Tuesday, April 1, 2008

James Lloyd Breck

April 2, 2008
The Chapel of the Resurrection

Today is the feast day of one of my favorite saints in the Episcopal Church, James Lloyd Breck. Breck has special ties to those of us around here, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

Breck was born June 27, 1818 near Philadelphia. Very early on in his life, he came under the influence of High Church Episcopalians, especially, under the influence of Bishop Jackson Kemper, who was the Missionary Bishop of the West.

Breck, William Adams and John Henry Hobart, two of his classmates at General Seminary in New York, were inspired, shortly after their ordination to the transitional deaconate, to heed Bishop Kemper’s call to come west—in this case, Wisconsin. There, in 1842, they founded a school in what was then called “the wilderness.” That school was Nashotah House, which is still a seminary of the Episcopal Church. In fact, it is my seminary.

In founding Nashotah House, the intent was more than just another missionary endeavor in the wilderness. It was meant to establish a truly monastic community there, based solidly on Anglo-Catholic, Tractarian ideals. According to George E. DeMille, in his now-classic The Catholic Movement in the American Episcopal Church, writes,

“…the three [Breck, Adams and Hobart] founded at Nashotah, in the wilds of Wisconsin, the first monastic institution in the American Church. This was to be at once a missionary center, a seminary, and a monastery.”

A glimpse of the early worship at Nashotah House reflects the Anglo-Catholic ideal:

“The community rose at five, recited the canonical hours, received Holy Communion once a week, supported itself by manual labor, and evangelized the country for miles around. In 1844, Breck attempted to have a daily Eucharist, but this lasted for a year only.”

A note to this section in DeMille’s book gives an amusing air to the intent of the Nashotah House founders:

“It was originally planned that [Adams, Breck and Hobart] should work under the Rev. Richard Cadle, an experienced missionary and an old Hobartian. But Cadle, to whom was given the title of ‘superior’ or ‘prior,’ was more than a little uncomfortable with his eager young associates. He remarks, ‘The imposition of celibacy I candidly confess I do not like, not being in the slightest degree oxfordized.’ Cadle soon left for other fields.”

Although it has experienced years of feasting and fasting in its history, Nashotah House has maintained its Catholic identity, even in those times when such an identity was seen as eccentric, odd or “Papist.” While at Wisconsin, Breck was ordained a priest.

In 1850, Breck moved on to a new wilderness—Minnesota. There, he worked among the Chippewa, in Gull Lake, where he organized St. Columba’s mission. According to Lesser Feasts and Fasts, St. Clumba’s mission “laid the foundation for work among the Indians by their own native priests…” While there, he married in 1855.

But Breck wasn’t done yet. In 1858, he moved on and founded a school in southern Minnesota that is now Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault. After his time in Minnesota, Breck moved on to California. There, in Benicia, he founded two more schools, a boy’s school, St. Augustine’s, in 1868, and, in 1870, a girls school, St. Mary’s of the Pacific. In addition to starting these schools, Breck was also the pastor of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Benicia. It was there that Breck died of exhaustion on March 31, 1876 at the age of 58.

He was, at first, buried under the altar of St. Paul’s. But later he was disinterred and re-buried in the cemetery at Nashotah House, where he still rests to this day under a huge granite cross. On the stone we find the following inscription:
DIED MARCH 30, 1876

The message of James Lloyd Breck to all of us is this:

As Christians, we are often called to venture into the “wilderness.” The wilderness in our lives is often more than just an actual physical wilderness. Often the wilderness is simply that place that is alien to us—that uncomfortable, strange place we would rather not venture in to.

Let’s face it: it’s safe to stay put. It’s comfortable not to venture beyond our comfort zone. But sometimes, we have to. Sometimes, like James Lloyd Breck, God puts a restlessness inside us that makes us get up and wander into our own personal wilderness.

What Breck shows us is that we need not despair in our going out. If we go forward into the wilderness strong in our faith and convictions, supported and nourished by that faith in God, we know that, no matter how frightening and uncertain the wilds are, we will be all right. Breck went into the wilderness with his Anglo-Catholic beliefs and his love of education, and, in doing so, left behind a legacy of Anglo-Catholicism and quality education in those places he went. And that is what we should do as well in our wilderness. By going into our own wilds, we, in a sense, tame the wilderness and leave behind us something good and productive. That’s why we need to be well-nourished in our faith so we can leave that well-nourished faith behind us wherever we go.

So, let us follow James Lloyd Breck as he leads the way. Let us follow his path into those unfamiliar areas that lie ahead of us. No one—not even God—is promising us a relief from hardships. But God does promise us strength when we need it and nourishment when we are famished.

So, strengthened and nourished, let us go forward. And there, let us serve God with integrity and strength.


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