Today the Church remembers William White, Bishop of Pennsylvania, who died on this day in 1836 at the age of 88. Born in Philadelphia in 1748, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1772 at the age of 24. In addition to ministering to the United Parishes of St. Peter’s and Christ Church in Philadelphia from his ordination until his death, he was the chaplain to the Continental and Constitutional Congresses and the Senate from 1777 to 1801.
On February 4, 1787, in Lambeth Chapel, London, he was ordained bishop by John Moore, Archbishop of Canterbury. After his ordination, he immediately returned home and became the first Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. White served as Presiding Bishop for 67 days in 1789, and again from 1795 until his death in Philadelphia in 1836, the longest term of any Presiding Bishop.
Bishop White was known to be a prayerful and scholarly man and earned the confidence of prominent leaders in both America and England. He worked tirelessly and effectively to establish an autonomous American Episcopal Church, one that was manifestly the Body of Christ, free of ties perceived to be national or political. As a shepherd, White’s prayer led to action. He demonstrated a commitment to serving the poor. He was president of the Philadelphia Dispensary, an organization that supplied medical aid to those in need; of the Pennsylvania Institute for the Deaf; and of the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons. He was an advocate for religious education and was instrumental in the formation of the first Episcopal Sunday school in America.
Let us pray with him this day, as he did in closing a sermon he gave in Christ-Church, Philadelphia, on June 21, 1787:
Come Divine Spirit, the author of all grace! pour into our hearts that most excellent grace of all, which "believeth, hopeth, and endureth all things![i]" May this thy blessed unction flow down upon us from the High Priest of our profession, and may it spread its delicious scent over every part of his mystical garment! Thus shall it be "like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down unto the beard, even unto Aaron's beard, and went down to the skirts of his clothing[ii].
[i] I Corinthians 13:7
[ii] Psalm 133:3
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The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington