Archive for the ‘July 17’ Category

Feast of William White (July 17)   4 comments

Above:  Second Street North from Market Street, with Christ Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1800

Engraver = William Russell Birch (1755-1834)

Image Source = Library of Congress


WILLIAM WHITE (MARCH 24, 1747-JULY 17, 1836)

Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church

On the Episcopal calendar of saints July 17 is the Feast of William White, one of the three original bishops (with Samuel Seabury and Samuel Provoost), and the father of the denominational constitution.

White was a man of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Eventually he developed a well-earned reputation as the “first citizen” of that city.  He, born there on March 24, 1747, was a son of Esther Hawlings and attorney and surveyor Thomas White.  Our saint graduated from the College of Philadelphia in 1765 then studied theology privately under the tutelage of the priests at Christ Church as well as Provost William Smith of the College of Philadelphia.  White, ordained to the diaconate in England on December 23, 1770, returned to that country for his ordination to the priesthood, April 25, 1772.  The following year our saint married Mary Harrison.  The couple had eight children.

White balanced overlapping ecclesiastical portfolios from the 1770s until his death in 1836.  He, for a time during  the Revolutionary War the only Anglican priest in Pennsylvania, due to the expulsion of Loyalist clergymen, was the following:

  1. Assistant Priest, Christ Church and St. Peter’s Church, Philadelphia (1772-1779);
  2. Chaplain of the Second Continental Congress (1777-1781);
  3. Rector, Christ Church and St. Peter’s Church, Philadelphia (1779-1836);
  4. Chaplain of the Confederation Congress (1781-1788);
  5. Bishop of Pennsylvania (1787-1836);
  6. Chaplain of the U.S. Senate (1789-1800); and
  7. Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church (1789, 1795-1836).

Meanwhile, White also served as a trustee of the College of Philadelphia and the University of the State of Pennsylvania (until 1791) as well as the merged University of Pennsylvania (1791f).

Above:  Christ Church, Philadelphia, 1814

Engraver = James Peller Malcolm (1767-1815)

Image Source = Library of Congress

From 1782 to 1789 White made an effective case for a national “Protestant Episcopal Church” separate from The Church of England.  He presided over the first three General Conventions (1785, 1786, and 1789), helped to write the Proposed Book of Common Prayer of 1786 (never adopted), and sought to reconcile factions and unite them into one denomination.  Samuel Seabury, from 1784 the Bishop of Connecticut, was an old Loyalist.  Samuel Provoost and White, from 1787 the Bishops of New York and Pennsylvania, respectively, had been rebels.  Provoost and Seabury were not on writing or speaking terms with each other for a while.  There were also regional and theological-liturgical differences; the churches from Virginia to New York disagreed with those of the South and New England with regard to the proper roles of bishops and lay members.  Delegates to the General Convention of 1789, with White presiding, forged a constitution and produced The Book of Common Prayer (1789), in use for 103 years.

Above:  William White

An image from July 19, 1838

Image Source = Library of Congress

White was influential in other ways too.  Our saint taught theology to John Henry Hobart (1775-1830) in 1797-1798 and ordained him a deacon (1798) and a priest (1800).  Hobart, from 1816 to 1830 the Bishop of New York, was also a towering figure in The Episcopal Church.  Over the decades White had various assistants.  One of these, from 1811 to 1831, was Jackson Kemper (1789-1870), a protégé of Hobart and the first missionary bishop (consecrated in 1835) in The Episcopal Church.  Another circle of influence radiated from Kemper.  One member of that circle was James Lloyd Breck (1818-1876)William Augustus Muhlenberg (1796-1877) assisted White from 1817 to 1822.  Muhlenberg became influential in The Episcopal Church by, among other legacies, encouraging the use of flowers, the singing of hymns, and the founding of ecclesiastical institutions to provide social services.  He and Anne Ayres (1816-1896) founded the Sisterhood of the Holy Communion (1845), the first Anglican religious community for women in North America.

