By Greg Jones
Edward M. Jefferys, Twelfth Rector of St. Paul’s in Philadelphia, wrote eloquently about Bishop William White some seventy-one years ago – on the event of the sesquicentennial of Bishop White’s consecration to the Episcopate. He writes:
William White was, while Samuel Seabury was not, “the Father of the Episcopal Church” in the United States. After the conclusion of the Revolution, William White visioned, planned, worked for, and far more than any other achieved, the organization, and then guided the first steps, of the American Church. He it was who thought the question through, inspired others with the thought, won over the half-hearted, conciliated the objectors, gained through the right channels the good offices of our government, of the British King and Parliament and of the Church of England, the latter having been long willing to grant the episcopate to the colonies; and crowned his efforts by obtaining for us the English succession through his consecration and the consecration of Dr. Provoost by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, and the Bishop of Peterborough. It was, therefore, he more than any one else who brought the churchmen of the North and South together, and inspired them with the vision of a National Church.
It is indeed true that White not only authored the seminal vision of the structure and polity of the Episcopal Church, he also shepherded it through challenging conventions, and through the necessary avenues of ecclesiastical diplomacy with the Church of England. William White, not Seabury, not Provoost, not anyone else, presided over the nascent Episcopal Church as it would become the first independent Anglican Church in full communion and with the full support of the Church of England.
As we go into a Lambeth Conference season – let us not forget that The Episcopal Church has a significant place in the Communion – not because we are Americans, but because, by providence, our own founding effectively gave rise to the Anglican Communion itself. No only does The Episcopal Church owe this in great part to the leadership of William White – but so too does the entire Anglican Communion. White led the process which established the reality of an Anglicanism bigger than the established churches of Great Britain, resulting in a global communion of Anglicans united by affection, faith and common prayer. All of us should bear that in mind as we continue in this life of Christ together – in this province and all.
I believe that White may be seen as a representative figure of the comprehensive Anglican leader. Like him, we continue to need leaders in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion who:
Treasure the faith and order of the Prayer Book tradition, allowing revision as provided for in the first preface of 1549, while not requiring it to be radically revised either; Value the doctrinal witness of that Prayer Book, and the prayer books and articles of faith which have followed since 1549; understanding that the Articles of Faith in particular, contain a number of differently understood points, and in general have not been required in the Episcopal Church ever, or the wider Anglican Communion for decades; Cherish the continuity of connection and communion with the See of Canterbury; Believe in the equal honor and dignity of all four orders of ministry, and works toward a truly conciliar ecclesiology in which all orders share in authority and governance; Supports high-level theological education for all leaders, especially clergy; Manages to bridge gaps cultural and theological within the wider Anglican fellowship for the sake of the unity which the Holy Trinity calls us to exhibit as a people called to inhabit in the triune life of God.
The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones (“Greg”) was educated at the University of North Carolina and the General Theological Seminary, where he is on the board. He is rector of St. Michael’s Raleigh, and blogs at fatherjones.com.