Browning Elected 24th Presiding Bishop

Episcopal News Service. September 19, 1985 [85177]

Thomas L. Ehrich

ANAHEIM (DPS, Sept. 19) -- Bishop Edmond Lee Browning of Hawaii was elected the 24th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church by the General Convention meeting here, Sept. 7-14.

Chosen on the fourth ballot in the House of Bishops closedsession voting at nearby St. Michael's Church, Browning received concurrence in the House of Deputies almost immediately after a sealed envelope bearing his name was brought over from the Bishops.

No deputies stepped forward to debate the selection, and only one deputy voiced a dissenting vote.

The 56-year-old native of Texas, whose election was widely seen as a reflection of the Church's broadening diversity, pledged "a ministry of servanthood to the whole Church."

Browning will succeed John M. Allin as Presiding Bishop at the end of the year. His family might remain in Hawaii until June, when a son graduates from high school.

At their closely-guarded election site, the bishops began at 7:30 a.m. with a Eucharist celebrated by Allin, who preached on the young David who "came to play" in his battle against Goliath and the Son of David in whose name the Church gathers.

When the first two ballots did not yield a majority, the bishops broke for a light breakfast served by the women of St. Michael's. Because the House of Deputies wasn't scheduled to convene until 10:00 a.m., Allin "stretched out (the election) to make it last awhile," one participating bishop said.

After the fourth ballot, Allin announced Browning's election, and the bishops "broke into spontaneous applause," said Bishop H. Coleman McGehee of Michigan.

Bishops wouldn't discuss details of the balloting. One said that Bishop John T. Walker was "a strong candidate to the very end. All four had strong support."

"Browning was everyone's second choice," said one bishop. Even though Allin's election in 1972 had come on the second ballot, the bishops had prepared for a long day of balloting this time.

Asked to describe the mood after Browning's election, bishops uniformly said it was warm, unified and relaxed.

"I got a sense of good-spirited unity in the entire election process," said Bishop Donald M. Hulstrand of Springfield.

"There emerged a sense of complete unity when the decision was announced," said Bishop John B. Coburn of Massachusetts.

"It was a very happy event," said Bishop Paul Moore, Jr. of New York.

At 10:45, two deputies carrying a purple helium-filled balloon appeared on the House of Deputies' podium. Business stopped and applause began.

An envelope handed them at St. Michael's Church by Bishop Scott F. Bailey was turned over to Charles R. Lawrence, president of House of Deputies.

Lawrence gave it to the Committee on the Consecration of Bishops, who retired to consider their recommendation on concurrence.

In the meantime, the Hon. George Shields, chairman of Dispatch of Business, removed the purple balloon from the podium, saying, "I believe I'll retire this until we take our action."

Nine minutes later, the committee returned and announced its "unanimous recommendation for concurrence with the election of Edward Lee Browning," using an incorrect first name.

Applause began again, but Lawrence stopped it, saying, "Let me remind you that 'these don't say Hanes until we say they say Hanes,'" referring to a popular television commercial in which a tester confirms the products real identity.

There wasn't any debate. The vote was a loud "yes" and one "no."

A half-hour later, the Hawaii delegations to Convention and Triennial escorted Browning to the podium. One carried the purple balloon. Browning and his wife Patti wore bright Hawaiian leis.

He acknowledged the standing ovation with the two-fingered Hawaiian sign meaning "hang loose."

Lawrence sang a round of "Happy Anniversary" and announced that it was the Brownings' 32nd wedding anniversary.

"We hope you will accept this office," Lawrence said.

"I held up really well until I came in the back room and the whole delegation from Hawaii was there," Browning told a packed house. "Then I broke down."

He spoke briefly. He acknowledged his ties to the other three candidates.

Bishop Furman C. Stough and his wife are godparents of the Brownings' youngest son John.

Bishop William C. Frey and Browning were first elected bishops at the same convention in 1967, in the days when the House of Bishops elected overseas bishops.

Bishop John T. Walker and Browning have been allies in social activism ever since they entered the House of Bishops.

"I do believe I am here because of the will of God," Browning said. "I offer you a ministry of servanthood for the whole Church."

Browning began his parish ministry in Texas in 1954. Five years later, he became a missionary priest in Okinawa, eventually attending a Japanese Language school and intending, he said in an interview, "to spend the rest of our lives in Japan."

