Today We Honor a Man Who Helped Form The Culture of a Nation
July 17 is the Festival Day of William White, first and fourth presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, first bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, and architect of the American Book of Common Prayer.
Since he had no predecessors in the new land, White had to travel to England to be consecrated in the proper apostolic succession. In 1787, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, and the Bishop of Peterborough consecrated White as the first Bishop of Pennsylvania. He became chaplain of the Continental Congress and later the U.S. Senate. In 1789, he was elected the first presiding bishop, and in 1795 became the Church's fourth presiding bishop, a capacity in which he served for the rest of his life.
This summer, as vacationers in Philadelphia visit the Liberty Bell, Constitution Center, Independence Hall, and other points of interest in America's founding city, they might also stop at the nearby home of William White, as well as the two churches he served, Christ Church and St. Peter. Here they might recall, or perhaps learn for the first time, that the Episcopal Church, well represented in government as well as religious life, was instrumental in building America.
Like our nation, the Episcopal Church was born in Philadelphia. The first General Convention was held there at Christ Church. Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer, which we use today in its 1928 edition, was adapted by White from an earlier version. White also wrote the canons, or laws, of the Episcopal Church, drawing on his knowledge of doctrine and practice going back to the earliest days of the Church in Rome.
Thus were the precepts of Western Civilization and Judeo-Christian religion interwoven with the nation's law. -- jm