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Remembrances of Frank Griswold, 25th Presiding Bishop

A March 18 public funeral is planned for the Most Rev. Frank Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church from 1998 to 2006, who died March 5 at the age of 85. The service will begin at 11 a.m. at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Germantown, Pennsylvania. It will be livestreamed from the church’s YouTube page.

TLC asked a number of people who knew him personally to reflect on their memories of the man.

Fostering Deeply Rooted Spirituality

By Jeffrey D. Lee

As a young priest, long before I had any inkling that I would follow Bishop Frank Griswold in office in Chicago, I aspired to emulate him. Frank had an amazing ability to interpret the Christian tradition in contemporary terms, and he understood that the institutional church’s soul depended on fostering deeply rooted spirituality in laypeople and clergy alike. He called us all again and again to a deeper encounter with the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection as the heart of the Christian life.

Jeffrey Lee

When I became Bishop of Chicago, a decade after Frank had left that post to become presiding bishop, I experienced firsthand the power of his calm, gracious presence when he was kind enough to attend my seating during a service of Evensong at St. James Cathedral. I soon came to understand the quiet way he had brought the diocese through the rancorous conflict over women’s ordination that he inherited and the love and loyalty that his leadership engendered. I learned, too, from his quick wit and sense of humor. He knew, as all of us in leadership should know, how and when not to take himself too seriously.

During his time in Chicago, Frank pulled back the curtain on a great deal of unhealth in the diocese, which in earlier times had become a safe but secret haven for closeted LGBTQ clergy. Long before he steered the Episcopal Church through the election and ordination of Bishop Gene Robinson, which he supported in the face of fearsome opposition, Frank helped Chicago begin to become a diocese where LGBTQ people called to ordained ministry could be safe not only from ecclesiastical reprisal, but also from repercussions about acknowledging their identities and living openly in their faithful relationships. In doing so, he made the diocese healthier in ways that benefited its people and all of his successors.

I believe Frank understood that his dignified, gracious manner and impeccable credentials gave him particular credibility as the leader of a church striving to become safer and more welcoming for all of God’s people. All of us who have continued that work in the last two decades are in his debt.

Frank’s death marks the passing of an era in the Episcopal Church. I will miss him deeply, both as a mentor and a friend. May God grant to him eternal rest.

The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey D. Lee, the retired 12th Bishop of Chicago, serves as bishop provisional in the Diocese of Milwaukee.

 

Calm in the Midst of Turmoil

By Gay C. Jennings

Twenty years ago this summer, Bishop Frank Griswold led the House of Bishops through one of the Episcopal Church’s most contentious General Conventions in modern times. It was 2003, and bishops and deputies had gathered in Minneapolis for a convention that included voting on consent to the election of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. I remember that convention well, not only because I was a deputy, but also because I had been the consultant to the Diocese of New Hampshire’s bishop search process.

Gay Jennings

Deputies had consented to Gene’s election by a comfortable margin three days earlier, on a Sunday afternoon. But the next day, a baseless allegation had been leveled against Gene, and Frank appointed Bishop Gordon Scruton to investigate the matter before the House of Bishops vote proceeded. By Tuesday evening, after a time for prayer and anointing, the bishops were ready to vote, and 62 of 105 bishops voting consented to Gene’s election.

After the vote, Frank held a press conference with national and international media. The pressure was extraordinary; not only had 19 bishops read a statement expressing sorrow on the floor of the House of Bishops after the vote, but the Archbishop of Canterbury and primates of other Anglican provinces were also in various states of distress. Frank read a calm public statement that acknowledged the crisis, but honored “the search and election process of New Hampshire” and the church’s “long history of honoring diocesan choices of episcopal leadership.” He noted, too, that the Episcopal Church’s willingness “to do this work in a public way that is honoring of one another says a great deal about who we are as a community of faith.”

And then, this dignified presiding bishop, known as a man of great theological and spiritual depth, sent a signal to the church that I have never forgotten. He told the world that he had voted to consent to Bishop Robinson’s election “because I see no impediment to assenting to the overwhelming choice of the people of New Hampshire.”

I have always believed that Frank was telling us not only to trust God’s people and their discernment of a new leader, but also that in his mind, there was no impediment — theological, spiritual, or biblical — to the election of an openly gay, partnered man to be a bishop in God’s church.

Two decades on, this seems like old news in most parts of the Episcopal Church. Thanks be to God, the election of an openly gay, partnered bishop attracts little notice these days. And although we have not yet finished the work of making our church fully inclusive of all of our LGBTQ siblings in Christ, we have begun the journey, thanks in part to Presiding Bishop Griswold’s leadership in 2003.

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings served as president of the House of Deputies from 2012 to 2022.

 

A Burning and Shining Lamp

By Phoebe Pettingell

When I heard that Bishop Griswold had died, a passage from the Gospel of Saint John immediately flashed into my mind, when Jesus says of John the Baptist, “He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light’” (John 5:35). Gracious and deeply intuitive, his countenance and whole manner would light up when he was engaged with a person, people, or idea.

Phoebe Pettingell

I first encountered him in when he was Bishop Coadjutor of Chicago at a women’s quiet day. He spoke, as I came to learn he often did, about living into one’s vulnerability and inner poverty so that one came to rely on the grace of God, rather than feeling one was, or needed to be, always in control. When I introduced myself after one of the guided meditations, he told me, “A Phoebe! I collect Phoebes.” Over the years, I encountered a number of “Frank’s Phoebes,” as we called ourselves, and we treasured times when we could sit at the feet of him and his own special Phoebe, his beloved wife.

As a General Convention deputy from the Diocese of Fond du Lac assigned to the Committee on Prayer Book and Liturgy, as it then was, I became familiar with his vast liturgical knowledge. He had been involved with the creation of the 1979 prayer book. These were the days of battles over inclusive language, and as chair of the Standing Liturgical Commission, he had me assigned to it to work on sources that he called “Expansive Language.” This removed the politicized stigma, but also broadened the project from what he called “liturgy by whiteout” — merely removing gendered pronouns — to liturgies that, inspired by Medieval and Celtic models, would offer fresh expressions while relying on materials both new and old. He rightly understood the danger that merely eschewing gendered Trinitarian language could depersonalize the Godhead, and wanted to emphasize instead the personhood of God who, as he often said, transfigures us by compassion.

Bishop Griswold is sometimes portrayed as a liberal, even an extremist, but in my years working under his leadership, I found him to be moderate, highly creative, but also a lover of the tradition he perceived in Anglican ethos. He wasn’t afraid of change, but he valued a freshness, not novelty, a kind of Resurrection rooted in the deep history of the universal Church.

His time as presiding bishop was often painful. He was forced to make difficult decisions, and his heart was bruised when Rome made him resign from Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), which he loved, over the consecration of Gene Robinson. Not infrequently, he faced calumny on various sides, but throughout it he appealed to the resources of his Ignatian spirituality and his deep love of the Pauline Epistles: “For the sake of Christ, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). Above all, he continued to grow and develop into the compassion of Christ. He will be missed, but our church is richer for his time among us.

Phoebe Pettingell is a writer and editor living in northern Wisconsin.

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