March 27: Charles Henry Brent, Bishop of the Philippines, and of Western New York, 1929

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.

Charles Henry Brent was born in Canada in 1862 and was educated at Trinity College, University of Toronto. Ordained in Canada, he came to the United States where, in 1901, he was elected by the House of Bishops as Missionary Bishop of the Philippines. In the Philippines, he began a crusade against the opium traffic, a campaign he later expanded to the continent of Asia. He became President of the Opium Conference in Shanghai in 1909, and represented the United States on the League of Nations Narcotics Committee. He also established cordial relations with the Philippine Independent Church, which led, ultimately, to intercommunion with that Church.

Bishop Brent served as Senior Chaplain of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I, and in 1918 he accepted election as Bishop of Western New York, having declined three previous elections in order to remain at his post in the Philippines.

Brent was the outstanding figure of the Episcopal Church on the world scene for two decades. The central focus of his life and ministry was the cause of Christian unity. After attending the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910, he led the Episcopal Church in the movement that culminated in the first World Conference on Faith and Order, which was held in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1927, and over which he presided. He died in 1929.

James Thayer Addison, the historian, described Brent 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.”

Brent was also a man of prayer. One of his prayers for the mission of the Church has been included in the Book of Common Prayer: “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.”


I     Heavenly Father, whose Son did pray that we all might be one: Deliver us, we beseech thee, from arrogance and prejudice, and give us wisdom and forbearance, that, following thy servant Charles Henry Brent, we may be united in one family with all who confess the Name of thy Son Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

II     Heavenly Father, whose Son prayed that we all might be one: Deliver us from arrogance and prejudice, and give us wisdom and forbearance, that, following your servant Charles Henry Brent, we may be united in one family with all who confess the Name of your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.


Isaiah 56:6-8

Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13

Matthew 9:35-38

Psalm 122

Preface of Pentecost


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

* * *

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?

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17 thoughts on “March 27: Charles Henry Brent, Bishop of the Philippines, and of Western New York, 1929

  1. New Hebrew reading: This seems to fit the commemoration well.

    Bio: 3rd paragraph – after the ‘he died statement’. add ‘and is buried in Lausanne’.

  2. There is no mention of his selection and consecration as bishop, and for which diocese. Enquiring minds want to know.

    His place of burial (mentioned in Michael’s comment) was an interesting addition that says a great deal about the importance of Christian unity in his own personal sense of life. Paragraph 3 seems too early to die — I’d place the death and burial statement at the end of the write-up.

  3. The bio should support the collect’s ” deliver us from arrogance and prejudice, and give us wisdom and forbearance.” What arrogance and prejudice did Brent confront with wisdom and forbearance?
    “The outstanding figure of the Episcopal Church on the world scene for two decades” deserves a better tag line than a mere listing of his sees. He isn’t in HWHM because he was the best of all bishops of Western New York.

    • Re: best of all bishops of Western New York. Oh, I don’t know … he is still very highly regarded in the Diocese of Western New York (which at that time included the (now) Diocese of Rochester).

      And his work with the American Expeditionary Force under General Pershing as Chief of Chaplains should not be disregarded.

  4. Given his era, was the prayer Bishop Charles composed this version or the Rite I version? I’m betting the latter; does anyone know? If I’m correct, the Rite I version should be quoted, or the text should indicate that what is reproduced there is a contemporary-language paraphrase of what he wrote.

  5. If ‘the central focus of his life and ministry was the cause of Christian unity’, and that certainly seems the central focus of the collect, then I suggest dropping the business about the opium trade and being chaplain to the troops and using the space to say more about his ecumenical work. Here are some quotes from the American National Biography that may be useful:

    ‘Brent’s years as bishop of the Philippines (1901-1917) were characterized by his eager cooperation with all other religions, including non-Christian…

    ‘Brent sought to explore areas of preexisting theological agreement and possible united action. A milestone had been the 1910 World Missionary Conference held in Edinburgh… Brent had been present, and he subsequently thought that authentic unity, rather than limited cooperation between churches, was possible within a century. He urged that a world conference be held to establish bases of agreement. Brent described his views in The Mount of Vision (1918)… Brent presided at the great World Conference on Faith and Order held in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1927. Brent was delighted because the ideal of Christian unity widened at the 1927 conference… The Lausanne Conference was a major step toward Christian congeniality, and Brent anticipated further steps toward union in the months after Lausanne. It was his persistent follow-up committee work after the 1927 conference that hastened his death.’

