To thine own true self, be


                                 / John Henry Hobart

As the fledgling Episcopal Church, newly independent from the Church of England, staggered along, the first Presiding Bishop, William White, wondered in print whether the church would survive. While he was writing this, God was raising up a singular fellow whose faith, power of intellect, gifts of organization, teaching, preaching, and enormous energy would be put in service to reverse the flagging fortunes of the church.

His name was John Henry Hobart. Here is perhaps the best brief bio on the web. Thanks to Project Canterbury, a large collections of his writings can be found here.

Why “the greatest Episcopalian”? First, I should say, in our eyes: that is, viewed through the lens of human history and achievement. The truly greatest Episcopalian is probably someone no one remembers here on Earth, but who is well known to the angels, archangels and all the company of heaven as our church’s greatest saint.

But without Hobart, all sorts of things would not have happened: the first diocese created after the founding of the church—meaning missionary expansion; the founding of the first seminary; the building up of Trinity Church, New York, perhaps our most influential parish today; the first strong bishop-leader of the second generation of Episcopal bishops; the theological founding of what came to be known as the Oxford Movement; and a genuine example of a saintly and effective bishop in the early American experience. Before Hobart, our church was comprised of just a few shaky parishes and virtually-inactive bishops, on the whole. After Hobart, the energetic church we know first came to light.

Hobart like all of us had flaws. He was not an ecumenist. He was a workaholic who worked himself to death. &c. But all saints have flaws. It is a vital part of being a saint!

But what we should think of today, his feast, is that when all seemed lost even to its founding father, God did not leave The Episcopal Church comfortless. Even as Bishop White penned his gloomy words, the Holy Spirit had already raised up the needed man.

What was true then, is true now. We can never despair over the Church. Even when all seems lost, nothing is lost to the Holy Trinity. In the end, as Bishop Hobart knew so well, and put into practice, the future belongs to God—always. And so does Jesus’ Church. And the Holy Spirit will provide (though as usual, it will seem just at the last minute…)

Do not lost heart! Take courage, pray with me the collect for this day, and then come, labor on.

Revive your Church, Lord God of hosts, whenever it falls into complacency and sloth, by raising up devoted leaders, like your servant John Henry Hobart whom we remember this day; and grant that their faith and vigor of mind may awaken your people to your message and their mission; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.