glory of god

glory of god

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Parable of the Leaven and the Ordination of Women: A Sermon in Celebration of the Philadelphia Eleven

We’ve just heard several short parables. In them, Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed, yeast, a pearl, and a net: all ordinary things, the basic stuff of life, yet for Jesus, they are hints of the kingdom of God. It’s extraordinary, when you think about it, that we would know who God is and how God relates to us through such mundane things as seeds, or yeast, or a net. But then, Jesus never wanted to separate off God from life; in fact, he didn’t even want to box God into a synagogue or a church. Rather, he wanted us to find and see and feel God working in us, among us, and around us, all the time, whoever we are, wherever we are, and whatever we are doing—whether we’re gardening or working in a field, cooking or fishing, or even sweeping the house. 

Of these, my favorite is the parable of the leaven: ‘the kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’” It sounds homey, doesn’t it? The aroma of fresh bread, rising, growing, coming to life. But do you remember how, a couple weeks ago, I shared a definition suggesting that Jesus’ parables are almost always provocative or unsettling? In case you missed it, here it is again. C.H. Dodd, a biblical scholar at Cambridge University, wrote: “At its simplest the parable is a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving in mind sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought.”

So, how does this parable of the leaven fit that definition? It certainly is drawn from common life, being about yeast and flour. But what about it is strange or leaves in doubt its precise application? Well, to understand that, you have to think less like us today, and more like a Jewish person in the first century—in other words you have to think like Jesus and the disciples he was talking to. The first thing to note is the translation. The version we use says the woman “mixed” the yeast in with the flour, which is semi-accurate. But the Greek actually says that she “hid” the yeast in the flour. Meaning, maybe she did it in secret, or even deceptively. That’s intriguing.

Second, usually in Bible when yeast or leaven is mentioned it is negative, like “the leaven of the Pharisees.” Jesus certainly wasn’t talking about yeast that comes in neat packets from the grocery store, but instead little bits of bread that were damp, sticky, slightly mouldy—like sourdough starter. Kind of gross. Rather than a positive, people concerned with purity in their food and in their homes, as Jesus’ hearers would have been, actually believed that leaven contaminated everything. But here Jesus says it was added intentionally. What’s more, it was mixed in 3 “measures” of flour. Not cups, but measures. That’s equivalent to 50 pounds of flour. So imagine: you go bake something and unexpectedly your dough rises and rises out of control because someone hid leaven in it. The perplexing nature of the parable is starting to become clear (or maybe it’s becoming less clear).

Finally, notice that the main character is a woman. Not such a big deal for us today, but 2000 years ago? In essence, Jesus is comparing God to a woman, something in itself, and not only that, but to a woman who does something sneaky, unclean, out of control. That’s who God is, Jesus tells us. In a little parable, just a sentence long, he offers a whole new concept of the kingdom of God: It’s not what you expect. It doesn’t follow the rules. It’s wild. Sneaky. And it’s definitely out of control.

This weekend, Episcopalians across the country are remembering and celebrating some other women, more recent in time, who also were thought to be wild and sneaky and out of control. Forty years ago in Philadelphia, on July 29, 1974, eleven women were ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. Only, the Episcopal Church didn’t yet allow women priests. In fact, twice it had voted down proposals to ordain women—first in 1970, and again in 1973.

Actually, in 1970 the church did vote to allow women deacons. But deacons can’t perform sacramental ministries like celebrating the Eucharist or officiating at weddings and funerals, let alone leading churches, the usual priest stuff. And just as men had for nearly 2000 years, a lot of women and even girls felt that God was calling them to that ministry, too. Only, before 1974, if you were a woman in the Episcopal Church you couldn’t respond to that calling. You were told that the priesthood wasn’t for you, that God couldn’t, or wouldn’t, or didn’t call women to that kind of ministry. Or maybe, you were told to be patient; that things would change in the future. But you had to wait until the men in charge decided that it would be okay to have “girls” or “ladies” join their club.

