[Episcopal News Service] On June 19 on behalf of the Diocese of Southeast Florida, Bishop Peter Eaton and the president of the diocesan Standing Committee, the Rev. Anthony Holder, presented a new wooden primatial cross to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at his office at the Church Center in New York.
There is a unique history to this gift. The silver primatial cross that has been used by every presiding bishop since Bishop Arthur Lichtenberger (1958-1964) was presented to the presiding bishop by the Diocese of South Florida on Dec. 19, 1961, when Lichtenberger ordained and consecrated two suffragan bishops for the diocese: James Duncan and William Hargrave. Eight years later, in 1969, when the Diocese of South Florida was divided into the dioceses of Central Florida, Southwest Florida and Southeast Florida, Duncan became the first bishop of Southeast Florida.
The cross, Curry said during the presentation, “is a reminder of the relationship between us and Palestinian Christians and Anglican Palestinian Christians, and the church in Jerusalem, regardless of the politics involved. Our ties are deeper than that.”
Some months ago, Curry asked Eaton where it might be possible to find a wooden primatial cross that would be suitable for some occasions. Eaton, who has connections to Christians in the Holy Land, suggested that it might be appropriate to have the cross made in Bethlehem, for both its symbolic associations and its support of Christian artists in Palestine.
“When I became a bishop four years ago, I wanted a crosier made of olive wood from Bethlehem,” Eaton said. “I have a long relationship with the Holy Land and with the Christian community there, and this was an important way for me to be connected to my many friends there.”
Eaton had worked previously with the Tabash family, who run and operate a business in Bethlehem that includes a great deal of olive wood work. They identified a local olive wood artist in Bethlehem, Ghassan Salsaa’, who designed a bishop’s crosier for Eaton, which included mother-of-pearl inlay work. Olive wood and mother-of-pearl are traditional materials used by artists in Palestine.
“It is a beautiful crosier,” Eaton said, “and every time I use it, I remember the Christian community in the Holy Land and all the friends that Kate (his wife) and I have there, and how important it is for us to support a vital and vibrant Christian presence in the Middle East.”
So when the presiding bishop asked about a new wooden primatial cross, it seemed fitting for Eaton to return to the Tabash family and Salsaa’ to do the work.
“The Episcopal Church has a long-standing relationship with the Christian communities of the Holy Land and with the Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East,” Eaton said, “and to have a new primatial cross from Bethlehem sends the right message. By asking the Tabashes and Salsaa’ to make the cross, we have a sign of our historic and important relationship, and we can support local Palestinian Christian businesses and artists.”
Eaton and the Tabashes designed the cross, which Salsaa’ made.
“Mr. Salsaa’ has made a beautiful cross, and it is an honor for the Diocese of Southeast Florida to present this to the presiding bishop, just as our forebears in the former Diocese of South Florida presented the previous cross,” said Holder, the president of the diocese’s Standing Committee. “We all give thanks to God for our presiding bishop’s ministry, and this is a small way in which we can show our gratitude.”
Like the silver primatial cross, the new primatial cross bears the shield of the presiding bishop and an inscription:
The Presiding Bishop
of The Episcopal Church
by the Diocese of Southeast Florida
The Feast of Pentecost
9 June 2019