Diocese of Easton’s Legacy of Gratitude
God’s Call! God’s Hope!
God’s ‘Little Gem’ on Maryland’s Eastern Shore
Last month we celebrated Diocesan Heritage month. I wanted to share with you some bullet points that I feel are key to understanding the importance and value of what I have come to know as “God’s Little Gem on Maryland’s Eastern Shore” – our Diocese of Easton. This was compiled with love and a desire for our membership to gain a deeper knowledge of the legacy to which they are an integral part.
Development or Evolution of the Episcopal Church
- The First Bishop, Samuel Seabury, was elected and consecrated by Scottish bishops.
By the year 1787, the Church in America, had been organized, and had secured the episcopal succession in the English line or Apostolic succession. The English line was in succession to the Apostolic heritage of St. Peter, the first bishop of the Church (see below).
The First Bishop, Samuel Seabury, was elected in 1783 and consecrated Bishop of Connecticut in Aberdeen, Scotland – Scottish bishops consecrated him on November 14, 1784. The bishops of Scotland line of succession were derived from the line of English bishops. However, The *Oath of Supremacy prevented Seabury consecration in the Church of England. The Scottish bishops consented to ordain and consecrate Bishop Seabury on a matter of ecclesiastical conscience, whereby, it would have been unthinkable, unfathomable, and unpatriotic to swear the Oath of Supremacy to the King of England after the Revolutionary War of Independence.
Bishop Seabury was unequivocal in his desire to maintain his apostolic lineage/line to the Holy See of Rome or Apostolic See (First Bishop & Great Apostle Peter). By this act all subsequent bishops and correspondingly priests/clergy ordained by bishops have their apostolic lineage to Apostle Peter and by extension to Jesus, who consecrated Peter the ‘Rock’ on which Jesus’ Church is to be found. Also, no valid Ordination and Consecration in the Anglican Communion could be done without the presence of three (3) bishops with apostolic lineage to St. Peter reflecting the essence of the Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). The Presiding Bishop, the Most Reverend Michael Curry, travelled to Scotland a few years to ago to join in the 500-year anniversary of the establishment of the Scottish Episcopal Church. The Scottish Church severed official ties with the Church of England over 500 years ago. By his attendance it showed this church’s solidarity and recognition of this church’s deep roots in that Community of Faith. This act by the Scottish Protestant Church meant at least three (3) bishops with lineage to the See of Rome administered the official act that would allow Bishop Seabury and consequently all bishops and clergy ordained in this church to claim their apostolic roots in the Early Church. The present episcopal incumbent of the Diocese of Easton was ordained and consecrated bishop in the Province of the Indian Ocean. The Diocese of Seychelles is in full communion with the Episcopal Church. This historic relationship and in the ‘bonds of affection’ permitted Bishop San’s translation to the Episcopal Church or any church of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
- Bishop Samuel Seabury was the First Anglican/Episcopal bishop appointed to minister outside of the British Isles.
- Bishop Seabury ordained Reverend Colin Ferguson, sometime rector of St. Paul’s Parish, Kent.
- Our diocese, in the early stages of the formation of the Episcopal Church, was already playing a significant role in the wider church.
Bishop Samuel Seabury was the First Anglican/Episcopal bishop appointed to minister outside the British Isles. Bishop Seabury ordained Reverend Colin Ferguson, sometime rector of St. Paul’s Parish, Kent. Fr. Ferguson was the first priest to be ordained by Bishop Seabury. This priest served as Rector, St. Paul’s Parish, Kent, one of our northern convocation parishes (1785-1799). This is of historic note to the Diocese of Easton because it reveals that our diocese, in the early stages of the formation of the Episcopal Church, was already playing a significant role in the wider church.
- It is significant that Bishop Seabury sought consecration in a church of the Anglican Communion.
- Maintained the character & integrity of our Anglicanism,
- Our ROOTS/IDENTITY remain, to this day, in the headship of Jesus and his Apostolic Succession.
