Walking with the Saints
William White was the second bishop consecrated for the Episcopal Church of the United States. He was ordained in England and then went home to Philadelphia. He became first the assistant rector and after 12 years became Rector of Christ and St. Peter’s in Philadelphia for 57 years. He also served as chaplain of the Continental Congress from 1777 to 1789 and subsequently as Chaplain of the Senate.
Although an Anglican (Episcopal) cleric is sworn to the King in his ordination ceremony, White like all but one of his fellow Anglican clerics in Philadelphia, sided with the American Revolutionary cause.
After the war White wrote a pamphlet called The case of The Episcopal Churches in the United States Considered that laid out the foundational thinking for the emerging Episcopal Church. He proposed (and it was later adopted) including lay people in the church’s decision-making bodies. As a result, The House of Deputies was composed of both lay and clergy.
Bishop White was the chief architect of the Constitution of the Episcopal Church and the wise overseer of its life during the first generation of history. He was the Presiding Bishop at its organizing convention I 1789 and again from 1795 until his death.
As Bishop of Philadelphia he was a beloved figure in large part due to his charitable church work. Later in the 1790’s his stature grew when he ministered to those infected with yellow fever, while many men of wealth and stature abandoned the city.
White’s gifts of statesmanship and reconciling moderation steered the American Church through its first decades of independent life. His influence in his native city made him its “first citizen”.