Archive for February 2010

Feast of Bennett J. Sims (July 17)   10 comments

Above:  Bishop Bennett J. Sims



Episcopal Bishop of Atlanta


I’ve developed a strong attachment to the churches, especially the smaller ones….These churches are like persons to me, with their distinct individuality, the fulfillment they are reaching in different ways, their idiosyncrasies and failings and strengths.  I will miss this most–the Sunday visitations.

–Bishop Sims in September 1983, shortly before his retirement from the Diocese of Atlanta


Surely we don’t have to park our brains at the church door to feel again the warmth of the Spirit’s fire.

–Bishop Sims in The Time of My Life: A Spiritual Pilgrimage Grounded in Hope (2006), page 72


The War in Iraq is waged by an administration led by a Texas oilman and a ranch owner in the name of a domesticated god who blesses America on demand.

The Time of My Life, page 37


Seal of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta


Books by Bishop Sims:

Invitation to Hope: A Testimony of Encouragement (1974)

Purple Ink: A Selection of the Writings of Bennett J. Sims as Bishop of Atlanta (1982)

Servanthood: Leadership for the Third Millennium (1997)

Why Bush Must Go: A Bishop’s Faith-Based Challenge (2004)

The Time of My Life: A Spiritual Pilgrimage Grounded in Hope (2006)


Bennett Jones Sims, born in Greenfield, Massachusetts, on August 9, 1920, spent much of his youth in the Midwest, growing up in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.  Sims graduated from Baker University, Baldwin City, Kansas, in 1943.  That year he married Beatrice Wimberly, with whom he had three children, and entered the U.S. Navy, where he served aboard destroyers for three years.

In 1946 Sims entered Princeton Theological Seminary.  After becoming an Episcopalian in 1947 he transferred to Virginia Theological Seminary, from which he graduated in 1949.  Ordained deacon in 1949 and priest the following year, Sims served the Church of the Redeemer as Curate from 1949 to 1951 and as Rector from 1951 to 1964.  While at Church of the Redeemer Sims became increasingly progressive, a fact which irritated some of his conservative and affluent parishioners.  First there was the controversy surrounding the building of a new and necessary worship space.  People argued over the color of the carpeting and the internal arrangement of the furniture.  The more substantial matter, however, was the fact that Sims attended the 1963 March on Washington, an event he described years later as mind-changing.  Church of the Redeemer lost 50 families over the Rector’s attendance at the March on Washington.

Sims realized something others did not.  Christian faith is not entirely individual; it carries a societal component, also.  This understanding informed his career, beginning at Church of the Redeemer.

By 1964 Sims felt the need to leave Baltimore.  So he accepted an offer to become a Harvard Fellow for a semester in 1964 then Rector of Christ Church, Corning, New York.  In this autobiography Sims wrote that accepting these offers was a mistake.  He left Baltimore angry at his congregation.  And Sims accepted the offer to become a Harvard Fellow out of ego.  He wrote in 2006:

For all the seasons of my long pilgrimage, I have been driven by a need to be better than I think myself to be.  This terribly distorting need may be, in some measure, everyone’s Achilles heel, everyone’s core of emptiness that only the supreme gift of God’s forgiveness and the parallel acceptance of one’s self can remove.  (The Time of My Life, page 176)

At Corning Sims made changes in parish life.  These, no matter how well-considered in the abstract, alienated many parishioners.  When, in 1966, Sims resigned to become Dean of Continuing Education at Virginia Theological Seminary, the senior warden was glad. Sims wrote of this experience in his 2006 autobiography, agreeing with the parishioners.

On November 3, 1971, Sims won election as Bishop of Atlanta, a post he assumed the following February.  As Bishop he continued to emphasize social issues, including opposition to the Vietnam War, support for the integration of public schools, support for the ordination of women and the adoption and use of the revised Book of Common Prayer.  These positions caused consternation in some quarters, but, as Sims prepared to retire in 1983, an Anglo-Catholic priest who opposed most of the Bishop’s positions expressed private support for Sims as a human being.  And, in his autobiography, Sims wrote of his response to a letter from St. Paul’s Church, Atlanta, an African-American congregation.  It thanked him for his leadership, especially with regard to civil rights.  Many parishioners signed the letter.  Sims broke down and cried in private.

In his candid autobiography Sims wrote in a confessional tone that he had used theology as a blunt weapon sometimes, but evidence indicates that this was not a dominant pattern.  Rather, Sims stood up for what he believed and maintained warm relationships with many people who disagreed with him.

During his time as Bishop of Atlanta Sims issued two statements he retracted during his retirement.  First was the 1977 pastoral letter on homosexuality, in which Sims accepted gay identity but not behavior.  He meant the pastoral letter for the diocese alone, but Christianity Today published the document and the Church of Sweden adopted it.  During the following years Sims rethought his position and published a retraction.  He came to accept full equality of homosexuals in church and society.

