[Frances Perkins]: Public Servant and Prophetic Witness

Loving God, we bless your Name for Frances Perkins, who lived out her belief that the special vocation of the laity is to conduct the secular affairs of society that all may be maintained in health and decency. Help us, following her example, to contend tirelessly for justice and for the protection of all in need, that we may be faithful followers of Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Dear People of St. David’s,

I so loved reading your Lenten Meditations, and hearing from some of you about your Lenten disciplines. Many of you tried new patterns of prayer. You may have breathed a sigh of relief when Easter arrived and your commitment ended, but I suspect that many of you continued your new habits of prayer, even if abbreviated in form. Once we get used to new patterns, we discover they don’t represent the tremendous amount of time we had anticipated, and they often slide right into regular use. It occurred to me that you might wish to know how to access even more inspiration from our book Holy Women, Holy Men, which gives us short biographies of saints and persons worth emulating, along with a collect for the day and some suggested scripture. Referring to these occasionally can really refresh our habits of prayer and provide great inspiration!

We clergy are out and around, bringing “Easter Communion” to those unable to join our congregation on Sunday, and this year, to those living in planned communities as well. On one of my visits recently, I had the opportunity to share the story of one of our “trial saints.” (They are the ones in brackets, as Frances Perkins’ name is above.) It’s true that we “inherited” saints at the time of the Reformation, but The Episcopal Church does have a process for adding persons to our calendar whose lives have been faithful and worthy of emulation. Indeed, this July, the 80th General Convention of the Episcopal Church will meet in Baltimore, and such persons will be considered. There is an exhaustive process in bringing a person forward for deliberation, but anyone can initiate it, starting in one’s own diocese.

The experience I had with our fellow parishioners caused me to wonder who we commemorate today, May 13th, and it is Frances Perkins. Her biography, collects, and scripture suggestions are in trial use in congregations that have agreed to participate in the review, by using them in their daily worship. Using this resource Holy Women, Holy Men, one can learn all about her. Because her career in public life caused her to be the longest-serving Secretary of Labor, a vital contributor to the creation of both The New Deal and Social Security, you can research her accomplishments in many places.

However, Frances Perkins is not being considered for her secular accomplishments. As a lifelong Episcopalian, active in her parishes, we learn that she had a vivid spiritual life, undergirded by monthly time away on retreat. This withdrawal for spiritual nourishment strengthened her commitment to justice, to the dignity of every human being, and her commitment to love her neighbor as herself.

When one looks at her entry, once notices that it says “Preface for Baptism.” That is a pointer for clergy, referring to the introductory piece we use in every celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Usually it is seasonal, for Easter at this time of year, but on other occasions a particular preface is recommended. The Preface for Baptism says, “Because in Jesus Christ our Lord you have received us as your sons and daughters, made us citizens of your kingdom, and given us the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth.”

Most of you reading this letter are laypersons, set aside as Christ’s own forever at your baptisms, made a son or daughter of God, and a citizen of the Reign of God. You received the Holy Spirit, just as Frances Perkins did. You are thereby equipped as she was, to do great things in this world, to be seekers of justice, and lovers of all God’s children. As we celebrate Frances Perkins today, celebrate yourself and the gifts God has given you for the building of the Reign of God! You have everything you need to know God in Jesus Christ and to make Christ known to others.

The Rev. Elizabeth W. Colton
Associate Rector