Thursday, October 15, 2015

Ralph Martin, SSM

In the early 1920's the Order of the Holy Cross began its now almost century long ministry in Africa by opening a mission station in Bolahun, Liberia.  In the 1970's it was thought best to indigenize that work, comprising a large church, schools, medical clinic, a village for people with Hansen's disease, and other good works.  Time for Liberians to run their own institutions!  As the Order pursued this policy -- which was a process that took many years rather than a single event -- the idea arose of an African novitiate.  In the early 1980's this led to the Order's second African establishment, Philip Quaque Monastery in Cape Coast, Ghana.  A few years later an Anglican seminary was started in Cape Coast, named for St. Nicholas.  The OHC community was involved with the seminary from the outset, though the monastery and the seminary pursued their separate goals.  The first head of St. Nicholas was Ralph Martin, SSM, who has just published a remarkable autobiographical memoir.

Ralph Martin, SSM, Towards a New Day: A Monk's Story.  (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 2015).   Available from at a much more reasonable price than US Amazon.

Born, educated and ordained in Canada, Ralph Martin joined the Society of the Sacred Mission in 1957.  SSM had been founded in 1893 by Fr. Herbert Kelly, who desired to educate young men of the working classes for the ministry of the Church of England.  This was a significant development, as many (perhaps too many) of the clergy were not from that social milieu and so the Church's life among working people was not as vibrant as it should have been.  Fr. Kelly is a fascinating character in himself, and the Kelham story is told well by Alistair Mason, SSM: History of the Society of the Sacred Mission (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 1993). 

The great work of Fr. Kelly and SSM was the foundation and operation of one of the great seminaries of the Anglican world, Kelham, in Nottinghamshire.  The Church of England, battered in the 1960's from many sides,  decided it had too many seminaries, and in 1971 Kelham was closed.

Martin's description of his early years at SSM is a classic of the I-enter-the-monastery genre of writing.  If the reader knows what is coming, the writing is poignant, and left me almost in tears. 

What a wonderful gift SSM and Kelham were, not just to the Church of England, but to Christianity in general.  It is interesting to compare Martin's account to Richard Holloway's Kelham days, in his autobiographical Leaving Alexandria: A Memoir of Faith and Doubt (Edinburgh: Canongate, 2013). 

Ralph Martin's early years in SSM took him in many interesting directions, but led ultimately to almost a decade as Provincial of SSM in the UK (1973-1981).  This occurred in the wake of the closure of Kelham and its internal troubles, and must have cost Martin a great deal.  He steered the community in new directions, which envisioned a broader concept of community life.  When his term was done, he began a remarkable career of ministries which took him to Japan, Ghana, back to the UK, Kuwait, Rome, Lesotho and Australia.  In all of those places his ministries were exemplary, and to read his accounts is to gain a glimpse of what a wonderful thing missionary monasticism can be in our age.

When OHC established Philip Quaque Monastery in Cape Coast, Ghana, the Prior was Christian Swayne.  Christian learned that the Ghanaian church wanted to start an Anglican seminary in Cape Coast.  He and Martin were old friends, going back to early Canada days.  So Christian wrote Martin asking him if he might be interested in heading up the seminary project, and the project began.

The seminary was a real string and baling wire operation in the beginning, and the anecdotes Martin tells are absolutely wonderful, giving a vivid picture of the early days of an important church institution.  OHC and the seminary were not the same by any means, but OHC people are prominent in the account of the seminary: Christian himself, Bonnell Spencer, who in his late 70's taught history and created the library from scratch, Boniface Adams, Leonard Abbah, and many others.  It is a priceless, brilliant word picture of a bit of OHC's history.  And all told with a generous and cheerful eye to human achievement with divine help in the midst of seemingly insurmountable difficulties.

This is a wonderful book.  Wonderful because of the light a central participant in its history sheds on a great Anglican monastic community.  Great because of the picture it paints of vital Anglican Christian life in so many parts of the world.  But most of all, inspired in the character who tells his own story.  Ralph Martin is a shining exemplar of Christian discipleship, of monastic life well led, of profound and effective faith pointed toward the Kingdom.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Oliver Sherman Prescott

Oliver Sherman Prescott is one of the most interesting priests in the history of the Episcopal Church.  The Anglo-Catholic movement has had more than its share of characters, and surely Prescott stands in the front ranks of the colorful and controversial.  Jervis S. Zimmerman, an old friend of the Order of the Holy Cross, has written the first book-length study of Prescott, and it is a most welcome addition to the study of the Episcopal Church, of the Tractarian, Ritualist and Anglo-Catholic movements, and of Anglican religious orders.

An Embattled Priest. The Life of Oliver Sherman Prescott: 1824-1903. (Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2012.)  Available from Amazon.

Prescott was a few years older than Charles Grafton, and was in some ways his mentor.  Born into a well-to-do New Haven merchant family, he was educated at Trinity College, Hartford and Yale before attending General Seminary.  He was an early adopter of ritualist practices, and ritualism became his life signature.  From the beginning of his ministry he was constantly in trouble with bishops and others over these practices.  Prescott never stayed very long in any of the churches he was called to lead.  He seems to have been a prickly person, easily drawn into controversy, of an Anglo-Catholic type I remember from my youth but not so easily found now: rejoicing in being "advanced"; knowing what others did not, could not, or would not know; pushing situations to the edge seemingly just for the fun of it; playing word games in official correspondence with bishops and other church dignitaries; seeing the trouble they are in as some sort of proto-martyrdom for the cause. 

