The Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut

Chauncey Bunce Brewster

Fifth Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut: Coadjutor 1897-1899; Diocesan, 1899-1928

Biographical/Historical Note:

Chauncey Bunce Brewster was the first Bishop of Connecticut in the twentieth century. Many of the programs which shaped the diocese to the present day were established and came to fruition from 1899 to 1928 when he served as diocesan bishop. 

Chauncey Bunce Brewster was born in Windham, Connecticut. His father, The Rev. Joseph Brewster was the Rector of St. Paul’s Church and his mother was Eleanor Bunce.  Chauncy attended Hopkins Grammar School in New Haven and entered Yale University graduating in 1868.  The future bishop entered Berkeley Divinity School in Middletown and graduated in 1872. He was ordained deacon in 1872 and priest in 1873.  His first assignment was as curate at St. Andrew’s Church, Meriden.  He had been at Meriden only a year when he was called to be Rector of Christ Church, Rye, New York.  He had been at Rye only a few months when he married Susan Huntington Whitney, the granddaughter of Eli Whitney, the inventor of the cotton gin.  He had served as rector for nine years when he was called to be Rector of Christ Church, Detroit, Michigan. It was during his tenure at Christ Church that his wife passed away in 1885 and shortly thereafter his infant son, Eli, also died. Within a year Fr. Brewster accepted a call to the rectorship of Grace Church, Baltimore, Maryland.  After three years at Grace Church he accepted a call to be rector of Grace Church, Brooklyn Heights, New York.  It was while serving as Rector of Grace Church that he married Alice Tucker Stephenson. They had a daughter, Eleanor Longfellow Brewster.

During his tenure in Michigan and followed by that in Maryland and New York he was very active in diocesan affairs, serving on the Standing Committee and as a Deputy to General Convention. He also served as Chancellor of the Diocese of Long Island. While serving as Deputy to the General Convention from the Diocese of Long Island in 1895 he was appointed to the Commission on Christian Unity. It was this appointment that led him to a lifelong interest in Christian Unity which became one of the hallmarks of his episcopacy.  His name had been suggested for election to the episcopacy in several dioceses and when Bishop Williams asked for a bishop coadjutor in 1896 The Rev. Chauncy Brewster’s name was one of those suggested.  The election was in St. John’s Church, Waterbury, on June 8, 1896. There were fourteen nominees and Chauncy Bunce Brewster was elected on the eleventh ballot.  He was consecrated bishop on October 28, 1897 in Trinity Church, New Haven.

Bishop Brewster, although certainly a son of Connecticut, had spent almost his entire ministry outside the diocese which he was now called to lead and it is these experiences which helped shape the style of leadership he would bring as he led the diocese into the new century.  Bishop Williams died February 7 1899 and Bishop Brewster became the diocesan. He served in that position to 1928, almost thirty years. It was during his episcopate that he addressed a number of issues that had been on his mind for some years. The welfare of the clergy was a pressing concern and he arranged that the salaries of the clergy be raised, saying “a man cannot do the best work at the lowest wage when harassed by pecuniary anxiety.”  He also was one of the bishops that helped found the Church Pension Fund.

The Bishop felt the diocese needed to be re-called to its vocation as a missionary church. He pointed out the need for new parishes particularly in rural areas of the state.  He never failed to point out that what too many were apt to forget that Connecticut was, in reality, a rural diocese, in spite of the fact that its strength, numerically and financially lay in the cities.  At the General Convention in 1901, the first he attended as a bishop, the issue of world mission was a major issue and the financial need for support of that work required the participation of every diocese. Bishop Brewster urged that Connecticut contribute its share, remarking that missionary work is all one, “be it done beside the quiet Quinnipiac or the broad Yang-tse.”  Eventually he was elected a member of the World Conference of Christian Bodies which became the Commission on Faith and Order. Another issue which he had long supported, beginning when he served as a deputy to General Convention from the Diocese of Michigan in 1883 was the dropping from the title of the Church the word “Protestant.”  He said in 1901, “I have seen no reason to change my mind.”  In this issue he was not successful.

