Samuel Seabury vs. Hilda of Whitby

February 21, 2013
Tim Schenck

In what seems to be shaping up as the Year of the Martyr, today's pairing involves not a whit of martyrdom. The first bishop of the Episcopal Church faces a 7th- century monastic leader and both died of natural causes!

Yesterday, in a most lopsided match-up, Oscar Romero made quick work of Elizabeth Ann Seton defeating her 68% to 32% with nearly 4,500 votes cast. Interestingly the comments were split fairly evenly between the two even if the votes were not.

Many of you, especially those new to Lent Madness (welcome aboard the SS Madness!), have asked how the official bracket is formulated. In this brief video filmed last Eastertide, Scott and Tim give you a peek behind the purple curtain of Lent Madness. You might be surprised at the "scientific/holy" methods used to create our special blend of saintly absurdity.

samuel_seaburySamuel Seabury

Samuel Seabury (November 30, 1729 – February 25, 1796) was the First Bishop of The Episcopal Church, consecrated as the Bishop of Connecticut on November 14, 1784.

Seabury was born in Groton, Connecticut in 1729. He attended Yale College, and studied theology with his father. From a young age, he had felt a call to ordained ministry; however, canonical age restrictions prevented his ordination following his university studies. To pass the time, Seabury moved to Scotland, where he studied medicine in Edinburgh. In 1753, at age 24, he was ordained as a priest.

Seabury returned to the United States, where he served as rector of several parishes from 1754 onward. It was during his time as Rector of St. Peter’s, Westchester (now the Bronx), that the American Revolution erupted. Seabury proved himself a staunch defender of the crown, writing several tracts under the pen name of “A. W. Farmer” (an exceptionally uncreative acronym for “A Westchester Farmer”). In 1775, Seabury was arrested and imprisoned by local Patriots. During this period, Seabury’s family was beaten, his possessions ransacked – and his wife ultimately died. Seabury faced the possibility of exile in England.

In March, 1783, ten Episcopal clergymen, meeting in Woodbury, Connecticut, elected Seabury as their second choice to be Bishop. When the first choice declined, Seabury sailed to London in July of that year to be consecrated bishop. But after a year of negotiation, Seabury was unable to obtain episcopal orders from the Church of England, since, as an American citizen, he could not give the canonically required oath of allegiance to the King. Seabury turned to Scotland, whose non-juring bishops did not require an oath of allegiance. In return for reception of episcopal orders from the Scottish Church, Seabury signed a concordat agreeing to incorporate elements of the Scottish Eucharistic Liturgy – most notably the invocation of the Holy Spirit (or epiclesis) – into the new American Liturgy. In November, 1784, he was consecrated bishop. Seabury’s consecration as bishop by the Scottish church ultimately spooked the English Parliament enough to make provision for the consecration of foreign bishops: in 1786, William White and Samuel Provoost would ultimately receive their episcopal orders from the Church of England. Seabury returned to New London, Connecticut, where he served as Rector of St. James Church, and Bishop of Connecticut; in 1789, his ordination was recognized by the first General Convention of the Episcopal Church; in 1792, he joined in the first ordination to the Episcopate on American soil when he, White, and Provoost ordained John Claggett of Maryland.

Seabury was ahead of his time in many of his liturgical persuasions – some of which made him a polarizing figure within the church of his day. Today, the innovations don’t seem quite as controversial and instead ahead of their time: Seabury advocated for weekly celebrations of the Holy Communion and was among the first post-Reformation bishops to wear a mitre.

Seabury died in February, 1796, and is buried at St. James Church, New London, Connecticut.

Collect for the Consecration of Samuel Seabury
We give you thanks, O Lord our God, for your goodness in bestowing upon this Church the gift of the episcopate, which we celebrate in this remembrance of the consecration of Samuel Seabury; and we pray that, joined together in unity with our bishops, and nourished by your holy Sacraments, we may proclaim the Gospel of redemption with apostolic zeal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-- David Sibley

St_HildaHilda of Whitby

Hilda was born into nobility, the grandniece of King Edwin, and was baptized on Easter Day in 627 with the entire noble court of the King. We know almost nothing about the first half of her life. Presumably she did not marry, and after King Edwin was killed in battle, she went to live with her sister in East Anglia. She then planned to join her widowed sister in a convent in Chelles in Gaul, but Bishop Aidan of Lindisfarne changed her plans, as bishops tend to do. He asked her to settle in Northumbria to be part of a monastic community there. With her companions in this monastery, she lived in the Celtic Christian tradition Aidan brought from Iona. A year later, Aidan asked Hilda to found  a double monastery (which accepted both women and men) in Hartlepool. After several years there, Aidan again asked Hilda to take her monastic show on the road and establish a monastery in Whitby in 657. It, too, was a double monastery where men and women prayed, served, and learned together in community.

The Venerable Bede writes of Hilda that she established a regular life in Whitby and “taught the obedience of righteousness, mercy, purity, and other virtues, but especially peace and charity. After the example of the primitive Church, no one there was rich, no one was needy, for everything was held in common and nothing was considered to be anyone’s personal property.” Hilda was called “mother” by all who knew her.

Hilda was an early spiritual director and diplomat. Common people as well as kings and others in power came to her for advice in their spiritual challenges and questions of life. She would have eschewed the title (because she was a big fan of humility and equality) but she was most certainly a Cardinal Mother. Her monastery at Whitby produced five bishops and Caedmon, an early English holy poet who wrote in (shockingly enough) vernacular English, a first in literature of the day. Because of Hilda’s support and encouragement of his poetry and education, she is also called a mother of English literature.

As if being a Cardinal Mother, the founder of several successful monasteries, and the mother of English literature wasn’t enough, Hilda’s denouement in her life of faith occurred at the Synod of Whitby. The male leaders of the day got together to decide (argue) whether the Church in England would follow Aidan’s Celtic Christian lead or fall in line with the more Roman expression of Christianity. The big controversy between the two was not women’s ordination or the full inclusion of lesbians or gays, or the use of incense, but the date of Easter (I know, clutch your pearls). Hilda favored the Celtic tradition, but when the Synod decided to follow the Roman tradition, she spoke passionately and as one with authority that she would be obedient to the Synod’s decision and expected others to do the same.

She died in 680, surrounded by those who called her monastery home. Her last words were not of church power or ecclesiastical wealth, but of faithfully following a Gospel of love and peace. Always.

Collect for Hilda of Whitby
O God of peace, by whose grace the abbess Hilda was endowed with gifts of justice, prudence, and strength to rule as a wise mother over the nuns and monks of her household, and to become a trusted and reconciling friend to leaders of the Church:  Give us the grace to recognize and accept the varied gifts you bestow on men and women, that our common life may be enriched and your gracious will be done; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

 -- Laurie Brock


Samuel Seabury vs. Hilda of Whitby

  • Hilda of Whitby (79%, 3,552 Votes)
  • Samuel Seabury (21%, 959 Votes)

Total Voters: 4,508

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169 comments on “Samuel Seabury vs. Hilda of Whitby”

    1. Both my wife and I get emails for Lent Madness-this morning she voted earlier and I cannot get into vote. Other days she cannot when I already have. What's up with that? We have different e-mails. A sad disenfranchised voter.

      1. If you have two computers in your house, you can arrange separate votes. Just tell the SEC. Maybe the SEC will let you vote using different browsers, as long as there is only one vote per person? What about it Scott?

  1. I never knew that Seabury was the second choice. I live near the Glebe House where the election was held. The story I have heard was that Seabury was elected because he did not show up to the meeting. Who was the first choice?

    1. In the election at Glebe House, The Rev. Jeremiah Leaming was the first choice for bishop. He declined for age and health reasons.

      1. Rev. Jeremiah Leaming was also absent from the meeting and because of his age the clergy present decided to elect a backup. Seabury, incidentally had grown up in CT but never served as a priest there before his election; since then only our present bishop has been elected from outside CT.

      2. Age and health reasons--already showing the Episcopal church to be different from the RC Church!! And I am not trying to be snarky, it's just been on my mind given the Benedict retirement is being considered a bold new statement.

  2. The tradition of the double monastery was rather unique to the British Isles. We have an Episcopalian double monastery here in the US -- the Order of Julian of Norwich in Wisconsin. I vote Hilda for her fine management of this tradition...five bishops and a poet? Not bad...

    1. Actually the Brigittines of Sweden revived double monastaries and brought them back to England in the later Middle Ages; Syon Abbey near London was the most famous at the time of the Suppression, and even had a brief revival under Mary.

  3. How might the Episcopal Church's history been different if Hilda had been its first bishop rather than Seabury? It's an illogical question but Lent Madness isn't logical either. Hilda gets my vote because of her love of peace and ability to create common and holy space.

  4. This was a tough one. Sam's father, also The Rev. Samuel Seabury, was the first Anglican missionary here in Dutchess County, New York. So we have a fondness for the old man. But on reflection, the the son, so much. Didn't know that he was a Tory. My fondness for Downton Abbey and the Seaburys aside, I can't bring myself to vote for a Tory. I am casting my lot with Hildy.

    1. Sam Seabury was true to his calling before, during, and after the War. He did NOT run to England with his prayer book afterwards, but became an American and a Bishop, and helped create our beloved Episcopal church, AND a country without an established church and with religious liberty. Perhaps his lesson today has to do with constancy and community; no schism-ist he. We've come a long way since dear Hilda. Yet we are living in Seabury's legacy every day. Would more of us had his character.

  5. In just 53 years of life Hilda accomplished so much; she was amazing and represents the best of the Celtic tradition, including what we now call "servant leadership." On my Sabbatical in 2010 I made a pilgrimage to Whitby, so I feel I have to vote for its holy and humble Abbess!

  6. Love Hilda lots, but c'mon! SS is the man - flexible, subtle, adaptable, obedient; skillful in negotiation and firm in resolve. He's our own George Washington who fought the English on their own turf and used wise alliance to accomplish his goals. You can't diss Torys in one breath, then vote for a Brit in the next - Seabury all the way!

  7. I must say that I am meeting some interesting saintly folks through this year's Madness. It makes me glad that we are one universal churchwhen all is said and done. I find admirable qualities in both candidates today, but the vote went to the fantastic monastic. Hilda's skill at nurturing the call of others seems to have richly blessed the church, and I am prone to contemplative spirituality myself. The fact that Seabury supported the crown during the Revolution influenced my vote as well, fairly or not. Of course, what is fair about life or Lent Madness.

  8. Between 1985-1988, the handful of women who matriculated at Nashotah House renamed their abode in the Cloister (otherwise known as C House or St. Luke's) Hilda House. It was a very small thing that gave great joy to some and deeply threatened others. In honor of those students, Hilda.

    1. Cynthia, I remember the controversy in the Diocese of Fort Worth in the 80's (I too, was a member of Christ the King Parish), from whence I was a refugee in '86, and returned to WNY. Your story gave courage to many of us as we discerned our calls. Hilda means much to me as well, having lived in St. Hilda's House at the Bishop Strachan School in Toronto. My godmother, Hilda, guided me throughout my childhood and discernment as an adult. May blessings abound in your ministry!

  9. I've been to Whitby and even though I'm very grateful to Samuel Seabury, I voted for Hilda. Perhaps this time I will have picked a winner.

  10. My father was born in Hartlepoole. We have visited Hild's monastery in Whitby. It's Hild, by the way, not Hilda, as the brusque Yorkshireman caretaker there corrected me.

  11. As a vocational deacon of over 23 years, I serve at the pleasure and under a diocesan bishop. "Nough said......for once.

    1. I love the Celtic tradition and am eternally grateful for Seabury as TECs first bishop. So I was going back and forth on deciding on this one. However, I too am a vocational deacon (of 12 years) and you swung my vote. This one's for Seabury.

  12. I went to Seabury-Western seminary, back when it existed as such, which alone is almost enough to make me vote for Hilda. But, having just read David McCullough's "1776," and knowing what pressure the revolutionaries were under, I can't bring myself to vote for one who could of been a huge support but wasn't

  13. Two of my favorite personalities here. Hilda gets the vote, though. Sure hope I get to visit her when I join The Communion (and Bishop Seabury, too).

  14. Cardinal Mother and mother of English Literature! And founder of multiple successful monastic communities! Amazing woman for her time, for any time. Besides, I attended St. Hilda's & St. Hugh's school in the 60s and if I didn't vote for Hilda the Rev. Mother Ruth (foundress) would rise from her grave and beat me about the head. Hilda, Hilda all the way.

  15. Hmmm. I went to Seabury, and while there missed Hilda of Whitby on a GOE coffee hour question. What to do.......??

  16. This retired English professor voted for the Mother of English Literature, of course. However, I have great respect for Bp. Seabury, who, in spite of initially being a Torie [he took a vow at ordination!], did work to preserve the episcopate for his newly formed country.

  17. I'm an alumna of the seminary that bears his name, and what would our eucharistic liturgy be w/o the epiclesis? I've often wished that Hilda had been a little less subservient when givin up the Celtic tradition, but in the end I doubt it mattered much. The bishop and rector who sponsored me for ordination for consecrated and "installed", respectively, on Hilda's feast day. And they are really good people. S0, all things considered, it's Hilda for me.

  18. While I admire them both, I voted for Mother Hilda.
    I love the “OK that didn’t work. Now what?” problem solving of Seabury. I like that he rode a big Friesian horse (actual holy horse shown here: to Scotland to try his luck there. I’m really glad he helped start the Episcopal church.
    But in her corner, Hilda had both V. Bede AND Caedmon AND Pastoral pipes AND the Bodhrán (which the Scots stole from Rome and the Irish stole from the Scots and Cameron stole for Titanic)

    So Hilda it is.

  19. My vote goes to Hilda of Whitby in order to honor the women seminarians who were my classmates at Nashotah House in the late 1908's. The Rev. Cynthia Gill ('88), The Rev. Marjorie Menaul ('89), and The Rev. Karin Wade ('89) formed Hilda House within the rooms set aside for singles. These dedicated priests have gone on to offer great service and leadership within The Episcopal Church. They live the inspiration found in the strength and character of Hilda of Whitby.

  20. Definitely the easiest matchup so far...Hilda!!!! What a woman, and what a tradition endures through the communities she founded and so ably led.

  21. Seabury shouldn't even be a contestant! Thoroughly unpleasant individual. We don't even include him in the sanctorale calendar; we remember the date of his consecration in thanksgiving for the gift of the episcopate, but we don't commemorate him. So ... Abbess Hild, who deserves to prevail even if Seabury were a valid contender, must get my vote. A champion of charity and church unity!

  22. Although I love Hilda deeply, and am inspired no end by what she was able to accomplish, I cannot vote for her because her precedent *in my eyes* is not one of peace and concord, but of compromise on her own holy conviction. If she were speaking at a contemporary Lambeth Conference, she would be speaking against women bishops & against LGBTQ inclusion, even if she felt these were right and just. How can I vote for that? Meanwhile, although I was sad to learn that our first PB had been a loyalist, he did come around, and blaze the trail for the independence of the ECUSA - not to mention for all the other independent churches that now comprise the Anglican Communion worldwide. So, although it is, I fear, a vote for the short end, it is the vote of my deepest conviction. I believe Hilda would approve, now that she's had time to consider.

  23. While the place of Sam Seabury in the Episcopal Church is assured, that place rests more on politics than holiness. Hilda surely was pretty astute at politics, as Whitby* demonstrates, but her life and service prior to that show a woman of deep holiness and devotion. Have to go with her today.
    *For a great [fictional] story about the council and Hilda's role, check out Peter Tremayne's 'Absolution by Murder'.