Selwyn Bicentenary

This years brings the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Augustus Selwyn, the first Anglican Bishop of New Zealand, and later  Bishop of Lichfield from 1868 to 1878.

The C of E usually remembers him on April 11th, his birthday, but this year he was bumped out of the calendar because that was Easter Eve.

But it would be remiss of us not to mark the anniversary, so a number of folk in Cambridge, where Selwyn College bears his name,  took the initiative and called a Symposium yesterday on Visions of the Anglican Communion: past, present and future. The Archbishop of Canterbury broke his Easter hols to join the 70 or so of us there, preaching at evensong as well as starting off and summing up. Other speakers were Warren Limbrick, Allan Davidson, Bill Jacob, Colin Podmore and Gregory Cameron.

Does all this matter? Well, Selwyn cut a serious swathe as a missionary bishop, being the first ‘colonial bishop’ for instance to challenge the wording of his Letters Patent, which purported to derive his spiritual authority from the Crown as well as his jurisdiction. He struggled with Henry Venn of CMS to discern whether the society’s aim of missionary dioceses based on indigenous clergy, alongside expatriate provision, or his own preferred model of a single diocese for all races, committed to mission together, was better. He was instrumental in the founding of the Lambeth Conference, and in building better relationships with the Anglican Church in America. (Don’t imagine it was ever an easy relationship…) All these are still live issues – and it is good to have a frame to see them through.

And oh yes, Selwyn also wrote a pamphlet Are Cathedral Institutions useless ? A Practical Answer to this Question, addressed to W. E. Gladstone, Esq., M.P., (Gladstone was a lifelong friend). It’s a wonderful title; and the actual content is in a way better, because it was an early exploration of how cathedrals could be centres of education – still a live issue again today.