November 14, 2005

Consecration of Samuel Seabury

Category: Communion of Saints — Micah @ 12:00 am

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Good day, and welcome to “Communion of Saints” from I’m your host, Micah Jackson. Today is November 14th, 2005: The Commemoration of the Consecration of Samuel Seabury.

The lections appointed for this unusual feast (Acts 20:28-32 and Matthew 9:35-38) speak of the role of the bishop—to be the chief pastor in a diocese and a defender of the faith. But there were other ways to go. I might have chosen the first few verses of Genesis, with their reminder that before things got organized “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.” (Genesis 1:2)

In many ways, a formless void and darkness might have been good words to describe the state of the Anglican community in the brand new United States. Many Anglicans had been loyal to the British crown during the revolution, and Samuel Seabury himself, the man we remember today, served as a chaplain to the Redcoats. But once the war was over, the Anglicans in America knew they were going to have to get about the business of self-government, just as the Founding Fathers did.

Without a bishop, they could hardly be an “episcopal” church. Samuel Seabury was chosen to return to England and seek consecration as a bishop in the new American church. After a year in England, it became clear that no English bishop would consecrate Seabury, since as an American he could not swear the oath of allegiance to the King. But many of the bishops in Scotland were also unwilling to swear the oath, and they were finally persuaded to consecrate a bishop for America on this day, November 14th, in 1784.

With that act of apostolic consecration, Seabury, and the faithful Anglicans who sent him, sealed the intention of the Episcopal Church to be an integral part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. And yet his refusal to swear the oath of allegiance, signaled that the American Church was simultaneously determined to be true to its own principles, even though they be counter to tradition.

Today the Episcopal Church is embroiled in many controversies about what it means to be part of the worldwide communion while keeping to the values of freedom and openness that the American Revolution guaranteed. By providing the historic episcopate for the United States, God gave us a great gift, and a great responsibility.

Let us pray: We give you thanks, O lord our God, for your goodness in bestowing upon this church the gift of the episcopate, which we celebrate in this remembrance of the consecration of Samuel Seabury; and we pray that, joined together in unity with our bishops, and nourished by your holy Sacraments, we may proclaim the Gospel of redemption with apostolic zeal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Thank you for listening to Communion of Saints. Please join us on November 16th at for the feast of Saint Margaret of Scotland. I’m Micah Jackson. May God be with you.

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  1. Would he have been considered apostate by some of the English bishops because he could not swear that allegiance?

    Comment by Tripp — November 14, 2005 @ 9:10 am

  2. No, Tripp. I don’t think he would have been considered apostate. Inherent in the idea that the King of England was the “Supreme Governor” of the church in England is the idea that somebody else is the head of the Church in that place. At least, that’s my sense of the Scottish bishops’ argument, and also that of Seabury himself.

    And, indeed, that position has been borne out. That’s what we understand today.

    Comment by Micah — November 14, 2005 @ 2:46 pm

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