Ward, Bishop Seth

1/1/1909

BISHOP SETH WARD
- 1909
 
Of no previous quadrennium does the history of our Church record losses from the College of Bishops as many and as grievous as of the one now nearing its close. First Tigert, scholar and mystic, apparently youthful and vigorous in body and brain above his fellows, taken away by what men call a trifling accident; then Smith, the great preacher, finished his course through tribulations of invalidism and enforced retirement; then Granbery, the saint and scholar, passed out of the sunset glow into the land of fadeless light; then Duncan, the man whose courtly grace and kindly heart never suffered through the years of his strenuous toil; then Galloway, the polished orator and sagacious administrator, through whose ministry our Church had obtained a wider influence, both at home and abroad, laid down with his body the responsibilities that the Church had placed upon his youthful shoulders twenty-two years ago; and, last, Ward, whose death, in a distant land, leaves us the more bereaved, because we were looking for his kind and able presidency over our Conference at this time, had he not gone to join the general assembly and church, of the Firstborn who are caroled in heaven.
The Louisiana Conference mourns the death of Bishop Ward with peculiar grief. The three years of his brief Episcopate he was our presiding Bishop, and would have been with us for the fourth time had it pleased the Chief Shepherd to prolong his days. So personal was the relationship that obtained between him and the members of this Conference that his loss is felt by them as that of a dear friend and brother. So judicious and painstaking has been his oversight of the churches in Louisiana, that only the firm conviction that the Head of the Church is still choosing men, and ordaining them to the apostolate, and sending them forth to bear fruit, relieves our sense of irretrievable loss in his death.
Bishop Ward came up to eminence by means of toil and fidelity to an ideal. He was reticent concerning his own life and frequent conversations with him have left me no reminiscences of his boyhood days and early struggles. His scholastic advantages were those afforded by our public schools and the friend ship of men who knew how to advise him concerning the use of books. From the obscure mission that he served as his pastorate, to the great congregation of Shearn Church, he plodded steadily on, always. faithful to the ideal of making himself a workman that needed not to be ashamed. He had read more books of a solid, thought-provoking character than almost any man I knew. He was saved by his absolute sincerity and his common sense from all pretensions to scholarship that he did not possess. Controlled by the same traits of character he could not do less than express a certainty of the things he' did know. Circumstances could not deflect. him from his purpose of making of himself an efficient Minister of the Gospel. As Assistant Secretary of the Board of Missions and as a Bishop of the Church, incessant in labors, and spending the greater part of his time in travel, he was true to his ideal and continued to labor with book and pen. Who dares to say that he had not realized in a great measure that ideal when death overtook him, and in perfect knowledge vanished away in the beautiful vision.
Both in the Secretaryship and in the Bishopric his work was a surprise to many. His senior in the Missionary Secretaryship says that he more rapidly and completely mastered the details of his office than any other of his predecessors. By the same authority he is credited with a well-nigh unfailing judgment. As a Bishop he surprised some even of his friends who had had much satisfaction in voting for him, by his quick mastery of the duties of that most difficult and delicate of all offices in the Church. I do not know what his earlier preaching had been; he was not in repute as a great preacher, though the eloquence of intense interest and conviction often, characterized his missionary addresses; but his sermons at the Conferences marked him at once as a great preacher, not so much by originality of thought as by oratorical mastery and moral enthusiasm. He prepared for his conferences by thorough study long in advance of their sessions. He loved to regard himself as the pastor to the preachers, and as such took to his heart the interests of every man. He was free from prejudice and his affection for the Louisiana Conference, whether or not for others, was a genuine blossom of the heart. To his wise administration the churches of Louisiana owe a debt` that cannot easily be measured. Here also he showed the fruits of diligence in preparation. He exceeded promise, and never fell short of what was expected of him. When others had failed in the difficult administration of our missions in Asia, he succeeded, and allayed passions and reconciled strifes. He was ever a peace-maker, and was followed by the benediction of the children of peace.
I do not know much of Bishop Ward's inner life history. He was consistently moral without any strain whatever of eccentricity. It seems to me that the mystical elements were less prominent that the ethical, but his preaching never lacked the note of conscious fellowship with the Father and the Son. He was theological, rather than ethical in his preaching, but his life was one of serving. Many incidents might be given of this. dominant trait of his piety. Let one suffice. While on his episcopal visitation in Korea he saw three old women taken out of the city to die, according to the inhuman custom of the land. He immediately had the poor abandoned creatures taken to a house, hired with his own money, for their reception, and was rewarded by the recovery to health and conversion to Christ of one of them.
Bishop Ward never sought for himself high things,. save the high things of personal character, and yet he was sanely appreciative of the human and organized side of the Church, especially as related to the promotion and just advancement of the men in the ministry. For himself he sought nothing but work. When Galveston lay broken by storm and desolated by death, a third of her population having perished, her whole municipal plant destroyed, and her social and religious life in suspension, being assured that one of the most important, pleasant and remunerative appointments in the Texas Conference was to be assigned him, he went to the Presiding Bishop and said in effect, "I understand that you are having difficulty in finding any man to go to Galveston. Send me, if you wish. I have talked over the matter with my wife, and we are willing to go and take our chances for support and all else." No one was more surprised than he when on the third ballot he was elected a Bishop at Birmingham. I saw him standing by a pillar that supports the gallery in the First Church when the vote was announced. I sought him as soon as possible, his deep emotions for once broke through his habitual reserve; he could not speak. This modest, self-effacing, industrious man, knew not how valuable was the gift that he had put into his Master's hand when he gave himself, the product under God of his self-denials and toils and prayers. If ever a man illustrated the aphorism "Self-denial is self-culture, "it was he.
The ministry of his death bed was not without its fruits. Devoted to duty, he went to the East on his episcopal visitation when he should have been taking vacation from his arduous labors and heavy responsibilities. He was compelled to stop in Japan,; where tenderly cared for by the brethren of our own, the Methodist Episcopal and the Japan Methodist Churches, his life slowly ebbed out. He put not again to sea homeward bound for the shores where his loved ones awaited in anxious concern what news the cable might bring of him, but his spirit crossed the bourne of time and space from a foreign land, and he went there to the true and abiding homeland,
Had I had information in advance that it would be my privilege to prepare the In Memoriam of` our departed Bishop, I should have sought all the necessary data and given you the simple story of his life of self-denying labor. More eloquent than any appreciation that I could pen. Lacking that I will summarize his life in the matchless words of Him whom he now sees, no longer as in a mirror, but face to face. "I know thy words, and thy love and faith and ministry and patience, and that thy last works are more than the first."
Source: Journal of the Louisiana Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South; 1909, by Fitzgerald Sale Parker