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When the General Convention of 1835 made all the members of the Episcopal Church members also of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, it provided at the same time for missionary bishops to serve in the wilderness and in foreign countries. Jackson Kemper was the first such bishop. Although he was assigned to Missouri and Indiana, he laid foundations also in Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Kansas, and made extensive missionary tours in the South and Southwest. Kemper was born in Pleasant Valley, New York, on December 24, 1789. He graduated from Columbia College in 1809, and was ordained deacon in 1811, and priest in 1814.
He served Bishop White as Assistant at Christ Church, Philadelphia. At his urging, Bishop White made his first and only visitation in western Pennsylvania. In 1835, Kemper was ordained bishop, and immediately set out on his travels.
Because Episcopal clergymen, mostly from well-to-do Eastern homes, found it hard to adjust to the harsh life of the frontier—scorching heat, drenching rains, and winter blizzards—Kemper established Kemper College in St. Louis, Missouri, the first of many similar attempts to train clergymen, and in more recent times lay persons as well, for specialized tasks in the Church. The College failed in 1845 from the usual malady of such projects in the church—inadequate funding. Nashotah House, in Wisconsin, which he founded in 1842, with the help of James Lloyd Breck and his companions, was more successful. So was Racine College, founded in 1852. Both these institutions reflected Kemper’s devotion to beauty in ritual and worship.
Kemper pleaded for more attention to the Indians, and encouraged the translation of services into native languages. He described a service among Oneida Indians which was marked by “courtesy, reverence, worship—and obedience to that Great Spirit in whose hands are the issues of life.” From 1859 until his death, Kemper was diocesan Bishop of Wisconsin. He is more justly honored by his unofficial title, “The Bishop of the Whole Northwest.”
I. Lord God, in whose providence Jackson Kemper was chosen first missionary bishop in this land, that by his arduous labor and travel congregations might be established in scattered settlements of the West: Grant that the Church may always be faithful to its mission, and have the vision, courage, and perseverance to make known to all people the Good News of Jesus Christ; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
II. Lord God, in your providence Jackson Kemper was chosen first missionary bishop in this land, and by his arduous labor and travel congregations were established in scattered settlements of the West: Grant that the Church may always be faithful to its mission, and have the vision, courage, and perseverance to make known to all people the Good News of Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Corinthians 3:8–11
Preface of Pentecost
From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.
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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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