That is, until those first eleven women, ranging in age from 27 to 79, decided that they had waited long enough. One, in particular, came to the realization that if she believed that God were calling her to this kind of ministry, then it was up to her to claim it for herself, rather than wait for it to be handed to her as a gift, out of the generosity of men’s hearts. Her name was Suzanne Hiatt. Like me, she grew up in Minneapolis. She moved to Massachusetts to attend Radcliffe College, and then in 1961 was one of the first female students at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, long before most Episcopalians thought women should or could be priests. But Sue did.

Sue appeared to be an unlikely revolutionary. I knew her in her last years, when she was one of my seminary professors (she died in 2002, shortly after I graduated), but I understand that she always looked and acted pretty much the same. Her usual wardrobe consisted of cardigan sweater, wool skirt, knee socks and loafers: typical Radcliffe attire, in the 1950s. Sue just never changed. But underneath that conservative exterior was a woman, a Christian, of steely resolve, who believed with every fibre of her being that the Spirit of the Lord was upon her, that God was calling her to be a priest, and that God was calling other women to that ministry as well. I should add that many others agreed—her seminary professors, her rector, and her bishop. They just didn’t know how to make it happen. So, in a soft-spoken but determined way she challenged and stood up to bishops. She refused to back down or take a back seat. Most of all, she refused to believe that women are less able, less equipped, or less human than men. And she was right.



Besides having the heart of priest, Sue was a community organizer. She knew that there is both power and safety in numbers. One person can be sidelined or discounted or shot down. But it’s a lot harder to do that to a group. So, after legislation allowing women priests was voted down in 1970 and again in 1973, she decided it was time for decisive action. Having been ordained a deacon in 1971, one of the first, she contacted other women deacons and liberal bishops to see who would be willing to just go ahead and do it. Although the church had not approved ordaining women, it never said that women couldn’t be ordained. And, Sue noted, people always said that in older English, as in the Prayer Book, when it says “man” or “he” it really means people, without regard to gender. So, that could apply as much to ordination as to anything else.

Well, she found 10 other women deacons willing to go ahead. Finding bishops was harder. Even liberal bishops who believed women should be ordained felt they couldn’t until the church had truly approved, likely afraid that they would be brought to trial for breaking a law—even though there was none—and would lose their jobs and pensions. Eventually, though, three brave retired bishops stepped forward. They had less to lose. And they went ahead and did it. Though, unlike the woman in today’s parable who hides yeast in the flour, the Philadelphia ordinations were not secret. The whole world knew about it. They even bumped Richard Nixon and Watergate from the headlines. Of course people tried to talk them out of it, to be patient that change would come. Others claimed the women were corrupting the church. One protester said the women “could offer up nothing but the sight, sound, and smell of perversion.” But they went ahead, confident that God was calling them to this new thing, confident that the Spirit of the Lord was upon them.

The service, attracting 2,000 people, was held at the massive Church of the Advocate--a largely African-American parish. Although the women being ordained were white, much of their support came from Black Episcopalians active in Civil Rights, who believed that no one is free until all are free. Paul Washington, rector of the parish, was a veteran of the Black Power movement. The preacher was Dr. Charles Willie, Harvard professor and vice president of the House of Deputies, the highest-ranking layman in the church. In his sermon he said, “This shouldn’t be seen as an act of arrogant disobedience. But an act of tender defiance.” Dr. Willie is known to long-time Emmanuel parishioners as the husband of our former organist Mary Sue Willie. The Advocate’s senior warden also had a starring role, leading the procession as the crucifer. Her name is Barbara Harris. Later, of course, she was ordained herself and became our bishop in Massachusetts—the first woman bishop in the world.

I was less than two when the Philadelphia ordinations happened, so I don’t remember all of the excitement. But maybe you do. The event certainly didn’t resolve anything. In fact, the bishops of the Episcopal Church were so angry that they declared the ordinations utterly invalid. But the women wouldn’t accept that ruling, and neither would the 2,000 people who witnessed the event, nor their supporters across the country and the world. So, they acted as priests as often as they could. They celebrated the Eucharist. They preached sermons. People saw them, and more and more became convinced that this new thing was in fact the right thing. It was God’s thing, like the woman in the parable, mixing leaven in the flour so that the whole church could rise.