    The bio doesn’t say that the phrase is Brent’s, but I must say I love the idea of ‘Christian congeniality’—or even a bit of congeniality between those with opposing views about this and that in the same church!

  6. I also like the phrase. I have mostly seen Christian congeniality here, but it seems like a good goal to hold mindfully.

    And I’m happy to report, given Bishop Brent’s passionate commitment to ecumenism, that if you Google the first part of his lovely prayer, you’ll find that it features on the websites of Presbyterians, a Community Church, Anglican/Episcopal parishes, various personal websites, and even a Trappist monastery in Vina, CA. All of whom, I’m also glad to say, credit the BCP, page 101! (I do admit that I didn’t look at all 90,900 results.) What a lovely gift from Bishop Brent, through the BCP and thus the Episcopal Church, to the world!

  7. Charles Henry Brent, Bishop of the Philippines, and of Western New York, 1929.

    TITLE: Again, we find ourselves skewered on the horns of two theologies, the “ordination” theology that sees all orders as inherently praiseworthy so long as they’re ordained, (with some being more praiseworthy than others – and thus sufficient unto themselves for HWHM titles), in contrast to the “baptismal” theology that sees all as justified by grace yet recognizing individuality in the ways each Christian inhabits the circumstances of her/his Christian life and work as part of the church gathered, as well as church scattered. This view requires titles that point to contributions above and beyond one’s “order.”
    I just realized the GC paragraph I quoted yesterday actually (but probably absent mindedly) restricts/ limits/ applies the baptismal theology only to lay people! “Attention should also be paid … to the inclusion of laypeople (witnessing in this way to our baptismal understanding of the Church….” No wonder we end up with heterogeneity in titles, like “Clark Kent, Saved World from Nuclear Holocaust” versus “Clark Kent, Bishop of Metropolis”!
    Brent’s title could be given as, “Missionary, Senior Military Chaplain, Anti-addictions Advocate, Christian Unity Organizer, and Bishop.”
    Paragraph 1: “He CAME to America” – why? On a shopping trip? Sightseeing? Did he become a citizen and/or was he received into PECUSA? Was he already a bishop, or was he a deacon or priest when he “came to America”? Was he located someplace, or just free-floating in “America”? Could he have immigrated to the United States? (Canada is “in America” too – it’s like a condo; we only own part of it.) I’m saying there is too much in the second sentence, and a great deal of additional explanatory (and logical) progression is needed.
    “Crusade” no longer carries the same warm-fuzzy, idealistic, universally loved connotations we once naively assumed it carried. Something more descriptive and less provocative is needed in its place.
    The paragraph’s LAST sentence flows from his becoming bishop of the Philippines, and should follow the sentence mentioning his being appointed to it. THEN add the opium and narcotics sentences, being careful not to leave gaping holes in chronology or continuity. (It doesn’t flow well at present.) It also doesn’t say his opium/narcotics effort resulted in anything worth mentioning. Mention it, if it’s worth mentioning.
    Paragraph 2 is only one sentence long, has no stated connection with what precedes it, no indication of accomplishment in the military role, and no idea how long or how well he served as diocesan in WNY. Giving so little information comes close to “damning with faint praise.” The final clause in the paragraph (declining election three times to stay in the Philippines) sits awkwardly as is. What is its point? That he was faithful as a Missionary? That he was sought for some unstated quality? What changed his mind about leaving for Buffalo and WNY (besides its ideal weather)?
    Paragraph 3: Up to this point nothing has been said about Christian Unity except that he hit it off with the “Philippine Independent Church, which led, ultimately, to intercommunion with that Church.” The lead sentence in paragraph 3 stands in the way of its important second sentence, “The central focus of his (Brent’s) life and ministry was the cause of Christian unity.” What should follow this, however, needs some soulful consequential content – more than the sterile fact of attending or organizing or presiding at meetings and such. Judge Judy can preside, but that’s hardly “inspirational”! Philip Wainright’s suggested quotations about Brent’s Christian Unity efforts, or paraphrased summaries to that effect, are sorely needed here. Jumping, in this paragraph, directly to “He died in 1929” (with two more paragraphs to go!) is premature.
    Paragraph 4: I suggest using the displaced sentence from paragraph 3 (“Brent was the outstanding figure…” etc.) at the head of the present paragraph 4. I’d also specify WHICH “two decades” are meant (since his career spanned three decades, 1901-1929). Then I’d follow with what is already printed – mostly that long quote from Addison.
    HOWEVER, I would also put the revised paragraph 4 in the final (5th paragraph) position, switching present paragraphs 4 and 5, ending ultimately with Michael’s suggestion of, “He died in 1929. He was buried in Lausanne, Switzerland.”
    Paragraph 5: (The present paragraph 5) – I wouldn’t change a word of this paragraph. Simply making it penultimate, instead of ultimate, appeals to me because it affirms his being a man of prayer, and cites a prayer we all use in worship.
    COLLECT: The given collect suffers from now familiar objections: no “so that” clause; one more item for God’s “to do” list; less than perfect “fit” for the strengths noted in the write-up, etc. I’d use Brent’s own prayer, adding a reference to him, as unobtrusively as possible. It reflects his passion, his compassion, his prayerfulness, and contains a “to that” which would make a positive difference in the life of anyone praying it. The addition might be: “…cross that [, with your servant Charles Henry Brent,] everyone [or, “all”] might [or, “may”] come within …”
    READINGS: The two NT passages and the psalm make sense. The OT lesson is underwhelming. Isaiah 42:5-10a might be an improvement to consider:
    5 Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it:
    6 I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations,
    7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
    8 I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols.
    9 See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.
    10a Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise from the end of the earth!

