Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana Archives

George Upfold, First Bishop, 1849-1872


The first bishop of the new Diocese of Indiana was the Rt. Rev. George Upfold of Trinity Episcopal Church, Pittsburgh, elected in June of 1849 and consecrated in December that year. His election gave the diocese a sense of permanence and freed Jackson Kemper, the Missionary Bishop, to focus his attentions elsewhere in the West. Filling Kemper's shoes was not an easy task. The brilliant missionary had won converts to the faith with his engaging personality, his kindly demeanor, and his even temper. He presented the Episcopal Church and its formal liturgy as a welcoming place to educated converts who were often community leaders. The new bishop, by contrast, was more austere and reserved in temperament, keeping his more genial personality closely guarded to his family and close friends.

Upfold was born on 7 May 1796 in Shenely Green, near Guildford, Surrey, England, the son of George and Mary (Chesmar) Upfold. He came to America at the age of 8 with his parents and settled in Albany, New York. He studied at Lansingburgh Academy, followed by Union College in Schenectady, which he entered at age 14. He took an early interest in practicing medicine, studying under a physician in Albany and receiving his medical degree from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1816 after having served briefly in the War of 1812. Within a year, however, he abandoned his training and began studying for the priesthood. He married Sarah Sophia Graves in June 1817, moved to New York City, and began reading for orders under Bishop John Henry Hobart, one of the leading figures in the Church. Hobart, who would become an advocate of the High Church Movement within the Anglican Church, ordained Upfold a deacon in 1817 and a priest two years later. The High Church Movement, a precursor to the Oxford Movement, stressed conformity with the doctrines of the pre-reformation Anglican Church, including Apostolic Succession, but resisting many Catholic doctrines that some members of the Movement admired. Upfold's own theology was strongly influenced by Hobart.

The new priest's first assignment came in 1820 at St. Luke's Church in New York City, a venture his friends dubbed "Upfold's Folly," because the parish could hardly support him. He was forced to find additional work the following year at Trinity Church on Wall Street. He moved from there to St. Thomas' Church in New York City, then in 1831 to Trinity Church in Pittsburgh. By this time his family had grown to two surviving daughters, Emily and Sophia. Four other children had died in infancy.

Upfold was an acquaintance of Kemper's, and in 1849, the priest and his family had taken an excursion down the Ohio River to Cincinnati and Indianapolis to visit another friend confined to an insane asylum. While there, the warden of Christ Church, Indianapolis, persuaded Upfold to stay over and preach, and he made a positive impression on his audience. Two months later, the Annual Council of the diocese elected him bishop after three earlier attempts to elect other candidates had failed. Upfold assented and was consecrated in Indianapolis on 16 December 1849, with Kemper, Charles McIlvaine of Ohio, Cicero Hawks of Missouri, and Benjamin Smith of Kentucky as consecrators. The diocese offered him a paltry salary of $1,000, which he could supplement by also becoming rector of St. John's in Lafayette.

By 1850, the wildness of the Indiana frontier had retreated somewhat from what Kemper had experienced in 1835, but the task of shoring up the diocese remained daunting. There were only 23 Episcopal churches in the state with a total population of just under one million. Comparatively, the Methodists had 754 church buildings, the Baptists 385, the Presbyterians 295, and the Christians 161. The Wabash & Erie Canal, together with new roads connecting newly constructed towns, had helped improve transportation, but just 200 miles of rail existed in 1850 and travel on them was primitive. Much of Indiana's interior remained undeveloped. Upfold, like Kemper, had to endure rough roads and cold guest rooms, but his more delicate constitution and rheumatoid arthritis, which he called "neuralgia," made it even more challenging for him. When on his visitations he often yearned for home. He wrote to his daughter; "I am glad to learn there is a prospect of having when I reach home a substantial dinner, a thing which I have only had twice since I left Fort Wayne. Pickles, sweetmeats, cookies, and tea are the usual articles provided, morning, noon, and night. If there is any meat, it is done to death, all the juices evaporated in the cooking and covered up with melted lard. Then the beds are inconvenient - sometimes feathers, sometimes corn husks with the cobs left in, sometimes straw, sometimes spring mattresses with the springs dilapidated and worn."

In his first year the new bishop was able to visit most of the parishes in the diocese. At the annual council in June, he reported that he had consecrated three churches, ordained three priests, baptized 22, confirmed 88, and celebrated communion just nine times. Only 14 priests were able to be seated at the convention. Most of the parishes were located in the southern or central part of the state: Madison, Lawrenceburg, Crawfordsville, Indianapolis, Jeffersonville, New Albany, Richmond, Evansville, Vincennes, Lafayette, and later New Harmony and Terre Haute. Early parishes in the north, in place before 1840, included only Michigan City, La Porte, Mishawaka, Logansport, Bristol, Delphi, and Fort Wayne. Northern Indiana proved more inaccessible with only the Wabash & Erie Canal and a few turnpikes, often awash in mud, as the principal means of travel.

According to David Miller's biography of Upfold, the new bishop had a limited focus for his ministry: sustaining existing congregations and reaching out to Episcopalians and Anglicans already in the state. "His was at first not a ministry of conversion, but a ministry to Episcopalians among the waves of population sweeping into the state. On these journeys he would occasionally encounter groups of Episcopalians who gathered for worship according to the Book of Common Prayer. If their number was large enough, he encouraged them to organize as a parish. If it was not, he regretted his inability to remain in frequent contact with them."