After finishing language school, "I went to a mission in Oroku, Okinawa, that had seven members," he said. Almost immediately, he wrote his bishop that "I had doubled the congregation to 14." When he was elected Bishop of Okinawa in 1967 the ghetto church had grown to about 30.

After three years as Bishop of Okinawa, Browning became bishop in charge of Episcopal churches in Europe.

Three years later, he became executive for world mission at the Episcopal Church Center. In 1976, he was elected Bishop of Hawaii.

In commenting on Browning's election, bishops cited his broad international and multi-cultural experience. Browning himself said in a press conference, "We are no longer a middle-class and white church. We are a multi-cultural church."

Browning said in an interview that he would encourage this growing awareness of diversity.

"I am hopeful that diversified expression can find life in the leadership of the Church," he said.

"We have to be intentional to see that doors are open at every level, such as staffing and committees."

He also foresees leadership training programs for minority groups.

Browning's election signals, among other things, that the Episcopal Church is aware of its diversity, said Coburn. "He is a reflection of that new understanding. He has lived in it."

"I think Ed will bring us an international flavor as no one else could," said one bishop. "He'll lead the Church out of the tribal mentality of nationalism."

"He will represent the Church on a world-wide scale" said Bishop Donald M. Hultstrand of Springfield. "There was a time when it looked like the Episcopal Church was drawing away from missionary work" and instead was dealing with internal issues.

"We are once more looking out into the world and doing it with intentionality," Hultstrand said. "We are a world-wide Church."

Bishops also see Browning as "a unifying figure," as one put it. "He'll have the vision of John Hines (Presiding Bishop from 1965 to 1974) and the collegial style of John Allin. He won't be a daring charismatic figure who will lead the charge out into the dusty trails."

Hultstrand said, "Now that we have covered many of the controversial issues, we are ready to go about what we consider the mission of the Church."

Bishops downplayed the political nature of this election. "We've gotten away from the idea that this is a political election," Hultstrand said.

"There was a time when we felt there were parties in the Church. Not now. We aren't thinking in terms of parties or factions."

"This wasn't a political election," said Bishop William C. Wantland of Eau Claire. "What we have done is choose a new spiritual leader for the Church."

A biography of Browning handed out as reporters followed him to a press conference noted that "spiritual development... is of the highest priority."

Asked to elaborate in an interview, Browning said, "Maintaining my spiritual life has been imperative for my growth. When I was in seminary I adopted the devotional practice of the 'sentence prayer.' I begin every day of my life saying the words that Jesus said from the Psalm, 'Into your hands I commend my spirit.'"

At a crowded press conference -- "I've never been in this situation before," Browning said -- the Presiding Bishop-elect was questioned on a variety of issues.

He said President Reagan's limited sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa disappointed him. "I think he could have done much more," Browning said.

Asked about fundamentalist Jerry Falwell's criticisms of South Africa Bishop Desmond Tutu, Browning said, "I thought they were totally out of place." Asked about the Church's mood, he said, "I have a feeling that the Church is becoming more sensitive to the needs of the world." He held up the Church's "prophetic" role.

Asked about membership losses, Browning said he doubted that data and said his impression is that the Church is growing. He noted "serious spiritual renewal."

Asked about continued usage of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, he said that the Church needs its many gifts, and he believes there shouldn't be "outcasts." He said, "We can embrace all people and all cultures."

Asked about his personal agenda, Browning said he would begin by "listening to where the Church is," trying "to engage the Church at every level as to what are our priorities. I don't think the Presiding Bishop's office should try to set those priorities."

Browning distanced himself from Allin's comments on clergy divorce, in which Allin encouraged divorced and remarried clergy to seek lay ministries. In Hawaii, he said, "we have divorced and remarried clergy. They are among the brightest clergy in office."

On women's ordination, he said, "I am tremendously committed to enhancing the ministry of women." He said he would begin with the National Church staff as a place for "incorporating women's talents."

On homosexuality, Browning said he differed from a 1979 House of Bishops statement that questioned the ordination of avowed and practicing homosexuals.

"I don't believe we should put anyone down," he said. "I don't believe that you legislate against people. In the Diocese of Hawaii, we have had a chapter of Integrity (the organization supporting homosexuals). I have tried to be as supportive as I possible can be on gay rights at every level." He said he agreed with a resolution at this Convention to explicitly state that homosexuality can't be an obstacle to ordination.

On the location of the Episcopal Church Center, he said, "I have been personally supportive of keeping the Church Center in New York. But that is a matter for the whole Church to decide.