We have heard a lot recently about disciplinary councils in the Church, which generally seem to have had unhappy endings, at least for some of the participants. As an antidote to all the somber news, here is an account of a bishop’s court, held near the turn of the 20th Century, which had a happier outcome. From Claude and Evelyn: An anecdotal account of the lives of Evelyn Thurston and Claude Cornwall (Ithaca, NY: self published, 1975).
At this time in our history there was not too clear a line drawn between the jurisdictions of Church and State. It was a policy of the Church that petty quarrels or differences could be settled in the Bishop’s Court rather than have them move into the less friendly realm of State or County. We had so recently emerged from a Territorial status, and were just getting used to elections rather than appointments for County and State positions under the law. So my father, being a Bishop, had the obligation to settle, if he could, petty differences that might arise within the flock. Many of these disputes had to do with uses and control of irrigation water. Water is the lifeblood of the West, as everyone who lives there well knows.
One day Brother Louis Fayter came to him with a complaint. He said that his neighbor, Brother Egelund, had let his head gate wash out, with the result that his irrigation water had flooded over Brother Fayter’s land. Father decided that this was a matter for Bishop’s Court and he appointed a meeting for the following Saturday at Noon. The meeting would take place at the site of the washout.He notified his Counselors, Taylor Brockbank and George Williams, and asked them to be present. He asked Brother Williams who was a carpenter to bring along tools appropriate to the building of a head gate. Then he asked my brother, Spence, to take the wagon and go with me to Cottonwood Creek and shovel up some gravel and sand. He took the buggy to the lumber yard and got some boards and planks, and also a sack of cement.
We met at the site of the ruined headgate promptly at noon on a sunny day. Father made a few appropriate remarks and then asked Brother Brockbank to offer the opening prayer. Brother Williams then took charge. While he was setting up the forms, Spence and I mixed gravel and sand with the cement, and with the right amount of water, all was ready. I still remember that blazing sun. Finally it was too much for Brother Egelund as he saw perspiration dripping from my forehead as I shoveled concrete into the form, and he came to me and said meekly, “Claude, let me have that shovel.” That was a signal for Brother Fayter and he came over and relieved Spence of his shovel.
Finally the cement was all in place. Brother Williams sawed out some headboards. Spence and I gathered up the scraps and put them in the wagon. Father stood solemnly and said, “The Bishop’s Court is now completed. Brother Williams will offer the closing prayer”. From then on we all departed without a word.