Locally he faced an issue which had periodically surfaced during the episcopate of his predecessors and that was the division of the diocese. This failed to pass when proposed, but it did enable the bishop to raise the matter of episcopal assistance. “My thought” he said, “is not that I may do less work, but that I may be free to do better work.” The only result was an increase in the Fund for the Support of the Episcopate” to enable the bishop to hire retired bishops to come in and perform confirmations.  He felt that this was not satisfactory and after repeatedly bringing the matter before conventions and even holding several unsuccessful elections, he raised the issue once again and this time a suffragan bishop, the Rev. Edmund Campion Acheson, the Rector of Holy Trinity, Middletown was elected and consecrated.

Bishop Brewster was also concerned about another issue which he had discussed and written about from time to time, and that was having a cathedral church for the diocese.  Many issues needed to be resolved but in 1917, the twentieth year of the bishop’s consecration, Christ Church, Hartford, was designated as the cathedral to serve as the diocesan center and as a witness in Connecticut’s capitol city.

Other administrative matters concerned him and these resulted in the addition of lay men as members to the Standing Committee which had been composed of clergy only.  The executive council and what would become the Donations and Bequests for Church Purposes was also begun. His concern for youth work and college ministry was illustrated by the establishment of the Episcopal Church at Yale which was supported by the Bishop Chauncey Bunce Brewster Memorial Fund. He was also instrumental in establishing work among congregations of newly arrived immigrants, most especially those from Italy.  Among other pastoral concerns were those among heretofore neglected groups and he established the Silent Mission for work among the deaf. A strong supporter of labor he was vocal in supporting working men and women during the strikes following World War I.

Bishop Brewster, who was an inspiring preacher and communicator, felt that an active diocese was one in which information needed to be shared about the work of the church. One of the first things he did when he became diocesan was to begin a diocesan magazine, The Connecticut Churchman predecessor of the Good News and now Crux.  His vast responsibilities did not allow for much writing but he did manage to write four books all of which were published by 1912. Two of the most popular were The Catholic Ideal of the Church (1905) and The Kingdom of God And American Life (1912). 

During his episcopate he confirmed 45,000 persons, ordained 149 men to the diaconate and 99 to the priesthood. After serving for 29 years as bishop coadjutor and then diocesan Bishop Brewster resigned in May 1928 at the Diocesan Convention and his resignation was accepted by the General Convention the following  October.  Following his resignation Bishop Brewster continued to assist Bishop Acheson and Bishop Budlong with visitations and confirmations until an illness incapacitated him in 1939. He died peacefully on April 9, 1941 at age 93.

Bishop Brewster was a ninth generation descendant of Elder William Brewster of Mayflower fame and when at the Lambeth Conference in 1920 he preached at St. Andrew’s Church in Plymouth, England on the anniversary of the departure of the Mayflower for the new world.  He observed that he was not sure of what Elder Brewster would have thought of a Bishop Brewster!

Biographical Note by the Rev. Cn. Robert G. Carroon, Ph.D., Historiographer for the Church in Connecticut, 2014, and Archivist and Historiographer (1984-2004)

Collection Summary:

Creator:  Brewster, Chauncey Bunce, 1848-1934
Title and Citation: Brewster, Chauncey Bunce, D.D., Rt. Rev., 1848-1934 Fifth Bishop of Connecticut.  Courtesy of the Archives of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. This series is part of Record Group 1:  Diocesan Bishops (RG1-A5)
Dates:    Episcopate, bulk 1897-1939
Extent:   4.5 linear feet and artifacts
Language:  English
Formats: Manuscripts, correspondence, documents, publications, photographs scrapbooks, artifacts
Processed: Gregory Farr
Scope and Content Note: This record group details the personal and professional life of the Rt. Rev. Chauncey Bunce Brewster, Fifth Bishop of Connecticut, his election and consecration. The record group includes his early career, personal and professional correspondence, and his involvement in Peace activities in WWI, photographs, artifacts, educational and professional achievements, biographies, and literary publications, among other historical and cultural documents.

Collection Inventory:

  • Box 1: Documents in Chronological Order, 1899-1901
  • Box 2: Documents in Chronological Order, 1902 - 1941
  • Box 3: Artifacts even holding several unsuccessful elections, he raised the issue once again and this time a suffragan bishop, the Rev. Edmund Campion Acheson, the Rector of Holy Trinity, Middletown was elected and consecrated.
  • Collection Inventory (.pdf)