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Hallo again to all.

A few days ago, the thousandth bishop in the American Episcopal Church was consecrated, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Actually, 'ordained and consecrated', for those who tend to be purist about such things.) This number would have seemed almost unimaginable to the Episcopal Church in its formative years, when the House of Bishops consisted of a handful of men. The succession -- so hard won by Samuel Seabury in Scotland and made seemingly firm by the consecration of three American bishops in London in 1787 -- was nearly lost now and then in the first and second decades of the 19th century, when illness and death were plaguing the minuscule House of Bishops.

St Paul's Chapel, New York City
St Paul's Chapel, New York City, circa 1830

But by the early 1830s, the growing US population, its westward movement, and the passing of the first generation of American bishops (along with the peculiar, emotional resignation of another) required new episcopal elections in the dioceses of Kentucky, Vermont, Ohio, and New Jersey. The fruits of those elections -- BB Smith, JH Hopkins, CP McIlvaine, and GW Doane -- were soon to take their place in the House of Bishops after their consecrations, which where to all occur on one day, during the General Convention in New York City.

So on 31 October 1832, a crush of people thronged the Georgian edifice of St Paul's Church in Manhattan, where the lucky were packed in galleries and the less lucky forced to struggle for any seat they could. Many had to stand on the pews to see anything. The remarkable event of four consecrations stimulated Arthur Cleveland Coxe*, a 14-year-old schoolboy and son of a noted Presbyterian minister, to skip school. He jostled his way through the crowd, wangling a place near the chancel where he could watch the action first hand. He noted this in his diary:

I squeezed up to the chancel, and, at the Veni Creator, stood within a few feet of Bishop White, so that I beheld him, in full view, as he made four bishops; the other bishops stepping up, in turns, to assist. I watched bishop Ives' behaviour, quite as much as any one's, & was charmed with his appearance.†

Arthur Cleveland Coxe as a young priest
Arthur Cleveland Coxe
as a young priest

The sermon, by Henry Ustick Onderdonk, high churchman and assistant Bishop of Pennsylvania, was, not surprisingly, focussed on apostolic succession: 'Why should a ministry exist in the Christian Church? and why should it be distinguished by orders? Many of the most specious popular objections to Episcopacy, were well and ingeniously answered'.§ But the sermon's appeal to a schoolboy -- even one so intensely fascinated by the Episcopal Church as 'Cleve' Coxe -- was somewhat remote. And its distinct lack of appeal to his Presbyterian father was duly noted in the son's diary:

I staid thro' the H[oly] E[ucharist]; & after the services, joined my father & walked home. He commented severely on the bp.'s sermon.

Immediately following Bishop Onderdonk’s peroration, the Handelian anthem 'Comfort ye' was sung -- although some priggish observers later questioned its tastefulness. The candidates presented, the testimonials read, the interrogatories asked and answered, the ceremony moved inexorably forward in the dignified and orderly form and manner of making bishops. At last, the bishops-elect were consecrated by the 84-year-old presiding bishop, William White, according to the dates of their respective elections. This was rather a shock, as Bishop White had been in the habit, till then, of following the English practice of consecration by date of doctor of divinity degree rather than by order of election.

We suspect that the crowds in St Paul's Church in 1832 observing the consecration of the 26th, 27th, 28th, and 29th American bishops would have been reasonably comfortable had they been in Albuquerque for the consecration of the 1000th bishop. And that's not as insignificant as it might seem: The 973rd bishop in the Episcopal Church, Pierre Whalon, in his new essay 'To Whom Do We Belong?' writes about the issues raised when the American Episcopal church came into being, issues that bear strongly on our Anglican Communion roils today.

See you next week.

Cynthia's signature
Brian's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 16 January 2005

* Later the second Bishop of Western New York (1865-1896). His unpublished diaries, from which his recollections of the 1832 consecration are taken, are part of the archives of the Diocese of Western New York.

Levi Silliman Ives (1797-1867), at the time Bishop of North Carolina and son-in-law of Bishop John Henry Hobart. His decision to enter the Roman Catholic Church in 1851 was the most infamous of all American conversions.

§ The bracing themes of succession and episcopacy seemed to lure Episcopal preachers on the occasion of large public services. John S. J. Gardiner (1765-1830), the colourful, Dr Samuel Parr-educated rector of Trinity Church, Boston, at the laying of the cornerstone of the second edifice in 1828, struck the stone with a hammer and 'delivered a suitable address, stating distinctly, among other things, the reasons of our preference for the Episcopalian Doctrine...'
    The vestry minutes noted: 'Upon this occasion the spectators of both Sexes were numerous, considering it was the wish of the Building Committee to avoid all unnecessary parade'. Given the wealth of the families and pew-owners of Trinity parish, the cornerstone’s hermetically sealed glass box appropriately contained examples of all the coins in circulation in the United States and, almost as an afterthought, an issue each of the Columbian Centinel and the Episcopal Watchman (a religious weekly), along with a convention journal. (Information drawn from The Records of Trinity Church, Boston, Volume 1, pp. 388-89.)

A thin blue line
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