Sunday, November 05, 2006


[Reflections on the Investiture of the 26th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church written on a United Airlines flight -- (with a WOMAN pilot which I take as a tribute to the wonderful syncronisity of the universe!) --somewhere between Chicago and LAX sometime VERY late on Saturday night, November 4, 2006]

So I’m standing at the Washington DC hotel desk this morning about 7:00 a.m. waiting to check out and stow my luggage so we could get up to the Cathedral and stand in line for the Big Day and the woman standing in front of me turns and says, “Excuse me … I hope this isn’t a rude question but what’s the deal with all the priests and such around today? Is something special happening?”

“Oh, my dear,” I thought, “if you only knew!” … but instead I said:

“Actually, we’re Episcopalians and we’re all here to celebrate that our church is getting a new Presiding Bishop and that for the first time in our history “it’s a girl” (pointing to cute pink lapel button for effect.)

“YES!” said the woman (I later found out from Atlanta) as she made a fist with her right hand and jabbed her elbow downward in that gesture that I’m not sure where it came from but seems to be universally recognized as an affirmation. “It’s about time … that’s enough to almost make me want to give church another try!” So we talked for a few minutes about church in general and Atlanta in specific … I mentioned some clergy and some congregations and sent her off with my card … not sure she would actually act on the impulse but gratified by the first “YES!” of a day that would be filled with them.

It was a brilliant, nippy, autumn day and the Cathedral (in spite of the messy construction surrounding it) looked just as grand as ever. Readers of this blog may remember that I have a special place in my heart for our National Cathedral and while I always enjoy an excuse to go back this was an “excuse” I was sharing with about 3200 members of what I think of as My Big Fat Episcopal Family.

We got there early enough that we were very close to the front of the line that rapidly grew to the hundreds snaking down the walkway, around the construction and onto the sidewalk. It was pretty darned cold for a California girl … bundled up or not … but the festival atmosphere generated enough warmth of its own to keep us going for the about-2-hour wait for the Cathedral doors to open.

The best part, of course, was seeing the family gathering. Folks from All Saints “then and now” … George Regas, Maggie Cunningham and Gary Hall; Ed Bacon, Bob Long and Abel Lopez. Integrity and Claiming the Blessing colleagues from all over the country. Women’s Caucus members and Consultation folks. My ECW “homies” … the women I served with for three years as a member of the National Board of the Episcopal Church Women: from Long Island and Louisiana and Houston and Nebraska. Ian Douglas and Byron Rushing and Gloria Pollard and Sara McGinley … with her adorable baby girl, Naomi, bundled up and there to witness the historic event. Fellow bloggers: Mark Harris, Ann Fontaine, “Fr. Jake” and Jim Naughton. And then there were the lions (and lionesses!) of the church whose blood, sweat, tears, prayers and faith helped bring us to this good day: Ed Browning, Barbara Harris, Marge Christie: "What A Fellowship" indeed!

When the doors opened … a few minutes before ten, my freezing feet were grateful to note … there was an “orderly stampede” as we headed through the West Entrance to claim seats and get ready for the service to begin. We ended up sitting midway back in the nave behind the font … practically under the famous “moon rock” window ... which caused me to reflect at one point how this one step for a particular woman is also a leap for the whole church. (see also: Let us rejoice and be glad in it!)

The service itself was grand. “Big” music … wonderful Native American drummers and smudgers and festive streamers and (here’s my true confessions part) even though I am not the world’s greatest fan of liturgical dance some quite lovely moments that truly enhanced the work we were about in that place.

For if liturgy is truly what it is literally defined as … “the work of the people” … then this liturgy strove to reflect the people gathered: glorifying God as we raised up into leadership one of our own to lead us into the Shalom that is the dream of God for us and for all creation. That was the theme of +Katharine’s sermon and I believe it struck just the right note as it not only reminded us of our call to bring ALL creatures into the Shalom of God but offered specific, achievable steps toward realizing that dream by pointing again the Millennium Development Goals.

I was reminded when the Gospel lesson was read … the story from Luke about Jesus “coming home” to Nazareth and preaching a similar sermon to his own hometown crowd … that the response was not to have “cake on the lawn” and a reception honoring the village-son-returning-home. Rather, challenging their status quo turned them into an enraged mob that tried to throw him off the cliff. And I wondered if in some way this Episcopal Church … striving to “be Jesus” in the world today … isn’t facing precisely the same reaction from some of our Anglican hometown crowd.

Our proclamation that “the year of the Lord’s favor is NOW” by working to fully include all of the baptized into the Body of Christ, by raising up into leadership women with grace and faith and gifts and power and by embracing MDGs that push us to reach out to the marginalized, oppressed and captive in very real ways has sent some looking for a cliff to throw the American Episcopal Church off. The Good News, of course, is that our Lord moved through the crowd miraculously unscathed – and that, I pray, will be a miracle that will surround +Katharine as she represents us to the world.

