This is the strange story detailing how two reading newspapermen, without any ecclesiastical authority, made an ordinary evangelist a full-fledged bishop. Before it was all over, there were three bishops where there was none before.
One day a reporter came into the editorial room followed by a stocky dignified, well proportioned man with closely-cropped whiskers. The latter was introduced as Henry M. Lengel, an evangelist-boatman on the Schuykill Canal.
It seems that while he operated a craft between the Schuykill coal regions and Philadelphia conveying coal to the seaboard, Mr. Lengel stopped evenings along the route and held revival services, converting many sinners.
As they passed out the editorial room, the editor remarked to the reporter: “He has all the appearances of a real bishop.”
“You’ve got it – lets publicize him as a bishop.”
And Bishop Lengel he was after that.
Rev. Mr. Lengel and his followers had erected a small frame meeting house on one of Reading’s side streets, capable of seating several hundred people and he preached there every Sunday. But when he so unexpectedly became a bishop, there were crowded audiences and many were compelled to stand. The title of bishop had become an alluring attraction to many members of other churches and non church goers. The little meeting house attracted people from all over the city and neigbhorhood.
It appears that in New York at about that time, well-meaning citizens established what was known as a “model saloon”, devoid of some of its evil influences. It had received a great deal of favorable publicity.
Bishop Alonzo Potter of the Episcopal Diocese of that city, gave his approval to this saloon, and he said so in an address which received countrywide publication.
This was Bishop Lengel’s opportunity and he was eager to seize it.
Suggested by his newspaper friends, he preached a sermon ringing with ill criticism of Bishop Potter. The latter was assailed in the most critical terms and words that left a sting.
Newspapers in all parts of the country printed portions of his discourse – full of biting criticism which found approval by many.
One paper printed the remarks of the two bishops the remarks of the two bishops under its heading: “Pennsylvania’s Bishop Lambasts New York’s Bishop” and there were many others.
And so the years passed on, Bishop Lengel holding forth his little meeting house.
He pitched into the local school board. city councils and all the evils found in the city. In this he was encouraged by his two newspaper friends, who frequently suggested the subjects of his sermons.
But they had reckoned without their host. A revivalist named Yost, called at the newspaper office and complained that his audiences and collections were dwindling because he was not a bishop and he wanted to be created one, too.
No sooner said than done. Yost had been holding his meetings in an empty storeroom and after that he was publicized as Bishop Yost.
Soon thereafter Yost visited Philadelphia and fell from crowded street car suffering injuries, but no bones were broken. One of Philadelphia’s newspapers printed a coulmn about his accident giving hourly bulletins as to the condition of one of “Reading’s famous bishops.”
But the end was not yet. A store room evangelist named Martin came forward with the request that he would never be satisfied unless he was created a bishop. His request was complied with.
Now there were three bishops assailing sin and the devil, but Bishop Lengel was the kingbee of all. The city stood up and listened to him and he continued to preach to crowded audiences.
He built sermons on solid ground. They were full of meat and startling in their application. He often made the city up and take notice, but all good things come to an end, and thus was the case with Bishop Lengel. He accepted a new field and today he is but a memory, while his meeting house has been torn down and the site built over by a modern industry.
Evangelist Lengel his work had been limited, he was only known as a canal boatman. As Bishop Lengel, spurred on by his newspaper friends, he was a great sensation. He was quoted by newspapers in many states.
All good things come to an end and so did Bishop Lengel. He died some years ago. The other two bishops faded out of the picture long before. -D.K. H.
A canal boat in the Schuylkill Canal near the old Pennsylvania Railroad Station. The iron truss Penn Street Bridge can be seen in the background.