Alexander Neil Bethune
Second Bishop of Toronto
Bishop of Niagara
Bishop of Toronto
The Bishops of the Church of England in Canada and Newfoundland
Charles Henry Mockridge
published in 1896
With the death of John Strachan on November 1st, 1867, Alexander Bethune, by the right of succession, became the second Bishop of Toronto.
The boys' school, which had been commenced in Weston in 1865, was moved to Port Hope in 1868, and was placed in charge of the Bishop's eldest son, the Rev. Charles James Stalwart Bethune, M.A.- a name which connected him with the early days of Church history. The diocese was rapidly growing in size and importance.
Bishop Bethune was now close upon the threescore years and ten allotted to man, and he had not the abnormal physical strength, the strong voice and resolute will, that his predecessor had when that advanced period of age was reached.
Strong party feeling in the Church began to disturb the peace.
Men's minds were stirred to the very depths over questions that were considered on the one hand "high" and the other "low."
This feeling began to show itself in the discussions in Synod first on the "patronage question," which was left over from year to year, each year producing the same wearisome debates.
It had been the privilege of the Bishop to appoint clergymen to vacant parishes.
The laity began to claim this privilege. The clergy by very large majorities resisted it; the laity by small majorities supported it.
It was at last arranged in 1871 that the Bishop should have the right to the patronage, but that no appointment should be made without consultation with the churchwardens and lay delegates of the vacant parish.
The aged Bishop must have breathed a sigh of relief when this question was ended.
Further relief, but of another nature, came to him also in 1873, when the Diocese of Algoma was formed, and also in 1875, when the Diocese of Niagara was set apart.
This limited the Diocese of Toronto to the bounds which it still possesses, and left it consisting of the city of Toronto and the counties of Peel, York, Simcoe, Ontario, Durham, Victoria, Northumberland, Peterborough, and Haliburton.
Territorially, this was a great relief to the Bishop, but it left him still with a clerical staff of about one hundred, and with eighty- seven parishes and missions.
A "Church Association" was formed in 1873 to inculcate evangelical principles and put some check upon the growth of what was called "sacerdotalism." This Association embraced a few of the clergy of the diocese, and a large number of earnest-minded, wealthy, and influential laymen. From time to time tracts were issued and manuals published, setting forth the principles of the Association, and calling attention to certain practices introduced into some of the churches which it considered subversive of them. A weekly paper was also commenced in 1876, and was called The Evangelical Churchman. Trinity College, under Provost Whitaker, was looked upon with such marked disfavor by this Association that a theological college was resolved upon. It began in a very small way in St. James' Schoolhouse in 1877, voluntary instruction being given by some of the sympathizing city clergy to a few young men whose desire was to be prepared for Holy Orders. A college was afterwards secured, and a regular course of instruction established under Rev. James P. Sheraton. B.A.
The Church Association in time established its own Mission Committee, its own Widows and Orphans' Committee, for receiving contributions for the benefit of their sympathizers. All these organizations, however necessary they may have been regarded by those who established them, were very distressing to the Bishop. They affected the funds of the diocese to a very grave extent -the mission fund especially, which was overdrawn each year until a heavy debt was incurred.
The Synods during these years, were too frequently characterized by acrimonious debates, which often got beyond the control of the chair. The two parties were very closely defined, and regarded one another with no small amount of animosity.
In this state of things the aged Bishop - seventy- eight years old - called the Synod together, in March 1878, to elect a coadjutor bishop. By this time the diocese had grown to one hundred parishes and missions, and it was a large gathering that assembled for the purpose of electing a coadjutor bishop.
The first ballot showed that a "split" had taken place in the High Church vote, which it is thought would go solidly for the venerable Provost of Trinity College. Twenty-eight clergymen and ten laymen voted for Rev. W. D. MacLagan, of England - now Archbishop of York - and though they soon abandoned this policy it was shortly found that no election could be made. The voting continued till late at night, and extended to the following day.
At two o'clock on the second day, the aged Bishop, much grieved and disappointed, prorogued the Synod with the resolve to continue the work of the diocese as far as his failing strength would allow. His Lordship was permitted to preside over the Synod of 1878, at which be deplored greatly the unhappy divisions in the diocese, and begged the members to seek measures for godly union and concord. In that year he went to England and attended the second Lambeth Conference, but in the following year (February 3rd, 1879) he passed quietly away, leaving the Diocese of Toronto once more vacant.