The early fathers and architects of this church were free to do whatever they saw fit and proper for the common good and well-being of the church. As such the early lay and clergy pioneers (no bishop was ordained and consecrated for the US church at this time) could have chosen to align the church with any protestant denomination in the new nation of the USA. However, they chose to remain committed to the ecclesiastical ideals, character, polity/governance, worship, doctrine and discipline and overall structure of Anglicanism’s ethos/framework.
This decision not only maintained the character & integrity of our Anglicanism, but also means that our ROOTS/IDENTITY lay in the headship of Jesus and his Apostolic Succession. All bishops and priests of this church claim their authority from the First Bishop of Rome – the Chief Apostle St. Peter and Christ the Chief Shepherd.
By 1785, the Oath of Supremacy was suspended from the rite of ordination for bishops of this church. As such the next two bishops – William White of Pennsylvania & Samuel Provost of New York, were ordained and consecrated in the Church of England on February 4, 1787. The service was held in Lambeth Chapel, Lambeth Palace, England. The Right Reverend Dr. John Moore, Archbishop of Canterbury; the Right Reverend Dr. William Markham, Archbishop of York; the Right Reverend Dr. Charles Moss, Bishop of Bath and Wells; the Right Reverend Dr. John Hincliff, Bishop of Peterborough was present and assisting. (Bishop San was honored to have attended and receive Holy Communion in Lambeth Chapel when he served as commissary to the Anglican Communion under the Most Reverend Dr. Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury). Of special note the Right Reverend Dr. Madison, Bishop of Virginia was ordained and consecrated by English bishops.
- Likewise, Thomas John Claggett of Maryland, fifth bishop in the Episcopal Church and first to be consecrated on US soil on the 17th September 1792 was elevated to the Office of Bishop because by then there were three US bishops to preside over the Service of Ordination and Consecration. He was ordained and consecrated on US soil because, again, by then there were three (3) US bishops with lineage to the Holy See of Rome present for his elevation to the episcopate. The Diocese of Maryland was officially established, and Bishop Claggett became its first bishop. The Diocese of Maryland could be officially established, with Bishop Claggett as its first bishop.
- Thomas John Claggett of Maryland, fifth bishop in the Episcopal Church and first to be consecrated on US soil. The consecration was presided over by Bishops Seabury, White, Provost and Madison
+ The Office of Bishop is guided by three (3) fundamental or overarching ecclesiological principles: (1) biblical foundation; it is an office deeply embedded in biblical and doctrinal truths of the Church designed and authorized by God in Christ; (2) Ordinal of the Ordination and Consecration of Bishop (BCP p. 512-523). Bishops pledge vows to guard the faith or worship, unity or doctrine and discipline or canons of the church, and (3) historic episcopate (historic documents detailing the ordering of life, mission/ministry and ecclesiological ordering of the manner of the office bishop is expected to order her/his life. These are dated to the early period and inform by the ongoing evolution of the office as guided by Holy Spirit and wisdom and counsel of the Church over time. The 21st century inclusion I will offer to the former admonitions are- “bishops prepare the people of God for the mission of God”.
- The Diocese of Easton was established by resolution of Diocese of Maryland in 1865 but did not receive diocesan status until 1868 when its first bishop, Bishop Henry C. Lay, was elected.
- No diocese could be formed/established in the Anglican Communion without a BISHOP in office – the word EPISCOPAL is synonymous with BISHOP.
Diocese of Easton was established by resolution of Diocese of Maryland in 1865 & officially formed as an independent or free-standing diocese in 1868. Of note, in 2021 our diocese celebrates its 153rd Anniversary. The diocese took three (3) years to call its first bishop. The reason is a subject for another discussion. Bishop Henry C. Lay, Missionary Bishop of Arkansas, was elected the first bishop in 1868 which meant the diocese could receive its diocesan status.
In our polity/ecclesiology – dioceses are founded under a bishop or ecclesiastical authority. Hence, there isn’t an official diocese without a bishop.
