Readings for Bishop William White, Bishop of Pennsylvania and First Presiding Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States 17 July1836.
“No good thing will the Lord withhold from those who walk with integrity.” (Psalm 84:11)
I am stepping away from my usual walk through the Lectionary to pay special attention to the legacy of Bishop William White. “William White was born in Philadelphia, March 24, 1747, and was educated at the college of that city, graduating in 1765. In 1770, he went to England, was ordained deacon on December 23, and priest on April 25, 1772. On his return home, he became assistant minister of Christ and St. Peter’s, 1772–1779, and rector from that year until his death, July 17, 1836. He also served as chaplain of the Continental Congress from 1777 to 1789, and then of the United States Senate until 1800.” (Great Cloud of Witnesses July 17)
I hope you will share with me the courage and faith it must have taken in those days to literally follow defeated British ships back to England and ask the former enemy to consecrate priests as bishops. White was not the first. Samuel Seabury went in 1784 but to his credit would not accept words that made the Colonies and the Office of Bishop subject to the King of England. So he went to Scotland where he was consecrated Bishop. Finally, in 1787, William White of Pennsylvania and Samuel Provost of New York were Consecrated Bishops. The Colonies had long asked for a Bishop but it was never granted. This new upstart Episcopal Church did not want to just start a new beginning. This One Holy and Apostolic Church maintained the Laying on of hands from Jesus through the Apostles, through the Popes of Rome, through the Bishops of the Church of England. And now war was not about to sever that ancient lineage. So it was most important to do what one had to do to maintain that connection. William White put fear aside. “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 1:8)
At least one other point I would like to share about Bishop White is his ordaining Absalom Jones to the priesthood, Jones, a former slave and first African American Priest of the Episcopal Church. While Jones was ordained to serve an African American parish, he was nonetheless officially ordained using the same words and Bishop (and hands) as any other priest of this Church (Black or White). “No good thing will the Lord withhold from those who walk with integrity.” (Psalm 84:11)
Bishop White was the chief architect of the Constitution of the American Episcopal Church and the wise overseer of its life during the first generation of its history. He was the Presiding Bishop at its organizing General Convention in 1789 and again from 1795 until his death in Philadelphia, on July 17, 1836. (Great Cloud of Witnesses July 17)
You and I too must step out in courage and faith to do whatever is right to do knowing that no good thing will the Lord withhold from those who walk with integrity.
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do. John+