Pageantry, symbolism ring in a new era

October 31, 1998

From four corners of Washington National Cathedral, led by fluttering multi-hued streamers from 21-foot-high poles, processions representing the body of the church assembled to invest its 25th presiding bishop.

Four choirs were arrayed around the cathedral, nearly 200 bishops in crimson and white sat two-by-two, creating a ribbon of color down the center aisle, a Crow Indian drum troupe played before the altar, and thousands tuned in from more than 215 satellite downlink sites or listened and saw photos of the happenings on the World Wide Web.

It was an investiture not only of Frank Tracy Griswold III but, it seemed, of the third Christian millennium as well. Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold is escorted to his chair in Washington National Cathedral by Dean Nathan D.Baxter. After the processions ended and the music fell silent, Griswold knocked on the west cathedral doors three times. His predecessor, retired Presiding Bishop Edmond L. Browning, and Pamela P. Chinnis, president of the House of Deputies, greeted him and asked if he accepted the trust and responsibility of his office. "I do," responded Griswold. Browning then asked the 3,700 members of the congregation if they would support and uphold their new presiding bishop.

"We will!" reverberated throughout the cathedral, echoing off the limestone walls for several seconds. The service emphasized the ministry and responsibility of the complete church, rather than focusing exclusively on its primate. Thus, three significant parts of the liturgy-in addition to the Eucharist-were designed to cast the theme in sharp relief: the giving of symbols of ministry, the sermon and the renewal of baptismal vows at the font.

Call and response

The gifts presented to Griswold by ecumenical leaders, Anglican Communion representatives and Episcopalians emphasized his position as both leader and servant of the church. After each presentation he turned to the people and invited them to renew their own place in the Episcopal ministry.  The first were copies of the Koran and the Torah from representatives of Islam and Judaism, the other religions who claim they descend from Abraham. Then came an icon of the Holy Trinity, presented by Archbishop Spyridon, head of the Greek Orthodox in America, gifts from Roman Catholics and Lutherans and those in ecumenical ministry, a presentation by two children from the Sunday school at Chicago's cathedral, Anglican and Episcopal symbols, a prayer book, supplemental liturgies and the four Episcopal hymnals, a gospel book, water and bread and wine.

Finally, Browning presented the primatial staff to his successor and for the final time, Griswold turned to the congregation: "My sisters and brothers, may God renew in us today the willingness to die daily to self so that we may rise daily to a new life of servanthood in the risen Christ."

And once again the congregation answered, "Amen!"

'Rebuild my church'

Griswold's sermon centered on his experience last September in Assisi, Italy, after he had been elected presiding bishop. Paying a visit to the Church of San Damiano and the crucifix that, according to tradition, spoke to St. Francis, Griswold found himself drawn back to the cross "as though it were a magnet." Griswold said he had forgotten what Jesus had said to Francis from the cross, but found the words on a plaque in a small square: "Francis, go rebuild my church." As he told the story to a Roman Catholic nun. "I got no further than saying, 'I was praying in front of the San Damiano crucifix,' when she pointed at me and declared, 'That's it; that's what your vocation is all about. Repair my church.' Hers was the confirming word I needed before I was able to allow Christ's words to Francis to find a home in me."

But Griswold went on to talk about his reluctance to take on such "an invitation to fantastical projections and unrealizable expectations." But "I gave the words to Francis freedom to be addressed to me, 'Francis (Frank), go rebuild my church.' What I heard this time was a voice that said, 'This task is not yours alone, it belongs to everyone who has been baptized into my death and resurrection. You are all called to rebuild the church.'"
Water and the Spirit

The theme was completed with a procession of ministers, streamers and jars of water to the baptismal font in the center aisle. There, Griswold sanctified the water and it was carried by bishops and deacons throughout the cathedral, sprinkled on choirs and reporters and bishops and children, in a massive renewal of baptismal vows.
Even in the most carefully planned liturgy, there are moments of surprise that break through, images that stay in the spirit's memory: scores of bishops parading past the altar while five Indian drummers beat time; the Rev. Elizabeth Colton, a deacon from Chicago, swaying back and forth while holding the gospel book aloft, practically dancing around the altar; the choirs taking turns singing the verses of Psalm 42, all very traditional and beautiful, until the choir of Grace Episcopal Church in Norfolk, Va., sang its verse with a rollicking gospel twist, the spirited arrangement breaking out like a bird from its cage.
After the service, Griswold and his family stayed by the font, receiving kisses and hugs and handshakes and gifts from several hundred who wanted to greet their presiding bishop personally.

'All are responsible'

From the reactions of people afterward, Griswold's story about his experience in Assisi was the most inspiring part of his sermon.
According to Carole Lee of the Diocese of California, Griswold's experience in Assisi "will give him some ammunition to carry him through in this ... task [of rebuilding]."
Andrew Johnson of the Diocese of Massachusetts summed up the sermon when he said, "Rebuilding is a continuous process and it flows from our baptism ... The task of rebuilding the church is all of ours."
Bishop Naptalí Larrea of the Diocese of Ecuador heard Griswold promote two main ideas: "We need to put all our efforts together to rebuild and maintain the church. The second is that the church belongs to everybody. ... All are responsible for the church for good or for worse."
Stanhope Browne of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, a friend from Griswold's time at St. Martin in the Fields, Philadelphia, thought the sermon would motivate some "to be more active in church matters."
Juanita Fair, executive secretary to the bishop of the Diocese of Maryland, felt empowered by Griswold's words. "It means a lot to me to hear a bishop and our presiding bishop say that he wants input from everybody. That was important to hear."

And James Brown of the Diocese of Washington, D.C., said "One of the things that stuck out for me was that basically we're in this together ? stones that have come to life. The church is here not to aggrandize itself but to bring it out to the world that doesn't know Jesus."

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