White, unlike Muhlenberg, preferred traditional metrical Psalms to hymns, which were new in The Episcopal Church in the 1800s.  The bishop considered hymns too Evangelical and prone to enthusiasm, which he described as

animal sensibility.

White, aged 89 years, died in Philadelphia, on July 17, 1836.  His direct and indirect influences on The Episcopal Church have never ceased to exist, however.








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

Psalm 92:1-4, 11-14

1 Timothy 3:1-10

John 21:15-17

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 467



Feast of the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne (July 17)   Leave a comment

Above:  The Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne

Image in the Public Domain



Died in Paris, France, on July 17, 1794


I forgive you as heartily as I wish God to forgive me.

–The last words of Blessed Marie-Anne Piedcourt at the guillotine in Paris, July 17, 1794


For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.

–Matthew 7:2, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)


The French Revolution (1789-1799) was one of the most revolutionary revolutions.  It was certainly one of the bloodiest, especially during its middle phase, the Reign of Terror.  One of the targets of the French Revolution was the Roman Catholic Church, which had supported the absolutist monarchy of the Bourbon Dynasty.

The targeting of the Church entailed overreacting, an unfortunate human tendency.  In 1790 the French government suppressed all religious communities not involved in teaching or nursing.  Members of the suppressed religious communities were to abandon their abbeys and dress as lay people.  In 1794 authorities arrested and convicted sixteen Carmelites from the abbey at Compiègne; they had violated the law and were allegedly enemies of the people and the republic.  The sixteen Carmelites were twelve nuns, two lay women servants, a lay sister, and a novice.  In Paris, on July 17, 1794, they went to the guillotine publicly chanting the Veni Creator Spiritus and renewing their baptismal and religious vows.

The nuns were:

  1. Blessed Angelique Roussell, a.k.a. Sister Marie of the Holy Spirit,; born on August 3, 1742, in Fresne-Mazencourt, Somme; a nun since May 14, 1769;
  2. Blessed Anne Pelras, a.k.a. Sister Mary Henrietta of Providence; born on June 17, 1760, in Carjac; a nun since October 22, 1786;
  3. Blessed Anne-Marie-Madeleine Thouret, a.k.a. Sister Charlotte of the Resurrection; born on September 16, 1715, in Mouy; a nun since August 19, 1740;
  4. Blessed Élisabeth-Julitte Vérolet, a.k.a. Sister Saint Francis Xavier; born on January 13, 1764, in Lignières, Aube; a nun since January 12, 1789;
  5. Blessed Marie Henniset, a.k.a. Sister Thérèse of the Heart of Mary; born on January 18, 1742, in Rheims, Marne; a nun since 1764;
  6. Blessed Marie-Anne Piedcourt; a.k.a. Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified; born on December 9, 1715, in Paris; a nun since 1737;
  7. Blessed Marie-Anne-Françoise Brideau, a.k.a. Mother Saint Louis; Sub-Prioress; born on December 7, 1751, in Belfort;
  8. Blessed Marie-Claude-Cyprienne Brard, a.k.a. Sister Euphrasie of the Immaculate Conception; born in 1736 in Bourth; a nun since 1757;
  9. Blessed Marie-Françoise de Croissy, a.k.a. Mother Henriette of Jesus; Prioress, 1779-1785; born on June 18, 1745, in Paris; a nun since February 22, 1764;
  10. Blessed Marie-Gabrielle Trezel, a.k.a Sister Thérèse of Saint Ignatius; born on April 4, 1743, in Compiègne, Olse; a nun since December 12, 1771;
  11. Blessed Marie-Madeleine-Claudine Lidoine, a.k.a. Mother Thérèse of Saint Augustine; Prioress; born on September 22, 1752, in Paris; a nun since May 1775; and
  12. Blessed Rose-Chretien de Neuville, a.k.a. Sister Julia Louise of Jesus; born in 1741 near Evreax; a nun since 1777.

