09 January 2007

The bishop wore white...

Here I go, reminiscing again. Actually, a most unexpected news story is to blame for my meandering to past years. I happened to read about an upcoming wedding. What made it a somewhat startling story was the identity of the bride. That’s the unexpected part. The bride-to-be is the present bishop of my former Episcopal diocese.

I have to admit that as I tried to wrap my mind around it, I couldn’t help but remember the “old days” in the Diocese of Rhode Island (that’s a sure sign of creeping age, when someone starts in with “I remember back in my day…”). I couldn’t help it. I was taken back to the very end of the 1960’s when I was an undergraduate in Rhode Island. One of my professors was an Episcopal priest, and I was quite taken with him. He had plenty of time for a young student who had lots of questions, and before I knew it I decided to pursue ordination. He took me to see the bishop.

And what a bishop he was! The Right Reverend John Seville Higgins, D.D., was as close to a prince-bishop the Episcopal Church ever had. I can remember approaching the door of the Bishop’s House. Palatial as would be expected, we entered what seemed to be a sanctum sanctorum, and the bishop received us. I don’t remember much else about the place or the meeting, except for the strange feeling that I had been to see God. It wasn’t because of an overt feeling of holiness. It’s just that he had such dignity.

That’s what I thought of, when I read the story of the upcoming nuptials. Not that there’s anything wrong with a fifty-nine year old woman finding true love at last. I think it’s lovely. But when I think of the dignity that had defined the position she now holds, it’s somewhat disconcerting. When greeted by the likes of John Seville Higgins there was the feeling that he was the Ecclesia Anglicana personified. Not one’s maiden aunt who finally finds a gentleman friend, and is giddy with talking about wedding gowns.

Having come into the fullness of the Catholic faith by boarding the Barque of Peter, it is strange to look at that place which once was home, and to see how disheveled it has become. I have little cause to be concerned about things Episcopalian now that I am not part of it. But one cannot help but look back from time to time when hearing of such things as the bishop’s impending wedding. It causes me to recall Dr. Johnson’s famous description of a dog walking on its hind legs. “It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”

There is no great spiritual message here, nothing on which to meditate, nothing to lift one’s mind to the things of God. But it is interesting. The pity is, the Episcopal Church was once like a great lady. Not completely put together, mind you; not without her inconsistencies, and a bit dotty – but a great lady, certainly. To look at her now, though, is rather like finding the rector’s wife drunk in a gutter. One wants to look away, but one cannot help but glance at the sight, and perhaps offer a prayer for the old girl.