COVID-era ‘Aberdeen bishops’ make pre-Lambeth pilgrimage to Scotland

By Melodie Woerman
Posted Jul 25, 2022

Some of the Aberdeen pilgrimage bishops and others walk a portion of St. Magnus Way on Orkney Island. Photo: Frank Logue

[Episcopal News Service] Four bishops ordained and consecrated in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, with small services and a minimum of three bishops attending, have made a pilgrimage to the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney in the Scottish Episcopal Church, in advance of the Lambeth Conference set to get underway in Canterbury, England, this week.

Aberdeen holds special significance for them because that is where the first bishop of The Episcopal Church, Samuel Seabury, was ordained in 1784 in a similarly simple service with three bishops in attendance, prompting these four and three others ordained under early COVID restrictions to refer to themselves as the “Aberdeen bishops.”

The four bishops who made the trip are Georgia Bishop Frank Logue, Minnesota Bishop Craig Loya, Missouri Bishop Deon Johnson and Alabama Bishop Glenda Curry.

Bishops Frank Logue, Craig Loya, Glenda Curry and Deon Johnson visit the site of the 1784 consecration of Samuel Seabury, the first bishop of The Episcopal Church, in Aberdeen, Scotland. The original building is gone, but the site is near the present-day cathedral. Photo: Frank Logue

Logue said that early on “these minimal consecrations” reminded Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of Seabury’s consecration as the first American bishop, prompting the group’s name. He added that as the planning for their summer 2020 ordination services shifted because of strict COVID gathering requirements, the four of them, plus Oklahoma Bishop Poulson Reed gathered frequently by Zoom to talk about how they could creatively include members of their dioceses in these very small services. They later were joined by Oregon Bishop Diana Akiyama and Wyoming Bishop Paul-Gordon Chandler, both of whom were ordained in early 2021

The group decided soon after they began meeting together to make a pilgrimage to Aberdeen in advance of the Lambeth Conference, Logue said, and that “the more we considered this trip, the more we could see we were connecting to the roots of the Anglican Communion, with one province lending a hand to another in need.”

Loya said, “A big part of The Episcopal Church’s origin was the connection, even the friendship, across differences represented by Seabury’s consecration. In a challenging and uncertain moment, the Scottish Church and the newly emerging Episcopal Church came together to do something new for the sake of God’s mission of love in the world.”

Bishops making the Aberdeen pilgrimage, along with others, gather near the Ring of Brodgar on Orkney Island for a service of evening prayer. Photo: Frank Logue

The pilgrimage began on July 20, with the four bishops, plus some spouses and staff, first meeting with Aberdeen and Orkney Bishop Anne Dyer, the first woman to serve as bishop in the Scottish Episcopal Church. They all then traveled to the island of Orkney in northernmost Scotland, where over two days they walked the St. Magnus Way, celebrated the Eucharist in St. Magnus Cathedral, visited area sites and concluded with evening prayer near the Ring of Brodgar, which are some 5,000 years old.

When Dyer wrote about the group’s trip in a message to members of her diocese, she wrote, “We are genuinely, deeply, thrilled to receive episcopal visitors ahead of the Lambeth Conference, to be able to make new friends from a Province with which we share so many values.”

Once back in Aberdeen the bishops visited the site of Seabury’s consecration and ordination, where a plaque marks the event, participated in Sunday morning worship services in local churches and ended with Evensong at St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral.

The pilgrimage strengthened the bond between the Aberdeen bishops that began online more than two years ago, “deepening not only our friendships but our sense of how, as bishops, we share this ministry in very real ways,” Loya said.

Curry said the pilgrimage was “life-giving” for her and came during “a time of healing from a pandemic when we could be afraid of connection.” Instead, she said, “this trip has helped us see that faithful cross-communion connection is possible and will always dispel fear and bring hope.”

Johnson called the group’s time in Aberdeen and Orkney “a reminder that The Episcopal Church was born out of graciousness and holy hospitality” and “of what the Anglican Communion at its best can be … the future of the church is not in silos or solos, but in collaboration, connection and cooperation, and it all starts here.”

–Melodie Woerman is a freelance writer and former director of communications for the Diocese of Kansas.