OK … back to the details of the “Big Day”: How cool that Bill Roberts (fabulous musician friend from LPM days) and Anne Gillespie (fabulous VTS seminarian from All Saints Church) were the ushers who greeted us and handed us our programs! +Katharine’s vestments were glorious and the choirs were all wonderful. I loved the tiny children standing on their mama’s laps craning their necks to get a glimpse of the drummers passing by and I was touched by the old woman with her walker … dressed to the nines and smiling from ear to ear as she proudly claimed her seat near the back of the nave.

It was all so very, very worth schlepping all the way to Washington-and-back in time for All Saints Sunday – this not-to-be-missed opportunity to be part of celebrating all that’s best and brightest and boldest about this church I love and serve. And yet, with all the dancers and drummers and delight in the historicity of the day the part that pushed me into “dissolved in tears” land was “Holy, Holy, Holy” – a hymn I actually can’t remember ever not knowing -- sung by 3200+ members of my Big Fat Episcopal Family in that great house of stone and light that became an instrument of praise, adoration and celebration.

Blessed Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Blessed relationship that binds them into one and binds us to each other – relationship that transcends dogmas and doctrines, resolutions and rejections. Blessed be the “YES!” of the Triune God who dreamed us into being, blessed be the “YES!” of the bishop who today became our Presiding Bishop and Primate and blessed be the “YES!” of the woman heading home to Atlanta who just might be giving church another chance.

Blessings all around on this day that the Lord has made and I’m still rejoicing in!


MadPriest said...

She managed to park the plane o.k. then?

Ann said...

Did she ever - took us flying and took us "home" -- today the All Saints service was as grand - with a sermon about being sparks lighting the world with the light of Christ. See ENS to read it all

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I was taught by Deacon Minka Sprague that mission is bound to happen when you always say "Yes" unless there's a very good reason to say "No."

YES! YES! YES! To abolutely everything Bishop Katharine says.

And, Yes even to that MadPriest just above me, about whom I am absolutely mad.

Ellie M said...

Actually, the plane is nose-diving towards the ground, but nobody -- least of all the pilot -- wants to admit it, save the few of us who are readying our parachutes. :(

Pfalz prophet said...

what a wonderful narrative, Susan, the lateness of the hour seems to make you more lyrical, I especially appreciate the connections you make before getting back to the chronology.

I printed the ENS closeup of +KJS and handed it to our choir director, who promptly posted it on the door to the choir room this morning. What a glorious day for TEC!

Bruno said...

Wonderful post, captures the emotions of the day. Even for those of us who watched and participated in the prayers from in front of our computers, it was hard not to be moved to great joy filled emotions. How wonderful a day!!

Barbi Click said...

Gosh, Ellie M, who needs a parachute when "floating on the breath of God"?????

Luiz Coelho said...

It is so refreshing to see this picture...

She's our a flower in the midst of all those flowers.

May God cherish this garden of women - bishops, priests, deacons and lay people - all at His service.

I know there is much to be done, but this picture made me realize a small amount of His kingdom came to us two days ago.

God bless TEC!

1achord said...

So, Sunday morning we left the house at 7:00, and drove to the Vienna Metro Station. Took the Metro to Tenleytown, then took a bus to the cathedral. The service was to begin at 11:00; it was about 10:15 when we got there, and all the seats in the nave were already taken (except for some that were directly behind the huge pillars). But there were lots of chairs set up in the side aisles, and video screens so you could watch the proceedings, so we sat ourselves down there. Five or six other people joined us there, and we were perfectly happy and anticipating the celebration, when an usher came up to us, counted us, and then said "This group. How would you like to sit in the great choir, where Katharine will be seated?" I don't think any of us really knew what that meant, but we all jumped up and said yes. So he led us to the front of the cathedral, walked us through the transept that was full of Bishops, up through the chapel that is behind the great organ, past the high altar, and then to the seats in the great choir, which is behind the rood screen and in front of the high altar.

This already made us feel really special, but then the usher pointed out to me that I was sitting in the seat reserved for the chaplain of the House of Representatives. Wow! But then when he told me that I needed to look pretty and smile, and pointed to the PRESIDING BISHOP'S seat that was just one seat over from me, I finally realized what the usher had been offering us when he asked us to follow him!

Although we couldn't see what was happening out in the nave, which was most of the service, we would have been watching it on video if we had been out there, anyway, and where we were, we felt like we were really part of the service — there was the organist, and the Cathedral Choir, and the Gospet choir, and all the processions went right by us. Then when it was time to take communion, they had stations set up all around the cathedral, with one of them right in front of the high altar, which was the one that we were to use. What a surpise when Bishop Katharine walked back there, and we were to get into the line where she was offering the communion. I was so taken by it all that I didn't even notice that the row I was in had all filed down to take communion; Hugh had to come back to get me! (I like making scenes).

Some folks ignored the edict that you couldn't take photos during the service, but I obeyed, so I don't have my own photos of Katharine, even though I could have reached out and touched her. The memories will be etched in our minds for a long time, though, and we felt so blessed to be a part of it. We pray for her as she takes on whatever it is going to take to lead this church, but after Sunday's service, we are full of hope and proud to be Episcopalians! God bless us all.