Today we honor the life and work of Samuel Seabury, first American Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Born in 1729 in Connecticut, and ordained priest in England in 1753, Seabury worked in New Jersey, Long Island, and Westchester County. During the American Revolution, he remained loyal to the British crown and served as a chaplain to the British army. After the Revolution, in 1783, Seabury was asked by Connecticut clergymen to seek episcopal consecration in England. He negotiated for a year, but could not obtain episcopal orders because as an American citizen, he could not swear allegiance to the crown. He turned to the Episcopal Church in Scotland, which consecrated him bishop. In Connecticut, he was officially recognized as bishop in 1785. In 1792, he participated in the first consecration of a bishop on American soil.
I do not know many modern Episcopalian who could have lived the life of Samuel Seabury. He had to deal with changing national loyalties; travel by boat to ask a people from whom he had just revolted to consecrate him; negotiate for a year; think creatively to involve Scotland; not give up; and establish a new system here in the U.S. Samuel’s faith life required a certain flexibility, creativity, and tenacity that many of us lack. I sense that lack even in myself as I hear Episcopalians talk about reinventing our church for this new age. Can’t we just stay as we are where we are comfortable and just pray it will all work out?
But our lesson from the Acts of the Apostles allows no such hesitancy. Paul exhorts us to keep watch – over ourselves and over the whole flock. Our job is to care for the church that “God obtained with the blood of [God’s] Son.” But Paul does not exhort without encouragement. He says that God’s grace will build us up and that the Holy Spirit makes us overseers. We can do our work with flexibility, creativity, tenacity, and change because God’s grace will build us up, and the Holy Spirit empowers us to do the work. The road may be hard at times, but we have the great cloud of witnesses pushing us forward. Samuel knows we can do it; we just have to let go and trust. Amen.