The next year, in 1975, four more women were ordained in Washington, DC, by another retired bishop, also without permission. When the church’s national convention was held again, in 1976, there were 15 women priests and the threat of more. Fearing further chaos and unrest, and no doubt increasingly convinced that the time was right, the convention finally approved and admitted women to all orders of ministry—as deacons, priests, and as even bishops. Though it would be another 12 years until the smart people of Massachusetts elected Bishop Barbara. Sue Hiatt said that they finally found it harder not to ordain women than to ordain them. She was probably right.

Maybe it all would have happened anyway. Maybe, eventually, the church would have realized that when it comes to gifts, skills, and callings, women are no different from men. Maybe. Then again, if it hadn’t been for visionary and courageous people like those priests in Philadelphia, and the few bishops willing to take a daring risk, maybe we’d still be waiting, just as Christians had waited for the previous 1,974 years. As I said earlier, Sue Hiatt was one of my seminary professors, as were Carter Heyward and Alison Cheek, two of the other priests ordained that day in Philadelphia. I am who I am because of them. And I know that others trained by them feel the same, including priests who have served here: Bailey Whitbeck, Steve Ayres, Kay Evans, Libby Berman. Even our bishop-elect Alan Gates. We've all had our ministries shaped by these prophets and pioneers who changed the church. So in a real way, this anniversary, and these prophetic priests, while part of history, are also part of our life and our ministry—the old and ever new Body of Christ that I, and we, try to live into each and everyday.

I thought I’d close with a reflection by Sue Hiatt, the informal “bishop to the women” on the transformation that she and the Philadelphia Eleven brought to the Episcopal Church. She wrote: “In retrospect, to have been ordained ‘irregularly’ is the only way for women to have done it. Our ordination was on our terms, not the church’s terms. We saw ourselves as deacons proceeding in obedience to the insistence of the Holy Spirit that the step be taken for the integrity of the church. Women were able, through much pain and hard work and witnessing, to bring bishops and clergy and laity to share our vision of a church in which (as the banner hanging on the altar at the Church of the Advocate that morning read) ‘In Christ there is neither male nor female, bond nor free, Jew nor Gentile—We are one’.”

Like the woman in Jesus’ parable, women we know today, lay and ordained, are transforming the church from the inside out—giving it, giving us, life and vibrancy, mixing or even hiding yeast, so that we all are leavened, and grow, out of control, beyond even our wildest imagining. Thanks be to God. Amen.

© The Rev. Matthew P. Cadwell, Ph.D.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Planting and Growing in God's Love: A Sermon on the Parable of the Sower

Sometimes, when people here around Boston learn that I grew up in Minnesota, they assume that I must be from a rural area. Once, someone at a former church even asked me what sort of farm I came from, perhaps thinking that I lived a 20th century version of Little House on the Prairie. I had to disappoint her by saying that, in fact, I grew up in the suburbs, about 20 minutes from Minneapolis. The city is called Maple Grove, not to be confused with Walnut Grove, where the real life Ingalls family of the “Little House” fame lived.

The two Groves, in fact, are about 150 miles and many more worlds apart. I did visit Walnut Grove once, in search of the famed little house, but it’s not there, having long since collapsed. All that’s left is a depression on a hill by a stream where their dugout sod house once was, with a sign saying that’s the spot. Although, like the more famous Walnut Grove, Maple Grove, where I’m from, also used to be farmland, potato farms mainly, but that was a hundred years ago. Now it’s a city of about 60,000 residents.

