Charles Henry Brent,
An ambassador for Christ
Did you notice that our scripture lessons today are all about mission and unity? The Isaiah reading is a very familiar passage about God’s house being a “house of prayer for all peoples.” Our Psalm also has this theme, sharing the idea that Jerusalem is the place where all go to unite us as one people who pray together for peace. Just in case we missed this theme, our Epistle reading talks about us each having been given many gifts, gifts which—when used together—build up the body of Christ.
When today’s scripture lessons are bound together in this way, they point primarily to Jesus, who our gospel lesson tells us loves all people. Today, though, we also use these lessons as the focal point for remembering and reflecting upon the life of Charles Henry Brent, an ambassador for Christ.
Brent was a Canadian by birth, born in 1862. He was elected to be the first Missionary Bishop of the Philippines in 1901, just three years after Spain lost the Philippines to the United States in the Spanish-American War. In the Philippines Brent saw his mission as broader than just ministering to the colonizers there, but also as encompassing the conversion of the natives.
While in the Philippines, Brent became very well known internationally as a crusader against the opium trade. He was elected bishop of American dioceses four times; he turned down the first three, becoming Bishop of Western New York only after being Senior Chaplain of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I.
Brent’s main claim to fame, though, was yet to come. He attended the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910—a conference which inspired many outstanding young people to take as their goal the evangelization of the entire world. He passionately argued there for Christian unity, and helped to lead that body in joining forces to tell the world about Christ Jesus.
However, Brent didn’t think that working together for Christ was enough. He saw that Christian churches joined forces by setting aside discussion of “faith and order,” the very real differences in belief and church structure that separated Christian denominations. He organized one of the precursor organizations for the World Council of Churches—the World Conference on Faith and Order—which brought together all Christian Churches (except the Roman Catholics) to begin their work towards Christian unity. James Thayer Addison, a historian, described Brent this way, “He was everywhere an ambassador of Christ.”
How are we an “ambassador for Christ?” Do we stop with the “easy” things—doing things that show Christ’s love—or do we tell others of our faith?
To end, I ask you to join me is praying a prayer that Brent wrote. This prayer is the collect found at the top of page 101 in your Prayer Book:
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.