Blessed Marie-Geneviève Meunier, a.k.a. Sister Constance, born on May 28, 1765, in Saint Denis, had been a novice since December 16, 1788.  She sang the Laudate Dominum as she went to the guillotine.

Blessed Marie Dufour, a.k.a. Sister Saint Martha, born on October 2, 1741, in Bannes, Sarthe, had been a lay sister since 1772.

Two sisters (literally sisters) were lay women among the martyrs.  Blessed Catherine Soiron (born on February 2, 1742) and Blessed Thérèse Soiron (born on January 23, 1748), natives of Compiègne, had handled the cloistered nuns’ business with the outside world since 1772.

Pope St. Pius X declared these women Venerables in 1905 then Blesseds the following year.

Can anyone genuinely doubt the sincerity and holiness of these martyrs?








Almighty God, by whose grace and power your holy martyrs

the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne

triumphed over suffering, and were faithful even to death:

Grant us, who now remember them in thanksgiving,

to be so faithful in our witness to you in this world,

that we may receive and receive with them the crown on life;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with

you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 51:1-12

Psalm 116 or 116:1-8

Revelation 7:13-17

Luke 12:2-12

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 714


Feast of St. Nerses Lampronats (July 17)   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, a.k.a. Little Armenia or Lesser Armenia (1198-1375)

Image in the Public Domain



Armenian Apostolic Archbishop of Tarsus

A brief tutorial of parts of Armenian history is essential.  This is hardly a comprehensive list of Armenian political stages to 1375, but it is what I have cobbled together with the help of the 1962 Encyclopedia Americana, the 1968 Encyclopedia Britannica, and Jeremy Black’s World History Atlas (London, UK:  Dorling Kindersley, 1999).


Territory of the Persian Empire (550-331 BCE)

Territory of the Macedonian Empire (331-323 BCE)

Territory of the Seleucid Empire (323-190 BCE)

Kingdom of (Greater) Armenia and states it subsumed (190 BCE-429 CE)

Roman-Sassanid Partition (387)

Territory of the Roman/Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire (387-641)

Territory of the Sassanid (Persian) Empire (387-641)

Territory of the Islamic Empire (641-885)

Kingdom of (Greater) Armenia–Bagratid Dynasty (885-1045)

Kingdom of Vaspurakan–Ardsrunid Dynasty (914-1022)

Territory of the Byzantine Empire (1045-1157)

Territory of the Great Seljuk (Turkish-Persian) Empire (1157-1235)

Mongolian Invasion and Conquest (1235)


Founded by Refugees from Greater Armenia

Principality of Cilicia (1080-1198)

Kingdom of Cilicia (1198-1375)

Egyptian Mamluk Invasion and Conquest

Our story occurs in Ciclica/Little Armenia/Lesser Armenia.

St. Nerses Lampronats (1153-1198) came from Lampron, Cilicia.  Educated at Skeyra Monastery, he became a noted theologian, biblical scholar, and linguist expert in Greek, Coptic, Latin, and Syriac.  Ordained in 1169, after the death of his father, the saint lived as a hermit before becoming Archbishop of Tarsus in 1176.  He translated many texts into Armenian.  These texts included the Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great and the Rule of St. Benedict of Nursia.  He also wrote hagiographies of desert saints, texts of hymns, treatises on liturgy, and commentaries on the Bible.

The saint favored the union of the Armenian Apostolic Church with the Roman Catholic Church.  He worked for that union for years, and died on July 14, 1198, six months after witnessing its culmination.  That union, more theoretical than actual, ended with the Mamluk invasion and the fall of the kingdom in 1375.

