The Falklands - The World's Largest Diocese
"A Noble History and a Glorious Past"

By Rev. Peter J. Millam
(Falkland Islands Newsletter, No. 70, August 1997)

The Anglican and Roman Catholic Clergy in the Falkland Islands are probably unique in the world in being directly answerable to the heads of their respective religions - the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope in Rome, while ministering to such small congregations.  Peter Millam who was Senior Chaplain to the world's most southerly cathedral, Christ Church, in Stanley, from 1966 to 1970, has written a fascinating history of the establishment of the Anglican Church in the Falkland Islands, explaining how it once exercised jurisdiction over virtually all South America.  Peter, who is of Falkland Islands descent, still officiates at the annual Falkland Islands Association Battle Day memorial service at the Cenotaph.

"God's Lonely Sentinel"

The first Bishop of the Falkland Islands, Waite Hockin Stirling, consecrated in Westminster Abbey in 1869, had episcopal jurisdiction over "the whole of South America with the exception of British Guiana", the largest diocese in the world, but perhaps the smallest in personnel.  The first Bishop was appointed to meet the needs of missionary work in the south.  This began when the Patagonian Missionary Society - renamed the South American Missionary Society in 1868 - plunged into the wilds of Tierra del Fuego.  

After disastrous beginnings when Captain Allen Gardiner and his companions died of starvation in 1851 in Spanish Harbour and a group of missionaries were massacred at Woolai, Naverin Island, in 1859, the Reverend Waite Hockin Stirling went to Keppel Island as Mission Superintendent.  His unstinting efforts re-established the work of the mission.

While in isolation in Ushuaia, in Tierra del Fuego, as "God's Lonely Sentinel" as he called himself, he was summoned to London to be consecrated with the title "Bishop of the Falkland Islands", as it was then the practice to name overseas bishoprics after one of Her Majesty's possessions.  Seven Consular Chaplaincies in South America and several private company chaplains were placed under his jurisdiction.  He spent his first few years establishing his authority over recalcitrant clergy and congregations who resented this Episcopal "upstart" and still thought they owed allegiance to the Bishop of London, who was responsible for oversight of overseas Colonial and Consular Chaplaincies.

Throne and Episcopal Chair

It was on January 14th, 1872, in the Exchange Building Stanley that Bishop Stirling was assigned his "Throne and Episcopal Chair" by the Colonial Chaplain, the Reverend Charles Bull.  The surroundings hardly resembled a cathedral and Bishop Stirling refused to consecrate "half a commercial building", yet Holy Trinity became the Mother Church of a vast diocese while for reasons of communication, Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires, remained the administrative centre, where St. John's Church became a "pro-Cathedral" and later a full Cathedral.  

After a disastrous peat slip stove in a wall of the Exchange Building in 1886, the present very beautiful Stanley Cathedral was built, and consecrated in 1892.  A full restoration of the Cathedral was completed for the Centenary Celebrations in 1992, attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Colonial Chaplain in 1892, the Reverend Lowther Brandon, became Dean and the Constitution provided for four Honorary Canons.  The last Honorary Canon to be appointed in 1968 was the Reverend Eric Wilcockson, the Anglican Chaplain in Rio de Janeiro.  I believe all Honorary Canons of the Cathedral are now dead but there is no reason why others should not be appointed as the constitution has never been rescinded.  Bishop Stirling resigned in 1900 to become a Canon and Assistant Bishop at Wells Cathedral, for another 20 years, retiring at the age of 91!

South American Missionary Society

After Bishop Stirling, the history of the Falkland Islands Diocese is very largely that of the waxing and waning fortunes of the South American Missionary Society.

Edward Every was Bishop of the Falklands from 1902 to 1910 when the Diocese was divided for the first time into "East and West Coasts".  Bishop Every became Bishop of Argentina and Eastern South American, and Bishop Lawrence Blair Bishop of the Falklands which included Chile, Bolivia and Peru, resigning in 1914 when Bishop Every resumed pastoral oversight.  1910 was also the year of the World Missionary Conference at Edinburgh whose misunderstood conclusions severely hampered Anglican efforts to reach the Spanish-speaking peoples of South America for several generations.

Norman de Jersey was Bishop for fifteen years until 1934 when he was succeeded by John Weller.  Financial constraints caused him to move across to become Bishop in Argentina and Eastern South America while retaining oversight of the Falkland Islands which technically became vacant until 1946.  Bishop Daniel Evans, formerly in Rio de Janeiro, took over in 1946 when the diocese was once more united as the Diocese of the Falkland Islands covering nearly all of South America.  He died of a heart attack on a coach in Southern Chile in 1962.

Diocese divided into three

After a convention in Cuarnevaca, Mexico, in 1963, the Anglican Church underwent dramatic changes and the vast diocese was divided into three!  The West Coast Diocese of Chile, Bolivia and Peru came under Bishop Kenneth Howell, a former SAMS Missionary, and Cyril Tucker was consecrated under two separate mandates, one as Bishop of Argentina and Eastern South America, and, two, the Falkland Islands.  The SAMS again played an important part in financing and establishing the two bishoprics.

As a result of increased SAMS activity, two more dioceses were created in 1973 - Northern Argentina and Paraguay; the Diocese of Peru in 1977; Uruguay in 1988 and Bolivia in 1996 (now all part of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone of South America).  The South America Dioceses formed themselves into the Anglican Council of South America, including the Falkland Islands.  This proved inappropriate for the good church-people of the Falklands, as proceedings were conducted in Spanish, concentrating on the great Latin American Continent with which the Falklands felt no affinity.

Archbishop of Canterbury assumes responsibility

So, in 1978, the Archbishop of Canterbury assumed personal responsibility for the Falkland Islands, with Episcopal oversight exercised as his "Commissary" by Bishop Richard Cutts in Buenos Aires, an Anglo-Argentine and former missionary in Africa, who had succeeded Bishop Tucker in 1975.  Since 1978, the Anglican Clergy have adopted the title of Rector, held successively since then by Harry Bagnall, John Murphy, Stephen Palmer, and a new Rector, Alistair McHaffie, just appointed.  Since 1982, when so many British troops came under the episcopal oversight of the Bishop to the Forces, the Archbishop of Canterbury can exercise his responsibility by giving his commission to any Bishop visiting the Islands.

Noble History

The once great Diocese of the Falkland Islands has effectively been put into abeyance, no longer featuring as a separate entity.  But it can be justly proud of its noble history and illustrious past, giving birth to seven separate Anglican Dioceses in South America where the gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed with as much vigour and conviction as that practised by the great missionary, Bishop Stirling, himself.  The Stirling Memorial Wiondow in Christ Church Cathedral should be a constant reminder to Falkland Islanders of our calling to be Christ's faithful soldiers and servants to the end of our lives.

This article first appeared in the Falkland Islands Newsletter, Edition 70, August 1997.  The Falkland Islands Association is an independent organisation which brings together those who support the continuing freedom of the people of the Falkland Islands.  Its Constitution states that its objectives are to assist the people of the Falkland Islands to decide their own future for themselves without being subjected to pressure direct or indirect from any quarter.


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