Samuel Seabury, the first bishop in the Protestant Episcopal Church, was born in Groton, Connecticut, on the thirtieth of November 1729. After ordination in England in 1753, he was assigned to Christ Church, New Brunswick, New Jersey as a missionary for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. In 1757, he become rector of Grace Church, Jamaica, Long Island, and in 1766 rector of St Peter’s, Westchester County. During the American War for Independence, he remained loyal to the Crown and served as a chaplain in the British army.
After the War, a number of Connecticut clergymen, meeting in secret on the twenty-fifth of March 1783 named Seabury or Jeremiah Leaming, whoever would be willing and able, to seek episcopal consecration in England. Leaming declined, while Seabury accepted and set sail for England.
After a year of negotiation, Seabury found it impossible to obtain episcopal orders from the Church of England because, as an American citizen, he could not swear allegiance to the Crown. On the advice of Martin Routh, a young professor and patristics scholar at Magdalen College, Oxford, Seabury did not then seek consecration at the hands of bishops in the Church of Denmark as he had initially considered, because of the irregularity of their succession (Routh also counseled against going to the Churches of Norway and of Sweden). Seabury then turned to the Non-Juring bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and on the twenty-fourth of November 1784, in Aberdeen, he was consecrated by the bishop and the bishop coadjutor of Aberdeen and the bishop of Ross and Caithness, in the presence of a number of clergy and laity.
On his return home, Seabury was recognized as Bishop of Connecticut in Convocation on the third of August 1785 at Middletown. While serving setting the Church in Connecticut in order, White also responded to appeals from parishes in Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey to help set the Church in order in those states, being as they were at the time without bishops or diocesan organization. With William White, the Bishop of Pennsylvania (whose was able to obtain consecration at the hands of English bishops because of a parliamentary change in the law regarding the oath of allegiance to the Crown), he was active in the organization of the Protestant Episcopal Church at the General Convention of 1789. Seabury played a decisive role in the development of the American Book of Common Prayer, when he kept his promise, made in a concordat with the Scottish bishops, to move the American Church to adopt the Scottish form for the celebration of the Holy Communion, with the restoration of the epiclesis, the prayer for the Holy Spirit, to the eucharistic prayer, as well as the prayer of oblation after the Words of Institution and the epiclesis, which had disappeared form the prayer of consecration in English Prayer Books after the first (1549) version. Hence to this day it is customary to speak of this as the Scoto-American tradition of the shape of Prayer Book eucharistic prayers.
In 1790 Seabury became responsible for the episcopal oversight of the churches in Rhode Island, and at the General Convention of 1792 he participated in the first consecration of a bishop on American soil, that of John Claggett of Maryland. Seabury died on the twenty-fifth of February 1796 and is buried beneath St James’ Church, New London.
prepared from Lesser Feasts and Fasts
and other sources
We give you thanks, O Lord our God, for your goodness in bestowing upon the Church in North America the gift of the episcopate, which we celebrate in this remembrance of the consecration of Samuel Seabury; and we pray that, joined together in unity with our bishops, and nourished by your holy Sacraments, we may proclaim the Gospel of redemption with apostolic zeal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The propers for the commemoration of the Consecration of Samuel Seabury, First Anglican Bishop in North America, are published on the Lectionary Page website.
This image of the Consecration of Samuel Seabury is of a mural by John de Rosen at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco.