Maryland Episcopal Diocese looks to new bishop for healing

After Cook's drunken crash, the Episcopal Diocese looks to a new bishop for healing.

At her welcoming service Sunday as the new assistant bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, the Rt. Rev. Chilton R. Knudsen urged clergy and lay people to let go of the emotional upheaval of the past year.

She never spoke Heather Cook's name, but Knudsen's Evensong sermon addressed a diocese still shaken by her predecessor's drunken crash that killed a Baltimore cyclist nearly a year ago. Cook, 59, was sentenced last month to seven years in prison in the death of 41-year-old Thomas Palermo.

"Evensong is a time to put to rest the business, the tragedies, the sadness, the disillusionments, as well as the joys, the celebrations and the victories of each day," Knudsen said. "In other words, Evensong represents the closing of a door and looks ahead to the opening of the door of the morning."

Knudsen, 69, retired as Episcopal bishop of Maine in 2008, but has served as assistant bishop in two dioceses in New York since then. She will be the No. 2 leader of the Maryland diocese, which numbers 112 congregations and more than 44,000 members in central, southern and western Maryland. Her duties will include visiting all of the parishes, confirming new members of the church and ordaining new priests.

A recovering alcoholic, Knudsen co-authored the 2010 book "So You Think You Don't Know One? Addiction and Recovery in Clergy and Congregations," and last year published a booklet called "Depending on the Grace of God: A Spiritual Journey through the Twelve Steps."

Knudsen said she has been longtime friends with Bishop Eugene T. Sutton, the leader of the Maryland diocese, and he asked her to take on the assistant role in part for her background in addressing addiction. Sutton co-officiated Sunday's ceremony with the Rev. Rob Boulter.

She said after the service that she hopes her appointment will "take away the myths" associated with alcoholism and other addictions. She said she wants to "help people find language that is not full of judgment" as the diocese takes "an honest acknowledgment of weaknesses" on the individual level and the diocesan level.

"I want to not only heal, but strengthen," she said. "You don't have to be sick to get better."

In her sermon, Knudsen briefly introduced herself to the church leaders and lay people in the pews at the half-full Cathedral of the Incarnation in the Guilford neighborhood of Baltimore and then delved into the scripture readings, focusing on the virtues of wisdom and humility.

She said the Serenity Prayer, which has often been used by addiction groups — God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference — is her favorite.

She quoted former United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld, who wrote: "For all that has been — thanks. For all that will be — yes."

"It's in that spirit that Evensong is offered into the prayer of the church," Knudsen said, "ending one day and preparing for the rest that will make it possible for us to put two feet on the floor and get ourselves up and moving into a new day."

Sonia Burton, of St. John's Episcopal Church in Ellicott City, said she thought the service was "fantastic" and Knudsen came across as "straightforward and understandable."

The choirs of the Cathedral of the Incarnation, Christ Church in Columbia and St. John's combined with a blaring organ to fill the cathedral with music.

Burton's review of their performance: "Out of this world."

Hannah Gram, of St. Andrew's Glenwood in Mount Airy, said Knudsen's "strong presence" in the pulpit will be reflected in her leadership at the diocese.

"I liked her message about how the Evensong relates to her coming here," Gram said. "She's a really solid presence for both the clergy and the Episcopals across Maryland."

Knudsen said one of the readings, a parable about a man inviting guests to dinner, showed how grace can be found in even the most trying of times.

"We have been invited ... to partake of the goodness, the bounty, the generosity of God whose boundless compassion simply flows and overflows through every day, even the toughest days," she said. "There still is bounteous compassion, strength, courage right on that table for us to enjoy."

"My friends," she finished, "shall we pull up a chair?"

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

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