July 17: William White, Bishop of Pennsylvania, 1836

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About this commemoration:

William White

William White was born in Philadelphia, March 24, 1747, and was educated at the college of that city, graduating in 1765. In 1770 he went to England, was ordained deacon on December 23, and priest on April 25, 1772. On his return home, he became assistant minister of Christ and St. Peter’s, 1772–1779, and rector from that year until his death, July 17, 1836. He also served as chaplain of the Continental Congress from 1777 to 1789, and then of the United States Senate until 1800. Chosen unanimously as first Bishop of Pennsylvania, September 14, 1786, he went to England again, with Samuel Provoost, Bishop-elect of New York; and the two men were consecrated in Lambeth Chapel on Septuagesima Sunday, February 4, 1787, by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Bishops of Bath and Wells and of Peterborough.

Bishop White was the chief architect of the Constitution of the American Episcopal Church and the wise overseer of its life during
the first generation of its history. He was the Presiding Bishop at its
organizing General Convention in 1789 and again from 1795 until his death. He was a theologian of no mean ability, and among his proteges, in whose formation he had a large hand, were such leaders of a new generation as John Henry Hobart, Jackson Kemper, and William Augustus Muhlenberg. White’s gifts of statesmanship and reconciling moderation steered the American Church through the first decades of its independent life. His influence in his native city made him its “first citizen.” To few men has the epithet “venerable” been more aptly applied.


I O Lord, who in a time of turmoil and confusion didst
raise up thy servant William White, and didst endow him
with wisdom, patience, and a reconciling temper, that he
might lead thy Church into ways of stability and peace:
Hear our prayer, we beseech thee, and give us wise and
faithful leaders, that through their ministry thy people
may be blessed and thy will be done; through Jesus Christ
our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy
Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

II O Lord, in a time of turmoil and confusion you raised
up your servant William White, and endowed him with
wisdom, patience, and a reconciling temper, that he might
lead your Church into ways of stability and peace: Hear
our prayer, and give us wise and faithful leaders, that
through their ministry your people may be blessed and
your will be done; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who
lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for
ever and ever. Amen.

Jeremiah 3:15–19
1 Timothy 3:1–10
John 21:15–17

Psalm 92:1–4,11–14

Preface of a Saint (1)

Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.


We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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12 thoughts on “July 17: William White, Bishop of Pennsylvania, 1836

    • Two things jump out at me about Bp. White: to the extent that our Constitution captures the essence of US Anglicanism, he did a superb job. Second, anyone who could get the Bps. of NY & CT in the same room and get them to function had to be both a great diplomat and a man close to God. Greg Howe

      • Bishop White is, of course, an exixting commemoration. I agree with Greg that getting Seabury and Provoost in the same room was a major miracle.
        Thr Gosepel is the one in LLF, the reading from Timothy is both new and appropriate, as is trhe (ocntinued) Gospel. The Jeremiah reading in changed. It sound well, unless it is red in contex. Verse 20, about a faithless wife is something of a shock.

  1. Just a comment and question about the bios in general. For the new saints, I think, the bios are written by the present SCLM. For saints already on the calendar, I read James Kiefer’s biography in the Lectionary on the Satucket website–then the one on the present SCLM website, which contains a good bit less information and consequently gives a more limited picture of the saint. For instance, the Kiefer bio gives a better picture of the church at that time, and has an excerpt of William White’s explanation of the episcopacy. My question: are the bios of persons already on the calendar from Lesser Feasts and Fasts? (I don’t have a copy of LFF with me where I am right now, and can’t find it online to compare). Or were they re-written by the present SCLM committee?

  2. Celinda: the LFF bios are reprinted as they are in the last edition of LFF 06. The readings of all of them have at least one additional reading, some have a substituted reading , and all have just one Psalm . Each entry now has four Bible readings (Hebrew, one Psalm, New Testament, and Gospel). My guess about the new bios is that they have been written by a committee of persons – hence their differing styles.

    Bio: This bio, though from LFF, also lacks an introductory sentence (as so many do) which states ‘who was he and why was he important’. And that all important sentence at the end: He died in 1836 (and is buried where?).

  3. Thoughts from one who has been with HW/HM from the beginning: some seemm restless with Rite I – we realized that some who would use the material most frequently would prefer Rite I language, and we didn’t want to exclude anyone. On John Calvin- Like it or not, there has always been a Calvinist strain in Anglicanism – never more visible than today- and we need to own the most systematic theologian of the Reformation.

  4. This is an excellent addition to the Church’s calendar. I have used Bp White often in preaching as a worthy example of both leadership and personal faith.

  5. BISHOP WILLIAM WHITE BIOGRAPHY: It’s a good biography. The last sentence seems superfluous and means that some DO deserve to be called “venerable” more than Bishop White – I don’t see that as a good conclusion: I’d strike it. Overall, there’s more CEO in this biography than “Holy.” That, of course, was the need at the time but there’s still room on the page to emphasize “holy” along with CEO.

    COLLECT: Something is odd about this collect. “O Lord, in a time of turmoil and confusion you raised up your servant William White, and endowed him with wisdom, patience, and a reconciling temper, that he might lead your Church into ways of stability and peace.” That’s a fair if idealized statement given the challenge of the time. It summarizes what God did and what White was. As good as it is, I don’t see “THE GOSPEL” – fullness of life–the Kingdom of God — being the focus: polity, structure, and organizational strategy is. Surely we can highlight the gospel in White’s life & ministry better!

    The collect continues, “Hear our prayer, and give us wise and faithful leaders, that through their ministry your people may be blessed and your will be done….” [Emphasis added.] This invokes a passive church membership and an active church leadership. It tells God what to do (YOU hear… YOU give…), and articulates a wish list for future leadership, so that through THEIR work WE can be blessed and God’s will can get done. I hear a pre-conscious request for clericalism in this collect. I hear Christian vocation based on office (to some extent, on ordination), rather than on baptism. It reminds me of the prayer, “O God, Joe has been a really great parish treasurer for the last 30 years and none of us wants the job; send another Joe – real soon!”

    PREFACE, PSALM, EPISTLE & GOSPEL: The Preface, Psalm, and Gospel look good. I agree with Michael’s observation that the Epistle should end with verse 7 (since the wording and context put the emphasis on the office of deacon rather than “Christian service,” per se).

    OLD TESTAMENT READING: I strongly disagree with the Old Testament selection:
    Verse 15 is good for the commemoration (I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding). Then come several non-sequitur verses for our purpose:
    Verse 16 is all about not yearning for the Ark of the Covenant – which I see as not being meaningful to a listening congregation commemorating William White.
    Verse 17 pits nations’ gathering in Jerusalem against evil willfulness. (Ditto, the comment on v. 16.)
    Verse 18 predicts “Judah’s” rejoining ”Israel” (southern/northern tribes) and their return from exile. (Ditto, again.)
    Verse 19 tells that God longs to make a gift of “the most beautiful heritage of all the nations;” longs for the relationship as “My Father;” and longs for “my children” not to turn away. This is a beautiful and moving verse, but the reading as a whole doesn’t make sense for the commemoration, and I suspect verse 19 would be heard with a chauvinistic ear, i.e., that America is better than everyone else, and that God “loves me more than he loves you.” Call me crazy, but I’d rather see Ezekiel 37: 1-10 (Can these bones live?) as the Old Testament lesson for this commemoration. There must be even better selections than that, but the point is that Jeremiah 3:15-19 isn’t one of them.

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