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Guest Post: The Bishop’s Court

By: Mark B. - August 19, 2014

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.



14 Comments »

  1. Solomonic.

    Comment by Last Lemming — August 19, 2014 @ 7:15 am

  2. Just think how our communities would be strengthened if we took this philosophy and showed up to the bishop’s courts — or whatever events more realistically come up for most of us such as visiting teaching and home teaching — with shovels. (Or the modern equivalent.)

    The story says Cottonwood Creek; is this a Salt Lake City-area ward?

    Comment by Amy T — August 19, 2014 @ 8:56 am

  3. Awesome.

    Both water and secular courts were a really big deal, though. I recently read were a bishop excommunicated a ward member for suing another ward member in secular court.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 19, 2014 @ 9:12 am

  4. I loved this anecdote. And I loved how the writer chose to write it up, letting the reader share in the surprise and wonder of it all.

    What year was this, Mark?

    Comment by David Y. — August 19, 2014 @ 9:19 am

  5. The birthplaces of all of Claude Cornwall’s siblings, from his older brother “Spence” to his youngest, born in 1902, are shown on Family Search as “Mill Creek, Salt Lake, Utah.”

    More detail comes from a SUP history of their father, Joseph A. Cornwall (accessed on ancestry.com):

    Joseph Alexander Cornwall Born 4 Oct. 1863 in Mill Creek Salt Lake County.

    He married Mary Ellen Spencer on Dec. 8, 1886 and they moved into a small adobe house on nine acres of farmland on 13th East between 39th and 45th South. This farm was later increased to nineteen acres and the small adobe dwelling became a comfortable brick home.

    In January 1904 he was ordained Bishop of Winder Ward and served as Bishop for more than twenty years.

    Big Cottonwood Creek crosses 13th East at about 47th South, which would have made it a short trip for the boys to get the sand and gravel for mixing the concrete.

    Finally, the current Winder and Winder West Stakes (which presumably are descended from the old Winder Ward) cover that same general area.

    So, I’m pretty confident about where this Bishop’s Court took place!

    Comment by Mark B. — August 19, 2014 @ 9:52 am

  6. I don’t know precisely, David. Assuming that January 1904 is the correct date for Joseph Cornwall’s ordination as bishop, the Court would have occurred sometime after then and before the two boys left home. Spence was born in 1888 and Claude in 1889, which suggests that the Court was relatively soon after Joseph became bishop.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 19, 2014 @ 9:55 am

  7. Excellent story, although today I think I would stick with the secular court.

    Comment by queuno — August 19, 2014 @ 11:17 am

  8. Just great. Solomon had nothing on Bishop Cornwall.

    Comment by kevinf — August 19, 2014 @ 4:35 pm

  9. This is a great story and Mark was a great story-teller. Thanks for sharing this.

    Comment by Maurine — August 19, 2014 @ 10:53 pm

  10. Thanks for a great story Mark B!

    I have a story of my own, but if it seems too long, I will understand if you want to moderate it.

    Comment by Juliathepoet — August 20, 2014 @ 10:14 am

  11. Years ago I attended a Visiting Teaching conference in which our leaders stressed the importance of delivering a spiritual message when visiting teaching. I realized suddenly that my companion and I had not delivered a typical message for at least three months. Our assigned sisters had been very busy dying, giving birth, and having surgery. We had cooked, cleaned, tended children, and helped plan a funeral, but somehow there was not time for a message from a lesson manual. That is when I realized the truth of Marshall McLuhan’s statement that sometimes the medium IS the message.

    Comment by LauraN — August 20, 2014 @ 12:05 pm

  12. I like that, LauraN. In fact, it’s the answer to something I’ve been trying to put into words all morning. I may very well steal your thought (with credit) if I manage to write that other post.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 20, 2014 @ 12:44 pm

  13. Be my guest.

    Comment by LauraN — August 20, 2014 @ 1:32 pm

  14. I find that to be very true in my TV to LauraN, and I think that sometimes those lessonless visits are the ones that build relationships that are most satisfying. I have had many lessons given by VT who seem not to see me, because they are too busy giving the lesson.

    I think this bishop is a good example of seeing the real need, and meeting it! May we all do the same in our stewardship.

    Comment by Juliathepoet — August 20, 2014 @ 4:57 pm

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