By Kirk Petersen

The Rt. Rev. John T. Tarrant, who retired last year as the X Bishop of South Dakota, died on August 24 of an apparent heart attack. He was 68.

Bishop John Tarrant

The announcement was made by the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, where Tarrant served several churches earlier in his career. He returned there after retirement.

“His humble ministry among indigenous people made John a wonderful storyteller of God’s love for diversity,” said the Rt. Rev. Dr. Douglas John Fisher, Bishop of Western Massachusetts. “While this loss is especially local, it is felt churchwide. The House of Bishops mourns John today as we remember a colleague and friend.”

Tarrant was elected bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of South Dakota in 2009, and became bishop diocesan in February 2010. At the time of his election, he had been serving for four years as rector of Trinity Church in Pierre, South Dakota.

The Diocese of South Dakota currently lists 78 congregations distributed across the entire state, many of them small and rural. In a long and poignant interview with TLC in June 2018, Tarrant spoke about the challenges of serving a poor and far-flung diocese, where more than half the members are Native Americans.

At least 20 of our buildings do not have indoor plumbing or water. Most of them have pretty good outhouses. When people hear that, at first, they say, Oh my gosh, all the wealth in the Episcopal Church, we should get ’em bathrooms! Only if you’re going to pay the propane bills all winter long so the pipes don’t freeze. Sometimes, that’s the complexity of poverty that people do not understand. …

Tarrant said the introduction of the 1979 prayer book placed an increased emphasis on the Eucharist, which requires the physical presence of a priest.

What we did, we said that worship needed to be clergy-focused. And I think when we did that, we really lost that lay leadership that was pretty normative in much of the church. You can be the body of Christ in the Episcopal Church without indoor plumbing. You can be the body of Christ within the Episcopal Church having one priest serve seven or eight congregations. You can be the body of Christ within the Episcopal Church and not actually be able to afford insurance on your building, knowing if it burns down it’s gone. You can be the body of Christ if you choose to be the body of Christ.

Funeral arrangements have not been announced.