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Presiding Bishop takes seat in Washington National Cathedral
All Saints Sunday assembly hears Jefferts Schori call Church to 'burn brightly and transform this world'

By Mary Frances Schjonberg

Washington National Cathedral
Washington Bishop John Chane and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori following the procession on the November 5 formal seating liturgy at Washington National Cathedral.    (Washington National Cathedral)

Washington National Cathedral
Bishop of Washington John Chane welcomes Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori her stall in
the Great Choir at the Washington National Cathedral.   (Washington National Cathedral)

Washington National Cathedral photo
Thousands of people gathered November 5 at Washington National Cathedral for the formal seating of the 26th Presiding Bishop and for a festal All Saints' Eucharist.     (Washington National Cathedral photo)

[Episcopal News Service]  A day after she was invested as the 26th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori officially took her seat in Washington National Cathedral on November 5 in a festal All Saints Sunday Eucharist.

During her sermon, Jefferts Schori called the congregation and the Church to sainthood, and told them its cost.

"Saints are those who are vulnerable to the gut-wrenching pain of this world," she said. "Some of us have to be seized by the throat or thrown into the tomb before we can find that depth of compassion. And perhaps unless we are, we won't leave our comfortable narrow lives – or our remarkably nasty ones – to wake up and begin to answer that pain."
Jefferts Schori became the eighth Presiding Bishop to take the official chair in the Cathedral. The 1940 General Convention adopted a recommendation from Virginia Bishop Henry St. George Tucker, elected Presiding Bishop in 1937, suggesting that Washington National Cathedral was the suitable seat for the Presiding Bishop. Tucker was thus seated in 1941 as the first of the eight. (A listing of all the Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishops is available at here)

Edmond Lee Browning and Frank Griswold, the 24th and 25th Presiding Bishops respectively, participated in Jefferts Schori's investiture November 4 at the Cathedral.

The Blindman brothers, two Oglala Lakota-Paiute Indians from Wadsworth, Nevada, drew the assembly together for the November 5 service with drums and chant, and brought the altar party and choirs into the Cathedral. Their music followed preludes from the carillon, organ and other instruments, the SOL music group, and the Gospel Choir of St. Thomas African Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. The latter group led the assembly in "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" before the singing of the traditional All Saints hymn "For All the Saints" to usher in the service's entrance rite.

Jefferts Schori's seating came just after the liturgy's opening acclamation, as Cathedral Dean Samuel Lloyd welcomed her and told her that the cathedral was "honored to host the inauguration of this new season of ministry."

She then asked Lloyd and Washington Bishop John Chane for permission to be "seated in the chair that is symbolic of my office."

Lloyd, Chane, Cathedral Canon Precentor Carol Wade and Cathedral Chapter Chair John Shenefield escorted her to the Presiding Bishop's stall in the Great Choir as the Cathedral Choir sang John Rutter's "The Lord bless you and keep you." She was accompanied by members of her family, as well.

Jefferts Schori took her seat and prayed aloud: "O Holy God, in Christ you make all things new. Today in this house of prayer for all people, I devote myself to your service. Grant me wisdom and compassion, that I may be a faithful witness to your Gospel and a pastor to your people. Fill my life with praise for your marvelous work, that I may serve you with joy. Fill your church with the power of your Spirit, that our ministry together, beginning today in this Cathedral, may bring healing to your people and glory to your name. Kindle in us the flame of holy charity and the power of faith that transforms the world."

The seating party escorted her backed to the altar in the Cathedral's crossing. Chane then introduced Jefferts Schori's family to the applause of the assembly.

It was the first of three times the congregation applauded spontaneously for Jefferts Schori. The second came during the announcements when Cathedral Dean Samuel Lloyd remarked that during the official seating it seemed to him that the Presiding Bishop's stall in the Great Choir had been made for Jefferts Schori "from birth." The Cathedral erupted in sustained applause and cheers, joined by an impromptu organ improvisation. When Jefferts Schori removed her mitre and bowed to the crowd, the applause began to subside. The congregation cheered again as she recessed from the Cathedral.

Jefferts Schori later began her sermon by telling the story of Jacques Fesch, a man whom the Roman Catholic Church is considering for sainthood. He was guillotined in 1957 at age 27 for killing a police officer during a robbery. Before his execution, he experienced a conversion that he described as being seized by the throat.