Be that as it may.  Prescott came under the pastoral oversight of Levi Silliman Ives, Bishop of  North Carolina, himself a rare specimen.  Sent to a small church in the western part of the state in 1847, Prescott there became involved with the first experiment in Anglican religious orders for men, the Society of the Holy Cross at Valle Crucis, NC.  That did not last long, but had an effect.  At Charles Grafton's urging Prescott joined the Society of St. John the Evangelist, which led him in 1875 to become Rector of St. Clement's, Philadelphia, certainly the most ritualist Episcopal parish in the U.S., where his most publicized trials occurred.  He resigned in 1881.

Prescott took final vows in SSJE in 1870 and was released in 1882.  He went west.  "West" in those days encompassed Wisconsin, and he was involved in the process that led to Grafton's election as Bishop of Fond du Lac.  But even with his old friend he could not avoid controversy, and they parted ways after Grafton's election as bishop.  Prescott's final years were in the care of another religious order for men, the Brothers of Nazareth.

Prescott's life is important because of his role in late Nineteenth Century ritualist controversy, and deserves attention, in that his adult activity stretches from before Newman's conversion almost to the end of the century.  He encompasses all the phases of the Oxford Movement, from Tractarian to Ritualist.  He was not a great thinker or writer, but rather a man of action, willing to take on in his own work the transformation of the Church.

Fr. Zimmerman's work is an outstanding example of delving into original sources.  He is a master of archival research, and has brought to light much that is new and informative about Prescott.  His account of the turmoil at St. Clement's and Prescott's part in the breakup of SSJE in 1882, is, together with Eldridge Pendleton's account, likely to be a definitive resource for that most important event.

One small correction might be made.  Several times reference is made to retreats led at St. Clement's, at the second of which OHC's Fr. Huntington and Fr. Dod made up their minds to form a religious community.  The leader of those retreats was Canon William John Knox- (not King-) Little (p. 71 and 83).

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Charles Chapman Grafton

Recently four books relevant to the study of Anglican monasticism have appeared.  I have read three of them and am now reading the fourth, and thought I would share some thoughts about them.  This is in a way a promotion, and I am happy to do so, because I think the study of Anglican monasticism deserves more attention both by the reading public and by scholars.

Eldridge H. Pendleton, SSJE, has written a wonderful short biography of Bishop Charles Grafton, which I heartily recommend.  But first a word about Eldridge.  He died less than two months ago, on Aug. 26, 2015 .  Eldridge joined SSJE in 1984, and in the thirty years of his monastic life made a deep impression on many people.  He was a beloved spiritual director and advisor to many, many serious seekers after God.  He is deeply missed, and I am sure he is with the Lord in glory.

Press On, The Kingdom: The Life of Charles Chapman Grafton (Cambridge, MA: SSJE, 2014).  It is available from

Charles Grafton was one of the three founding members of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, together with Richard Meux Benson and Simeon Wilberforce O'Neill.  They began community life together in 1865 and made their vows in 1866, in Benson's parish in the village of Cowley, near Oxford.

He was born in Boston in 1830, educated at Boston Latin School and Harvard Law School, became active in the faith as a young man, and was confirmed at the Church of the Advent in Boston in 1851.  He was eventually ordained and with Oliver Sherman Prescott, a fiery ritualist Anglo-Catholic, was drawn toward the idea of a religious community for men.  Since this did not then exist in the Anglican world, he went to England to meet people moving in that direction, and there he joined Benson and O'Nell in the Cowley adventure.

His understanding was that Fr. Benson and the nascent community intended SSJE to establish an American branch, and so when the opportunity arose for him to return to the U.S. he did so.  He eventually became the rector of the Church of the Advent, but left SSJE in 1882.  He remained at the Advent until 1889, becoming Bishop of Fond du Lac, in Wisconsin, shortly afterward.  His many works included the foundation of the Sisterhood of the Holy Nativity, the re-establishment of Nashotah House seminary on a firm footing, the solidification of his own diocese, poor and unstable when he began his ministry there, decades of leadership of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, whose principles are now the basis of Prayer Book Episcopalianism, and pioneering ecumenical work with the Orthodox world.  He died, full of honors, in 1912.

The property where Mount Calvary Monastery is now located was founded and developed by his Sisterhood of the Holy Nativity in Santa Barbara in the early 1950's.  Even though the direct inspiration for the former St. Mary's Retreat House was the work of our own Fr. Karl Tiedemann, OHC, it is in a sense an indirect foundation of Bishop Grafton.

Pendleton shows in a clearly, compellingly written traditional biography -- that is, a biography which begins at the beginning and ends at the end and encounters the events of the subject's life in the order in which he himself met them (as not all modern biographies do) -- the course of Grafton's remarkable life.

Two virtues, beyond its wonderful writing, stand out in particular.  First, Pendleton tells, perhaps for the first time, the unvarnished story of the breakup of SSJE in the early 1880's.  Grafton was doubtless the precipitating agent.  But Pendleton writes candidly about the interaction of other members of SSJE in it as well.  In particular he describes the breakdown of the relationship between Fr. Benson, with his authoritarian ways, and Fr. Grafton, whose determination was as inflexible as Benson.  Pendleton's work is the more remarkable in that he does not let Benson's subsequent deposition as Superior and his eccentricities anachronistically control the narrative.  He quotes liberally from correspondence and shows how the events of 1882 unfolded in their contexts.  SSJE is to be commended for opening its archives and shedding light on this complex series of events.

The second great virtue of this work is that Pendleton resurrects Grafton as a person.  Grafton wrote voluminously but there is not a lot of self-disclosure in his works.  Lacking this, the portrait of him here shows well his great energy, capacious mind and sophisticated understanding of the Church.  His was a great spirit, but of a type which might not find much sympathy today.  Pendleton reminds us that the church always stands on the shoulders of people of other ages, of other understandings, whose lives, when presented by a sympathetic, learned and skilled author, can shed light where once there was obscurity.

A book well worth reading!