But even though I didn’t grow up on a farm, one of my grandmothers did. My mom’s mother: Grandma Florence. She lived quite a bit later than the famed Ingalls family, but I suspect her early life was a lot the same. Her father, Fred Krussow, the son of German immigrants, was wheat farmer. And like the earliest pioneers, he and his family moved across the country quite a bit, in search of the best land, the best soil, the best opportunity. After emigrating from Germany in 1850 or so, the Krussows landed in Minnesota. Then they moved to Oregon and farmed there, where my grandmother was born. After her mother died, they moved back to Minnesota. And eventually Grandpa Fred uprooted his family of 7 and moved to Saskatchewan, where he had successful wheat farm—until the drought, dust bowl, and depression of the 1930s.

My grandma, though, she didn’t go to Canada. Instead, she stayed behind in Minnesota to finish high school. After graduating, she moved to Minneapolis for secretarial school, then working in Pillsbury’s headquarters. But although she left the farm, farming didn’t really leave her. In her backyard she grew tomatoes, carrots, Swiss chard, green beans, zucchini, and rhubarb. Row after row marked out by stakes in ground and pieces of string strung across to organize what would go where. She didn’t believe in wasting land with grass when you could use it to produce something good. And like a good farm girl, her basement had shelf after shelf of canned goods—along with a clothesline and what at some point must have been a modern convenience called a ringer. Eventually, Grandpa Fred came back to Minnesota and moved in with her on the top floor of her house, where he lived until he died at age 90. I asked my mom yesterday when Grandpa Fred moved in, and she said he was just always there, from the start, probably since the dustbowl.

Not believing in grass, Grandma tried to get a vegetable garden going at our house in Maple Grove, too, but the soil wasn’t very good. It’s clay-like, so mostly it was just good for potatoes, like the farms there a hundred years ago, though we tried to grow carrots and tomatoes and strawberries as well. Not always with great success. Well, plus the fact that once my mom went to tend the garden and she saw a snake. She threw a rock at it and refused to go back out there again. So, we put up a swing set instead, which admittedly was a lot more fun than growing potatoes.

Obviously, Jesus’ parable of the sower, which we just heard, inspired this recollection of my farming ancestry. The search for good soil, for a place in which the seeds might take root, grow, and flourish is something that may be a little foreign to us where we live, certainly most of our lives don’t depend on it in an immediate way (though, of course we do indirectly depend on good soil for our food), but probably it is a story that would have made a lot of sense to people in ages past, or in different contexts than our urban and suburban lifestyles.

When Jesus teaches in parables, what he does is take familiar images, stories of ordinary, mundane things, like planting seeds or casting nets for fish or even sweeping a house, and through these stories he tells us something about God and about us. Usually, though, he doesn’t tell us what the stories mean. Rather, he lets the hearers—whether the original disciples or us many years later—discern what he means. Sometimes, it may even be that the stories, the parables, mean something different for us today than they first did 2,000 years ago. That’s what’s so brilliant and unusual about Jesus’ parables. They are able to speak to different people in different ways across time and space.

While I was preparing for this morning I read an interesting definition of parable by a Welsh Bible scholar named C. H. Dodd, who taught at Oxford and Cambridge for many years. He wrote: “At its simplest the parable is a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving in mind sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought.” Isn’t that great? In using parables, Jesus doesn’t tell us what to think; he doesn’t give us “prepackaged meaning,” but instead challenges us to respond, inviting new meanings in new situations, always “teasing us into active thought.”

What’s different about today’s parable, however, is that in addition to the typical Jesus-style story, we also find an explanation, a code of sorts. The seeds thrown on the path and are eaten by the birds is really Satan stealing away belief from some, while the seeds sown on rocky ground are people whose faith never takes root. But the seeds sown on good soil are people who allow the good news of the gospel to grow in their lives. It’s very neat and tidy. But, it is also atypical for Jesus’ parables, which usually are just left hanging, with no explanation at all, just our minds teased into thought, often leaving us scratching our heads trying to figure out what he means.

