Monday, December 7, 2009


By the Rev. Jim Wilson, PrayNorthState

The first Great Awakening swept the eastern seaboard in the 30s and 40s of the eighteenth century after Christ. It literally formed the American character, shaping a distinct people of God where before stood expatriate Englishmen. It made possible rising as a nation to mount a principled defense of the liberties we would later defend with arms, and forged a constitution as the godly document it became. But it largely bypassed the Anglican churches because we feared the messiness of revival. This is documented in my own Living As Ambassadors of Relationships, to name just one resource.

Over the half century following independence from Britain the Anglican churches were in survival mode. We labored under the external stigma of association with British colonial government, and the internal stigma of desire to be simply a more evangelical expression of the older church. Bishops Henry Hobart and Alexander Viets Griswold did much to shore up the Church by their example. They rode thousands of miles on horseback taking sacrament and Episcopal presence with them. Hobart met weekly with ordinands – mentoring them – and wrote periodicals to defend the faith. They were rector bishops carrying that model as far as it could be carried; it did not ultimately succeed because the Church was still in survival mode when they died. Hobart had worked himself to death by age fifty-five; Griswold was able to abide for a longer season.

In 1835 the General Convention acted with immense courage. They let go of the model of churchmanship and leadership inherited from England – in which a bishop was called only when a diocese was ready. Looking to the apostolic age they consecrated Jackson Kemper for the Northwest Territories. Kemper carried Bible, Prayer Book and sacramental equipment in one saddle bag and vestments in the other. He baptized, confirmed and ordained – establishing churches and seminary into the bargain. His clergy – fresh from the woods themselves – did what he did and established their own churches and seminaries. Although Kemper is revered as the lone horseman evangelizing the people of the forests his real achievement was in raising up disciples to follow in his footsteps. He made no effort to be all things to all – he did not operate as a CEO or any of the other things we expect bishops to do today that have little to do with apostleship. He did what God called Peter and Paul – and Patrick and Columba – to do; his ministry is credited with transforming the fledgling residue of a colonial church into the vibrant expression of an indigenous albeit catholic body.

We do not need another Jackson Kemper for today – that was then and this is now. But we do need a man to undertake his historic role for the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin as we approach the time when Bishop Schofield will retire. We do need God to show us what that means in our time and place. And we need courage enough to raise and send him into our midst – and us into our recovered identity as Anglicans.

James A. Wilson is the author of Living As Ambassadors of Relationships and The Holy Spirit and the End Times – available at local bookstores or by e-mailing him at

No comments: