August 30: Charles Chapman Grafton, Bishop of Fond du Lac, and Ecumenist, 1912

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

About this commemoration

Charles Grafton
Charles Grafton

Charles Grafton was born April 12, 1830 in Boston, and attended Harvard Law School. He was confirmed at Church of the Advent— then a leading parish implementing the principles of the Oxford Movement—where he began seriously to explore his vocation. After graduation he moved to Maryland to study with the Tractarian Bishop William Whittington who eventually ordained him deacon on December 23, 1855, and priest on May 30, 1858.

Grafton served a number of parishes in Maryland but experienced a growing attraction to the religious life. In 1865, he left for England specifically to meet Edward Bouverie Pusey. In the following year, after a series of meetings held at All Saints, Margaret Street, Grafton and two others took religious vows and the Society of St. John the Evangelist had its beginning. In 1872, Grafton returned and was elected fourth Rector of the Church of the Advent, Boston.

In 1888, Grafton was elected second bishop of Fond du Lac. His consent process was difficult as many thought him too ritualistic, but he soon became known not only as an Anglo-Catholic but also as an ecumenist, deeply committed to improve relations with the Orthodox and Old Catholics. He founded the Sisters of the Holy Nativity.

Perhaps the most famous event during Grafton’s long episcopate was the ordination of his successor in 1900. He invited the Russian Orthodox Bishop Tikhon and the Old Catholic Bishop Anthony Kozlowski to participate. The service stirred up furor across the country with the publication of a photograph (called derisively “The Fond du Lac Circus”) that showed all eight Episcopal bishops and the two visiting bishops in cope and miter. It caused a church-wide furor over ritual and vestments that lasted for over six months, with accusations and threats of ecclesiastical trial flying from all corners, and with scurrilous attacks and virulent justifications. When the dust finally settled, the legitimacy of traditional catholic ritual and vestments had thereafter gained a permanent place in the liturgy in the Episcopal Church.

Bishop Grafton died August 30, 1912.

Collect of the Day

Loving God, you called Charles Chapman Grafton to be a bishop in your Church and endowed him with a burning zeal for souls: Grant that, following his example, we may ever live for the extension of your kingdom, that your glory may be the chief end of our lives, your will the law of our conduct, your love the motive of our actions, and Christ’s life the model and mold of our own; through the same Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, throughout all ages. Amen.


Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 50:16–21

Revelation 5:7–10

John 10:11–16

Psalm 134

Preface of a Saint (1)

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

To post a comment, your first and last name and email address are required. Your name will be published; your email address will not. The first time you post, a moderator will need to approve your submission; after that, your comments will appear instantly.

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

13 thoughts on “August 30: Charles Chapman Grafton, Bishop of Fond du Lac, and Ecumenist, 1912

  1. Today’s Daily Office reading with it’s mention of the prophet Agabus brings to mind that he is not in our calendar. (RC, Feb. 13; Orthodox, March 8) In today’s reading he predicts an upcoming famine, which prompts the church in Antioch to begin saving for the church in Jerusalem. In Acts 21 he performs a prophetic action to let Paul know of his impending bondage should Paul continue to Jerusalem.

    For me, he’s a reminder of those who warn us of impending catastrophe and call us to conscious action — the economists who saw what derivative trading and unfettered greed would bring; the scientists who called us to action decades ago about global environmental consequences.

  2. I note that when I posted my comment, I typed the date of the Orthodox observance of Agabus as being March 8 — when I closed the parenthesis, I unwittingly created a smiley face. Obviously the Orthodox date must be the preferred one.

  3. Just a brief addition to the too-short sentence “He founded the Sisters of the Holy Nativity” would greatly enhance the bio. “Motivated by…,” “in response to…” or some similar leading clause that offers explanation of his motivation and/or rationale for this action seems in order.

  4. I am concerned that the emphasis of vestments and miters puts the wrong emphasis on this commemoration of one of the members of the Oxford Movement in the United States. Even as a Episcopalian from the low church tradition, I would be shocked to see an altar without cross and candles, a choir without vestments, a service without orderly liturgy. And I am always surprised when there is no processional cross. [In a controversy over a processional cross, William Augustus Muhlenberg was supposed to have said: “Very well; then we’ll change the processional hymn to “Onward Christian soldiers, Marching as to war; With the Cross of Jesus, Stuck behind the door.”] All of these things which even a low churchman takes for granted were part of the Oxford Movement. What is even more important is the fact that the Oxford movement brought to the American Episcopal Church a revitalized interest in the beauty and reverence for a liturgy which is both modern and ancient. Where would we be without schedule of daily services in larger churches and weekly Holy Communion? This attention to the vitality of the liturgical tradition of the Episcopal Church is more important that vestments and miters.

  5. In as much as HWHM will probably be as close as most Episcopalians get to a course on church history, the inclusion of all these 19th century high church types without at least a smattering of their low and broad church opponents creates a warped account of our history.
    I suppose you can call Grafton an “ecumenicalist,” but like nearly all his high churchmen he was a very selective one, eager to form alliances with his Old Catholic and Orthodox counterparts while scornfully rejecting cooperation with other Protestant denominations and with those of his fellow Episcopalians who did not share his liturgical and sacramental preferences. His treatment of the Rev. Joseph Rene Vilatte (later Mar Timotheos I) fell well short of what we would consider proper ecumenicalism today.
    Grafton was also a bitter opponent of “German” historical criticism, which he thought represented a deliberate attempt to undermine the authority of Scripture.
    I’m not suggesting Grafton be dropped, only that some balance be added to the calendar: How about Rowland Williams as a defender of the “new learning,” and some evangelical bishops like Moore, Meade, and Johns of Virginia for liturgical balance?

  6. I think there are several “liberal” or “low church” (not the same thing) representatives on the calendar whom we’ve discussed so far. One is a woman (name forgotten) who was instrumental in starting a new church school series. Another, I think, is William DuBose (does anyone know what he thought about the “German” historical criticism? And there was someone from the early days of the Virginia Theological Seminary who was “evangelical.” . I’m not at home and don’t have my copy of HWHM, but will look them up. I think the idea of “balance” is a very good one. (Aside: when we filled out the questionnaire at the beginning of this “journey,” we were asked to identify ourselves on that old “high, low, middle” spectrum. I find that a little difficult to deal with today, and would prefer evangelical, Anglo-Catholic, and liberal.” ) But whatever we call ourselves, I agree with Steve that there needs to be a balance.

  7. Hebrew reading: Is this reading from Sirach a ‘high church’ blessing?
    NT Reading: And with incense!
    Bishop Grafton would be smiling as he is in the famous ‘Fond du Lac Circus’ picture regarding these two choices.
    Psalm 134: Two verses. Nice verses mind you … but just two of them?
    Incidentally, I am glad to see that Sirach will be noted in HWHM as Sirach (Ecclesiasticus). This will be of great benefit to lectors searching for Sirach in various translations of Scripture.

    Bio: Bishop Grafton needs a ‘who he is’ and ‘why he is important’ statement. He does have a ‘He died on …’ statement!
    2nd paragraph: Regarding the origination of SSJE – might the sentence read: “In the following year, 1866, after a series of meetings …”

  8. The writer assumes that the reader is as well acquainted with London as (say) New York City, but for those who are not aware that All Saints, Margaret Street, was and still is the home of excellent “High Church” liturgy, it would help to add “London,” after “Street in line 4 of the second paragraph.

    After “Pusey” in the third line of the second paragraph, I recommend adding ” a leader of the Oxford Movement (see entry for September 18).”

    I learn from the internet that the order of the Sisters of the Holy Nativity was founded in 1882. That date should be shown, and the entry moved, preferably to become the last sentence of the second paragraph, and certainly prior to the to the mention of Grafton’s election to the Episcopate in 1888.

    The fourth paragraph would be improved by adding the word “eventual” before “successor”in the second line, and by adding “as coadjutor” after “successor”.

    In line 8 of the fourth paragraph, substitute “controversy” for “furor”, as we have already read in line 4 that a “furor” arose.

    In line 10 of the fourth paragraph, delete the first “and” (not needed).

    In line 12 of the fourth paragraph, delete “thereafter” (redundant, as we are then told that the change was “permanent”).

    Also in line 12 of the fourth paragraph, substitute “of” for the second “in”.

    The final line would be improved by substituting some such words as “Grafton remained the Bishop of Fond du Lac until the year of his death. He died on August 30, 1912.” (I don’t know if he resigned or retired before his death.)

  9. Grafton is a great hero out here in the biretta belt. I am glad to see that we are able to look beyong the “Fond du Lac Circus” to recognize a holy bishop.

  10. This man has been my hero since I was a teenager and first heard about him (in about 1966) from an old man who had actually met Bishop Grafton after he had retired. I then reseached him, and as a cradle Anglo-Catholic, I thought he should be a saint. Now he is, at least in the Episcopal Church.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s