Keyser Consecrated Suffragan Bishop for the Armed Forces

Episcopal News Service. March 29, 1990 [90078]

In a colorful ceremony that blended military brass and the church's liturgical red, the Rev. Charles Keyser was consecrated suffragan bishop for the Armed Forces at the National Cathedral in Washington,.D.C., on March 24.

In recognition of recent events around the world that appear to make it a safer place, Keyser decided to emphasize peace at the beginning of his episcopate. "I wanted to make it clear that those who serve in the Armed Forces want peace as fervently as those who have never seen the horror of war first-hand," he said.

The Rev. Douglas McCaleb of McLean, Virginia, said holding the vigil in connection with Keyser's consecration provided "a clear and visible symbol that those who serve the people in the Armed Forces are certainly not against the idea of peace."

"The ultimate of pastoral ministry is the ministry of prayer -- and certainly prayer for world peace is of the utmost importance to people who are apt to die first," added Ted Simpson, a retired Navy chaplain and member of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Burke, Virginia, who helped plan the vigil.

The 24-hour prayer vigil for world peace preceded the consecration, beginning with a morning Eucharist in the War Memorial Chapel of the cathedral, celebrated by the bishop-elect. A brief memorial service honoring those who have died in service was incorporated into the cathedral's evensong, including the blessing of a wreath of thorn, laurel, and olive.

The flame from the paschal candle lit during the Eucharist was moved to the chapel at Virginia Theological Seminary where the vigil continued until midnight when it was moved to the Church of the Good Shepherd in Burke, a parish with a number of members who work in the military. Prayers continued through the night until the flame was returned to the cathedral the next morning

In preparation for the vigil, Episcopal chaplains on active duty were invited to share their prayers. Responses came from an Air Force chaplain in Alaska who said he was using the Prayer of St. Francis; a prison chaplain in Florida who sought intercession for racial peace; a Navy chaplain who asked for help with families who suffer from alcohol abuse; and other chaplains in Italy, Ohio, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Kansas, and all over the world who expressed their appreciation for being included in the vigil.

Episcopal Peace Fellowship Objects

After a procession of flags, military chaplains representing all the Armed Forces, dozens of clergy, and a gaggle of bishops, the consecration proceeded with customary dignity -- until the presiding bishop said "if any of you know any reason why we should not proceed, let it now be made known."

Ann McElroy of California, chair of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship (EPF), came forward to read a statement of dissent, reiterating the organization's "objection to this or any other consecration to the office of suffragan bishop for the Armed Forces." Among the reasons she cited were:

  • the consecration places "this church in the position of being aligned with the military system," which compromises and corrupts the church's message;
  • it is an election and consecration that is done "without the votes of clergy and laity over whom this bishop is to have authority";
  • it is "not necessary to provide a full sacramental ministry to members of our church in the armed forces"; and
  • it is "the visible symbol of a system that identifies the church with what for many is a sign and source of oppression." McElroy called attention to the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, asking that he be remembered in the consecration's litany. (See separate story.)

The protest was incorporated gracefully into the consecration service. The presiding bishop thanked McElroy personally and expressed gratitude that the EPF had participated in the peace vigil -- but said the consecration would proceed.

Ministry on the threshold

Taking as his theme the "threshold-crossing" events in Scripture where the Holy Spirit "is poured out on unexpected people at unexpected times," Bishop Peter J. Lee of Virginia said in his sermon that his boyhood friend Charles Keyser was set apart "for just such a threshold ministry."

Lee said that "the men and women in the Armed Forces of our country are guardians of thresholds" and the people who staff the Veterans Administration hospitals and federal prisons are "keepers of thresholds."

Living in a time when the demands on our military are changing, "life at the thresholds of our security is changing, so ministry at those thresholds is even more demanding," Lee continued. As a bishop Keyser is called "to serve those who stand at thresholds, to minister to the uniformed servants of our country. We place him at the threshold of the church and of the uniformed services, which means he must, if he is faithful, both comfort and challenge those whom he is called to serve," Lee said.

Threshold ministry is also a "ministry at the margins, interpreting different worlds to one another," Lee added, a ministry seeking reconciliation between the "church today and the apostles' teaching and fellowship across the ages," between "our branch of the Anglican Communion and the church across the world," and also "between the enduring claims and promise of the Gospel and the shifting changes and needs of human life...between clergy and laity, church and world, private pilgrimage of individuals and the common life of the family of God."

Following the sermon, the bishop-elect was examined in a traditional set of questions, and following the confession of faith, 22 bishops came forward to lay hands on him. Among the gifts he received were a ring and vestments from the chaplains of the Armed Forces and the Veterans Administration, a pectoral cross from the dioceses of Virginia and Florida, a set of vestments from parishes he served in Virginia, and several gifts from family members.

Co-consecrators were Bishops Frank Cerveny of Florida, Peter Lee of Virginia, Robert Witcher of Long Island, Charles Burgreen and Clarence Hobgood, retired bishops for the Armed Forces.

The Episcopal Church's ministry to the military goes back to the time prior to the First World War when the church had a commission for the Army and Navy, always headed by a diocesan bishop appointed by the presiding bishop to oversee the office.

Changes in the church canons in 1965 led to election by the House of Bishops of a suffragan bishop for the Armed Forces. Bishop Arnold Lewis was the first bishop elected by the house, serving from 1965 to 1970. His successor, Bishop Clarence Hobgood, was the first person consecrated for the position in 1971. Keyser's predecessor was Bishop Charles Burgreen, who retired last year.

[thumbnail: Episcopal Peace Fellowshi...] [thumbnail: Eucharist at Consecration...] [thumbnail: Peace Vigil Precedes Cons...]