John Travers Lewis, first Bishop of Ontario

Pioneer Clergymen

John T Lewis

First Bishop

Early Years



Frederick Fauquier
Bishop of Algoma
Anglican Diocese of Ontario in the 19th Century
Early Years of the Diocese of Ontario
St Georges Cathedral, Kingston, OntarioAs to his diocese an herculean task lay before Bishop Lewis. The country was growing rapidly. His own diocese, though new, was in point of territory immense, and was almost entirely a missionary field. The Bishop moved cautiously, though very anxious to build up the Church.   He was able to announce to his Synod in 1864 that the clergy had increased from fifty-one to seventy-three, and he added: "It would have been possible to have added largely to this number if I had seen my way clear to the decent maintenance of additional labourers; but it seemed to me better policy to increase our missionaries only in the ratio of our ability to support them, rather than run the risk of encountering afterwards all the disheartening effect of a reaction and a diminution in the number of the clergy, who would inevitably have been forced to leave the diocese."

In fact the Bishop began to realize how little Church of England people had been taught to give, but he did not feel that it was too late to begin the instruction.   The total contributions for diocesan purposes for the twenty-two years previous to the formation of the diocese, and taken up within the territory comprised by it, amounted only to $24,580, or an average of $1,229 per annum.   The total amount subscribed for purely missionary purposes during the first five years of the existence of the new diocese was $86,228.40, or an average per year of $17,245.   Bishop Lewis, from time to time, urged the necessity of liberality on the part of the members of the Church as the only sure method of securing progress.   He urged the formation of a Sustenation Fund and a Widows and Orphans' Fund, and was able to state to his Synod in 1865 that nearly $12,000 had been subscribed towards the $20,000 that he was anxious to raise for a Mission Fund or a Sustentation Fund for the diocese.   The S.P.G. had promised $5,000 provided $20,000 should be raised within the diocese.   This good beginning, however, does not seem to have been so well followed up, for it was not till 1870, apparently, that this fund reached $21,000.

Bishop Lewis was always very happy in his confirmation services.   His able addresses contributed much to recommend the Church in every parish that he visited, for her distinctive doctrines were always forcibly dwelt upon.   No one could fail to grasp the meaning of confirmation after listening to one of His Lordship's addresses.   In calm, dignified language, without notes of any kind to rely upon, he would place before his hearers a train of scholarly, yet simple, reasoning that would defy refutation.   He did much to show the importance of the Holy Communion, the reception of which, he always insistent, was the bounden duty of every member of the Church.   This was at a time when quarterly, or, at the most, monthly, celebrations were largely the practice, and Bishop Lewis, in words which sometimes seemed startling, always pointed out the weakness of this practice.   His great desire always was to make communicants of all the candidates confirmed by him, and, therefore, he almost invariably himself administered the Holy Communion immediately after the confirmation service.   To see on a weekday a crowded church, perhaps in some rural district; to see people listening earnestly, even wonderingly, to the Bishop, still a young man, tall and commanding in appearance, with a handsome, intellectual face, as he pleaded for obedience to the touching command of the Saviour, "This do in remembrance of me"; to see young people on whom he had just laid his hands in confirmation coming forward and kneeling to receive the blessed sacrament for the first time then and there, followed by their relations and friends, and then by others, till frequently the incumbent himself was often surprised at the number of communicants that received - all this was by no means an infrequent sight, and it was as encouraging as it was delightful.

In the "Journal of the Sixth Session" (1867) of the Ontario, Synod, the Bishop says:

"Since we first met in synod five years ago, 6,007 persons have been confirmed, and, as the result, 5,500 new communicants added to the Church.   This estimate of new communicants I believe to be below the truth, because I have been informed that on almost every occasion of confirmation persons who had been confirmed in former years came forward to communion for the first time, and of these persons I have not been able to keep any account.   During the salve period thirty-one new churches have been built, many of them costly and ecclesiastically correct.   The total number of our church edifices is 216. Nor has the erection of parsonages been neglected. Fifteen new ones have been provided, in many cases with globes attached, making a total of thirty-eight parsonages now in the diocese."

In this year (1867) the Bishop attended the Lambeth Conference, the expenses of the journey being met by the diocese.   This great gathering of Anglican bishops from all parts of the world, which has since become a decennial feature of the church, was first suggested by Bishop Lewis; or, if not so, he certainly was one of its original promoters.

The stand which the Bishop took relative to Church matters naturally raised some opposition to him on the part of those who differed from him; and there were those who had grave fears lest he had allied himself too closely with the High Church party; but, in 1869, he clearly showed to his Synod that he was not in favour of extreme ritual.   "The session of the last Provincial Synod," he said, in his charge that year, "was rendered memorable by the passing of a resolution which has done much good in allaying alarm, caused by fear lest unlawful or obsolete practices should be introduced into the ceremonial of the Church."   The resolution referred to was one disapproving of the elevation of the elements in the celebration of the Holy Communion, the use of incense, mixing of water with the sacramental wine, the use of wafer bread, lights on the Lord's table, vestments other than surplice, stole, and hood.   Although this was not couched in the form of a canon, still it undoubtedly showed the mind of the Provincial Synods of the period.
< < <     -     > > >