“Apostolic Succession”

Today the church remembers St. Matthias, the J.V. player who was put in off the bench by the eleven remaining disciples to round out their player roster when Judas chose to take himself out of the game. They looked around for one who had been on the team (though not first-string) throughout the season and had the basic skills set necessary to do the job.

They actually came up with two possibilities and, just like in the Iowa Caucuses in case of a tie, decided to flip a coin to see who might actually get in the game. Matthias won the toss — and there begins the process the church calls “apostolic succession.”

One Sunday in 1988, this story from the Acts of the Apostles appeared in the Episcopal Church’s lectionary on one spring Sunday. The day before, I had received a call from the 7th Bishop of Iowa and the Diocesan Convention that I had been elected Bishop Coadjutor on the fourth ballot of their episcopal election.

Knowing that I would be receiving a phone call on the Saturday informing me one way or the other whether I would be leaving my post as rector of St.Mark’s Church in Cocoa, Florida, I had actually prepared two sermons for that Sunday — one in which I imaginatively saw myself as Joseph Barsabbas who had “lost” the apostolic election; the other envisioning myself as Matthias, the “lucky winner.”

Happily, I was able to preach the latter sermon and receive the tearful, standing ovation of a congregation I had come to know and love over the years. I will always be thankful for the Christian community of St. Mark who honed and refined some of the “skills set” I would need to carry out the life and work of a bishop for the next thirty years or so!

And I will be eternally grateful to the people of the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa who trusted me enough to permit me to serve them as bishop for thirteen years, then allowed me to accept the Presiding Bishop’s call to leave them and serve as Deputy for Ecumenical and Inter-religious Relations for another nine.

It is a joy to be back among these faithful people in retirement and to help out where I can “around the edges.” They are the true examples of “apostolic succession.” I was just privileged to accompany them for a while on the journey!



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