It is most likely the case that the parable of the sower really was told by Jesus to his disciples. It uses language and imagery quite consistent with Jesus’ general approach and manner of speaking. The explanation, however, is probably a later addition, reflecting the concerns of the early church—trying to explain why it was that some people responded faithfully and fully to the message of the gospel, to the saving Good News of Christ, while others didn’t. For those who heard Jesus’ message and responded with faith and trust, whose hearts were filled with Christ, it was hard to understand why others were so resistant. It certainly wasn’t God’s fault—so maybe these non-responders were really just bad soil. Or, maybe Satan had prevented them from responding as they should. I suppose these hypotheses are as good as anything. After all, we still don’t really know why some people embrace lives of faith and others don’t. But like the early Christians, what we do know is that for those who do respond, for those who answer Jesus’ call to discipleship, the results, the harvest, can be very great—both in terms of what we can do, what we can sow and grow ourselves, and also in how our hearts are filled with God’s grace and love.

Whatever the explanation of the parable, whether Jesus’ or the later gospel writers’, what we also see (and I think this is just as important, or maybe even more so than the explanation given) is that God, the sower, is completely indiscriminate in terms of where the seed is thrown. Unlike my grandmother, who carefully planted her seeds individually in neat and straight rows, with stakes and strings to make sure everything grew as it should, and only planted those seeds that she knew would grow properly in her yard (for example not planting an orange tree in Minnesota), unlike that, God takes a completely different approach—sowing seed, sharing the good news of grace and love completely willy nilly, with reckless abandon, even. It’s as if there’s no limit, there’s no way that God will run out, so why not try—here, there, and everywhere—on the path, in the rocky soil, among the weeds, even among us here today, in the chance, in the hope, that some of those seeds will take root, wherever they are.

Of course, God does that because there really is no limit. There really is no limit and there is no end to God’s grace, to God’s love, and even to God’s hope—God’s hope that we will hear, God’s hope that we will respond, God’s hope that whoever we are, wherever we are, we will be among those who in whom God’s grace and love takes root, and then grows and flourishes.

So, Jesus tells us, in language and in an example that was no doubt perplexing at first, God sows seeds and casts them in every direction. God even casts them in our direction, unlikely soil as we may be. And then, like a farmer or like my grandmother in her backyard garden, God showers those seeds, God showers us, with love, waiting to see what will happen. Waiting to see how we respond. And you know what, it isn’t hard. Responding. All we have to do is allow those seeds, and the power that love, the power of God’s life, to take root in hearts and souls, until it and until we grow and bear fruit and yield—as Jesus says, thirty-fold, sixty-fold, even a hundred fold. And then we respond by sharing that yield, by sharing that love that good news with others. Sowing seeds ourselves and harvesting a yield beyond our wildest imagining. That was Jesus’ promise 2000 years ago, and I think it still is today.

To God be the glory: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
       

© The Rev. Matthew P. Cadwell, PhD 

Monday, July 7, 2014

On Loyalists, Patriots, and the Episcopal Church: A Sermon for July 6

Some years on the Sunday closest to the Fourth of July we have held a historical service—a recreation of what worship would have been like in the colonial era. We didn’t plan that this year, but I now kind of wish we had, since I am feeling a little cheated out of my usual Independence Day enjoyments due to Hurricane Arthur—watching bombs bursting in air on TV a day early is not quite the same as in person. Even so, special service or not this time of year my mind always seems to turn to things historical—both the history of our nation and also the history of the Episcopal Church. So, rather than our lessons, my focus this morning will be on recalling that story. Sorry if you were hoping for a sermon on the story of Rebekkah being claimed for Isaac with a nose ring.

You may know, or maybe you don’t, that the Episcopal Church was really born in the struggle for American independence. The Revolution was like the act that cut the Episcopal Church’s umbilical cord from its mother, the Church of England. After the war, we were on our own, much like the country as a whole. I imagine it was both exhilarating and very frightening. A significant number of the colonial Anglicans—both lay and ordained—were loyalist, supporting the king and not the struggle for independence. As a result, during the war over half of the Anglican clergy gave up their churches, a goodly number fleeing to Canada or back to England.

