And other interesting facts about the Consecration of an Episcopal Bishop
When the Rev. Dr. Shannon MacVean-Brown is consecrated as the 11th Episcopal Bishop of Vermont on September 28, she will join a line of apostolic succession that tradition holds is unbroken since the earliest days of the Christian church. She will kneel on the stage at Ira Allen Chapel, and more than 20 bishops will directly or indirectly lay their hands on her, in accordance with ancient tradition. She will be charged in prayer with “wisely overseeing the life and work of the Church.”
Having knelt as a bishop-elect, she will rise as the Rt. Rev. Shannon MacVean-Brown, the 1,122nd bishop of The Episcopal Church, and the first African American to serve as Bishop of Vermont. She will also be the first African American woman to serve as a “bishop diocesan” (a bishop in charge of a diocese) throughout the seven dioceses that make up the Episcopal Church in New England.
The entire Diocese of Vermont has been invited to participate in this momentous celebration, which is why a venue the size of Ira Allen Chapel was selected. Admission is free, but advance ticketing is required.
The Episcopal Church is headed by its bishops, rather than by a single authority such as a pope. Indeed, the word “episcopal” means “of or pertaining to bishops.” In the Episcopal Church, bishops are elected, not appointed.
The chief consecrator will be the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, who was elected to that office in 2015 for a single nine-year term. He caught the world’s attention when he preached at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19, 2018.
Among the co-consecrating bishops will be the Rt. Rev. Thomas C. Ely, Tenth Bishop of Vermont; the Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, Bishop of Indianapolis; the Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris, Bishop Suffragan of Massachusetts; the Rt. Rev. Chilton Knudsen, Eighth Bishop of Maine and Assisting Bishop of Washington; the Rt. Rev. Stewart Wood, Ninth Bishop of Michigan; the Rev. James Hazelwood, Bishop of the New England Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The Consecration service will feature a mix of traditional Episcopal hymns and Gospel music. As part of the ceremony the new bishop will be presented with symbols of her office, include a pectoral cross, purchased by donations from the people of the Diocese of Vermont and handmade by a Vermont jewely designer. The pectoral cross is worn by bishops not just in the liturgy, but also in the course of their daily work as a symbol of their office both to the Church and the world.
The transition of diocesan leadership will be symbolized by Bishop Ely handing the newly consecrated Bishop MacVean-Brown the bishop’s crozier, a stylized shepherd’s staff that evokes the role of Christ as the Good Shepherd.
The Consecration always includes the Holy Eucharist, at which the new bishop will preside. MacVean-Brown has selected her stepfather, the Rev. Canon Paul Ronald Spann, to give the sermon. The Rev. Spann is the assisting priest and director of the Spirituality Center at Christ Church, Grosse Pointe, Michigan,
The ordination of women in the Episcopal Church was approved in 1976 at the triennial General Convention. The first female bishop, the Rt. Rev. Barbara C. Harris, was consecrated in the Diocese of Massachusetts in 1989.
The first Bishop of the Episcopal Church, which split from the Church of England at the time of the American Revolution, was the Rt. Rev. Samuel Seabury. He was consecrated in 1784 by three bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church.
This article is based on “Celebrating the Consecration of an Episcopal Bishop” by Kirk Petersen. It has been updated for the Episcopal Church in Vermont with permission from the Episcopal Diocese of Newark and is provided for media reference only. Unauthorized copying, reproduction, or republication of this article is strictly prohibited.