Yesterday I had the pleasure of witnessing the ordination and consecration of Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, eleventh bishop of the Diocese of Indianapolis, 111th bishop of the Episcopal Church, first black female diocesan bishop, and first female bishop to succeed a female bishop. I’ve witnessed many consecrations, three which were met with descending voices. But this beloved friend was welcomed only with joy, hope and enthusiasm for the ministry to which she has been called. But I must admit I found myself in an unusual spiritual state as I worshiped through the music, the prayers and the solemnity of the service. I wasn’t sure if the feeling was because this was a dear friend or because I’ve been recently introduced to theology. I couldn’t quite articulate the it until the sermon started and the preacher named it; I was witnessing a sacrament.
The preacher, the Rt. Rev. Jeffery Lee, Bishop of Chicago, asked us to verbally recall the definition of a sacrament from the catechism of the Episcopal Church. He explained that ordination/consecration of a bishop is a sacrament and since confirmation was many years in the past for most of the congregation, he guided us as we recited, “A sacrament is an outward sign, of an inward and spiritual grace.” I was asked the same question on my Introduction to Theology final exam. I used the Augustine response (the same result), “a visible sign of an invisible grace.” I looked deeper into the meaning of “grace.” The Greek translation is, “a mystery.” The Book of Common Prayer states, “Grace is God’s favor towards us, unearned and underserved.” I say, “Grace is God’s unconditional, undeserving and unearned love for us.”
The consecration occurs through the power of the Holy Spirit. And as the choir beckoned the Spirit by chatting, Veni Santcte Spiritus (come Holy Spirit), beginning with the bass voices leaving a path for the tenors, altos and sopranos to follow, I was overwhelmed. The attending bishops gathered around and laid their hands on her in apostolic session (uninterrupted passing of authority traced back two thousand years to Christ laying hands on the disciples) consecrating her a bishop. The room was filled with this mysterious unmerited love. I was witness to and spiritually aware of God’s grace in action.
I encourage you to open yourself to the power of the Holy Spirit for the mysterious occurrences of “grace” in your life.