That loyalist sensibility was particularly strong among Anglicans in the north. In New England, as many as 90% of Anglican clergy were loyalist. I suspect that’s because here, the Congregational Church, descendents of the Puritans who came in search of religious freedom—specifically freedom from the Church of England—had official sanction by the colonial government, and the Anglicans, ironically, were an oppressed minority. So, they saw their allegiance to the king and England as their security in hostile, Puritan territory.

There has even been some suggestion that a conflict between Anglicans and Congregationalists contributed to the Revolution. The Anglicans, you see, were tired of traveling back and forth to England, particularly for priests to be ordained, and wanted a bishop of their own. Well, the New England Congregationalists were appalled and aghast at the suggestion. Leading Congregationalist minister Jonathan Mayhew of the Old West Church in Boston, who was a theological liberal, nearly Unitarian and a leading voice crying for American liberty, viewed bishops as nothing more than a tool of royal oppression. He said: "Is it not enough, that they persecuted us out of the Old World? Will they pursue us into the New to convert us here?" Mayhew died in 1766, before the Revolution, but his ideas were influential in coalescing momentum against the king and against the king’s church.

The situation was different in the southern colonies: in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. There, as well as New York, the Church of England was the established, authorized church. Because of that, Anglicans were greater in number and really in a much more secure position. Down there, only 23% of the Anglican clergy were loyalist (remember it was 90% in the north!). And in many cases the leaders of Colonial government themselves were Anglican, including some names you’ll probably recognize: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Jay, John Marshall, Patrick Henry. Also General George Washington. In fact, three quarters of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were Anglican laymen; though, some were more religious than others, and a good number were Deists, embracing a very reason-based approach to religion. Thomas Jefferson, for example, was Unitarian in belief, not believing in miracles or creeds or anything like that, but still attending and even serving on the vestry of an Episcopal Church. Because of their more prosperous position, the southern Anglicans didn’t look to England for their security and freedom in the way the northerners did.

After the Revolution, those who remained set about to pick up the pieces and organize their orphaned church. They built it around the very same ideals as the new American government, while striving to maintain the beliefs and practices they inherited from the Church of England—the Book of Common Prayer, sacraments, and the like. They valued democracy, and for the most part sought to give laity as well as clergy as voice and vote in church matters. But, they also still believed in bishops as spiritual leaders—they just thought the bishops should be elected, rather than appointed by a king, and should have limited authority. And, of course, parishes had to be self-supporting, no longer relying on England to keep them going. That’s where the concept of pledging comes from, hand in hand with the idea of a democratic church. 

It took time for everything to sort itself out. For a while it seemed like each diocese was its own autonomous church (sometimes with only one or two parishes). The northern New England areas that had been largely loyalist tended to be more high church, in stark contrast with the Congregationalist majority, while the south was more Protestant and far more democratic. In 1780 the Diocese of Maryland held a convention and called itself “the Protestant Episcopal Church.” It was the first time that name was used—sort of ironic or at least aspirational, as the word “Episcopal” means with bishops and they didn’t have any yet in the new country, nor really any way of getting them, since the Church of England likely wasn’t willing to help.

Even so, in 1783 the clergy of the Diocese of Connecticut met secretly (no laity, since they weren’t so sure about giving laity a vote up here, thinking it too much like their adversaries the Congregationalists). These clergy elected a priest named Samuel Seabury to be their bishop. He had been a loyalist during the war, serving as a chaplain to the king’s army, even drawing maps of the colonies, and was imprisoned by the Continental army in Connecticut for a while. However, following the war, he chose to live in the new nation. After his election he sailed to England to see if he could get the bishops there to consecrate him a bishop for the United States. He was unsuccessful, as he refused to swear another oath to the king.

Undeterred, he went north to visit the bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church, who didn’t require an oath of royal assent. This time he was successful and on November 14, 1784, Seabury was consecrated in Aberdeen by three Scottish bishops. He sailed back to the United States to be the very first American bishop; in fact, he was the very first Anglican bishop outside the British Isles. Although he was only elected Bishop of Connecticut, for a while he gave himself the impressive title “Bishop of America.” Seabury’s promise to the Scottish bishops was that he would introduce their version of the Holy Communion liturgy here, which was more high church or catholic than England’s. He succeeded and it is one of his primary legacies.

