Episcopal diocese gathers to celebrate Rabb's ordination as bishop suffragan Official called on to work for women, racial equality

October 11, 1998|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

HAGERSTOWN -- Here in its geographic heart, members of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland gathered yesterday to witness the ordination of the Rt. Rev. John Leslie Rabb as their bishop suffragan.

With the field house of St. James School transformed into a cathedral and filled with hundreds of the faithful, Rabb received the symbols of his office of bishop: a Bible, a ring, a cross, the holy oil called chrism, the pointed cap known as a miter and the shepherd's staff.

Rabb wore a cope, a ceremonial cape used by bishops, that he designed in hues of blue and green that recalled "The Canticle of the Sun," a poem by St. Francis of Assisi.

Yesterday's ordination took place on the Feast of St. Francis, which was meaningful for Rabb, who says he follows a Franciscan spirituality of simplicity and love of creation.

The Rev. Patricia L. Merchant, a friend who served with Rabb for a decade in Atlanta, where he was a church rector before coming to Maryland, delivered the sermon in which she urged him to continue following Francis' example.

"To my knowledge you have never taken a vow of poverty. But you do have great humility," she said. "But don't let that go to your head."

She also urged him to remember the struggles of women in the church and to commit himself to working for racial equality and harmony. "Remember that racism is the burden of all white people," she said. "Do not give up the struggle. It has always been part of your ministry."

She told him not to lose his sense of humor and ability to enjoy life.

"Develop new Elvis impersonations and anything else that will give you joy and pleasure," she said.

Rabb comes to Maryland after serving for 10 years at the 1,100-member St. Anne's Church in Atlanta. Prior to Atlanta, he served for nine years as rector of the Church of the Holy Apostles in Arbutus.

Rabb was elected the suffragan, or assistant bishop, by a diocesan convention in March, replacing Charles L. Longest, who retired in October 1997. The Rt. Rev. Robert W. Ihloff said he views the suffragan not as an assistant, but as a collaborator. "We have a team of bishops," he said.

The 117 churches in the diocese were represented at yesterday's ceremony, each with a representative carrying a banner in the opening procession.

"It was a wonderful day of celebration [in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland] in its diversity," Ihloff said after the ceremony. "I think every part of the diocese was represented."

Those representatives, by acclamation, proclaimed their desire that Rabb be ordained their suffragan bishop.

"Is it your will that we ordain John a bishop?" asked the Rt. Rev. Robert D. Rowley Jr. of northwestern Pennsylvania, president of the province that includes Maryland.

"That is our will," the congregation responded.

"Will you uphold John as bishop?" Rowley asked.

"We will," it said.

As the consecration began, the choir began a repetitive chant of Veni Sancte Spiritus, Come Holy Spirit. Rowley and the other bishops laid their hands on Rabb's head, initiating him into their office.

In a back room after the ceremony, as Rabb removed the vestments he had received, he seemed overwhelmed by his new status.

"It's been very powerful," he said. "And it's also been very humbling to realize the responsibility and trust that the people of Maryland have given to me and expect of me -- and I'm hoping to be able to fulfill."

Pub Date: 10/11/98

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