Robert Sherwood Morse
We Are Anglicans: Our Movement
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 15th Sunday after Trinity, September 20, 2020
“To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.”
IT WAS on a hot September evening in 1979 that we met Robert Sherwood Morse. My wife Giti had been eagerly attending services at a tiny, mystical worship space called St. Joseph of Arimathea Anglican Collegiate Chapel, one block from the UC Berkeley campus, for about two months, and I had begun attending with her. We enjoyed the brilliance of the diminutive Fr. George Rutler, who substituted that summer for Bishop Morse while the latter was traveling in Eastern Europe. Rutler regaled us with sermons on St. John Vianney and Bible studies in St. John’s Gospel, and we were convinced that truth resided here. Giti wanted very badly to be baptized, but Fr. Rutler told her to wait for the Bishop to return.
Then Fr. Rutler was gone and instead, that Sunday evening, what appeared to be a human polar bear trod into the holy chapel like he owned it, under a heavy, green, roughly-woven woolen chasuble. A deep, resonant voice echoed in the tall space, “The Lord be with you.” The Bishop had returned.
Giti was enthralled: the man’s charisma arrived with a power emanating from him like the tide. I was unmanned by his huge presence, as though my life was being abducted and hoisted onto rails, headed in a whole new direction, never to be my own again. I wanted desperately to head for the door and run. We were both right.
She convinced me to stay for service and afterward meet him, and the rest is history—my call to priesthood, five years of seminary, a church in Sacramento and for 29 years, serving you here in Chico. He had a way of doing that to people. Over 40 churches cover the map from coast to coast, served today by others who felt the power in Bishop Morse and answered an echoing call from God.
Robert Morse was born in April of 1924, one of the largest babies ever born in San Francisco General Hospital. He grew up in Burlingame, where he eventually would found St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Mission. He served in WWII, attended the University of the Pacific, then answered a call to the priesthood.
Early on he sensed that the successful and placid waters of the Protestant Episcopal Church USA (PECUSA) were heading for the falls. People flocked to his magnetic personality, his passionate preaching, his visionary leadership, his deeply mystical nature, and his voice. Though he couldn’t sing to save himself, he loved the music of the church, T. S. Eliot poetry, Russian Orthodoxy, the Virgin Mary, his wife Nancy, and God – and not in that order.
His priesthood was first under Bishop Karl M. Block at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, then the blighted James Pike, whose heresies led the Episcopal Church down the rabbit hole into Wonderland.
At PECUSA’s Minneapolis General Convention in 1976, a completely overhauled prayer book was ratified and the ordination of priestesses approved by a narrow vote. These errant choices certified that the Bible no longer had authority to steer their church. A 51% majority could affirm or ruin age-old doctrine and practice, morality, truth, salvation, and the apostolic order. All things were possible. Nothing was holy. Everything swiftly began to change.
An amalgam of concerned Episcopalians joined to steer another course. They met at St. Louis in September, 1977, and there founded four dioceses, under the Anglican Church in North America, a short-lived national body. Its founding document, the Affirmation of St. Louis, stated its purpose:
“We affirm that the Church of our fathers, sustained by the most Holy Trinity, lives yet, and that we, being moved by the Holy Spirit to walk only in that way, are determined to continue in the Catholic Faith, Apostolic Order, Orthodox Worship and Evangelical Witness of the traditional Anglican Church, doing all things necessary for the continuance of the same… We affirm that [PECUSA], by [its] unlawful attempts to alter Faith, Order and Morality… have departed from Christ's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. We affirm that all former ecclesiastical governments, being fundamentally impaired by the schismatic acts of lawless Councils, are of no effect among us, and that we must now reorder such godly discipline as may strengthen us in the continuation of our common life and witness.”
It was our Declaration of Independence. Fr. Robert Sherwood Morse of St. Peter’s, Oakland, organized this St. Louis Congress and preached its closing sermon. These are some of his words:
“We begin today the first step of a long march! Our Church has yielded to the temptations that Our Lord denied in the wilderness. As the Church is the mystical Body of Christ in what is left of human history, we face those temptations until time is no more…
“The major thrust of the Spirit of the Age is against the essential mystery of Christ—the family and sacramental marriage! The demonic in history are those blind forces which would impersonalize life—eroding those interpersonal commitments that make civilization possible. Without the priority of the family—no nation, church, or society can survive. The crisis of our Western culture is theological. For the primary problem of our time is the attack on the family…
“Dostoevsky says that Hell is to be unable to love! The zeal of the Church has always been up until now to save man from this Hell—by giving man, via grace, a conscience. For without a conscience we cannot love! …The most vivid agony reserved in Dante’s Inferno is for the neutrals—who have no need to die for they were never alive! …The late Fr. Raymond Raynes, was asked who is most in danger of going to Hell and answered immediately, “The indifferent,” and then he thought and added, “and priests”—and I would also like to add, “and bishops.” There is no neutrality or indifference in God or in these issues facing us in the Church. God grant us the grace to love and suffer His will—to know Him as He is and not as we want Him to be…
“We begin today a long march through the deserts of our time—but our movement is of the Spirit of God, for He is calling us successful—seldom rich—usually lukewarm Episcopalians to return Christ to the center of our lives and through us to our countrymen—to restore them and us to the things of God. We will be guided like the Hebrew children by a pillar of smoke by day and fire by night—a description of our smog-bound cities. What vision do we hold out to the world?...
