MOWLL, Howard West Kilvinton (1890-1958)

Marcus Loane

MOWLL, HOWARD WEST KILVINTON, (b. Dover, England, 2 February 1890; d. Sydney, NSW, 24 Oct 1958). Anglican missionary and bishop.

Mowll's father was a prominent solicitor and alderman in Dover, and a warden of St James' Church for 25 years. The godliness and influence of his home-life were to leave an indelible mark on each of his six children. Howard Mowll attended the King's School at Canterbury in 1903-08 and went up to King's College, Cambridge in October 1909, studying both history and divinity. He thus heard Henry Barclay Swete's lectures on the Ascended Christ and H M Gwatkin's lectures on the Nicene Creed. Graduating BA (IIA History ) in 1912 (MA 1915, DD 1922), he kept three terms in Ridley Hall prior to his ordination in 1913. There were few honours in his after career he valued more highly than these from Cambridge.

Mowll's life-long love for Cambridge was rooted not in its academic activities, but in his membership of the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (CICCU). Mowll had come to Cambridge at the height of tension between the CICCU and the Student Christian Movement (SCM), culminating in the formal disaffiliation of the CICCU from the SCM in 1910. At the end of that year Mowll had become president of CICCU, an office which he was to hold for five terms in 1911 and 1912. During that time, he came into his own as a leader, his genius for leadership flowered in personal influence, in a flair for large-scale organisation, and in total grasp of detail. The great event for which he was responsible while president was the R A Torrey Mission to Cambridge University in November 1911, the most remarkable event of its kind since the Mission of D L Moody in 1882. It led to a great surge of spiritual life in Cambridge and strengthened the CICCU as a spiritual force in undergraduate circles. Howard Mowll himself was fired with missionary vision and evangelistic enthusiasm. He took an active part in the Barnwell Mission on the outskirts of Cambridge, in Scripture Union Beach Missions in the summer, and in the formation of the Cambridge Volunteer Missionary Union. His closest friends joined him in forming the Cambridge Missionary Band; no friendships in later life meant more to him than those which had sprung from the CICCU.

Mowll was ordained deacon by Bp E A Knox of Manchester under the Colonial Clergy Act so that he could take up a post on the staff of Wycliffe College, Toronto, Canada. He returned to England for his ordination to the priesthood by Archbishop Davidson on 7 June 1914. He served Wycliffe College until May 1922, except for some months in 1918 as an army chaplain in France. He began at Wycliffe 1913 as a tutor, became professor of history in 1915, and was appointed dean of studies in 1919. At first he found college life with Canadian students so strange after Cambridge that he felt out of place, very lonely and quite inadequate. But he was soon at home with the older group of remarkable men and women who were closely linked with Wycliffe College at that time and he established a warm relationship with the students on a person-to-person basis. A great feature was a series of long summer tours which took him from coast to coast to hold parish missions or to visit the most isolated outposts where old Wycliffe men were at work. He never lost his love for Toronto or Canada, and was to return many times.

On 24 June 1922 Mowll was consecrated in Canterbury Cathedral as an assistant bishop for the enormous diocese of West China, staffed by the CMS. The diocesan bishop was William Cassels, who had gone to China as one of the Cambridge Seven in 1885 and who had made Paoning in Eastern Szechwan the seat of his residence and cathedral. Mowll was to reside at Cheng-tu in Western Szechwan, an important city which contained the home of the West China University founded by missionary societies. He arrived in Szechwan in April 1923 at a time of great political ferment, he tried hard to wrestle with the language, but mostly had to rely on an interpreter; but he carefully memorised the names of the Chinese clergy with those of their wives and children: it was enough to win their hearts. In 1924 he married Dorothy Anne Martin (q.v. Mowll, Dorothy). In 1926 he became bishop of West China in succession to William Cassels, responsible for CMS personnel in Western Szechwan and CIM workers in Eastern Szechwan. His ten years in China were crowded with travel, adventure and excitement: he and Mrs Mowll were captured and held to ransom by brigands in 1925; robbed by river pirates, clubbed and stabbed in 1931; the missionary compound where they lived in Cheng-tu was the centre of a battle between rival war-lords in 1932 while they were away.

