Most of you here, being Episcopalians, know the United Thank Offering. Now more than a hundred years old, the UTO is a spiritual discipline of women of the Episcopal Church. Small offerings placed in a little blue box symbolize daily blessings; brought together, they result annually in $3 million in grants distributed throughout the Anglican Communion for church buildings, vehicles, schools and projects. With that as background, let me tell you one of my favorite stories from my years at the Episcopal Church Center. Some time ago I found myself in the far reaches of the South Pacific, in the Church of Melanesia, in a small village in the Solomon Islands. I had just been introduced to a member of the parish, an elderly lay reader. On hearing that I came from the Episcopal Church in America, he mused on this information until suddenly a light went on in his head and he said, "Ah, the Episcopal Church in America... Is that part of the UTO?"
Although he got the antecedent wrong, our Solomon Island villager knew the Episcopal Church, and knew it had something to do with his parish church-which, indeed, had been built with a UTO grant.
The Episcopal Church is integral to the warp and woof of the family of churches around the globe we call the Anglican Communion. It has been so from the beginning of Anglicanism outside England. When I was ordained thirty-two years and two days ago, in the diocese which had Samuel Seabury as its first bishop-no, I'm speaking of Rhode Island, not Connecticut-I began my ministry as curate of St. Paul's Church in North Kingstown, also known as Old Saint Paul's in Narragansett, founded in 1707 by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. The SPG was founded specifically to bring the gospel to North America, the first mission field of the Church of England. It is not too much of a stretch to say that with the formation of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, the Anglican Communion came into existence-although the term itself, Anglican Communion, did not come into wide usage until a century later.
The fledgling new church in America did not wait long before forming itself, as a whole, into a missionary society. This was a fruitful innovation: not to depend on voluntary societies such as the SPG, but to make the whole church, every baptized member, a missionary society. From as early as 1835, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society sent missioners around the globe: to Liberia, to China and Japan, to the Philippines, to Brazil and Central America and the Caribbean and Mexico. The result of this outreach is that almost a fifth of the self-governing provinces of the Anglican Communion today owe their origins wholly or in part to the Episcopal Church.
By the latter part of the nineteenth century, the bishops of the Episcopal Church, meeting here in this same city where we meet tonight, made an original and enduring contribution to the Anglican Communion in formulating what we now know as the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, a foundational document both for ecumenical conversation and for the self-identity of Anglican churches.
Stephen Bayne, a bishop of this church, became the first executive officer of the Anglican Communion in the 1960s. Three of the five secretaries-general (as the executive officer is now known) have been clerics of the Episcopal Church, including the incumbent, Canon John Peterson. If you were in Minneapolis for the annual meeting last year of the Historical Society-and of course for the General Convention itself, the effects of which provide the occasion for my remarks tonight-and chanced to visit St. Mark's Cathedral, you would have seen prominent evidence of the international Anglican Congress of 1954, the first such gathering to be held outside of Great Britain, which contributed so significantly to worldwide consciousness of our ecclesiastical family.
Finally, owing to the great wealth of our nation, and to the generosity of individual Episcopalians, the Episcopal Church has been the indispensable partner in underwriting the costs of Anglican Communion gatherings, activities, networks and the secretariat in London. …