The second pastoral letter Sims took back dealt with marriage and divorce.  In 1979, concerned about the documented effects of divorce in society, Sims wrote of the “indelibility of marriage.”  As the Bishop wrote candidly in his autobiography (see pages 64, 155, and 175), his 42-year marriage ended in 1985.  He described his first marriage in its final stage as “the mounting disaster of a mismatched pair of one-time lovers” plagued by “the strange undercurrent of insecurity,” which had been present in the relationship from the beginning.  Also, Sims confessed in his autobiography that, for most of his career, he had placed the demands of work first and the needs of family second.  By 1985 the marriage was no longer salvageable.

In 1983 Sims had founded the Institute for Servant Leadership (ISL), which began life at Emory University.  (Sims severed its relationship with Emory and moved the Institute to western North Carolina in 1988.)  The ISL was (and remains) committed to teaching leadership as the empowerment of people, not the domination of them.  (This understanding underpins many the critiques Sims made of U.S. foreign policy.  Based on readings of Sims and of current events, I conclude that, if alive today, he would continue almost almost all of his 2004 and 2006 condemnations of U.S. foreign policy.  Sims was an intellectually honest man, not a partisan hack and hypocrite.)

Mary Page Welborn had been administrative assistant to Sims when he was Bishop of Atlanta.  During the 1980s she had changed careers and become a consultant in teaching and applying the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a personality test.  In retirement, Bishop Sims asked Welborn to work with him on ISL seminars, and she accepted the offer.  Over a few years they fell in love, and so they married in Atlanta in August 1988.  At that time Sims received much support from the clergy of the diocese.  This marriage ended only when Bishop Sims died.

Bishop Sims retired as President of the Institute for Servant Leadership in 1999, at age 79.

I have finished reading four of the Bishop’s five books.  (I have not read Servanthood.)  His writing revealed a keen intellect, a warm heart, strong moral convictions, and great candor.  Sims, especially toward the end of his life, did not fear to admit his errors and faults, as he understood them.  As one ages one needs to reflect on one’s past and evaluate one’s positions and decisions.  Sometimes this entails admitting error, and this can be healthy.  Do not trust a person who does not think that he or she has made few or no mistakes.

As I write this post I reflect on a few facts.  First, I have reached a stage in my life when the date of my high school graduation is approximate to that of the birth or conception dates of many of my college students.  Second, I have a few white hairs on my chin and temples.  Time has afforded me greater perspective than I had once.   And, if I live much longer (Who knows how much time one has?) time will afford me even greater perspective.  May I approach my past with at least as much candor as Bishop Sims approached his.





I read Servant Leadership last Summer, and I am glad I did.  You, O reader, might also find the volume edifying and thought-provoking.


July 15, 2012 Common Era


Almighty God, you have raised up faithful bishops of your church, your servant Bennett J. Sims.  May the memory of his life be a source of joy for us and a bulwark of our faith, so that we may serve and confess your name before the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Ezekiel 34:11-16 or Acts 20:17-35

Psalm 84

1 Peter 5:1-4 or Ephesians 3;14-21

John 21:15-17 or Matthew 24:42-47

Feast of George Kennedy Allen Bell (October 3)   Leave a comment

Above:  George Kennedy Allen Bell

Image in the Public Domain



Anglican Bishop of Chichester

George Kennedy Allen Bell, the son of a priest of the Church of England, entered the world on Hayling Island, Hampshire, on February 4, 1883.  He, like his father, became a deacon (1907) then a priest (1908). Bell worked among the industrial workers of Leeds from 1907 to 1910.  Then he became an academic tutor and student minister at Christ Church, Oxford, where he remained until 1914.

In 1914 Bell became chaplain to Archbishop of Canterbury Randall Davidson.  In this capacity Bell became active in ecumenism.  During World War I he worked with Swedish Lutheran Bishop Nathan Soderblom, a close friend, for exchanges of prisoners of war.  During the 1920s Bell became involved deeply in the Life and Work movement, which related Christian faith to society, politics, and economics.   This movement was a precursor to the World Council of Churches, formed in 1948.

From 1925 to 1929 Bell was Dean of Canterbury.  He started the Canterbury Festival, which encouraged music, poetry, and drama.

Perhaps Bell made his greatest contributions to human society as Bishop of Chichester (1929-1958).  During the Great Depression he allied himself with struggling workers.  And when Adolf Hitler won the support of much of German Christianity, Bell supported the dissident (non-Nazi) faction, the Confessing Church.  The Bishop even passed useful intelligence to German resistance leaders (often also leaders of the Confessing Church) during World War II.

Bishop Bell sought justice for human beings, regardless of politics or the relative popularity of his opinions.  So he helped refugees, displaced persons, interned Germans, and British conscientious objectors.  And he condemned the Churchill government’s policy of area bombing.  Bell said and wrote repeatedly that the bombing of unarmed civilians was immoral.  This displeased the Prime Minister, who selected the new Archbishop of Canterbury in 1944, after William Temple died.  Churchill did not choose Bell.

