A Very Brief History of the Episcopal Diocese of Montana
The Episcopal Church ventured into The West in 1867 when the Rt. Rev. Daniel S. Tuttle and his assistant, the Rev. E.N. Goddard, arrived in Virginia City, Montana to begin work in the missionary district of Montana, Idaho, and Utah; an area encompassing some 340,00 square miles.
The two largest towns in the Montana Territory were Virginia City and Helena. Bishop Tuttle initially settled in Virginia City, the capital at that time, while Rev. Goddard established a presence in Helena. They held services in any available space – saloons, town halls or stores – with permission of the proprietors. On occasion, they used the church buildings of other denominations.
The work was not easy! Towns built upon the discovery of gold or silver were raucous with hard-working miners who played even harder. Bishop Tuttle lamented the drunkenness, swearing, and irreligious behavior. However, he did find folk who followed the gold rush to establish respectable businesses. This wild place was ripe for planting churches. Funding from individuals and churches back East helped purchase land and buildings.
Bishop Tuttle purchased an unfinished structure from a Methodist minister in Virginia City, which became the first Episcopal Church in Montana – St. Paul’s Mission. He preached the first sermon on May 24, 1868.
Armed with youth, (he was but 30 years old) compassion, and courage, Bishop Tuttle sought to establish congregations in other sizeable communities that sprang up around mineral strikes, river-boat transportation, and trading posts. In 14 years, he opened churches in Helena, Jeffers/Ennis, Bozeman, Missoula, Butte, Deer Lodge, and Fort Benton. In 1880, the missionary territory was divided in two, Montana itself and Utah/Idaho. Bishop Tuttle moved to Utah where he had a home with his wife and children.
The Rt. Rev. Dr. Leigh Brewer was the second Missionary Bishop in Montana, and first Diocesan Bishop. He arrived in February 1881 and continued planting churches.
Bishop Brewer traveled some 4,000 miles in his first year, encouraging congregations to erect buildings and start organized women’s guilds. By October 1881, he pushed the Episcopal Church into Eastern Montana with Emmanuel Church in Miles City. He faced many of the challenges of his predecessor, including difficult travel, bad weather, and the lack of clergy.
His wife, Henrietta, was instrumental in bringing the first trained nurse to Montana. In 1884, the couple led the movement to establish a hospital in Helena. St. Peter’s Hospital, which shares the name of the diocese’ modern-day cathedral, was built in 1887. For years, Henrietta enlisted church guilds to outfit rooms and provide supplies.
By the end of his 36 year term, Bishop Brewer planted 29 congregations.
Maintenance and continued growth fell on the next several episcopates. The Rt. Rev. William F. Faber served from 1916 until his death in 1934. He sponsored three missions (East Helena, Libby, and Hardin) and consecrated many of the earlier missions once they reached parish status.
However, hard times took their toll. Drought, disaster, and played out mines caused shifts in local economics and populations. Missions struggled to survive and more than few closed their doors.