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A Warm January: Part 1
The Installation of the 25th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America
10 January 1998

by Cynthia McFarland

Even in Washington D.C., where the month of January can be reasonably temperate, one couldn't help but notice it. The weather: extraordinarily balmy and spring-like, prompting out-of-season blooms from the famous cherry blossom trees and yellow splashes from the odd forsythia bush. And thank goodness for that weather: by 9.15am, 45 minutes before the doors would be opened, the queues of ticket holders in front of the National Cathedral's three west doors were enormous. Although I'm not deft at estimating numbers, I should say that each queue had at least between 300 and 400 people. I tried to imagine what the scene would have been like had it been drizzling cold rain or wet snow, and it was not appealing.

As it was, no-one seemed to mind the waiting, and everyone I chatted with was, well, jolly. After all, they had tickets to the installation of the 25th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the USA. The cathedral holds nearly 4,000, but the demand was quite fierce. Everyone who wanted to go couldn't.

The Altar
The Altar

Credit: Cynthia McFarland

9.30am: the media balcony
As a member of the media, I was instructed to bypass the west entrances and to be prepared to present my credentials inside the south transept entrance. On the south side, a large lorry with cables issuing from various parts of it was solidly parked against the kerb, and doughty-looking men, all with their 'production crew' badges, hung about laughing and talking. Confused momentarily about which door to enter, I was directed summarily by a few of the crew. Entering, I was fully expected to present a driver's licence or other photographic identification, but I merely gave my name and was handed my round-the-neck badge.

It was early still, perhaps 9.35am. The cathedral was sparsely dotted with ushers and various official people. Members of the Cathedral flower guild were spritzing the various floral arrangements clustered here and there on pillars. (For those interested, the standing floor arrangements were composed of all white flowers: Casablanca lilies, tulips, lilacs, gerbera daisies, hybrid tea roses, and plentiful greens.) Television monitors in front of the huge stone pillars of the nave alternated oddly with flower arrangements, to enable the crowd to see parts of the service otherwise invisible.

I ascended the twisting narrow stone staircase to the south transept balcony, where the media were assigned to sit, and as I climbed I imagined the chagrin of production crews required to haul heavy television cameras and accessories up thesame way. There were a handful of people in the balcony, mostly, it appeared, representing various diocesan publications. Several photocopied signs proclaimed: 'Please turn off pagers and phones'. A large television camera, already in place, jutted over the railing. In a clear line of sight from our balcony was the altar, purpose-built for the occasion just in front of the rood screen. I put my low-tech paraphernalia on a chair (notebook, sketch pad) and returned down the stairway to wander about.

9.40am: On the floor of the nave
There was general consternation about the lack of printed
service booklets. 'They're due to arrive at 10am', hissed one official-looking woman to another. And when they did arrive, still in their cardboard boxes, greater consternation arose. A plucky but somewhat dismayed usher, natty in navy blue suit and white carnation, whispered sotto voce, 'We're not going to have enough. We wanted 5,000, and New York authorised only 4,500. Not everyone will get one.' He looked as if he knew he was a man in for a seriously trying time. And indeed as the Cathedral doors were opened at 10am, the dignified but awesome rush towards the nave all but blasted away the ushers. I stood at the back of the nave near the west doors to observe the crush of people streaming in. The group was, perhaps not surprisingly, overwhelmingly white. There were few hats on men or women (I counted three women and one man with this item.) There was virtually no fur in evidence, surely a change from the American Episcopal Church some decades ago. The clothing was, well, mostly Anglican: neat, well-tailored, with men in dark suits and women in subdued attractive dresses or suits; not much 1970s retro fashion going on here. There were almost no teenagers or older children that I could see. The median age? Perhaps 55.

Some of the ushers, pressed upon from all sides, became more agitated. One whipped out his walky-talky (how does one spell that?) and uttered in a modulated but somewhat frantic voice, 'Sarah, Sarah, we need ushers on the north side NOW. With programmes. We can't handle this crowd'.