I like intellectual saints.  I recall one of my father’s parishioners in a rural southern Georgia (U.S.A.) United Methodist church.  (Please do not tar The United Methodist Church as a whole; the denomination is more progressive and intellectual than many of its members in the South Georgia Conference.)  This gentleman, over lunch at his house one day, criticized intellectuals in general.  Such intelligent people, he said, had a type of faith inferior to that of non-intellectuals, such as my host.  In other words, dummies have superior faith, according to this gentleman.  I said nothing.  I disagreed, of course, but I was a courteous lunch guest.

As an Episcopalian, I acknowledge the invaluable role of reason in faith life.  It is part of Richard Hooker’s Three-Legged Stool, which is really closer to a tricycle.  The human intellect is one element of the image of God.  If I am supposed to honor God with my whole being, that mandate includes my intellect.  To be blunt, the church is not supposed to be Holy Morons R Us, regardless of which see with whom is in communion.






Almighty God, your Holy Spirit gives to one the word of knowledge,

and to another the insight of wisdom,

and to another the steadfastness of faith.

We praise you for the gifts of grace imparted to your servant Saint Nerses Lampronats,

and we pray that by his teaching we may be led a fuller knowledge of the truth

we have seen in your Son Jesus, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Proverbs 3:1-7 or Wisdom of Solomon 7:7-14

Psalm 119:89-104

1 Corinthians 2:6-10, 13-16 or 1 Corinthians 3:5-11

John 17:18-23 or Matthew 13:47-52

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 61

Saints’ Days and Holy Days for July   Leave a comment

Water Lily

Image Source = AkkiDa

1 (Lyman Beecher, U.S. Congregationalist and Presbyterian Minister, and Abolitionist; father of Harriet Beecher Stowe, U.S. Novelist, Hymn Writer, and Abolitionist; sister of Henry Ward Beecher, U.S. Presbyterian and Congregationalist Minister, and Abolitionist)

  • Catherine Winkworth, Translator of Hymns; and John Mason Neale, Anglican Priest, Hymn Writer, and Hymn Translator
  • John Chandler, Anglican Priest, Scholar, and Translator of Hymns
  • Pauli Murray, Civil Rights Attorney and Episcopal Priest

2 (Washington Gladden, U.S. Congregationalist Minister, Hymn Writer, and Social Reformer)

  • Ferdinand Quincy Blanchard, U.S. Congregationalist Minister and Hymn Writer
  • Henry Montagu Butler, Educator, Scholar, and Anglican Priest
  • Jacques Fermin, Roman Catholic Missionary Priest

3 (Flavian and Anatolius of Constantinople, Patriarchs; and Agatho, Leo II, and Benedict II, Bishops of Rome; Defenders of Christological Orthodoxy)

  • Charles Albert Dickinson, U.S. Congregationalist Minister and Hymn Writer
  • Immanuel Nitschmann, German-American Moravian Minister and Musician; his brother-in-law, Jacob Van Vleck, U.S. Moravian Bishop, Musician, Composer, and Educator; his son, William Henry Van Vleck, U.S. Moravian Bishop; his brother, Carl Anton Van Vleck, U.S. Moravian Minister, Musician, Composer, and Educator; his daughter, Lisette (Lizetta) Maria Van Vleck Meinung; and her sister, Amelia Adelaide Van Vleck, U.S. Moravian Composer and Educator
  • John Cennick, British Moravian Evangelist and Hymn Writer

4 (Independence Day (U.S.A.))

  • Adalbero and Ulric of Augsburg, Roman Catholic Bishops
  • Elizabeth of Portugal, Queen and Peacemaker
  • Pier Giorgio Frassati, Italian Roman Catholic Servant of the Poor and Opponent of Fascism

5 (Anthony Mary Zaccaria, Founder of the Barnabites and the Angelic Sisters of Saint Paul)

  • Georges Bernanos, French Roman Catholic Novelist
  • Hulda Niebuhr, Christian Educator; her brothers, H. Richard Niebuhr and Reinhold Niebuhr, United Church of Christ Theologians; and Ursula Niebuhr, Episcopal Theologian
  • Joseph Boissel, French Roman Catholic Missionary Priest and Martyr in Laos, 1969

