Today we honor William White, first bishop of Pennsylvania. Born in 1747 in Philadelphia, White went to England to be ordained as a deacon and then priest. He served at churches in Pennsylvania and was also the chaplain of the Continental Congress and U.S. Senate. When elected bishop, he had to travel back to England; he and Samuel Provost were consecrated in 1787. Bishop White was the chief architect of the Constitution of the Episcopal Church and served as Presiding Bishop at the first General Convention. In addition to mentoring many church greats, Bishop White steered the American Church through its first decades of independent life – a hearty task given the Episcopal Church’s ties to England after the Revolution.
I have often wondered how those early church formers experienced their call. The transition from the Church of England to the Episcopal Church must have been scary. We often talk about the church reinventing itself today, but the church in the U.S. in the late 1700s really had to reinvent its whole identity. I imagine many thought the church would die or at least flee from the United States. To have been so bold as to totally reinvent the structure of the church took vision, courage and faith.
Bishop White could have easily told God what Jeremiah did in our Old Testament lesson today. Jeremiah says, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” Bishop White was only forty years old when he became Bishop – one could argue he was only a boy, too. But when God calls people to ministries, God does so with gusto. God tells Jeremiah, “… you shall go tell to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.” God’s instructions are firm and a bit scary. But God also affirms Jeremiah: “I am with you to deliver you,” says the LORD.
Bishop White must have heard God’s affirmation in order to do all that he did. But God’s challenge and comfort is not just for prophets and leaders. God’s challenge and comfort is for each of us, too. Though we may not have such grandiose calls, God still has a call on each person here. Our reminder today is that God does challenge us to go where God sends, but God also comforts us with the assurance that God is with us and delivers us. Amen.