Samuel Seabury, first bishop of North America

Consecration of Samuel Seabury

On 14th November we remember the Consecration of the first Bishop of America – Samuel Seabury. He was made a Bishop by his Episcopal colleagues in Scotland.

In 1783 the Anglican Church in the American colonies had been governed by the Bishop of London for over a century. Naturally he didn’t spend a lot of time there but attempts for the Christians there to have their own bishops fell on deaf ears.
After the War of Independence the clamour for this grew even greater and in March 1783 Samuel Seabury, a godly and faithful priest and a native of America was chosen. He was sent to England to be made Bishop and head of the American Church.
It was expected to be a formality but in England bishops must swear allegiance to the Crown and Seabury, from a newly independent nation couldn’t do this, so the Bishops refused to Consecrate him. Eventually, he packed his bags and travelled to Scotland.
The Episcopal Church in Scotland was free from the English Church and owed no allegiance to the Crown of England.
Three of the Scottish Bishops – those of Aberdeen, Moray and Ross, quickly agreed to ordain him Bishop and this took place on the 14th November 1784.

The Bishops imposed just one condition and it was to bind the Churches of America and Canada into a fellowship which opened to door to the beginning of the Anglican Communion – a Communion which, despite differences of opinion and practice, unites us Anglicans in a joyful fellowship, love and mutual prayerful support. The simple condition the bishops imposed on Seabury was that he would adopt the Scottish Prayer Book with the Scottish service of Holy Communion.
He readily accepted and was faithful to his promise.
The first American Prayer Book of 1789 was based on the Scottish Prayer Book.

Even today the 3 churches are close to each other in the forms of public prayer they use.
The growth of the Anglican Family and its sharing of practice, faith and fellowship can be said to be because of the witness of those 3 Scottish Bishops and Samuel Seabury.
Through this we are given a bigger picture of what it means to be the Church – the worldwide family with a mutual responsibility for Christians and those we serve throughout the world.
It is good for us to be reminded of the Church as a bigger and more united family.

A family in which all of us have dual nationality.
It is not however with Scotland or Ireland or Wales or Canada and the USA but rather – we are citizens of heaven. We live in another world as well as this one.

As  citizens of this ‘other’ Kingdom, Jesus turns us into people with a great task.
He  calls us called to be proclaimers of God’s love and care for his sheep, his loved ones. He asks us to share compassion and watch over those whom he gives us to tend as He did Samuel Seabury.

Ezekiel talks of God’s people (his sheep) being scattered and in need of rescuing. (Ezekiel Chapter 34) They are to be fed and brought to new pasture; to good grazing. The wounded are to be tended, the weak strengthened and they are to receive justice.
Because of dual nationality and being watched over by God followers of Jesus we are called to this ministry.
We are not just to see the bigger picture of the Gospel – we are to live it and be part of it.
As citizens of heaven, like Samuel Seabury, Jesus invites his followers :

  • to go out
  • to bring in
  • to open up
  • to grow love in people
  • to be a blessing to others.

We are to live in the world, to serve it, to show people the joy and love of God  and that our hearts are fixed on Him. We belong to Him, to His Kingdom which is our true home. I think Samuel Seabury understood that very well and lived his life accordingly.

[GC]

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