MILLS, WILLIAM LENNOX, Church of England clergyman, educator, and bishop; b. 27 Jan. 1846 in Woodstock, Upper Canada, son of William Mills and Elise — ; m. secondly 12 Oct. 1886 Katharine Sophia Bagg in Montreal, and they had a son; d. 4 May 1917 in Kingston, Ont.
The son of a headmaster of Woodstock Grammar School, William Lennox Mills received his education there and at Huron College in nearby London. He was ordained deacon by Bishop Isaac Hellmuth* in St Paul’s Cathedral, London, on 5 June 1872 and priested on 4 June the following year. After serving briefly in Norwich and Seaforth, he went to the diocese of Montreal, where he was rector in St Johns (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu) (1875–82) and at Trinity Church, Montreal (1882–96). From 1883 he was also canon of Christ Church Cathedral in Montreal. After receiving a bd from Trinity College, Toronto, in 1884, he lectured in dogmatic theology at Montreal Diocesan Theological College. He became archdeacon of St Andrew’s within the diocese of Montreal in 1896. During this period he also served as examining chaplain to Bishop William Bennett Bond*.
In 1900 the diocese of Ontario decided to elect a coadjutor bishop for John Travers Lewis*, who had served as diocesan since 1861. The synod met in June but was hopelessly split, with the clergy voting for Anglo-Catholic John Charles Roper and the laity for Clarendon Lamb Worrell*. On the seventh ballot, high-church bishop George Thorneloe of Algoma was elected but refused the position, and on the eighth, Dean Lennox Waldron Williams of Montreal was selected but also declined. A second synod called in September was deadlocked for seven ballots. Then after the delegates had conferred, Mills was nominated. The clergy voted for him immediately, but it took until the tenth ballot to elect him. He was consecrated bishop of Kingston and coadjutor bishop of Ontario by Lewis in St George’s Cathedral, Kingston, on 1 November. Following the death of Lewis on 6 May 1901, he succeeded to the see.
A compromise candidate, Mills was scrutinized by the clergy of the diocese. Archdeacon Thomas Bedford-Jones, an acknowledged high churchman, wrote to his friend Albert Spencer, secretary of the synod of Ontario, in October about Mills’s visit to Brockville. Bedford-Jones declared the occasion to be “highly satisfactory with the possible exception that he declined to take either celebration” of the Eucharist. However, Mills communicated, wore a white stole, and turned to the east. In a letter to Bedford-Jones in September, Mills had expressed his surprise at being elected, but declared that he was not as poor a churchman as the archdeacon feared. Although his friends called him high, he considered himself a “prayer book churchman.”
In the neighbouring diocese of Toronto the conflict between high and low church had declined. Bishop Arthur Sweatman* was able to carry his diocese with him, and Mills showed himself equally conciliatory. After Lewis’s frequent absences, he determined to be a resident bishop, and he toured the diocese yearly. Within a year of his consecration, the old guard was removed with the deaths of Spencer and Bedford-Jones. A recurring theme of Mills’s episcopate was support of missions, home and foreign. Although mission activity was increasingly centralized under the General Synod of the Church of England in Canada, he promoted fund-raising at the parish level, to be stimulated by a diocesan mission canvasser. The bishop struggled to provide a sound financial basis for the widows’ and orphans’ fund and the clergy superannuation fund. Unfortunately, financial stability eluded the diocese since his episcopate coincided with a population drain from eastern Ontario and a cycle of inflation and depression preceding World War I.
Mills was not an advocate of frequent synodical meetings, at the diocesan, provincial, or national level. He did attend the tercentenary of the Anglican church in the United States, celebrated in Richmond, Va, in 1907, and the Pan-Anglican Congress in London the following year. But unlike Lewis, he made no regular fund-raising trips to England. He attempted in 1902 to reorganize the chapter of St George’s Cathedral, so that every archdeacon and canon should be a week in residence at the cathedral each year, but the practice lapsed. He had no opportunity to teach in an Anglican college in his diocese, since Lewis’s plan for a seminary in Belleville had failed. However, two Anglican schools flourished, St Alban’s for boys (established 1901) in Brockville and St Agnes’ for girls (1903) in Belleville. The bishop supported the teaching of religion in the public school system, but for separate denominations, declaring, “This dominion is made up of peoples of diverse races and religions.” He promoted the special claim of Trinity College, Toronto, as the Anglican university of the province.
Another issue in the Canadian religious community was the interest expressed by Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists in organic union. Mills rejected any Anglican participation, expressing the opinion, “Visible union such as the majority of people expect, will never take place this side of eternity.” “Higher criticism” did not disturb him, and he welcomed the first Canadian revision of the Book of Common Prayer, begun in 1913. He reassured synod that there would be no doctrinal change but “enrichment and adaptation.” Though he served as vice-president of the Lord’s Day Alliance, there is little strict Sabbatarianism in his synod charges. He was not a teetotaller but opposed smoking. In an eloquent passage in his charge in 1905, he declared his opposition to capital punishment, even “for defence and protection of society.” “So long as capital punishment remains, the law should compel its own officials to carry out its sentence, or resign their office.”
A tall, imposing figure, Bishop Mills was memorialized as a powerful preacher. The Mohawk gave him the title Sho-rih-ho-wa-neh, meaning “the man with large words; the bearer of an important message.” From his arrival in Kingston he had experienced attacks of “inflammatory rheumatism” (probably arthritic), and by 1913 his health was failing. He suffered a stroke after the January synod that year, and in April a special synod elected Edward John Bidwell, dean of St George’s Cathedral, as coadjutor. Mills missed the next synod, but in 1915 he went to England, where his son was serving in the army. The synod of June 1916 was his last, by December he was bedridden, and he died the following May. His widow established the Lennox Mills Bursary for divinity students intending to “take Holy Orders,” a fund that continued to the 1950s.
ACC, Diocese of Huron Arch. (London, Ont.), Clergy reg.; Diocese of Ontario Arch. (Kingston), Episcopal records, W. L. Mills papers; Executive committee, minutes, 1900–17; W. L. Mills bursary fund ledger; Secretary of synod, A. S. Spencer, secretary-treasurer’s records and letterbooks. ANQ-M, CE1-63, 12 oct. 1886. Private arch., A. V. L. Mills (Stittsville, Ont.), Family corr. By grace coworkers: building the Anglican diocese of Toronto, 1780–1989, ed. A. L. Hayes (Toronto, 1989). Church of England in Canada, Diocese of Ontario, Journal of the synod (Kingston), 1900–17. Spencer Ervin, The political and ecclesiastical history of the Anglican Church of Canada (Ambler, Pa, 1967). O. R. Rowley et al., The Anglican episcopate of Canada and Newfoundland (2v., Milwaukee, Wis., and Toronto, 1928–61). D. M. Schurman, A bishop and his people: John Travers Lewis and the Anglican diocese of Ontario, 1862–1902 (Kingston, 1991).
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Cite This Article
Shirley C. Spragge, “MILLS, WILLIAM LENNOX,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 28, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mills_william_lennox_14E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||Shirley C. Spragge|
|Title of Article:||MILLS, WILLIAM LENNOX|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1998|
|Year of revision:||1998|
|Access Date:||March 28, 2023|