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Peter Beckwith, Retired Bishop of Springfield, Dies at 80

By Kirk Petersen

The Rt. Rev. Peter Beckwith, who served as Bishop of Springfield from 1992 to 2010, died October 4, 2019, at the age of 80, the Diocese of Springfield announced.

Bishop Beckwith was a retired rear admiral in the Navy Reserves, having served as deputy chief of chaplains from 1996 to 1999. He also served as chaplain to Episcopal inmates at Southern Michigan State Prison, Jackson, the Marine Corps Reserve Association, the Illinois State Police, Hillsdale College, and was the National Chaplain for the Navy League of the United States, the diocese said.

During his episcopacy in Springfield, Illinois, Bishop Beckwith served on a committee that led to the formation of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). After retiring, he was received into the ACNA College of Bishops in 2014, according to the ACNA website.

Bishop Beckwith’s successor, the Rt. Rev. Daniel H. Martins, told TLC by email: “We were surprised and saddened in the diocesan office last Friday when the news of Bishop Beckwith’s death arrived. His long ministry in the diocese can still be felt in the congregations of central and southern Illinois. A great many laity and clergy remember him with fondness.” Bishop Martins is secretary of The Living Church Foundation, which publishes TLC.

The diocesan announcement said Bishop Beckwith was born in Battle Creek, Michigan in 1939, and attended Hillsdale College where he received a BA in 1961, having majored in Philosophy and Religion. Bishop Beckwith attended seminary at University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, earning his Master of Divinity in 1964. He also earned a Master of Sacred Theology from Nashotah House in 1974. In addition, he held several honorary degrees including a Doctor of Theology from Hillsdale College and a Doctor of Humane Letters from Nashotah House.

He had two children, Michael and Peter, with his wife, Melinda Jo. The funeral will take place at Hillsdale College in Michigan, but no further details have been announced.

In 2009, Bishop Beckwith was interviewed for an oral history memoir by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield. Much of the interview focuses on his experiences with the Navy, working his way up to one-star admiral from a direct commission as lieutenant, junior grade, during the Vietnam War in 1973.

Near the end of the interview, he said:

“I’m with the minority opinion in the Episcopal Church about the lightning-rod issues of sexuality — ordaining non-celibate homosexuals and blessing same-sex relationships — but it’s not really about that. That’s how it plays out in the culture, but to get to that place, you really have to jettison the principles of Christianity. You have to reject the authority of Scripture and the lordship of Jesus. … I fall short of the standard God sets for me, for everybody. … But to say somehow it doesn’t matter will destroy the Episcopal Church, and it’ll destroy any so-called religion that embraces those kinds of principles. The church is the church when it stands against society, not when it stands with society.”

In 2008, Bishop Beckwith was among a number of bishops interviewed on video by Episcopal Church staff during breaks at the Lambeth Conference.

“I was ordained into a church that didn’t have women on vestries. They weren’t allowed to represent the congregation in … diocesan conventions – or the diocese at General Convention. And I’ve had the occasion from time to time to say to people, ‘I don’t think we had a better church then.’ … I don’t think it was better because of that gender discrimination.”


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