Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Old Bishop: A Tribute to Boyd Vincent

by Jesse Halsey | c1934

**Published on February 1, 1935, in the Churchman with the following note from the editor: This charming and accurate sketch of the beloved Bishop Vincent was written several months before his death, which occurred on January 14. The author is the pastor of the Seventh Presbyterian Church, Cincinnati. In a letter accompanying the manuscript he wrote: "The 'Old Bishop' is dying. I just came from there. I should have sent this before. I wanted you to have something from me. He has been a dear friend."
Neither knock-kneed nor bowlegged is he; but bent from use on many of his Lord’s errands, his rather substantial body is still carried about on his ‘old pins,’ as he calls them. He gets along at a good pace on the street, with the aid of his stick; bent but not broken he is quick of movement through severely cautious, for he dreads a broken hip. They call him “the old Bishop”; for there is a young one . . . there have been several younger than he serving as his suffragans but he has outlived them.

Eighty-seven now, his mind is as active as when he went to Yale. He read the best in his own field and delves into history and revels in biography. He is constantly writing and occasionally he preaches. Quick at repartee and always mildly joking, he shares his board with the humble and the great alike. On Thanksgiving Day he had eight of the unemployed to dinner. If you meet him on a back street or at the Zoo, he will be munching peanuts and he will offer some to you.

“Curious, isn’t it? My main business seems to be attending funerals,” breathing on his Episcopal ring he lightly burnished it on his coat sleeve, and went down the avenue. Every day he walks out, takes a streetcar downtown to the Diocesan office, makes a call at the hospital or on some old friend. If it is a formal or ecclesiastical errand, he takes a taxi, wearing his formal black broadcloth. That’s the way I like best to see him, he looks like an English Dean, save for the knee breeches.

If you know him well he will receive you at his home in an old gray coat or dressing gown. If he doesn’t, you must wait until he dresses properly. He never wears a back-buttoning collar, but an old-fashioned turnover with a clack bow tie with both collar and tie visible above a low cut clerical vest.

His voice is melodious and strong. The services of the church he knows by heart, having acted as Presiding Bishop, though without the title, for six years. He has presided at and assisted in many consecrations and any young bishop might well covet his blessing.

There is a story that on one occasion when he was to preach at his Alma Mater, as his little old bent form came into the chancel an all but audible groan came up from the boys. Then, however, his superb voice boomed out through the building from the pulpit the audience sat up and gave the speaker undivided attention through his eighteen minute discourse.

When you go to call he will give you his best chair, pulling up his own close, that he may hear. He will offer you a cigar and if you accept will produce one of his own choice, a little thing about the size of a cigarette and in this semi-abstemious fashion keep you company. If you are an addict he will tell you that he has always advised his clergy to smoke during Lent when their duties are heaviest, and to abstain some other time—if they must do penance.

He knows something about everything that develops in conversation. He will listen attentively and speak with enthusiasm. He is interested in everybody and will talk of Plato and Dean Inge, of Hugo Grotius or Mussolini. You will find he knows the ramifications of NRA codes and has seen “Little Women.”

His brother’s monument stands above the Devil’s Den atGettysburg—a Brevet Brigadier, it was he that carried out Warren’s orders and saved Little Round Top. Both the Bishop and his brother, then a Colonel, had loved the same girl. The soldier won her, was married, went to war and was killed. Years after as the General’s widow, the lady came to keep the Bishop’s house. They decided to marry, but our Bishop, with punctilious conscience, went to the House of Bishops with the ancient question of the ‘deceased brother’s wife’ that still looms large in Anglican life overseas. The Bench of Bishops expressed some dissent, so our Bishop stayed a bachelor “for his work’s sake.” His sister-in-law ordered his household until she died. So like Phillip Brooks, our Bishop has had his romance too. You learn of this from other lips than his, however. But you might guess it from his gentleness and strength.

Quite bald, there are wisps of white hair atop his head and a liberal snowy thatch on either side. He goes clean shaven; his face is somewhat drawn (he was deathly sick last summer) but almost unwrinkled. He has delicate lips, a refined, though not inconspicuous nose, his head is round and clear and blue eyes look straight out at you through silver rimmed bi-focals.

He is the oldest of the Anglican Bishops (that means American or British), and had a large varied acquaintanceship. He will tell you (if you are interested) tales of Lambeth, or Bishops and Archbishops. Once on an errand of Church Unity, he visited the Pope, but that is too long a story to repeat here.

One, however, I remember. A story that Lytton Strachey tells of Queen Victoria, but probably it is true only of Archbishop Benson.

Benson, the English Primate, was averse to smoking. He detested the habit and on all occasions let his feelings be known. But among the Archepiscopal functions is that of convening the Lambeth Conference at the palace of that name in London. This is a meeting of all Anglican Bishops throughout the world and the Archbishop of Canterbury is the host.

Wine there was in plenty; to this the Archbishop had no aversion. But smoking was taboo. A certain bishop, who shall be nameless, was found, late after the adjournment of an evening session; found on his knees rapt in devotion before the unlighted fireplace. Three times the Archbishop Benson knocked at his guest’s door, when finally venturing in found his quest upon his knees—not praying, but smoking up the chimney.

A scholar, a gentleman of the old school, growing old gracefully and usefully among us, our Bishop (I, no churchman, call his “ours”) goes in and out among us adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour. His gait may be halting but it is never a shuffle. And all the while his spirit faces forward as he looks toward ninety—and “the Best that’s yet to be.”

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