanzibar; two of his African priests had to be deposed for immorality. This nearly broke the Bishop’s heart, for he found it to be of long standing and concealed from him by the many of the others. The Bishop flung himself into the work of the cathedral, saying the Masses, hearing the confessions, preaching most of the sermons.

Then came a press gang searching for porters; the Africans fled and hid, but the Bishop rose and said, “I will get you porters if I may command them.” He was given leave, and the men flocked to him, Christians, Muslims, heathen. The Bishop drilled them and took them to the mainland.

Experienced officers used to gape in amazement at the way in which he controlled an awkward squad of two thousand men. Whatever he was commissioned to do, that he did. He received the O.B.E. Yet it was only through the intervention of the Archbishop of Canterbury that he received his war medals. He was a constant fighter of injustice.

“Truly our Lord Bishop is a great man,” wrote an African afterwards, “for he came over the sea with us, and when we reached the mainland he marched with us, he slept with us, he ate with us, and when we lay down at night did he not pray with us? And when we rose in the morning did he not pray with us again? At the end did he not take us into camp? Truly he is a great man.”

The Muslims were deeply affected; they realized that the Bishop was a Holy Man, such a Holy Man as could lead a Holy Way among themselves, and for the first time they got a glimpse of the supernatural character of Christianity.

The war left the Bishop two battles to fight which cost him more than those terrible marches. He fought the people who wanted to return her colonies to Germany, in a pamphlet called The Black Slaves of Prussia, and he fought his own country when he feared that England was going to treat his beloved native Africans with vengeance, in another pamphlet called The Serfs of Great Britain. In the end Winston Churchill had to issue a despatch which satisfied the Bishop!

At the Lambeth Conference in 1920 Frank Weston came into his own. This followed the first Anglo-Catholic Congress in which he had played a seemingly insignificant part, but the unforgettable scenes which took place in the Albert Hall, when a vast number of men and women pledged themselves to the service of Christ, and cast jewels and riches into the alms-sacks, renewed his confidence in the Church of England.

He went from the Albert Hall to dominate and sway the counsels of the bishops assembled at Lambeth. He entered the assembly a suspected and discredited prelate. He chose a seat, and sat, and listened. He rose at length to speak. One can picture the solemn prelates of every clime and country leaning forward to see and hear the tiresome enfant terrible, in anticipation of a storm of wordy criticism. They were given the surprise of their lives. Here was no thin-lipped, harsh, narrow-minded bigot, intent on grinding a diocesan axe in and out of season, but a bronzed and finely built man who spoke as never man spoke before.

There was something about him which made them listen and learn. He addressed them with learning, common sense, humour and a friendly tenderness which took their breath away. He spoke to them, some of them aged, and most of them steeped in the spirit of autocracy, as a father might speak to his sons, but with such a winning gentleness that they were impelled, in the end, to see a vision and send out the famous appeal for unity. He left them under a spell.


A few years passed by, and he was back again, worn out, but engrossed with the Anglo-Catholic Congress of 1923. Here he became the leader of the Anglo-Catholics, such a leader as the movement lacked since Newman had left the Church of England. His musical voice could be heard all over the Albert Hall (there were no microphones in those days).

Every gesture he made evoked a storm of cheering. Many who saw him there speak in terms of coming face to face with an Apostle.

None but he could have sent the famous telegram of greetings to the Pope and survived it.

“Sixteen thousand Anglo-Catholics in congress assembled offer respectful greetings to the Holy Father, humbly praying that the day of peace may quickly break.”

The next day he was torn to pieces not only by the press, and the Protestant underworld, but also by mainstream Anglicans and even friends, but he never regretted his action.

“I am very tired,” he said, as he went back to Africa. He died not long afterwards, on November 2, 1924, at the age of fifty-three. There has been none like him for Apostolic unction in the history of the Catholic Movement within the Anglican world, and since his passing none has led as he.

That is the man Anglican Catholicism must resemble; it must be persevering and dauntless, and not afraid of making mistakes; it must do well, suffer for it, and take it patiently; it must be great-hearted, whole-hearted, eager-hearted; it must be to the end of a life of self-sacrifice and many disappointments, it must retain the heart of a child. That is the charm of Frank Weston. He never lost the simplicity and joy of a child. 

He died on the march, marching and working with the illness on him which caused his death. At last it struck him down, but twice he rose from his death-bed to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation. Next day he could rise no more. It was all very simple, merely the next thing to be done in a life lived to the glory of God. His priests came to him and gave him the last Sacraments, and in four hours he passed away.

“Crowds of people,” says the African account, “all crowded up, Christians and those not Christians, that they might see the face of the father for the last time. Then arose an exceedingly great lamentation. It was a wonder.

“Everyone you looked at - he was crying, but we returned to the church afterwards to thank the God who had given us a good father, and had now carried him to a place of greater peace that he might rest from the trouble of the world.”

But one of the little black schoolboys of the Kiungani, writing of him after his death, had a clearer vision.

“You will know that he is a loving man, for his mouth is always opened ready for laughter, for he is still laughing, and he will laugh for ever.”


Peter Floyd said...

wonderful post

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