Mowll saw the need for a strong indigenous church and he fostered evangelistic work among students in the West China University. He was ahead of all others at that time in China in his efforts to train Chinese clergy for ultimate leadership. He was responsible for the consecration of C T Song as an assistant bishop in Western Szechwan and Ho-lin Ku as an assistant bishop in Eastern Szechwan. He was the bridge from the paternal age of William Cassels to the progressive age of Chinese bishops as he transferred control from the missionary conference to the diocesan synod. He went as far as times would permit, but he looked still further ahead and planned for the division of the diocese so that Chinese bishops might become diocesan bishops in their own right.

In 1933 Bp Mowll was elected abp of Sydney in succession to John Charles Wright (q.v.). He arrived in Sydney in March 1934; 25 years of extraordinary growth and activity in church affairs were to follow. He had enormous energy, a phenomenal memory, and an amazing grasp of detail. He made good use of his height of six feet four inches (193cm).

There were three well-defined chapters in his episcopate; the first covered the five years prior to the outbreak of war in 1939. He was at work from early morning until midnight, bringing fresh initiative and imagination to bear on all aspects of his diocese and its needs. He swept through the diocese like a whirlwind; the pace left his clergy breathless. He set out to visit every parish and every corner of the diocese to see with his own eyes all that went on. The whole diocese soon throbbed with activity, but there were certain areas which he viewed with special concern. First came CMS: it had not yet recovered from the depression; no new missionaries had been sent out; it was in debt to the parent society; missionary vision was in decline. Then there was Moore Theological College: standards had fallen; finance was lacking; it was at a low point and in great need. There was also the Home Mission Society: its vision had faded; its affairs were largely static, it was ripe for new and vigorous leadership. Abp Mowll set out to reinvigorate all three bodies, they were soon to expand and flourish through the stimulus of his leadership.

Mowll had to grapple with the effects of gradual estrangement between liberal and conservative evangelical churchmen during the 1920s and in the resulting manoeuvres for the election of a successor to John Charles Wright. Liberal evangelicals, led by the Dean of Sydney (E A Talbot (q.v.)) and the Principal of Moore College (D J Davies (q.v.)), tried hard to secure the election of Archdeacon J W Hunkin conservative evangelicals led by Canon S E Langford-Smith (q.v.) were equally committed to the election of Bishop Mowll. Davies dismissed Mowll as only good enough to be what he described as 'a country bishop', but he was elected. This had bitter repercussions. Talbot and Davies resigned from the Anglican Church League which exercised widespread influence among evangelical churchmen and formed a new body which was called the Anglican Fellowship (29 April 1933). 'The idea', wrote Canon Garnsey, 'is to work against the power of the machine in Church politics and to consolidate the influence of those who love the light'. The death of Davies in 1935 and Talbot in 1936 left Garnsey as the leader of those who became known as central churchmen and whose opposition to Archbishop Mowll was to colour his first five years in the diocese.

The central churchmen felt that the Archbishop's policy was weighted against their interests. They approved of the consecration of C V Pilcher as an assistant bishop in succession to S J Kirkby (q.v.); they deplored the appointment of T C Hammond (q.v.) as principal of Moore College in succession to Davies. Much of the criticism levelled against Mowll had little to do with him; it should have been directed against the Anglican Church League which still represented the majority in church affairs. Nevertheless it culminated in 1938 in a Memorial which was presented to the Abp, asking for a conference in order to discuss the issues at stake. There were fifty signatories; Canon Garnsey was their chairman. The Memorial caused the Abp acute embarrassment. He handled it poorly; there was prolonged delay and he was badly advised. A long questionnaire was sent to each Memorialist, completion of which was a pre-condition for a conference. This requirement was ignored by the Memorialists and the conference never took place. Correspondence between the Abp and Canon Garnsey was made public and left an uneasy feeling in many quarters. But the Memorial ceased to be an issue after the outbreak of war in 1939 and the death of Canon Garnsey in 1943. By patience and kindness, Abp Mowll eventually won the respect and goodwill of most of the signatories, and his personal relations with them were marked by reciprocal goodwill.

