Packard Consecrated Fifth Bishop for Armed Services, Healthcare and Prison Chaplaincy

Episcopal News Service. February 18, 2000 [2000-033]

(ENS) In a colorful ceremony that blended religious and military symbolism, the church consecrated a Vietnam War hero, the Rev. George Packard, as fifth suffragan bishop for the Armed Services, Healthcare and Prison Ministries February 12 at Washington National Cathedral.

Fifteen bishops crowded around Packard as he kneeled before Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold, having answered that he felt persuaded that God had called him to the office of bishop, and that he would fulfill the trust, be faithful in prayer, "boldly proclaim and interpret the Gospel of Christ," and encourage baptized people "in their gifts and ministries."

Bishop Packard then received the signs of his office -- vestments, a Bible, a ring, a pectoral cross and a crosier from his predecessor, Bishop Charles Keyser.

Blending in with the bishops and clergy were high-ranking chaplains from the Navy, Air Force and Army, as well as chaplains from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and medical centers. Many were friends and colleagues from Packard's days with the First Infantry Division in Vietnam where he received a Silver Star and two Bronze Stars for valor.

After service in the Army, Packard graduated from Virginia Seminary in 1974, and transferred his commission to the Army Reserves as chaplain. He served parishes in Virginia and New York and six years as canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of New York. With the approach of the Gulf War he was assigned to the Pentagon in 1991, serving as full-time chaplain during Operation Desert Storm.

A 24-hour Vigil for Peace and Reconciliation was held in a chapel of the cathedral prior to the consecration, sponsored by chaplains and the Episcopal Peace Fellowship. A similar vigil was held 10 years ago before Keyser's consecration. Greetings and prayers from chaplains around the world who could not attend the service were included in a book presented later to Packard.

Historical context

In sketching the historical context, Bishop Richard Grein of New York said in his sermon that consecration is something the church has been doing for almost 2000 years. However, he contrasted the consecration of Packard with the consecration of two American priests by conservative primates in Singapore, suggesting that "this one is about the unity of the church....This is about the orderly consecration of a bishop."

Grein quoted Archbishop Michael Peers of the Anglican Church of Canada, who argued that "bishops are not intercontinental ballistic missiles, manufactured on one continent and fired into another as an act of aggression." Peers said that the consecration was "an open and premeditated assault on Anglican tradition, catholic order and Christian charity," as quoted by Grein.

The church asks in each age what it wants and needs in a bishop in a new millennium, Grein said. And we are finally realizing, at what many are describing as the end of a modern era, that technology has not made life better, that we are facing a world where many feel helpless in the face of so much evil.

Remembering his own consecration, Grein said that the weight of hands on his head was "very symbolic of the office." The hands mean that "we are about heavy matters, very substantial matters," marked by collegiality and continuity. "Hands also represent enormous burden," he added, as well as "great gifts...the power of the Spirit laid upon you." And he urged the new bishop to remember that, as Cyprian said, bishops must stay together, that they must bear responsibility with other bishops for leadership of the church.

Russian Orthodox bring gifts

Special music for the service was provided by the choir of Christ Church in Georgetown -- which sang a song written and dedicated for the new bishop, the Motet Choir of Virginia Theological Seminary, and the United States Naval Academy Gospel Choir.

In a moving surprise, Packard's counterpart in the Russian Orthodox Church, Bishop Savva, brought greetings from Patriarch Alexy II and presented Packard with a panagia, a medallion that is a sign of office in the Orthodox tradition. Savva also paid tribute to Keyser, who led a team of chaplains to the Russian church when it was attempting to reestablish its chaplaincy after the fall of communism.

Packard's office supervises the work of over 200 chaplains in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Civil Air Patrol, Federal Bureau of Prisons and Veterans Affairs Hospitals.

Although chaplains have served people in the military since the colonial era, supervision by the churches is a recent development. The office was established by the House of Bishops in 1964 when Bishop Arnold M. Lewis was elected first bishop for the Armed Forces. "The role of the office has expanded greatly in the last decade," said the Rev. David Henritzy, who supervises healthcare chaplaincy for the office. "We are entering a new era," said the Rev. Jackie Means, who coordinates prison ministry for the office.

A changing ministry

Packard inherits a very different kind of ministry, one that has been reshaped considerably. In an interview with Episcopal Life days before his consecration, he said that his ministry symbolizes the new emphasis now being placed on reserve forces as peacekeepers -- in addition to the traditional role of combatants.

The House of Bishops elected Packard last fall, passing over active duty chaplains to name a chaplain who had served in the Army Reserves for more than 20 years. "We can no maintain a long-standing peace without supplementing the military with the ranks of reserves," he said. "As we move into the new millennium, the character of the military [is changing] to reflect a certain balance between reserve forces and active forces. Our military commitment in Kosovo, for example, has an increasing presence of guard and reserve troops." Packard sees the three facets of the office linked by a common theme of reconciliation. Military troops are often serving as peacekeepers. And reconciliation is certainly a component in health care and in a ministry to prisons where two million people are incarcerated.

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