    • John– I like the Isaiah very much. I hope we can keep it. We seem to be struggling with subtitles quite a bit of late– partly because of the 2-theology dilemma you address, and also, I think, because the figures that are really worth honoring here are not that easily summed up (nor should they be). Lots of people have been bishops, some of them eminently forgettable, so in itself that doesn’t seem to do it.
      (I think the earliest figures, the Church Fathers, are a different story.) (Only “Fathers,” because pretty much only men were bishops, pace Theodora Episcopa)

      But Nigel, I don’t think only being a Missionary covers his importance either. Maybe Missionary and Advocate for Christian Unity? Missionary, Bishop, and Advocate for Christian Unity? You need to pick your laudatory titles: is the Chaplaincy as important as those I named? The anti-drug activity? (“Anti-addiction” sounds too 12-steps-ish; the opium trade was of course about a lot more, especially political power.)

  8. I suggest a subtitle that simply states “Missionary to the Philippines”.

    Line 1, first paragraph” substitute “at New Castle, Ontario, Canada on April 9,” for “born in Canada in”.

    Last line, third paragraph: substitute “there on March 27,” for “in”.

  9. Re “He died in 1929.” He is buried in the main cemetery of Lausanne, Switzerland, in the section reserved for “honored foreigners” and his tomb is still often visited and adorned with commemorative plaques brought by delegations from the Philippines.

  10. Bill– that’s lovely! I hope that can be included in the bio.
    (PS– are you the Dean Bill Petersen from Bexley Hall?)

  11. The bio somewhat understates Brent’s role in the AEF. When General Pershing was given the command in 1917, he asked Brent to organize the chaplaincy for the force and then persuaded him to stay on to run the organization he had created. Pershing and Brent must have met in the Philippines, for Pershing was there until 1903. Brent’s organization was a first for the US Army in terms of scale and centralization, and it established the precedent for the creation of the post of Chief of Chaplains in 1920.
    The New York Times (“‘Filipinos do not like Americans’ says Bishop Brent” Dec 4, 1910) quotes Brent’s cablegram to the Standing Committee of Washington, turning down his election as bishop: “Must decline. I would have gone, but God bids me stay. John v.30.” And the article adds this: “Incidentally he [Brent] is one of those men who have friends among all classes. It was of him that an American who has lived long in the Philippines enthusiastically remarked, ‘Bishop Brent is the only missionary I ever knew whom I liked.'”

  12. […] Heavenly Father, whose Son prayed that we all might be one: Deliver us from arrogance and prejudice, and give us wisdom and forbearance, that, following your servant Charles Henry Brent, we may be united in one family with all who confess the Name of your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. Learn more about Bishop Brent. […]

  13. St. Andrew’s Episcopal church in Buffalo, NY was dedicated to the life of Bishop Brent.

    Hi Virginia, Next time we need your full name when you post to the blog. Thanks. — Ed.

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