The second phase in his episcopate covered the years 1939 to 1947. All Mowll's latent strength was called forth with the outbreak of war. Plans were set afoot at once and on the widest scale to provide for the spiritual, moral and social welfare of men and women in uniform. The Church of England National Emergency Fund (CENEF) and the Sydney Diocesan Churchwomen's Association came into being. Huts for rest and recreation in the cathedral grounds and in army camps, hostels to provide overnight accommodation for men and women on leave, mobile canteens to serve others on duty, special equipment for chaplains in the armed services, and a host of voluntary workers: these were all part of the evergrowing activities of both bodies under the vigorous leadership of Abp and Mrs Mowll. CENEF was to maintain its great community service after the war through the CENEF Memorial Centre in the heart of Sydney, and in 1949 it was the umbrella organisation under which the large country property, Gilbulla, was acquired as a diocesan conference centre. Meanwhile in spite of the many clergy who were released to serve as chaplains and the falling numbers of men in training for ordination, Mowll continued his drive to strengthen the parochial and spiritual life of the diocese, demonstrated in his major effort to secure church buildings which would serve outlying districts. The war years had established his position as a great diocesan bishop.

The third and last phase covered the years 1947 to 1958. In November 1947 he became Primate of the Church of England in Australia. This broadened his field of action as he strove to make this office as effective as possible. He led the Australian bishops at the Lambeth Conference and was present in Amsterdam for the formation of the World Council of Churches in 1948. He arranged for the visit of the Abp of Canterbury in 1950 and of the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church of America in 1955. He launched the South East Asia Appeal through the ABM and the CMS in 1953. He travelled throughout Australia to visit and encourage every diocese. He led a small delegation to the church in China in 1956 and strove to make Australians aware of the needs and problems of Christians in that country. He helped to guide the long-drawn-out efforts to achieve an acceptable constitution for the Church of England in Australia (which later became the Anglican Church of Australia) and he rejoiced when his own diocesan synod gave its formal consent in 1957. The death of Mrs Mowll in December that year was the prelude to the break-down of his own health, and he died a year later.

Abp Mowll was in every sense a big man, with a big voice, and a big heart. He had a commanding presence and was never afraid to accept the burden of responsibility. His skill in man management and decision-making grew with experience. He was always fertile in new plans and ideas, and he had the gift of knowing how to translate them into practice. He was totally committed as an evangelical in faith and churchmanship, but his gift for friendship and his hospitable spirit allowed him to cultivate cordial relations with those whose school of thought was quite unlike his own. His creative leadership brought a tremendous stimulus to all kinds of work and all sorts of people. He grew in stature throughout the years: he was appointed CMG in 1954. He owed an incalculable debt to Mrs Mowll who shared all his burdens and provided the incentive for many of his projects. He was always catching sight of new and far-away horizons, and still had a forward look at an age when many are quite content to let things take their course. His death marked the end of an era, but he had left an after-glow in whose light others were long to walk.

M L Loane, Archbishop Mowll (Sydney, 1960); S Judd and K Cable, Sydney Anglicans (Sydney, 1987); D Garnsey, Arthur Garnsey (Sydney, 1985); A Plea for Liberty, being a Memorial to the Archbishop of Sydney 1938; West China Bulletin 1923-1933; Sydney Diocesan Magazine 1934-1958; Year Book of the Diocese of Sydney 1934-1958; Archbishop Mowll's nephew, C K Mowll of South Croydon, England holds certain manuscript material.

SELECT WRITINGS: Seeing All the World, [Moorhouse Lectures] 1947; 'What is Anglican Evangelicalism?' Churchman, Sept 1950



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Content © Evangelical History Association of Australia and the author, 2004