Upfold's early concerns involved education of the laity in the ways of the church, the shortage of available priests willing to come to the state, and inadequate financial support, both for himself and those of his parishes. He relied on outside support from the Board of Missions to sustain the diocese throughout his episcopate. In the years before the establishment of Nashotah House, which he welcomed and for which he served as a trustee, there were few other opportunities for raising up local men for the priesthood, and going east for seminary was expensive. Yet, as historian L. C. Rudolph writes, "Episcopalians were educated people. They and the standards of their church required an educated ministry."  They appreciated intellectual sermons presented, according to the Rev. Henry Caswell, with some of the "oratorical genius [that was] necessary to oratorical success in republican America." Most churches placed a high bar for their rectors.

Finally, in this era before public schools, Upfold encouraged clergy to open private schools for children to supplement their incomes. Henry Caswell, rector at Madison, estimated in 1839 that the average missionary priest in Indiana received $250 from missionary funds out of a total stipend of $600. Many of the priests were young and inexperienced, fresh out of seminary, who continued their careers elsewhere once they gained experience in Indiana.

With time, the transportation infrastructure in the state improved as did the reception of the Episcopal Church to the uninitiated. However, the church was still regarded with suspicion in some parts of the state. One clergyman commented that an Episcopalian was likely to arouse as much curiosity in some places as the discovery of "some new species of animal life." In spite of these prejudices, Upfold began doggedly to travel by steamboat and increasingly by railroad to make his visitations in the mid-1850s, and the coming of the Civil War boosted greatly the number of available lines. In 1855, freed from his rector duties at Lafayette, he welcomed the ability to have regional conferences with his clergy by district, since the railroads could bring them together. As more parishes were established and congregations worshiped in improved buildings, newcomers to the faith appeared in increasing numbers. Upfold remarked in 1863 that he had preached to larger congregations with many who were "not of our communion."

In his theological views, Upfold resembled his predecessor closely. He was favorably disposed to many of the liturgical innovations of the Oxford Movement and admired E. B. Pusey, but he warned against the adoption of Catholic practices. "The worship was the adornment," he was fond of saying, and he refused to conduct services in any church that displayed flowers in the chancel, though he permitted greens at Christmas. Nearly every church had Holy Tables, instead of altars, on which the Eucharist was celebrated. They also had typically a reading desk, a font, and a pulpit, but few other fixtures. Clergy wore black preaching gowns with white neck cloths or preaching tabs. Bishops wore a simple chimere but not a rochet, and there were no copes or miters. The Eucharist was celebrated in most churches every six weeks, and the bishop did not make it customary on his visitations.

Also like Kemper, Upfold despised the mixing of politics and religion, and he deemed the issue of slavery a political, not a moral, question. He forbid his clergy from addressing slavery or abolitionism from the pulpit, even though many held private abolitionist views. By contrast, both the Methodists and Presbyterians had made slavery an important focus in the antebellum years. Upfold admired and corresponded with Henry Clay and supported the Compromise of 1850, which had permitted the enactment of a fugitive slave law. He remained an old style Whig and did not convert to the Republican Party in the late 1850s when many others did so. At the outbreak of the Civil War he offered no public comment, but he supported President Lincoln's call for a national day of Thanksgiving and sent him a draft liturgy. Upfold's son-in-law, Joseph Bingham, edited the Indianapolis Sentinel which criticized Lincoln and Governor Morton throughout the war. Indeed, many Episcopalians, while pro-Union in sympathy, gave the war only lukewarm support.

Upfold's austere demeanor did little to endear him to the diocese in the way that Kemper was beloved. He disliked the lack of decorum and deference to clergy observed by Hoosiers. Once a man came to his door with a message for the bishop. He inquired if Upfold was at home, to which the bishop replied, "Sir, the Bishop of Indiana is standing before you." Not missing a beat, the messenger turned to face the other direction and exclaimed, "And now the Bishop of Indiana is standing behind me."

Upfold kept his more genial nature confined to his family and close friends. With his wife Sarah Sophia Graves he had two daughters: Sophia, the wife of Joseph Bingham, and Emily, who remained unmarried and later served as diocesan secretary under Bishop Knickerbacker and headed the Women's Auxiliary of Christ Church Indianapolis. Emily recalled that within his family, he always saw "the ridiculous side of everything." His letters home were filled with puns, humorous anecdotes, and the occasional poem. He invented a parlor game in which participants had to guess the meanings of ambiguous clues.  A "lean woman" was a "spare rib." When the family cat had a litter of kittens on a bookshelf in his library, the bishop recalled his allegiance to Oxford Movement reformer E. B. Pusey and remarked, "They call me a Pussyite and I guess I am!"

After the Civil War, Upfold's health continued to deteriorate as his rheumatoid arthritis grew worse. He stopped making visitations, and in August 1865, the diocese elected a Bishop Coadjutor, Joseph Cruikshank Talbot, to assist with official duties. From then on, Talbot became the acting bishop. Upfold confined his appearances to the Annual Council, but then he became increasingly bedridden. His house on North Pennsylvania and St. Joseph in Indianapolis contained a connecting passageway to nearby Grace Church, allowing him to be taken by wheelchair to services. Near the end of his life, even this strain proved too great, though he remained mentally alert. He died on 1 September 1872 and was buried on the Bingham family plot in Crown Hill Cemetery.






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