Beyond West 99th Street: Remembering Bishop Seabury (1729-1796)

On this day in the calendar of Lesser Feasts and Fasts, we remember Samuel Seabury, first bishop of the Episcopal Church, and we consider the connections between Seabury and St. Michael’s first two rectors, John Vanderbilt Bartow (rector: 1807-1809) and Samuel Farmar Jarvis (1810-1819).

Samuel Seabury was a man of contradictions. A Loyalist during the North American colonies’ rebellion against the Crown, he nonetheless was subsequently chosen by fellow colonial clergy as the first bishop of the newly created Episcopal Church; consecrated not in England but in Scotland to lead the English church, now made American, in the new United States, Seabury codified the Episcopal Church’s organization, set its liturgical tone and developed its first independent theology, especially around issues related to the Eucharist.

Bishop Samuel Seabury

Seabury did not create the Episcopal Church nor was he alone in sustaining it, but his leadership, both practically and symbolically, could not have been more important. In one way or another, Seabury was connected to many of the early Episcopal churches and clergy families of the Northeast.

Equally wealthy and prominent, the large Seabury family and the large Bartow family were neighbors, both property owners in Westchester, New York: in the colonial era, they were similarly influential in both secular and church affairs. The two families crossed paths regularly in New York and elsewhere.

Bishop Samuel Seabury and Bishop Abraham Jarvis, grandfather of St. Michael’s second rector, Samuel Farmar Jarvis, were clergy colleagues.

St. Michael’s two first rectors – John Vanderbilt Bartow and Samuel Farmar Jarvis – would both have been raised on Samuel Seabury stories: their grandfathers both knew him. When Seabury died, in 1796, John Bartow, living in New York, was just nine years old and Samuel Jarvis, in Connecticut, was ten. Both little boys, as they grew up and then moved into decisions to become priests – like men in their families for generations back – must have been conscious of themselves as inheritors and transmitters of important church history, living participants in the church’s transition from the colonial era to the age of national independence.

St. Michael’s first fourteen years – Bartow’s rectorship and Jarvis’ – witnessed expansion in both the new Episcopal Church and the new United States. In 1807, there were seventeen states and astonishingly large swaths of unexplored continent. Over the next several decades, the development of American political identity and Episcopal Church growth were interconnected.

Political Map of US Expansion

St. Michael’s first two rectors – the men whose childhoods overlapped with Samuel Seabury’s last years – secured St. Michael’s place in New York City: by 1820, St. Michael’s was well established. Over the following thirty years, St. Michael’s would simultaneously follow the country’s Westward expansion – the next two rectors established many churches in states and territories across the North American continent – and initiate new forms of domestic mission in New York City.

Bartow and Jarvis both went on to long and distinguished careers after their first jobs in the little Bloomingdale church. Jarvis, in particular, was aware of himself as a link between his church’s past and its future: a professor on the first faculty of General Theological Seminary in New York City, the first seminary in the Episcopal Church, Jarvis was also the church’s first Historiographer, appointed by General Convention in 1838.

 

GTS

At St. Michael’s Church, Bishop Samuel Seabury’s legacy – “the gift of perseverance to renew the Anglican inheritance in North America” – was secure.

[For more information on Bishop Samuel Seabury, see Holy Women, Holy Men: November 14: http://prayer.forwardmovement.org/the_calendar_response.php?id=401114]

November 14, 2017