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Anglicans Online last updated 18 February 2018
A Warm January: Part 2
The Installation of the 25th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America
10 January 1998
by Cynthia McFarland
The Exchange of the Peace and the Eucharist
The Peace, instead of the solemn and symbolic act of liturgical greeting, in this instance was a general free for all. The hearty handshakes and audible greetings of nearly 4,000 people were probably partly inspired by the new
Presiding Bishop leaving the altar and walking down the nave aisle to greet his family. He then moved on some rows further to the House of Bishops, which lined a good part of the aisle. We in the media balcony exchanged greetings, and at this time several of the tv crews decided this was time to depart, no doubt realising that the Eucharist lay ahead and there might not be many photo opps during it. I should say the exchange of the peace continued for perhaps a full five minutes; I remember thinking it was very much like an interval at a play, exactly what many rectors worry that 'the peace' should never be. But a special and joyful occasion it was, and perhaps a little liturgical latitude can be excused.
The Blessing of the Water and the Asperges
Credit: Episcopal News Service
As the tv crews roped up their cables and packed their cumbrous equipment, the Sowerby anthem began and the crowd became once again silent. The concelebrating bishops (and there were quite a few of them) were somewhat awkwardly placing themselves round the altar in (to me) no discernible order, but two grey-robed vergers directed a few to move themselves in different areas round the altar, and eventually the group was composed. Once all were in place, baskets of bread and stone jugs of wine were brought forth by serried ranks of volunteers, and after a hymn, Bishop Griswold chanted in a soft but clear tone, 'The Lord be with you'. And thus the Eucharist began.
The number in the media balcony was now small and most of us appeared to be familiar with the service, so the area became less of a secular press booth and more of a small chapel. We couldn't kneel--there were no kneelers--and most of us I suspect kept our eyes open through the Prayer of Consecration, watching the celebration before us. Bishop Griswold moves with assurance and an easy grace. He never hesitated in any action and seemed not at all nervous. (And he manages to doff--there is no other verb that fits--his mitre with more deftness and agility than any bishop I have seen hitherto.) The telly monitors gave us a close up of his hands during the fraction, and they are, as the expression has it, 'surgeon's hands'; graceful (that word again), with long tapered fingers. If there is such a thing as a hand model, I think without hesitation that Bishop Griswold's could serve. The Fraction Anthem was 'One Bread, One Body' which, if the refrain was not familiar entirely to all of us, was sung with quiet fervor.
Receiving communion in the media balcony
I had fretted a bit earlier, wondering what we in the balcony would do about receiving communion. Our media instruction sheets said there was to be 'no movement to or from the balcony during the service', and I imagined having to flagrantly disobey this rubric to receive. My fears proved quite groundless. Just as a bishop with boxwood had made his way to asperge us, so a priest and deacon made their way with bread and wine. The rows in the balcony are pitched quite steeply and the rise between each row fairly high. By means of some complicated hand gestures, the deacon indicated vaguely the way we should queue. With light wicker chairs that easily tipped over and several tv cameras still in place with their ominous thick cables, getting safely to the priest and deacon wasn't easy. We all managed, however, and I found myself with unexpectedly moist eyes when I received the bread, a generous chunk of one of the homemade loaves. The consecrated bread was resting in a rectangular woven basket and the chalices were glass goblets. After we'd all successfully negotiated the various obstacles, received, and returned to our places, many of the group whispered quietly in conversation amongst themselves. Three men directly in front of my row, from the back all virtually alike in their dark suits and greying hair, spoke earnestly and conspiratorially. I prayed briefly as always after communion, but found the atmosphere somewhat distracting. I noticed that Bishop Browning was distributing the host at the high altar and for a minute or so the television monitor focussed on him. His face was gentle and sweet, but shockingly care-worn, with lines etched deeply into its surface. After he finished distributing the host, he walked, preceded by a verger, to his place in the row just off the altar.
The music during communion was a slow, gentle, but magisterial setting of Dona Nobis Pacem, by Gregory Norbet. The choir sang the short verses, and all joined in the refrain. The refrains grew clearer and stronger as more people, finishing their communions, chimed in. 'Set us free, God, from mindless ways; guide us in pursuing good', to which swelled the repeated 'Dona nobis pacem, dona nobis pacem'. It was for me perhaps the most moving musical part of the service. It may have been the point in the Eucharist where emotions are at their strongest and tenderest, it may have been the timeless Latin cry for peace, for rest, for tranquillity, it may have been the reverberated sound and the slant of golden sun through the clerestory windows; whatever it was, I had to search for my handkerchief.