Well, you know the rivalry between England and Scotland. When the English bishops learned that Seabury had been ordained up there, they got all worried that all of the American bishops would come from Scotland, which they felt was of questionable authenticity. Plus they feared the loss of their spiritual as well as political influence, so they passed a law allowing the consecration of three bishops for the United States, ensuring their legacy and influence here.  As a result, between 1787 and 1790 three more priests from America sailed to England to be ordained bishops: William White of Philadelphia, Samuel Provoost of New York, and James Madison of Virginia (cousin of the president). With four bishops in the United States, we didn’t need to look to England or Scotland any longer, as traditionally it only takes three bishops to consecrate a new one.

Truth be told, though, it was still a tense time. In many areas the church’s membership was decimated by the war. Bishops Seabury of Connecticut (the former loyalist) and Provoost of New York (who had been a Patriot) couldn’t stand each other, archenemies is how historians describe them. They couldn’t even bear being in the same room together, so it took Herculean efforts to get the church organized—priests ordained by Seabury often weren’t welcome in middle and southern dioceses, and the northern dioceses refused to send delegates to national conventions and wouldn’t sign on to the first proposed prayer book, because it wasn’t high church enough. Bishop White of Philadelphia (who had been a chaplain to the Continental Congress) was the peacemaker, getting Seabury to agree to something when Provoost was away sick, always delicately balancing the high church, catholic sensibilities of the north and the low church, democratic ideals of the south. White was brilliant, but probably didn’t feel it at the time.

Bishop Seabury, by the way, in the very early days oversaw Massachusetts and Rhode Island, as well as his Connecticut diocese (since there were hardly any Episcopalians here—only about 5 parishes). King’s Chapel in Boston, the first Anglican church in New England, actually became Unitarian because of Seabury, since the bishop refused to ordain to the priesthood its lay reader, James Freeman, who had embraced Unitarian beliefs. Its previous clergy were loyalist and fled during the war. Edward Bass, rector of St. Paul’s Church in Newburyport was elected bishop of Massachusetts in 1789. However, his parish rejected the vote because, as in Connecticut, lay people had not been given the vote. He was elected again in 1796, with lay votes this time, and was consecrated the next year—the 7th bishop in the Episcopal Church.

Well, that’s some of the story of how we came to be—children of the Revolution and the struggle for American Independence, though some reluctantly. Always inspiring to me in the story of Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church is how very human we are. In the early days, infamously born of a king who wanted to divorce his wife, and later of a Revolution that not everyone supported, but once it was settled, they committed themselves to the ideals of this new country, even modeling the church on its principles of democracy. Our church is founded upon the belief that God can work and speak through all of us: lay and clergy alike, of many backgrounds, perspectives, and beliefs—both when we get things right and even when we get them wrong. The Episcopal Church is far from perfect, sometimes frustratingly far. But for me, it is holds in a unique way the best of Christian tradition and the extraordinary gifts and insights of the American experiment and experience in democracy, liberty, and a striving for justice for all.

I thought I would close this morning with a prayer for the Fourth of July from the proposed Book of Common Prayer from 1786, composed three years after the end of the Revolution. The prayer was controversial then because many Episcopalians weren’t so sure that the Fourth of July was a day to celebrate. But today, we can celebrate and give thanks—for the blessings of life in this country, for the blessings of other countries around the world, and most especially for the blessings of that country, that kingdom, of which all people are citizens.

So let us pray

Almighty God, who hast in all ages shewed forth thy power and mercy in the wonderful preservation of thy church, and in the protection of every nation and people professing thy holy and eternal Truth, and putting their sure trust in thee; We yield thee our unfeigned thanks and praise for all thy public mercies, and more especially for that signal and wonderful manifestation of thy providence which we commemorate this day; Wherefore not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy Name be ascribed all honor and glory, in all churches of the Saints, from generation to generation, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 

© The Rev. Matthew P. Cadwell, Ph.D.