As the ushers tried to cope, the crowd tried to find the best seats. The choice parts of the nave were filling fast. Small groups hoping to sit together disconsolately parted. 'Where do the wives of bishops sit?' enquired a woman to an usher. She seemed pleased to learn that some parts of the cathedral had been set aside for worthies of various sorts. Another person, spotting an acquaintance in the penultimate row of the nave, look puzzled at his choice of seat. 'I sat here because the next to the last row gives us an easy escape route', his friend replied somewhat smugly. That's Anglicans for you: strategic planners. Other snippets of pre-service conversation: 'Right, did you get it? It's A-O-L dot com', 'Isn't this fun?', 'I couldn't believe I found a place to park the car just a block away', and by a weary looking man to his companion, 'Oh, let's just find a place to stand'.

10.20am: the music begins
The faint bells of the carillon began chiming about 10.20am. Gentle and audially non-intrusive, they did little to quiet what was slowly becoming a pronounced roar from almost 4,000 people chatting with one another. There was still much dignified scurrying about, and by now the nave was almost completely filled.

I decided it was best to return to the south transept balcony, and found it almost filled with media and selected guests. Even more television cameras and tv crews had shown up and the open trefoils of the balcony rail were crisscrossed with thick cables, and the floor littered with them as well. We had our own private television monitor, and reporters and journalists unfamiliar with the nature of the service could request earphones to hear whispered commentary on every aspect of the service. A media packet was distributed, containing nine news releases from the National Cathedral press office and Episcopal News Service with everything from facts about the Cathedral ('The Cathedral's central tower is as tall as a thirty-storey building') to 'General Information and Statistics of the Episcopal Church ('Parishes and missions in U.S. dioceses: 7,417').

As we waited, I peered over the railing and noticed an increase in the number of official-looking women with walkie-talkies, most of whom seemed to be wearing black stockings. (Surely a coincidence and not a planned uniform.) A large Native American drum, surrounded incongruously by five blue plastic folding chairs, was positioned on the red carpet directly in front of the imposing purpose-built altar. I must confess my first (perhaps uncharitable) thought was, 'Oh no... Whatever this will be about, I doubt whether it will work'. What did appear to work at the time were the white flowers, in two double-helix sorts of arrangement climbing ivy-like up the two centre wooden columns of the rood screen. One blue-robed and white-cotta'ed choir had taken its place on the floor of the nave directly under our balcony, and another burgundy-robed and white-cotta'ed choir had appeared in the balcony of the north transept. (For specific information on all the groups and people participating in the service, please see the
Order of Service.) A choir sang a selection of mostly traditional anthems, and I found the sound mostly thin and insubstantial over the crowd's dull roar. I wondered whether the choirs had been instructed to keep their volume very low and I also wondered what was going to quiet the talkative assembly. At about 10.45am, three trumpeters walked smartly into view, one taking his place in the pulpit, one at the lectern, and one standing in between them in the aisle, each standing with trumpet clasped in both hands at waist level. Shortly the Britten St Edmundsbury fanfare sounded, sharp and clear and triumphant. Another set of quiet anthems followed. The first note of the Cathedral organ sounded at 10.53am, and about this time five Native Americans came in and hid the incongruous plastic chairs round the drum. They looked contemplative.

11am: the service starts
An introit by the Cathedral boys choir was a signal for many of the liturgical participants to enter and at last the crowd began to quiet itself. The girl's choir followed with a canticle, and then the Native Americans, poised to strike the drum with substantial drumsticks, began their 'Song of Welcome'. Whatever worries I had about the appropriateness vanished in seconds. The drummers, rapt and concentrated, filled the vaulting spaces of the cathedral with their rhythmic sound and the intense chant which shortly accompanied the beating seemed unquestionably right. The drumming seemed to encapsulate the almost palpable sense of expectation of the now filled-to-capacity cathedral. As the drumming and chanting finished -- with the reverberation in the air for several seconds after -- from every corner of the cathedral groups processed towards to the west doors where the next presiding bishop would enter.

From the high altar came a crucifer and torch bearers preceding former Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning, the Bishop of Washington, the Dean of the Cathedral, and the President of the House of Deputies. The House of Bishops, divided apparently in half, entered from opposite sides. (I noticed one zucchetto, but couldn't identify the bishop.) Each processing group was led by streamers fastened on the end of perhaps 20-foot long thin poles. Although odd sounding, when carried in procession the streamers float and fly delicately and impressively. Each group had a particular colour: the House of Bishops got streamers of purple and magenta and the Deacons of Communion got streamers of white and claret. (Really, the programme says claret.) When all the groups at last converged at the west doors and stood still, Bishop Griswold banged firmly on the door with the end of his crozier, which all could see on the telly monitors. The knock was audible -- apparently miked -- and when the door was opened, another bright trumpet fanfare rang and echoed through the vaulted space.