The Continuing Value of Bishop & Diocese
- Called to be the Symbol of Christ – Bishop’s role is far weightier than just “figurehead” for people in a diocese. She/he is God’s under shepherd in Christ who remains the Great Shepherd.
- The ministry of a bishop is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as apostle, chief priest, and spiritual pastor of a diocese; to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the whole Church; to proclaim the Word of God; to act in Christ’s name for the reconciliation of the world and the building up of the Church; and to ordain others to continue Christ’s ministry. (Book of Common Prayer – page 855)
- Global Community – The Bishop is called to be the symbol of Christ, unifying the church, and connecting the people of God with the wider church and worldwide Anglican Communion. The wider church recognizes these historic standards as divinely and ecclesiastically conforming to the requisite fundamentals of a globally recognized church.
- Representation – Bishops, clergy and lay gather to debate, counsel, share ideas, fellowship, worship and arise at decisions that affect the life, mission and ministry of the church in its jurisdiction.
- Bishops serve in concert with the councils of the church comprised of Clergy and Lay. This is a synodical church meaning bishops, clergy and lay gather to debate, counsel, share ideas, fellowship, worship and arise at decisions that affect the life, mission and ministry of the church in its jurisdiction. It equally pays particular attention to what is transpiring in the wider church as it does so. This helps the church maintain solidarity with episcopal churches through the General Convention.
- Apostolic Identity – to be a church in communion with the early church and first bishop & apostles (Acts of Apostles) as detailed in the points above.
- Branding – Parishes receive their “brand name”, Episcopal Church, through its affiliation with the diocese. “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You”
- Councils & Commissions – The councils of this church cannot function indefinitely without the active presence of a bishop.
- Lay Empowerment – to preserve, form, and encourage ministers in the lay order.
- Stewards – Protect, preserve and hold in Posterity that which was entrusted to succeeding generations as guardians and stewards of history and mission.
- Clergy Search – Diocese & Bishop provide framework and guidance (bishops do ‘red flag checks on clergy applying for any position in their diocese). Clergy are able to serve a diocese only with a license from the bishop. Clergy coming into the diocese to officiate also require permission of the bishop. Any clergy who takes up parish position/responsibility does so with the consent and permission of the ordinary/bishop. To disrespect this understanding is a violation of their ordination vows, virtue of common decency and ecclesiastical courtesy.
- (The Episcopal Church Constitution and Canons) outlines that every clergy functions by ecclesiastical license from the bishop of the diocese, under ecclesiastical discipline – the bishop, similarly, is under episcopal discipline of the Presiding Bishop. No clergy is permitted to serve in a diocese without the permission of the ordinary. Retired Clergy serve at the pleasure/grace of the incumbent ecclesiastical authority or bishop of the diocese. The Standing Committee is the Council of Advice to the ecclesiastical authority/bishop and acts in roles reserved for it as specified in Article IV of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. Its role is amplified in the vacancy of a ‘See” or “Bishop”. There are other significantly important roles reserved for this body and they are indicated in the said document. Diocesan Convention and with the bishop as president is the governing body of the diocese. Diocesan Council acts as convention out of session. In this diocese the Standing Committee has erroneous misinterpreted its role as the governing body which is blatantly unconstitutional and an overstepping of its canonical function.
- Quality Clergy Formation & Networking
- Church Pension Fund – Offer Clergy & Lay Pension/Insurance by being a member of the DOE (Diocese of Easton). Only Episcopal Churches are permitted to contribute to this system
- Church Insurance – Property & Liability Protection (the aforementioned principle applies here as well). The DOE has historic buildings well over 350 years old that secular companies will not insure. The DOE has over 150 million in real estate insured by Church Insurance Property – historically dated buildings and furnishings. The Diocese also has access to national disaster preparedness and response assistance/models. Parishes have access to Episcopal Relief & Development disaster resources
- DOE Parishes – Investments and Liquid Assets protected by diocese
- Camp Wright, Retreat House and other Conference Centers are ministry entities that benefit from their affiliation with the diocese
- Safeguarding Program – which allows for “Peace of Mind” to fulfil mission & ministry. The diocese retains attorneys and insurance and provides council for Title 4 and other matters.
