BENJAMIN WISTAR MORRIS:
V Rector of the Parish; XC Bishop of the Episcopal Church
Twice in the history of St. David's, the honor of being elected a Bishop in the Church of God was given to a person previously active in the life of the congregation. This is the local record of the first person so honored.
When, on May 11, 1850, the Vestry accepted the resignation of the incumbent Rector, M. C. Lightner, it simultaneously commenced the search for his successor. From the beginning Benjamin Wistar Morris was named a leading candidate. The Vestry, in minimizing the time the congregation would be without clergy leadership, called Morris as the next Rector of St. David's on the Fourth of July. He accepted the call with the following letter copied into the Vestry minutes of September 4:
Germantown, Aug 16, 1850
Gentlemen: In answer to your favor inviting me to take charge of the parish of
St. David's, Manayunk, I reply that after mature consideration and consultation
with the Bishop I have concluded to accept the invitation, promising, God
willing, to enter upon the duties on the fifteenth of September, 1850.
When he began his duties at St. David's Morris was 31 years old. He had been born in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania in 1819; had graduated from The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church in New York City in 1846; and his experience between Seminary and St. David's had been gained entirely at St. Matthew's Church, Sunbury, Pennsylvania. The most significant event during his service at St. David's, according to the Vestry minutes, was the introduction of gas lighting into the original church building. From our farther view, his rectorship of six years three and a half months was remarkable for being the longest term of service of any clergyman from the founding of the parish in 1831 until the coming of F. H. Bushnell as the VIII Rector in 1866.
Mr. Morris ended his rectorship at St. David's with this warm letter of resignation:
Manayunk, Nov 8, 1856
To the Vestry of St. David's Church: Gentlemen: Most of you are not unaware
perhaps that sometime since I was called upon to consider the question of
changing my pastoral relation. The proposition was one that I could not
entertain without painful anticipations; and yet one to which I felt bound to give
the fullest consideration. After such full and mature consideration, though with
very great reluctance, I have concluded to, and do hereby, resign to you the
Rectorship of St. David's Church, on the first day of January 1857. In informing
you of this proposed change, I must add that it has not been of my own seeking,
and that I go from you, not from a desire of change, but on account of the peculiar
and pressing nature of the duties to which I am called. More pleasant relations I
do not expect to find, this side of the grave, than those that have existed between
us for the past six years. And for the uniform kindness and undeserved regard,
which this people have shown to me, I am deeply grateful. The present condition
of the parish I consider entirely promising. There are no elements of discord or
difficulty, so far as I know, to impede its growth and prosperity. And any faithful
practical clergyman can take charge of it, with everything to encourage him. . .
I can never cease to feel the warmest interest in the welfare of St. David's,
and shall look back upon the time spent in your service, as among the happiest
years of my life.
The meaning of the first sentence of this letter may have been plain to the members of the Vestry then, but it requires explanation now. In the second year of his rectorship at St. David's, Morris had married Hannah Rodney, a daughter of the Reverend John Rodney, Rector of St. Luke's, Germantown. The "pastoral relation" calling Morris away from St. David's was the position of assistant to his father-in-law at St. Luke's. A notable example of his pastoral work there occurred in 1863 when, in consequence of the dire human suffering on the battlefield at Gettysburg, the Field Hospital Association of Germantown collected eleven boxes of bedding, clothing, food, and medicines for the relief of the sick and wounded, and Morris escorted these materials to Gettysburg to see to their distribution through the appropriate authorities. In October 1867 he was called to the rectorship of St. Peter's, Philadelphia. Rather than lose his services at St. Luke's, Mr. Rodney resigned his position as Rector and secured the election of Morris as his successor. However, his service as Rector of St. Luke's was brief because at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church meeting in New York City in October 1868, Morris was elected the Missionary Bishop of Oregon and Washington Territories. He was consecrated on December 3, 1868 at St. Luke's, the 90th bishop in the American succession since Samuel Seabury.
The consecration of Bishop Morris was honored by St. David's with a gift, as noted in the Vestry minutes of December 21, 1868:
A vote of thanks was tendered to Mr. Orlando Crease for his generous gift of a New Communion Service of Silver to the Church when on motion it was resolved that this Vestry do present to Bishop Morris the service heretofore in use at this Church for his Diocese of Oregon and Washington Territories as a memento and reminder of his services as Rector in this Parish for many years of his early life.