Jefferts Schori called baptism a "life-altering encounter," reminding the assembly of how baptismal candidates in the early church – "new saints," as she called them – prepared for three years and then were taken in the middle of the night into the crypt where they were stripped naked and plunged bodily into the baptismal font. She said most baptisms today "seems a pale imitation, yet it can have every bit the same effect."

She warned the congregation that it would soon be sprinkled with baptismal water. "I hope and pray that you and I can welcome those surprising drops as a tiny reminder of what is meant to happen to us, over and over again, day after day after day," she said.  "Die to the old, be unbound, come out into abundant life in service to the world. Wake up and notice the suffering around us."
"It is the willingness to experience that pain which more than anything else marks us as saints," she said. "The pain of the whole world – those who agree with us and those who might be called enemies. The pain of creation, abused for our pleasure. The pain of a six-year old child in Ghana, sold into slavery, to bail a fishing canoe and repair nets for 100 hours a week so that his parents might eat." 

The New York Times on October 29 carried a front-page story about child forced labor in western and central Africa. The story featured Mark Kwadwo, 6, whose parents "leased" him to a Ghana fisherman for about $20 a year.

Jefferts Schori recalled a portion of the service's Old Testament reading, Wisdom 3:1-9 in her sermon. The reading describes "the souls of the righteous" and says, in part, "in the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble." The word "visitation," she said, is "episkopeis" in Greek, and might be translated as "oversight" or "realm of ministry."

"When the saints turn up, or when the Spirit makes a home in the saints, then the saints begin to burn and set the world alight. Their oversight, their ministry, their ability to see and influence and pastor the world, is set afire," she said. "All the saints are meant to run like sparks through the stubble, through that dead and no longer fruitful stuff, the dross of this world. You and I are supposed to get lit and set that flame to burning by our willingness to be vulnerable to the suffering around us."

Jefferts Schori, describing how fields in western Oregon used to be burned after the grass-seed harvest to prepare them for the next planting, asked the congregation, "What do you think? Can we make holy smoke?"

"The episkopeis of the saints, their ministry, cleans the fields of that which cannot survive in God's dream of shalom, it burns away whatever limits that dream or cannot contribute to it. The ministry of governance, whether in the legislature, the polling booth, or in raising a child, is meant to prepare the ground for a new and abundant crop of life," she said. "Most of us here this morning will have an opportunity to exercise that kind of ministry on Tuesday. Will you consider your vote as an act of 'running through the stubble?' Would that we all might be able to answer, 'I will, with God's help.'"

(November 7 is Election Day in the United States. Many local and state races, including for the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, are on ballots. The elections, known as the "mid-term elections" because they fall halfway through each four-year presidential term, are being closely watched in part because the results could change the balance between Republicans and Democrats in both houses of Congress.)

Concluding her sermon, Jefferts Schori said: "Let the pain of this world seize us by the throat. Listen for Jesus calling us all out of our tombs of despair and apathy. May the shock of baptismal dying once more set us afire . . . When we come to the Peace, turn to your neighbors and greet the saints, the fire-lighters in this field. Welcome, saint! Burn brightly and transform this world of God's into a field for life, full measure, pressed down and overflowing, meant for all humanity and all creation. Burn!"

The complete text of Jefferts Schori's sermon is available here.

After her sermon, Jefferts Schori led the assembly in a renewal of its baptismal covenant, as she had done the previous day during her investiture. The prayers of the people were led in Haitian Creole, Mandarin, Yoruba, and English. Jefferts Schori, a number of Episcopal Church bishops and other ministers then moved throughout the cathedral, sprinkling, or asperging, the assembly with water as a reminder of baptism.

Jefferts Schori presided at the Eucharist, which used Prayer 2 from "Enriching Our Worship," the Episcopal Church's collection of authorized supplemental liturgies. The entire assembly joined her in the part of the Great Thanksgiving known as the epiclesis: "Pour out your Spirit upon these gifts that they may be the Body and Blood of Christ. Breathe your Spirit over the whole earth and make us your new creation, the Body of Christ given for the world you have made."

The complete order of service for the All Saints seating liturgy is available here. The order of service for November 4's investiture is available here. Both services were webcast live and remain available for viewing. For the seating liturgy, follow the link that will be available at For the investiture, follow the link currently at Beginning November 6, the webcast will also be available by following a link at