6 (John Wycliffe and Jan Hus, Reformers of the Church)

  • George Duffield, Jr., and his son, Samuel Duffield, U.S. Presbyterian Ministers and Hymn Writers
  • Henry Thomas Smart, English Organist and Composer
  • Oluf Hanson Smeby, U.S. Lutheran Minister and Hymn Writer

7 (Josiah Conder, English Journalist and Congregationalist Hymn Writer; and his son, Eustace Conder, English Congregationalist Minister and Hymn Writer)

  • Francis Florentine Hagen, U.S. Moravian Minister and Composer
  • Hedda of Wessex, Roman Catholic Bishop
  • Ralph Milner, Roger Dickinson, and Lawrence Humphrey, English Roman Catholic Martyrs, 1591

8 (Gerald Ford, President of the United States of America and Agent of National Healing; and Betty Ford, First Lady of the United States of America and Advocate for Social Justice)

  • Albert Rhett Stuart, Episcopal Bishop of Georgia and Advocate for Civil Rights
  • Georg Neumark, German Lutheran Poet and Hymn Writer
  • Giovanni Battista Bononcini and Antonio Maria Bononcini, Italian Composers

9 (Johann Rudolph Ahle and Johann Georg Ahle, German Lutheran Organists and Composers)

  • Johann Scheffler, Roman Catholic Priest, Poet, and Hymn Writer
  • Martyrs of Gorkum, Holland, 1572
  • Robert Grant, British Member of Parliament and Hymn Writer

10 (Augustus Tolton, Pioneering African-American Roman Catholic Priest in the United States of America)

  • Eumenios and Parthenios of Koudoumas, Monks and Founders of Koudoumas Monastery, Crete
  • Myles Horton, “Father of the Civil Rights Movement”
  • Rued Langgaard, Danish Composer

11 (Nathan Söderblom, Swedish Ecumenist and Archbishop of Uppsala)

  • David Gonson, English Roman Catholic Martyr, 1541
  • John Gualbert, Founder of the Vallombrosan Benedictines
  • Thomas Sprott and Thomas Hunt, English Roman Catholic Priests and Martyrs, 1600


13 (Clifford Bax, Poet, Playwright, and Hymn Writer)

  • Eugenius of Carthage, Roman Catholic Bishop
  • Johannes Renatus Verbeek, Moravian Minister and Composer
  • Peter Ricksecker, U.S. Moravian Minister, Missionary, Musician, Music Educator, and Composer; student of Johann Christian Bechler, Moravian Minister, Musician, Music Educator, and Composer; father of Julius Theodore Bechler, U.S. Moravian Minister, Musician, Educator, and Composer

14 (Justin de Jacobis, Roman Catholic Missionary Bishop in Ethiopia; and Michael Ghebre, Ethiopian Roman Catholic Priest and Martyr)

  • Camillus de Lellis, Italian Roman Catholic Priest and Founder of the Ministers of the Sick
  • Matthew Bridges, Hymn Writer
  • Samson Occom, U.S. Presbyterian Missionary to Native Americans

15 (Bonaventure, Second Founder of the Order of Friars Minor)

  • Athanasius I of Naples, Roman Catholic Bishop
  • Duncan Montgomery Gray, Sr.; and his son, Duncan Montgomery Gray, Jr.; Episcopal Bishops of Mississippi and Advocates for Civil Rights
  • Swithun, Roman Catholic Bishop of Winchester

16 (Righteous Gentiles)

  • George Alfred Taylor Rygh, U.S. Lutheran Minister and Hymn Translator
  • George Tyrrell, Irish Roman Catholic Modernist Theologian and Alleged Heretic
  • Mary Magdalen Postel, Founder of the Poor Daughters of Mercy

17 (William White, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church)

  • Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne, 1794
  • Bennett J. Sims, Episcopal Bishop of Atlanta
  • Nerses Lampronats, Armenian Apostolic Archbishop of Tarsus