After World War II Bell’s moral sensibility continued to contradict government policies.  He opposed the nuclear arms race and advocated nuclear disarmament during the Cold War.

Bell’s ecumenical engagement remained a recurring theme until he died.  One of his dear friends was Cardinal Giovanni Montini, who became Pope Paul VI in 1963.  Also, Bell supported the 1947 creation of the Church of South India.  In addition, he served as joint chairman of Anglican-Methodist Conversations, begun in 1955.  The 1968 final report proposed a union of the Church of England and the Methodist Church of Great Britain.  This has not happened.

Furthermore, Bell wrote the hymn, “Christ is the King! O Friends Upraise,” which is #614 in The Hymnal 1982.



Christ is the King! O Friends Upraise

1. Christ is the King! O friends upraise

anthems of joy and holy praise

for brave saints of ancient days,

who with a faith forever new

followed the King,

and round him drew

thousands of servants brave and true.

2. O Christian women, Christian men,

all the world over, seek again

the Way disciples followed then.

Christ through all ages is the same:

place the same hope in this great Name,

with the same faith his word proclaim.

3. Let Love’s unconquerable might

your scattered companies unite

in service to the Lord of light:

so shall God’s will on earth be done,

new lamps be lit, new tasks begun,

and the whole Church at last be one.


God of peace, you sustained your bishop George Kennedy Allen Bell

with the courage to proclaim your truth and justice

in the face of disapproval in his own nation:

As he taught that we, along with our enemies, are all children of God,

may we stand with Christ in his hour of grieving,

that at length we may enter your country where there is no sorrow nor sighing,

but fullness of joy in you; through Jesus Christ our Redeemer,

who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Amos 7:10-15

Psalm 46:4-11

Revelation 11:15-18

Mark 13:1-13

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 619

Feast of St. Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (February 6)   Leave a comment

Above:  Text of “Of the Father’s Love Forgotten”

Image in the Public Domain



Poet, Polemicist, and Hymn Writer

St. Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius came from an upper class family in Roman Spain in 348.  He grew up to write poems, hymns, and prose polemics in defense of the Roman Catholic faith as factions debated and formulated core doctrines of the faith.  Two of his classic works are “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” (translated into English at the top of this post) and “Earth Has Many a Noble City,” the English translation of which follows:

Earth has many a noble city;
Bethlehem, thou dost all excel;
Out of thee the Lord from Heaven
Came to rule His Israel.

Fairer than the sun at morning
Was the star that told His birth,
To the world its God announcing
Seen in fleshly form on earth.

Eastern sages at His cradle
Make oblations rich and rare;
See them give, in deep devotion,
Gold and frankincense and myrrh.

Sacred gifts of mystic meaning:
Incense doth their God disclose,
Gold the King of kings proclaimeth,
Myrrh His sepulcher foreshows.

Jesu, whom the Gentiles worshipped
At Thy glad Epiphany,
Unto Thee, with God the Father
And the Spirit, glory be.



Almighty God, beautiful in majesty, majestic in holiness: You have shown us the splendor of creation in the work of your servant St. Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius.  Teach us to drive from the world all chaos and disorder, that our eyes may behold your glory, and that at last everyone may know the inexhaustible richness of your new creation in Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Isaiah 28:5-6 or Hosea 14:5-8 or 2 Chronicles 20:20-21

Psalm 96

Philippians 4:8-9 or Ephesians 5:18b-20

Matthew 13:44-52

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006)


Revised on November 27 2016


Feast of Martin Chemnitz (November 9)   Leave a comment

Above:  Martin Chemnitz

Image in the Public Domain



German Lutheran Theologian and the “Second Martin”

Martin Chemnitz, born on November 9, 1522, grew up to become a teacher then a sales tax collector before he attended the University of Wittenberg from 1545 to 1547, studying under Martin Luther (whose feast day is February 19) and Phillip Melanchthon.  Chemnitz transferred to the University of Konigsberg, where he graduated with an M.A. in 1548 and became a court librarian.

At Konigsberg (as a student then a librarian) Chemnitz began to focus on theology as he examined biblical texts in the original languages.  So he returned to Wittenberg in 1553 as a guest of Melanchton (whose feast day is June 27) and joined the university faculty there the following year.  In 1554 Johannes Bugenhagen (whose feast day is April 20) ordained him to the Lutheran ministry.

Chemnitz, the primary author of the Formula of Concord (1577) was instrumental in the publication of the Book of Concord (1580), the collection of essential Lutheran confessions of faith.


Almighty God, we praise you for your servant Martin Chemnitz,

through whom you have called the church to its tasks and renewed its life.

Raise up in our own day teachers and prophets inspired by your Spirit,

whose voices will give strength to your church and proclaim the reality of your reign,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Psalm 46

1 Corinthians 3;11-23

Mark 10:35-45

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 60