- White, William
- ( 17 48-1836 )first presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in AmericaWilliam White was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 4, 1748. His family was relatively wealthy and young William studied English, Latin, and theology. In 1770, he traveled to England, where he met with the archbishop of Canterbury, who approved his request for ordination.Ordained that year, he began to serve the bishop of London in his responsibilities for the American colonies.He soon returned to Philadelphia, married the mayor's daughter, and served as assistant minister of two churches, then became priest of the merged congregations shortly thereafter. When the American Revolution broke out, most of the Anglican clergy remained loyal to England and returned home. White and the other Philadelphia Anglican clergy were fierce patriots and remained at their posts. He left the city at the time of the British occupation in 1777.After the American victory, White accepted responsibility for rebuilding the Church of England. For that purpose, he believed, a bishop was needed, but that was not a simple matter. The British authorities had never appointed one, unwilling to establish an autonomous seat of authority in the colonies, and the new citizens of the United States now staunchly opposed the reimposition of British patterns on church life, including bishops.In 1784, White and representatives from the other Anglican churches in Philadelphia called for a general convention of Anglicans to meet in that city. When the delegates met in 1785, they organized themselves as a "general convention." They selected White as the chair and appointed committees to draw up a constitution and to suggest appropriate changes in the prayer book, reflecting the new political situation.At this gathering, White wrote to the bishop of London, requesting that episcopal orders be passed to the now independent American brethren. After some delay, the bishop of London granted the request, and in 1786 White and Samuel Provoost (1742-1815) sailed for London to be ordained. Since the pair could not take the oath of allegiance to the British authorities, Parliament had to pass a special enabling act. In 1787, White and Provoost were consecrated by the archbishops of York and Canterbury in Lambeth Palace, the headquarters of the Church of England.Given his newfound authority, White was invited to assume the office of chaplain to the United States Congress. He continued to hold that post, among his other duties, until Congress began to meet in New York. As the Episcopal Church revived, White became a fixture in the multiple altruistic organizations that formed over the next generation. Among the structures he helped organize and lead were societies specializing in BIBLE distribution, aid to prisoners, and service to the hearing and seeing impaired.White wrote several books, including his Lectures on the Catechism (1813); Comparative View of the Controversy between the Calvinists and the Arminians (2 vols., 1817); and the Memoirs of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (1820; 2d ed., 1835). White died on July 17, 1836, leaving behind a thriving church organization.Further reading:■ Robert Prichard, A History of the Episcopal Church (Harrisburg, Pa.: Morehouse, 1991)■ W. H. Stowe, et al., The Life and Correspondence of Bishop William White (New York: Morehouse-Gorham, 1937)■ William White, The Integrity of Christian Doctrine and the Sanctity of Christian Practice United in Christian Preaching (New York, 1811); , Memoirs of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (Philadelphia: S. Potter, 1820; rev. ed; New York: Swords, Stanford, 1836)■ Bird Wilson, Memoir of the Life of Right Reverend William White (Philadelphia: James Kay, 1939).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.