18 (Bartholome de Las Casas, “Apostle to the Indians”)

  • Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, Anglican Dean of Westminster and Hymn Writer
  • Edward William Leinbach, U.S. Moravian Musician and Composer
  • Elizabeth Ferard, First Deaconess in The Church of England

19 (John Hines, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church)

  • John Plessington, Roman Catholic Priest and Martyr
  • Józef Puchala, Polish Roman Catholic Franciscan Friar, Priest, and Martyr
  • Poemen, Roman Catholic Abbot; and John the Dwarf and Arsenius the Great, Roman Catholic Monks

20 (Leo XIII, Bishop of Rome)

  • Ansegisus of Fontanelle, Roman Catholic Abbot
  • Flavian II of Antioch and Elias of Jerusalem, Roman Catholic Patriarchs
  • Samuel Hanson Cox, U.S. Presbyterian Minister and Abolitionist; and his son, Arthur Cleveland Coxe, Episcopal Bishop of Western New York, Hymn Writer, and Translator of Hymns

21 (Albert John Luthuli, Witness for Civil Rights in South Africa)

  • Amalie Wilhemine Sieveking, Foundress of the Woman’s Association for the Care of the Poor and Invalids
  • J. B. Phillips, Anglican Priest, Theologian, and Bible Translator
  • Wastrada; her son, Gregory of Utrecht, Roman Catholic Bishop of Utrecht; and his nephew, Alberic of Utrecht, Roman Catholic Bishop of Utrecht


23 (Bridget of Sweden, Founder of the Order of the Most Holy Savior; and her daughter, Catherine of Sweden, Superior of the Order of the Most Holy Savior)

  • Adelaide Teague Case, Professor of Religious Education
  • Philip Evans and John Lloyd, Roman Catholic Priests and Martyrs
  • Theodor Liley Clemens, English Moravian Minister, Missionary, and Composer

24 (Thomas à Kempis, Roman Catholic Monk, Priest, and Spiritual Writer)

  • John Newton, Anglican Priest and Hymn Writer
  • Walter Rauschenbusch, U.S. Baptist Minister and Theologian of the Social Gospel
  • Vincentia Gerosa and Bartholomea Capitanio, Cofounders of the Sisters of Charity of Lovere



27 (Brooke Foss Westcott, Anglican Scholar, Bible Translator, and Bishop of Durham; and Fenton John Anthony Hort, Anglican Priest and Scholar)

  • Christian Henry Bateman, Anglican Priest and Hymn Writer
  • Johan Nordahl Brun, Norwegian Lutheran Bishop, Author, and Hymn Writer
  • William Reed Huntington, Episcopal Priest and Renewer of the Church; and his grandson, William Reed Huntington, U.S. Architect and Quaker Peace Activist

28 (Flora MacDonald, Canadian Stateswoman and Humanitarian)

  • Antonio Vivaldi, Italian Roman Catholic Priest, Composer, and Violinist
  • Nancy Byrd Turner, Poet, Editor, and Hymn Writer
  • Pioneering Female Episcopal Priests, 1974 and 1975


30 (Clarence Jordan, Southern Baptist Minister and Witness for Civil Rights)

  • Peter Chrysologus, Roman Catholic Bishop of Ravenna and Defender of Orthodoxy
  • Vicenta Chávez Orozco, Foundress of the Servants of the Holy Trinity and the Poor
  • William Pinchon, Roman Catholic Bishop

31 (Ignatius of Loyola, Founder of the Society of Jesus)

  • Franz Liszt, Hungarian Composer and Pianist, and Roman Catholic Priest
  • Horatius Bonar, Scottish Presbyterian Minister and Hymn Writer
  • Marcel Denis, French Roman Catholic Priest and Martyr in Laos, 1961


Lowercase boldface on a date with two or more commemorations indicates a primary feast.

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