Edwin Warren Saphore (1854–1944)
The Right Reverend Edwin Warren Saphore served from 1935 until 1938 as the seventh bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas. In 1917, he became the first elected suffragan (assistant) bishop of the diocese, serving in that position until the retirement of Bishop James R. Winchester in 1931. In the absence of a duly elected and ratified bishop, he served as the ecclesiastical authority of the diocese until his election as bishop in 1935.
Edwin Warren Saphore was born in Rahway, New Jersey, on September 17, 1854, to Daniel A. Saphore and Martha Warren Saphore. He graduated from South Jersey Institute at Bridgeton, New Jersey, and received a BA from Pennsylvania State College (now the University of Pennsylvania) and an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. He studied theology at Madison Seminary in Ohio. He was ordained deacon on June 11, 1897, by Rt. Rev. Frederick Dan Huntington, bishop of central New York. Bishop Huntington ordained Saphore to the priesthood on June 2, 1898, at Grace Episcopal Church in Syracuse, New York. In the early days of his ministry in central New York, Saphore served parishes in Jordan, Watertown, and Syracuse. From 1900 until 1903, he was a professor at St. Andrew’s Divinity School in Syracuse. He married Frances Cumber, and they had a son and a daughter.
In 1909, Saphore came to Arkansas, serving as archdeacon under Bishop William M. Brown. When James R. Winchester succeeded Brown, he assigned oversight of both white and African-American convocations to Saphore, who was already experienced in white mission work. The Diocese of Arkansas instituted the practice of electing suffragan bishops in 1917. Two were selected: Rev. Edward Thomas Demby as the suffragan for work with African Americans in Arkansas and the Province of the Southwest, and Saphore as suffragan for all other matters. Saphore’s suffragan consecration was in St. Luke’s Church in Hot Springs (Garland County), on August 24, 1917, by Rt. Rev. Daniel Sylvester Tuttle, Presiding Bishop and Bishop of Missouri; Rt. Rev. George H. Kinsolving, Bishop of Texas; and Rt. Rev. James R. Winchester.
Bishop Saphore served as a suffragan from 1917 until 1931 when Winchester retired. While still suffragan, Saphore assumed extra duties as Bishop Winchester’s health became impaired, including making the annual visitation to each congregation in the state. His tasks included confirming, surveying property, organizing groups, preparing organized missions for parish status, counseling, and securing a more adequate financial base for the Church’s work during the difficult financial situation of the Great Depression.
Saphore was among the candidates for bishop at the election convention of 1931, but neither he nor anyone else was elected. Saphore presided at this convention and invited the suffragan for African-American work, Bishop Demby, to read the Gospel at the opening convention service, effectively making the black bishop the second-in-command for the convention. At the regular annual convention in 1932, Saphore was again among the candidates. Some clergy, especially some from Little Rock (Pulaski County), thought Saphore to be inept, lacking in vision, and too old to be elected. Rev. John Williamson, Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Little Rock, was elected after a complicated and contentious contest with Rev. Dr. William P. Witsell, rector of Christ Church, also in Little Rock. Because of accusations of discrimination against the African-American clergy at this electing convention in 1932, the House of Bishops did not ratify the election, and Williamson was not consecrated. Resolutions at the conventions of 1933 and 1934 postponed the election of an Arkansas bishop until 1935, when Saphore was elected in his own right. His installation was on April 22, 1936, almost a year after his election, at an evening service of the Sixty-Fourth Diocesan Convention, convened at Trinity Cathedral in Little Rock.
Saphore was described as a quiet, humble man who spent his time in the mission field, working with the African-American convocation, with the students at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), and with the rural mountain population in the surrounding area. Instead of living in a bishop’s residence, Saphore maintained quarters while in Little Rock at the YMCA. Much of his time was spent in the Ozarks region. There was no central diocesan office of the bishop, and he and Winchester kept many original documents at the church-supported Winchester School for Mountain Boys at Huckleberry Mountain near Havana (Yell County). A fire at that school in 1938 caused many early diocesan records to be lost.
Saphore retired in poor health on January 1, 1938. He returned to Syracuse, where he died on May 22, 1944.
For additional information:
Beary, Michael J. Black Bishop: Edward T. Demby and the Struggle for Racial Equality in the Episcopal Church. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001.
Episcopal Church of Arkansas. https://episcopalarkansas.org/ (accessed June 11, 2019).
McDonald, Margaret Simms. White Already to Harvest: The Episcopal Church in Arkansas, 1838–1971. Sewanee, TN: University Press of Sewanee, 1975.
“A Short History of St. Andrew’s Divinity School (1910).” http://anglicanhistory.org/usa/misc/syracuse1910/ (accessed June 11, 2019).
Mary Janet “Bean” Murray
Little Rock, Arkansas
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