WASHINGTON -- Thousands of years of religious history, literature, symbolism and music were invoked yesterday as the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland consecrated its 13th bishop in a rousing three-hour ceremony at the National Cathedral.
The applauding congregation that filled the nave and transepts of the soaring English Gothic-style edifice in Northwest Washington came from as far away as Tokyo to participate in the consecration of Bishop Robert Wilkes Ihloff. Rector of Grace Church in Madison, N.J., since 1987, he was elected May 20 at a diocesan convention in Frostburg to succeed retired Bishop A. Theodore Eastman.
Yesterday's congregation included 16 other bishops and hundreds of robed priests, deacons, acolytes and choristers. Colorful banners of the parishes and church schools in the 211-year-old Maryland diocese were carried in processions.
Music was provided by a choir of 140 voices provided by more than 60 parishes, three other choirs, a brass ensemble and the cathedral's mammoth organ.
"We Episcopalians know how to put on a show," said William Stump, a member of Sherwood Church in Cockeysville who edits Maryland Church News, the diocesan newspaper.
His satisfied appraisal of the spirited music and worship in English, Spanish, Korean and Japanese, and the theatrical preaching by the Rev. Michael B. Curry, was seconded by many at a reception after the service.
The consecration rite itself came midway in the Eucharistic service when the 16 attending members of the episcopate, led by Presiding Bishop Edmond L. Browning, placed their hands on the head of Father Ihloff.
As they did so, the 14 men and two women prayed aloud, "Therefore, Father, make Robert a bishop in your church."
Bishop Ihloff was then presented with the pectoral cross, cope, miter, Bible and crosier -- a rosewood staff -- that are the symbols of his new office. His first words to the congregation as bishop were: "The peace of the Lord be always with you."
"And also with you," the congregation responded in unison.
Later, Bishop Ihloff thanked friends from his former dioceses of Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey who had journeyed "considerable distances" to be with him and his family.
The participating bishops included -- in addition to Bishops Browning and Eastman -- Clarence N. Coleridge of Connecticut; Barbara Harris of Massachusetts; John Shelby Spong of Newark, N.J.; Ronald H. Haines and Jane Holmes Dixon, both of Washington, D.C.; Henry Louttit of Georgia; John Makoto Takeda of Tokyo; David K. Leighton, head of the Maryland diocese before Bishop Eastman; and Charles L. Longest, the suffragan who has been in charge of the diocese since Bishop Eastman retired last year.
In an emotional sermon preached in a range of voices from a shout to a whisper, which drew applause, Father Curry, the rector of St. James Church on Lafayette Square in West Baltimore, recalled the yearnings of the enslaved Hebrews in Egypt and the words of a former slave in America who likened freedom to a dream.
"We are like those who dream where fantasy and reality meet," Father Curry said. "Dreams are fantastic. You can do anything in a dream."
He called Bishop Ihloff "our chief dreamer," and he exhorted the Episcopalians of the Diocese of Maryland to "dream that dream, with rich and poor alike, with black and white alike. Dream the dream of God. Our God is real! Jesus Christ lives!"
At the request of the new bishop, a theme of the service was the writings of the 16th-century Carmelite reformer and mystic St. Teresa of Avila.