The April 19, 1869 minutes copied Bishop Morris' gracious acceptance of the gift:
Oregon & Washington Mission: Germantown April 13th 1869 Rev & Dear Brother [i.e. the Rector, F. H. Bushnell] Please convey to the Vestry of St. David's the expression of my sincere thanks for the donation of the Communion Service to Oregon. From its association with my own people (once) it comes to me with double interest. I hope before long to place it in some "St. David's Church" on the far Pacific coast as a memorial of the interest of your congregation in the missionary work of that distant field.
In June 1869 Morris reached Portland, Oregon, traveling by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, crossing overland between them at the Isthmus of Panama. Journeying with the Bishop and his wife were his sister Rachel and his wife's three sisters Mary, Lydia, and Clementine Rodney. Upon arrival he found a missionary diocese "with twelve churches free from debt, fifteen priests and seven deacons." In addition to building many new churches, Morris saw to the establishment of a school for boys, another for girls, and a hospital. [Rachel, Mary, Lydia, and Clementine had made the trip for the express purpose of establishing the girls' school, St. Helen's Hall, of which Mary was the principal for twenty-seven years.] From 1869 onward Morris served as Missionary Bishop of Oregon and Washington Territories. When their jurisdictions were separated in 1880 he continued as Missionary Bishop in Oregon until 1899 when Oregon became a diocese and he its first diocesan bishop. He actively exercised the office of Bishop until his death on April 7, 1906. Then in his 86th year of life, he was the oldest serving bishop in the American church.
The transmission by Bishop Morris of the silver communion service, which the Manayunk Vestry noted was "heretofore in use at this Church" and which Morris acknowledged he received with the intention of placing "in some 'St. David's Church' on the far Pacific coast", could not be completed until the 1871 consecration in Portland, Oregon of a new St. David's Episcopal Church. It was the first parish so-named in the Missionary Oregon and Washington Territories. It is a safe speculation that the choice of patronal name was influenced by the Bishop's desire to find a home for the gift from Manayunk. Those vessels are still in use at St. David's, Portland today. Had they not been given, undoubtedly they would have been lost--as presumably were the New Communion Service vessels given by Orlando Crease to St. David's, Manayunk in December 1868--in the fire on Christmas Eve Day 1879 which destroyed the church building and left it a "mass of ruen".--------------------
Author's note: The genesis of this chronicle came during a rafting trip in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River just below Hoover Dam on June 24, 2004. My fellow passengers were mostly clergy and we were taking a break from the National Network of Episcopal Clergy Associations meeting in convention in Las Vegas that week. Next to me in the snub bow, where we were being soaked with many cold water deluges, was John Nesbitt, Rector of St. David's, Portland. After we introduced ourselves, he asked what Philadelphia-area St. David's Church would have given communion silver to his church at its founding. That query set in motion the recovery of the mutual association of our parishes with both David of Wales and Benjamin Wistar Morris.
In addition to the St. David's Vestry Minute Books, I have referred to: Hocker, E.W., Germantown: 1683-1933 [1933: Germantown; published by author; held at Free Library of Philadelphia, NW Regional Branch] Moon, R.C., The Morris Family of Philadelphia: Descendants of Anthony Morris b 1654-1721 d: Supp Vol V [1909: Philadelphia; no publisher; in holdings at Germantown Historical Society] Stout, S.R., St. Helen's Hall: The First Century 1869-1969 [1969: Portland, OR; no publisher; in holdings at Germantown Historical Society] Yerkes, R.K., The History of St. Luke's Church, Germantown 1912 [1912: Philadelphia; no publisher; in holdings at Germantown Historical Society]Part 5
Stained Glass Windows
Stained Glass Windows at St. David's Church
About The Church
The Episcopal Church of St. David's, Manayunk, was founded December 3, 1831 to be the spiritual home for people churched in the Anglican tradition who had recently arrived in the area. For the most part, these were mill workers, and they had come, with their families, fo find employment in the local textile industry then being built near the new canal in the Schuylkill River.
In 1832 the cornerstone was laid for the first church built on the present site. That structure was destroyed by fire in 1879 and the church edifice now in use, designed by James Stafford, a Vestry member and local mill-owner, was consecrated in 1881.
St. David, the patron saint of Wales who died March 1, probably in 589, and for whom this parish is named, is so honored in his native land because his ascetic example, missionary zeal, and monastic foundations were significant contributions in maintaining the light of Christian life and learning during the European Dark Ages.