Bishop Feild remembered

Hans Rollmann
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Edward Feild, second Anglican bishop of Newfoundland and Bermuda from 1844 until his death in 1876, was honoured on April 28 by the unveiling of a plaque through the Historic Sites and Monument Board of Canada. Bishop Cyrus Pitman of the Anglican Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador and Bishop Ewan Rattery of Bermuda attended the public ceremony in the Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist that Bishop Feild had started building 160 years ago. MHA Dave Denine and MP Norman Doyle represented the provincial and federal governments. Todays column presents a slightly edited version of my remarks at the ceremony.

Exactly 163 years ago to the day, on April 28, 1844, the Reverend Edward Feild was consecrated second bishop of Newfoundland and Bermuda at Lambeth Palace. On his arrival in St. Johns on July 4, he was greeted with great pomp and circumstance and not in primitive or apostolic fashion, as he observed.

I should have preferred, he remarked later, a procession with litanies and holy services attended by priests and choristers leading me to the church.

Instead, he was driven in Lady Harveys carriage to Government House, where Sir John Harvey, the Governor of Newfoundland, greeted him.

Educated at Queens College, Oxford, with other future leaders of the so-called Oxford Movement, Feilds theological orientation emphasized the church as an institution independent from the state, with clearly defined apostolic authority vested in validly ordained clergy and a ministry that shared Gods grace with his people in the sacraments.

Because of these convictions, he insisted throughout his stay in Newfoundland and Bermuda on consecrated church buildings in which only validly ordained priests would preach and administer the sacraments.

He refused to support organizations in which Methodists and Anglicans had previously co-operated, such as the Temperance and Bible societies.

Trained clergy

Development of the diocese, begun by his predecessor, Aubrey George Spencer, involved, as the text of the plaque indicates, an increase in the number of native-trained clergy in his diocese and the building of churches and schools, most notably the Anglican Cathedral.

In order to increase the number of priests, he organized a theological institution, Queens College. At Queens, young men from various backgrounds were trained by well-educated and idealistic clergy that Feild had recruited from among his High Church friends in England.

They were, as one student of Feild observed, moulded by communal living into a pattern of priestly discipline and exertion.

This locally trained leadership represents a crucial transition in the development of the diocese. Feild encouraged these men to adopt his own itinerant style; he travelled ceaselessly on his mission ship to the most remote communities in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Priests not only visited their parishioners, but even followed them into the woods during winter.

They strengthened many communities by their advice and help, and served on road and educational boards.

The bishops values of total commitment and self-denial set the tone for the service of the clergy and laity, and earned him the respect of his ecclesiastical opponents.

Feild addressed the need for churches by making the Reverend William Grey his diocesan architect. In a short time, he built 27 mission churches following a Gothic pattern, of which only one remains in existence today: St. James the Apostle Anglican church in Battle Harbour, Labrador.

With the help of the noted English architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, a local building supervisor and several masons, Feild started work on the Gothic Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist after the great fire of 1846. The nave portion of the Cathedral was consecrated in 1850; the choir and transept had to wait another three decades to be completed.

Educational input

Finally, the plaque mentions his involvement in politics and education, which at times was fierce but never unrelated to the principles for which he stood.

Feild believed strongly in the essentially religious character of education and considered it only just that Anglicans should receive what had been granted to Roman Catholics. The bishops program of building and development included an orphanage and secondary schools for boys and girls of the diocese.

The denominational school system in existence when Feild arrived in Newfoundland already divided funds for elementary education among Roman Catholics and Protestants.

Further subdivision of the educational grant in 1875 among Roman Catholics, Anglicans and other Protestants, according to denominational demographics, was to a great extent the result of the bishops constant advocacy.

In the words of Frederick Jones, For Feild it was a great triumph, for his principles had been adopted and implemented and he had been granted what had been denied to all other North American Anglican bishops. (Without) his efforts spread over 30 years the system of the schools established in 1843 would have remained.

Only in 1998, after two referenda, did the people of Newfoundland express their desire to change the denominational system to a secular one aimed at avoiding duplication of services.

No friend of Representative Government, the bishop acquiesced once it became a reality.

During the fishery crisis that resulted from Britains granting greater fishing rights to France in Newfoundland and Labrador waters, Feild strongly supported the Newfoundland government and was toasted by Catholics and Protestants alike, with even the Liberal party praising his patriotism and energy and considering him a true friend of the country in this hour of peril.

Shepherd of souls

Despite Feilds occasional forays into politics, throughout his long stay in Newfoundland he remained foremost a shepherd of souls.

When, due to a clergy shortage, Port de Grave required a priest in the winter of 1875-76, the bishop, well into his 70s, fulfilled that ministry during one of the longest and most severe winters in Newfoundland history.

He died in 1876 in Hamilton, Bermuda, from an illness he contracted during the winter in Port de Grave.

Hans Rollmann is a professor of religious studies at Memorial University and can be reached by e-mail at

Organizations: Queens College, Anglican Cathedral, Historic Sites and Monument Board of Canada Anglican Diocese Government House Oxford Movement High Church Apostle Anglican church Gothic Cathedral of Saint John

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Bermuda, Oxford England Battle Harbour Port de Grave France Hamilton

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