Have you ever attended the consecration of a new Bishop? I hadn’t until September 4 when as an invited guest, I attended the consecration of the eighth and newest Episcopal bishop of Alaska.
Preceded by a clearly-defined selection process, The Episcopal Diocese of Alaska consecrated Mark Lattime of Rochester, NY in a 3 hour ceremony, presided over by Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori. Bishop Schori, the first female bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, was elected to her nine year term in 2006.
The consecration service was held at First United Methodist Church in downtown Anchorage, an alternate location after the Episcopalians were disinvited from holding it at Our Lady of Guadalupe, by the Catholic Archdiocese, over several key theological issues. First United Methodist, standing room only, was peopled by a warm and welcoming audience. Clergy from other denominations, including Lutherans and Methodists, also participated.
A 32 page program guide to the consecration, given to all upon arrival, helped track the flow of this long but meaningful ceremony. The format of the consecration, harking back to the early Christian church, was a blend of traditional spoken pieces and other rituals, tied together with considerable music. I counted 24 or 25 musical selections. Though the service was lengthy, it was clearly a celebration of respect.
Beginning with an ensemble of native and non-native musicians, often singing in dialect, the service flowed with vestment, grandeur and homegrown simplicity. Pre-service music included a melodic piano-organ arrangement of Sheep May Safely Graze. The primarily native group Dancing With the Spirit, with folk song and stringed instrument, helped set the initial tone.[img_assist|nid=153584|title=”Dancing With the Spirit” Singing Before the Consecration|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=142]
An impressive entry of the specially-created, Tlingit-inspired diocesan icon ‘Our Lady of Alaska‘, to drumming, (see icon below) brought the audience to its feet.[img_assist|nid=153588|title=’Our Lady of Alaska’ Icon created by Sherry Lynch & Rob Ridnour|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=320|height=490]
Following the icon the clerical participants entered, in procession, down the main aisle, around the sides of the church and back down the main aisle again. The bishop-elect was then presented by Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori to the clergy and people assembled. As the service unwound, Lattime was finally consecrated with a laying on of hands by the bishops in attendance. The major theme of a consecration is a setting apart of a religious person for a holy purpose. Bishop Lattime certainly has his hands full with issues of statewide and national significance.[img_assist|nid=153585|title=Lattime Kneeling Before Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=202]
It is not my intention to describe the ceremony in detail in this post. Suffice to say Alaska’s native peoples were wonderfully represented in song, and in speaking throughout the consecration. Particularly heartwarming were the scriptural readings in native tongue.
The warm consecration sermon, a highlight of the afternoon, was preceded by wonderful family anecdotes and injections of humor directed at Lattime and family. The deliverer, Bishop Jack McKelvey, a Lattime family friend from Rochester, NY (7th Bishop of Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, retired), after a quite long humorous prelude, proclaimed “The sermon starts now.” Starting by observing that “Leadership is the most needed trait for the church today”, McKelvey proceeded to detail five pieces of advice for a new bishop.
#1 – “Be a doubter about all you know”, further noting “the opposite of faith is certainty”.
#2 – “Cultivate a sense of patience”.
#3 – “Learn to compromise”.
#4 – “Journey in Faith” explaining that “Faith is walking into that sometime fearful future knowing that God will be there to greet you”.
#5 – “Be a risk taker” continuing with “Head out to deeper waters. Life belongs to the risk taker; the cautious die. Don’t worry about failure. Worry about what you will miss if you don’t even try.”
McKelvey employs an excellent speaking technique by stating his advice twice, ensuing it was properly heard and understood. Personally, I wish more ministers would follow McKelvey’s approach which some might label as being pedantic. I did not feel so.
Bishop McKelvey concluded with a wonderful prayer which is reprinted below:
“Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come to fruition because we dreamed too little, when we arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of the things we possess we have lost our thirst for the water of life.
Stir us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery, where in losing sight of land we shall find the stars. We ask you to push back the horizons of our hope, and to push us into the future in strength, courage, hope and love, Amen”
The ceremony ended with the celebration of the Eucharist, a fitting conclusion to a beautiful and meaningful consecration. A brief reception followed the official ceremony, where participants and well-wishers met to share greetings and congratulations.[img_assist|nid=153595|title=Bishop Lattime With Family & Friends at Reception – courtesy Scott McMurren|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=450|height=309]
The Episcopal Diocese in Alaska has an impressive history, being established in 1895. By geography, it is the largest diocese in the Episcopal Church. Approximately 7,000 members in 53 congregations comprise the diocese. Their themes of openness and social justice go far in this vast land. It would appear that Episcopalians have made a wise choice of leadership in Bishop Lattime. There’s a great updated Wikipedia update on Lattime, but the Diocese website is quite a bit out of date.
As a person of faith, I was warmed by the expressed formality and informality of this consecration. I heartily recommend you take any opportunity to observe how various faiths install and set apart their key leaders. Churches and members who do not take these opportunities are clearly displaying a “holier than thou” attitude toward other members of the religious community. We should be bound together in love, serving the same God, even if we express those service themes differently.