“A Homily for the Feast of Philander Chase”

The following homily was preached on September 22, 2020, being the Feast of Philander Chase, at the Daily Chapel service at Saint James School in Hagerstown, Maryland.

Reading: Luke 3:15-22

Collect of the Day: Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith: We give you heartfelt thanks for the pioneering spirit of your servant Philander Chase, and for his zeal in opening new frontiers for the ministry of your Church. Grant us grace to minister in Christ’s name in every place, led by bold witnesses to the Gospel of the Prince of Peace, even Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

“John answered them all, ‘I baptize you with water; but He who is mightier than I is coming…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”—Luke 3.16-17

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Today, the Episcopal Church calls to mind [the ministry and legacy of] Philander Chase, one of the Episcopal Church’s early-to-mid-19th century pioneer missionaries of the American West, particularly in the states of Ohio and Illinois.

Chase’s story emphasizes having a tenacious spirit when faced with many adverse situations. Ordained by the First Bishop of New York to the Episcopal priesthood in 1799, Chase was assigned as a missionary to New York’s rigorous northern and western regions, areas where other clergy at the time were not willing to go. In 1805, Chase continued his missionary ministry by going south to New Orleans, Louisiana, organizing what is now today Christ Church Cathedral, the cathedral church of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana. Six years later, he returned north to Connecticut to serve as Rector of Christ Church in Hartford, serving there until 1811.

It was during Chase’s years in Connecticut that the call to missionary ministry reignited within him. Thus, in 1817, he moved to the new state of Ohio, where that May he helped form in Cincinnati what is today another Christ Church Cathedral, this one the cathedral church of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio. Two years later, he was elected as the First Bishop of Ohio. During his tenure as Bishop of Ohio, Chase founded two educational institutions that embodied his missionary spirit. One was Bexley Hall Theological Seminary, which functioned from its founding in 1824 until 2013. The other institution is Kenyon College, an Episcopal liberal arts college in the Village of Gambier in Knox County, Ohio, from which our own Mrs. L is a very proud alumna.

After resigning as the First Bishop of Ohio in 1831, the newly established Diocese of Illinois elected Chase as its First Bishop in 1835. His missionary zeal continued going strong, never wavering. In 1843, Chase became the Episcopal Church’s Sixth Presiding Bishop, serving in that capacity until his death on September 20, 1852 at the age of seventy-six.

In today’s Gospel lesson, we heard John say that there was One “who is mightier than I…coming…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” John, of course, was talking about Jesus, toward whose way God appointed him to point. And in pointing to that One greater than he was, John was pointing to that, as a Christian, I would say was, is, and always will be the Truth.

Chase was very much a “John the Baptist” figure of his day. Like John, Chase’s ministry was driven by One much bigger than he was whose cause embodied the very meaning of true love and devoted service to others. Chase believed in that cause with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength. That is why he was willing to go to places where others would not go. Some of the churches and institutions he started have lasted; many of them did not. But despite all the trials and adversity he faced, Chase kept pressing forward. For Chase, the Truth made it all worth it.

Thus, it is important for us to have, like Philander Chase, tenacious wills for good. Goodness and sincere service towards others make life truly worth living. As we heard the Psalmist today say, “That which we have heard and known and what our forefathers have told us, we will not hide from their children” (Psalm 78.3). Chase’s legacy does that for us—reminds us of the good that has prevailed throughout all time.

Let us, then, strive to be good and do good things, no matter the cost.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Published by Brandt Montgomery

I am a Priest and boarding school chaplain in the Episcopal Church (USA).

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