One of the many processions
Credit: Episcopal News Service

The formal proclamations and responses began, and the spokeswoman from the Diocese of Chicago poignantly said:

With pride, affection, and gratitude for his ministry with us, we joyfully send him forth from our diocese to answer the call to serve our national Church as our Twenty-fifth Presiding Bishop.

After a short series of questions and responses, the Bishop Browing asked: 'My brothers and sisters, will you who witness this new beginning do all in your power to support and uphold Frank in this ministry?'

The shouted response 'WE WILL' followed instantly and filled the cathedral with its echo. The various parties then processed to the altar to Salzburg, the hymn 'Songs of Thankfulness and Praise', the great organ swelling to almost deafening level.

The incorporation in the service of many faith traditions and denominations was moving. Perhaps most unusual was representatives from the Muslim and Jewish communities presenting the Koran and the Torah. After this followed the Greek Orthodox archbishop presenting an Icon of the Holy Trinity, which Bishop Griswold kissed and touched with his forehead and a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church presenting the Book of Blessing from the Roman Ritual. The presentations and gifts continued, and most of the crowd was able to see otherwise hidden detail on the television monitors. In the media balcony most of the secular crew and camera people were focussed and attentive.

The bread for the Eucharist was loaves made by the 'Bread Bakers' Guild of Saint Martin in the Fields' (Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania), a former parish of Bishop Griswold's before he was called to Chicago. The wine was a gift of the National Cathedral.

The transfer of the primatial staff
At last the time came for the primatial staff to be transferred to the new Presiding Bishop. With a soft but clear voice, Bishop Browning said:

Frank, receive this pastoral staff, the symbol of your authority as Presiding Bishop, Primate and Chief Pastor of the Episcopal Church, and lead us in witness to the world that authority and true joy come only through walking the way of the cross with Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Bishop Griswold responded: 'My sisters and brothers, may God renew in us today the willingness to die daily to self so that we may rise daily to a new life of in the Risen Christ'.

The chorused 'AMEN' resounded through the cathedral, and when Bishop Browning said 'Greet your Presiding Bishop', deafening applause continued for several minutes over Douglas Major's 'Primatial Fanfares'.


Bishop Griswold delivering his homily

Credit: Episcopal News Service

And so the service moved into the Liturgy of the Word, and the familiar pattern of the Eucharist began. When it came time for the reading of the Gospel, the Zimbabwe Alleluia, a simple and bright chant was joined in by the entire assembly. In processing to the pulpit the Reverend Elizabeth Colton, the deacon chosen to read the gospel, well, swayed rythmically. If that seems odd in print it was strangely moving and effective to see. She held the Gospels high over her head with both hands and gently swayed in her walk round the altar to the pulpit, moving the Book slightly back and forth. She seemed as if she were silently saying 'I have Good News, watch, listen'. The Zimbabwe Alleluia , chanted briefly again following the Gospel, prefaced the new Presiding Bishop's homily.

Bishop Griswold is a polished speaker: clear, resonant, and deliberate. His homily spoke primarily to what he saw as his vocation in taking on the mantle of Presiding Bishop of ECUSA: 'Rebuild the Church'. He wove his understanding of that task into a recent visit he made to Assisi, Italy and spoke with passion on his extended period of meditation before the cross that spoke to St Francis.

The service then moved into the 'Renewal of the Baptismal Convenant', which took place at the purpose-built font in the centre aisle towards the western end of the cathedral. After the water was blessed and the Baptismal Convenant joined in, the Presiding Bishop and other bishops moved through the entire cathedral asperging the enormous crowd, dipping small bundles of what looked like tied boxwood clippings into bowls of water held by attending deacons. Whether most of the assembly was used to the custom of asperges I cannot say, although I would suspect it is not a usual part of services at the National Cathedral.

As I watched the bishops fan out through the crowd, I wondered whether we in the media balcony would be remembered. Indeed in a few minutes a bishop appeared, stepped round the cables, and briskly waved his boxwood about. If the CNN cameramen directly in front of me were startled by being sprinkled with holy water, they didn't show it.

To Part 2

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