[Diocese of Pittsburgh] It was no surprise that the loudest and longest ovation given during the consecration of the Rev. Ketlen Solak came when Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, moments after the laying on of hands and vesting, announced to the congregation, “Pittsburgh, greet your new bishop!”
Perhaps the second loudest came earlier as Delaware Bishop Kevin Brown began his sermon, “We’re just happy to be in the room.”
For those in attendance, it was a joyful moment, long-awaited. Not only was it a celebration of a new bishop, coming almost two full years after Bishop Dorsey McConnell announced his intention to retire, it was also the first large in-person gathering in the diocese since the onset of COVID-19. And, the weather had cooperated with impeccable timing.
That early morning of Nov. 13 had brought blustery winds and the first snow flurries of the season. But minutes before the doors of the historic Calvary Episcopal Church were to open for the public, gray skies turned blue. The procession made its way outside before entering the church to strains of Parry’s “I was glad,” followed by “I bind unto myself today” – long hymns needed to cover the full 16 minutes it took for the service participants to enter.
All of the 500-plus who had gathered were masked and intentionally kept at half of Calvary’s capacity due to COVID safety protocols.
They included visitors from the two dioceses where Solak had exercised her priestly ministry: Delaware, including clergy and congregants of Brandywine Collaborative Ministries, where she had served as founding rector until her election this past June 26; and Virginia, some of whom had boarded a bus at 5 a.m. to attend the service.
In his sermon, Brown saluted Solak as, “This native of Haiti, a trained pianist with a fantastic voice.” He joked about her ready smile and infectious laugh. In addressing the work of rebuilding that has taken place since the Pittsburgh diocese split in 2008, he called her a bridge builder for the “City of Bridges.” (Pittsburgh is known to have more spans across its hilly terrain than anywhere in the world, even the canals of Venice.)
“She is an inveterate bridge builder, a person who says, ‘I see Christ in you,’” Brown continued, “Get ready, because she builds bridges a day at a time, a meeting at a time, a person at a time. Don’t call a bridge builder if you aren’t ready to look up, step out, and cross over.”
He also spoke of Solak’s love of storytelling. He challenged all to not assume that others know the story of why Episcopalians do what they do.
“If you don’t tell them that Jesus Christ animates you, that you are people of the living God, and you let them assume the story on your behalf, what are you doing? We got to tell them we’re not doing good things just because we’re good people. We’re doing good things because our Savior died on a cross to bring hope and love to this world,” he said.
Curry served as chief consecrator. Co-consecrators were McConnell; Brown; Newark Bishop Carlye Hughes; former Deleware Bishop Wayne Wright; former Virginia Bishop Suffragan David Jones; and Bishop Kurt Kusserow, of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Neighboring bishops participating were Bishop Sean Rowe of Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania, Central Pennsylvania Bishop Audrey Scanlan and West Virginia Bishop Michie Klusmeyer. West Tennessee Bishop Phoebe Roaf also participated and Iowa Bishop-elect Betsey Monnot was in attendance.
“I just want to give a warm thank you to each and every one of you gathered here today. My heart is full,” said the newly-consecrated Solak to those in the church and watching online. Curry then extended greetings on behalf of the entire Episcopal Church.
Solak was formally seated the following day, Nov. 14, at Pittsburgh’s Trinity Cathedral.
Video of the consecration service is available on the Diocese of Pittsburgh YouTube channel.
-Rich Creehan is director of external relations for the Diocese of Pittsburgh.