The priest from Salmon Cove
In the March 13, 1943 issue of The Bay Roberts Guardian, there appeared a brief note from a correspondent, identified only as “R.W.S.”
“ Recently,” the person wrote, “ I have received a letter from a Newfoundlander who has been left this country for over 40 years and who has only paid it two flying visits during that time.”
He was referring to Robert Wells Andrews.
At this late remove, little is known about Andrews. However, it is possible to use the extant documentation to recreate aspects of his life.
Meanwhile, it would be a boon if any readers of The Compass could provide additional information, to flesh out the portrait of Andrews and his eventful career.
It is known that Andrews was born in the Conception Bay community of Salmon Cove in 1871.
He had a brother, Nathan, and two sisters.
Andrews moved to the United States and trained as a minister with the Episcopal Church. It is also known he earned a doctorate, though the degree-granting institution is unknown.
At some point, he offered himself as a missionary priest. He served in Japan for over 35 years, focusing his attention on Tokyo, Kyoto and other posts.
In 1908, he wrote a book. The Japan Mission of the American Church: Church Work in the Dioceses of Tokyo and Kyoto was published by the Church Missions Publishing Company.
The Hartford, Connecticut company was known throughout the Episcopal Church for publishing pamphlets and textbooks for use in Christian education and church schools.
John McKim, bishop of Tokyo, wrote in commendation of Andrews’ book, “For many years, there has been a widely-expressed desire for some reliable history of the work of the Japan Mission of the American Church.”
Material currently available was, McKim suggested, “of more or less value, but fragmentary in character and, at their best, give but an imperfect outline of what has been done.”
Andrews, at the request of friends, undertook “the task of supplying a felt want,” collecting “data and facts from all reliable sources. He has visited nearly every station in the missionary districts of Tokyo and Kyoto and has sought information from all the missionaries, as well as from the Japanese clergy and catechists. The bishops have been pumped dry of all their knowledge of the history of both districts.”
The result was, McKim added, a “ full and accurate statement of the work the Japan mission is doing for the extension of the kingdom of God among the people of Dai Nippon (the empire of Japan).”
Sidney C. Partridge, bishop of Kyoto, congratulated Andrews “on the very hearty and satisfactory way in which a somewhat difficult task has been accomplished.”
Andrews’ own appraisal of his boo k w a s rat h e r m u t e d a n d restrained.
“ This little book is offered,” he wrote, “with no idea that it presents a complete statement of what is being done by the church in Japan.”
Actually, he felt himself unfit “ for such a task, or to pass judgment upon any single individual feature of missionary labour.”
If his book disappointed readers, Andrews pleaded “ lack of time for proper investigation. I have put my holiday into it, and whatever time a missionary can have for play.”
Following an introductory chapter, Andrews gives glimpses of Japan and the country’s religions, including Christianity. The burden of his book is then a history of the church in the districts of Tokyo and Kyoto. He concluded with an outlook for the future.
A useful appendix, written by Rev. A.W. Cooke of the Tokyo diocese, discusses the pronunciation of Japanese names.
By the time The Bay Roberts Guardian reported on Robert Wells Andrews’ whereabouts, he was retired, over 70 years old, “in perfect health” and living in Laguna, California.
Andrews relayed “ kind remembrances to all those who are left of (my) boyhood friends.”