After the 'Dona Nobis Pacem' finished, the martial-like strains of the hymn 'Unidos / Together' began. This hymn has its fans and its detractors, but most will agree that its repeated triplets are difficult to sing in Spanish or English. Most tried valiantly, but I saw a number of people give up partway through, not quite knowing where they or the music were.
The St James Cathedral choir followed with an another anthem and then the choir of Grace Episcopal Church in Norfolk Virginia finished up the music of communion with a rousing spiritual, 'Ev'ry Time I Feel the Spirit'. Whether it was caused by the energy and vigor of the singing or the release of accumulated excitement and tension, a spontaneous burst of applause echoed through the cathedral at the end of the spiritual.
I noted that the distribution of the elements finished at 1.35pm; I should think it took about 20 to 25 minutes for the entire assembly to be communicated.
The Presiding Bishop's stall and a Jimmy-Stewart moment
The lovely tune 'Abbot's Leigh' was the setting for the hymn after comm
union, 'Holy Spirit, Ever Living'. Whilst we sang, Bishop Griswold was escorted to his cathedra near the high altar, which most of us could see only on the telly monitors. The Bishop of Washington issued the formal invitation for the new Presiding Bishop to be seated, and Bishop Griswold, looking ever so slightly boyish and awkward, apparently decided that he should, indeed, sit. So he did for a few brief seconds, smiling somewhat abashedly (or so it seemed to me) as he tried out his stall, and then in a few second stood again. The Jimmy-Stewart-like moment caused a ripple of laughter throughout the cathedral.
The Twenty-Fifth Presiding Bishop
Credit: Episcopal News Service
All returning to the altar, the Bishop of Washington said the prayer after communion, and the Presiding Bishop, now with primatial staff and mitre, stood solemnly and gave us a threefold blessing, turning to the north, east, and south in turn.
The dismissal followed directly and the 'retiring procession' began. The crucifer and torch-bearers, followed by the deacons, moved round the altar to join the Presiding Bishop. They were followed by Bishop Browning, who walked alone, with the dignitaries in his party immediately after. As Bishop Browning had made his way a few rows down the nave aisle, a strong wave of applause broke out as he passed. And that applause continued all down the nave, a gesture of honour for the twenty-fourth Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church who had now formally completed his term of office. Surely there are few Presiding Bishops who have suffered more in their tenure than Edmond Browning. Whatever one's politics and position, I suspect most people would agree that his years were marked by acute tragedies and sorrows. His face shows it.
After the procession had disappeared beyond sight of the balcony, I made my way down the staircase. The nave was a veritable crush of people. I had considered queuing to greet the new Presiding Bishop who was positioned with his
family in the nave aisle near the font. After I saw the number of bodies and estimated the amount of time required for that handshake, I thought better of it. Edging slowly up the south aisle, I heard snatches of generally exuberant conversation and compliments on a quite smashing service.
The 'Retiring Procession'
Credit: Cynthia McFarland
Into the world
The west front of the cathedral was bathed in mid-afternoon light when I emerged, and the air was even warmer -- perhaps flirting with 70 degrees Fahrenheit. There were literally hundreds of small knots of people laughing and talking. The atmosphere was jubilant, bubbly, and confident. Yes, there was the matter of PECUSA, Inc. There was the issue of the ordination of gay and lesbian people. There was the Kuala Lumpur statement and the Koinonia statement. There was the intimation of a thorny Lambeth ahead. But for a few hours, these all receded into the background. A bright, thoughtful, funny, pensive, and gifted middle-aged man stood in front of 4000 people and said, with God's help and ours, he would give his heart to the job of rebuilding the church. In July 1997 the General Convention of the Episcopal Church knew it had elected a brilliant chap to be its next presiding bishop, a man with an incisive mind and proven skills. What it found out on Saturday, 10 January 1998, is that it also elected a man with a very big heart.
Can he, in fact, accomplish what he believes is his task? 'Rebuild the Church'? I'd say that if anyone in ECUSA had a good chance of doing so, it's Frank Tracy Griswold III. Of course there are nay-sayers and doom-descryers. But for just now, no matter. In the depths of a bleak winter, there can be, every once in a while, a warm January.
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