“What vision sustains us on this long journey—this pilgrimage of hardship? Only the love of God and our desire to share it—that our children’s children until time is no more might receive the gift of faith—that experience of that incredible love of God that has touched our lives. But that love calls for personal sacrifice. I call upon you to exercise your apostolic commission—save yourselves, your children, your families, your friends and fellows—leave this modern Egypt—the fleshpots of the Minneapolis Church—whose bishops act like Pharaohs building pyramids of personal power and privilege. Leave this kingdom of death, this House of Pharaoh, and march with us into the desert. We must all wait in the desert for through this experience we as penitents will be cleansed. God give us the strength that some day our movement might be as that of the early Christian desert Fathers who were more concerned with what God thought of them than what the world thought of them. Come with us, join us, march with us into the desert—for God calls us to himself!”
This was no church split over personal tastes or worship styles, but a manning of lifeboats to save the few who would escape a doomed Titanic. There is little doubt of that great ship’s demise today, 43 years later, as whole dioceses depart The Episcopal Church, now just called ‘TEC,’ that sues them for their own church properties in a land grab that embarrasses heaven.
Morse put his finger on the problem, an attack on the family, on children, on conscience. The woes of TEC began when no appeal to Bible, tradition or reason settled an issue. A church without authorities is a fatherless society. It becomes a homeless society, and will at last be no society at all.
On January 28, 1978, in Denver, Robert Sherwood Morse joined the ranks of the Apostles beneath the hands of Bishop Albert Chambers, the last Episcopal bishop to stand the heat and act as father to our fledgling church. Morse’s consecration insured the continuation of God’s fatherhood for a family of Anglicans that could survive the coming winter of our faith.
Passing to his reward five years ago, Morse was laid to rest with honor from St. Peter’s Church. Later that year I designed and installed a plaque honoring him in the same little collegiate chapel where I’d been rattled, and that memorial plaque was blessed by Bishop Donald Ashman, the third bishop of this Western Diocese of the Anglican Province of Christ the King, the church Morse forged in the heat of his love for Christ.
At first he hoped that while we remained outside of TEC, that church would discover its error and we might eventually return. We then still embraced the name Episcopal. TEC made further faithless turns, however, and we became Anglican, to denote the permanence of the breech.
We were at first angry, defining ourselves as those who were not part of TEC. About ten years along and we began to define ourselves positively, centered on our love of Christ, the ancient truths, and our adoring worship around the altar and a holy meal. We’ve been almost 45 years on that desert he spoke about.
“All I ever wanted to be was a college chaplain,” Morse said. But his voice, his character, and his vision chose him to be the first Archbishop of the Anglican Province of Christ the King. He retired on January 25, 2008. In his 64 years as a priest and bishop, Morse created college ministries at Stanford and UC Berkeley, founded York School in Monterey, and launched many churches, including this one, among the 41 parishes served across the US. At his death he was provost of St. Joseph of Arimathea Anglican Theological Seminary in Berkeley, which he founded in 1979, the year I stumbled in its chapel doors.
Archbishop Morse developed a ministry to the UCBerkeley Crew Team, whose members live in St. Joseph’s. In addition to rent, the oarsmen are required to serve at chapel services. Here they were likely to hear the Archbishop say, “Life is a journey with God, into God.” Just before his death, the team named one of their boats, called shells: Archbishop Robert Sherwood Morse. We have Mary Bedford’s photo of that in our sacristy.
Archbishop Morse was also president of the American Church Union, founder of the New Oxford Review, and a director of St. Dorothy's Rest retreat center. The Archbishop’s love of people translated into a medley of friendships with non-believers, seekers, the lonely, hundreds of college students, and the unloved. His farewell words with a friend were nearly always, “All is Grace.” That became the title of a book of his sermons and addresses we can get for you.
Our symbol is the seal of the Anglican Province of Christ the King. With the guidance of Bishop Morse, and Provost Tom Barnes, I was commissioned to design and draft the seal. Its main symbol is a large white cross in a red field, bearing a crown for the King, with a mitre, the symbol of apostolic order, bearing a dove for the Holy Spirit. Around the seal runs the name of our province and a quote from St. Luke: “Of His Kingdom there shall be no end.” Luke 1:33
The name, Christ the King, was Robert Morse’s choice in 1977 for a title to be given the fledgling group around his new episcopate, at first only six churches in California and Arizona. The name honors Jesus, and gives our Lord proper headship. But with loving respect, many of that early band affectionately hailed Robert Morse as ‘the king.’ He lived and died to bring that title properly to Jesus.
And so, I conclude this series on our subject, We Are Anglicans, with all that means to us. If you wish, you can get the little booklet I drafted on our church’s history, or Bishop Morse’s sermons. We have our own story to tell, as does this fine old church here in Chico and our part in its history.
History says that people are important. That is something to remember while we are separated like this. People have important stories, and their God sees them through.
Thus “We give thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.” Col 1:12ff