- So Much More… the body of Christ that is made possible through the network of Diocesan churches, people, and organizations – offers myriad advantages, not all of which are included in this list.
One Body, Many Parts – We Need Each Other
- No Episcopal Parish is allowed to function without being part of the Diocese and its bishop in council.
- The Diocese of Easton spent two (2) years in discernment that led to the decision to call its 11th bishop (as opposed to being absorbed by a neighboring Diocese – existing without a Diocese is not possible).
- Parishes voted unequivocally at the 2015 Diocesan Convention to pledge their financial support to cover the financial cost of maintaining the Office of Bishop and keep the diocese as a viable independent self-governing church
- The Diocese of Easton, in turn, contributes over 120K annually to the National Episcopal Church Budget from our annual budget plus personnel to populate governing structures of the wider church
- Christian integrity obliges parishes and diocese to fulfill as far as possible this pledge of canonical obligation and symbiotic relationship.
- What is outlined here is the standard ecclesiology of every diocese in the global Anglican/Episcopal Communion without exception.
- Churches that choose otherwise are considered a schismatic body, separated from the worship, doctrine, and discipline of the church. It loses the privilege and benefits the Anglican/Episcopal Communion provides, as listed above, for its member churches. It disavows its ‘brand name’ as an Episcopal church and its place in the global church community. And it loses the opportunity to share in this walk, together with God, in designing God’s church for the eastern shore’s jurisdiction/brand of the Episcopal Church.
Although we may not always agree, our ability to remain at the table together (throughout our history) has been a model of commitment and dedication, reconciliation, and love. This very communion together, as a Diocese, honors Christ’s own example.
I thank you all for your continued commitment to all that God is doing on this beloved Eastern Shore of Maryland and in the Episcopal Church nationally and abroad. And I renew my question to you,
What kind of diocese is God calling the Diocese of Easton to live into as a people of God?
|Anglicanism was founded by Augustine of Canterbury in the 6th century. He was a Benedictine monk who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in 597. As Prior of a Benedictine monastery in Rome, he was sent by Pope Gregory the Great in 595 with the missionary call and directive to evangelize Anglo-Saxon Britain to Christianity. Augustine is referred to as the “Apostle to the English” and founder of the English Church. His legacy and line of succession is rooted in Rome and in the first bishop, the Great Apostle Peter. This understanding debunks and stymies any historical notion that Anglicanism began with a despotic, immoral, serial murderer and oppressor of women, namely King Henry VIII (1491-1547). Ours is a faith of far nobler distinction, more honorable and dedicated to the ideals and principles of God’s mission and transformation of ‘souls’ for Christ. The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) is designed around the Benedictine Spiritual Order because of Augustine’s influence on this church. All bishops, priests, deacons and lay people in this church locate their second birth (spiritual birth: see John 3 – Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus) through baptism and ordination tracing back to the first bishop. Beloved, each of us has power – the power that comes from living in Christ and living through Jesus.|
The best analogy to describe the diocese is a that of an ocean-going freight ship with myriad containers. The safety of the containers on board depends on the stability and enduring quality of the ship protecting its cargo. In order for the ship to maintain its mission it needs to be serviced, thus retaining its seaworthiness, or risk going under and its cargo perish. This is also similar to a mother caring for and protecting her children, the children are free to explore life because they know that they are under-girded by a loving, caring and protective mother. The diocese is your seaworthy vessel, and its durability depends on each of our support. Churches of this diocese pursue God’s mission in the governing security and protection offered by their diocese.
(Sources: The Spiritual Order of A Messy Church: An Anglican Perspective on Spirituality and Ministry Formation by Santosh K. Marray, 2019, Wikipedia and A Sketch of the Beginnings of the Church in the United States)
Diocesan Heritage Month
SEE: Related article by Bishop Henry Parsley on What is a Diocese For?
SEE: Slide deck (PowerPoint) that can be accessed by clicking here.