Friday, March 27, 2009

Remembering Charles Henry Brent 80 Years Later

"Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us with your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name."  [Prayer for Mission, BCP]

Simply knowing that Bishop Charles Henry Brent had composed the magnificent  prayer shown above would give you some indication of the spiritual depth of the man and of his incredible ministry.  I couldn't find anything about his early years, other than that he was born in Newcastle, Ontario, Canada on April 9, 1862.  He graduated with an A.B. in classics from Trinity College, University of Toronto in 1884.  From 1885-1887 he served as Undermaster at Trinity College School, Port Hope, Canada.  He was ordained deacon in 1886, priested in 1887, and earned an A.M. from Trinity College, University of Toronto in 1889.

In 1891 Brent became an American citizen and served for 10 years as assistant rector at St. Stephen's, Boston.  At the early age of 39, he was elected by the House of Bishops as first Missionary Bishop of the Philippines.  He arrived at the Port of Manila in 1902 in the company of William Howard Taft.  The Library of Congress has quite a bit of Brent's material, including correspondence which he had with many well-known figures, including Taft:  Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Philander Chase Knox, J. Pierpont Morgan, John J. Pershing, Theodore Roosevelt, and Elihu Root.

Aside from a vigorous ministry of evangelism among the Chinese population of Manila, the uncivilized Igorots of Luzon, and the hostile Moros of the Sulu Archipelago, he established several schools and an excellent charity hospital in Manila.  Confronted by the moral and physical devastation of opium addiction, Brent became an unflinching advocate of drug control.  He took the cause internationally, calling for cooperation in eradicating drug abuse.  He served on a committee, appointed by the Philippine government to investigate the use of opium, from 1902-1914.  He served as chief commissioner for the United States and president of the first international Opium Commission at Shanghai, 1908-1919, and chair of the U.S. delegation to the Opium Conference at the Hague from 1911-1912, and as president of the Conference in 1912.  During these years Bishop Brent was also busy writing and publishing three books.  Oh yes, and he was also the Senior Chaplain of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I! Little wonder, then, that by his mid-fifties, in 1917, his health began to give out.

In 1919 Charles Brent accepted election as the Bishop of the Diocese of Western New York, having declined three previous elections during the time he was in the Philippines.  Though he continued his crusade against drug abuse, attending various conferences, and being appointed by President Warren G. Harding in 1923 to the Advisory Committee on Narcotics of the League of Nations, Brent turned his attention to the ecumenical movement.  After attending the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1910, Brent was at the forefront of ecumenical endeavors in the Episcopal Church.  The movement culminated in the first World Conference on Faith and Order, held in Lausanne, Switzerland, over which Bishop Brent presided.  This significant ecumenical gathering helped lay the foundation for the World Council of Churches.

In 1926 Bishop Brent was appointed as Bishop in charge of the American Episcopal churches in Europe [two in Paris, others at Nice, Florence, Rome, Dresden, Munich, Geneva and Lucerne], a post which he retained until he was hospitalized in November, 1927.  Bishop Brent, in his last public appearance, represented the Episcopal Church in the U.S. at the installation of Cosmo Gordon Lang as the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Archbishop Lang had previously baptized the future Queen Elizabeth II.  Charles Henry Brent was only 67 years old when he died on March 27, 1929.

Historian James Thayer Addison rendered Brent the highest praise in describing him as "...a saint of disciplined mental vigor, one whom soldiers were proud to salute and whom children were happy to play with, who could dominate a parliament and minister to an invalid, a priest and bishop who gloried in the heritage of his Church, yet who stood among all Christian brothers as one who served...He was everywhere an ambassador of Christ."   

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