Frank Griswold of Chicago Elected 25th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church

Episcopal News Service. August 6, 1997 [97-1902]

Mike Barwell, Communications Director of the Diocese of Southern Ohio, James Solheim, Director of News and Information for the Episcopal Church

(ENS) Pledging to be "a presiding bishop who belongs to all," Bishop Frank Tracy Griswold In of the Diocese of Chicago will lead the 2.4 million member Episcopal Church into the 21st century.

Griswold was elected the 25th presiding bishop July 21 by 214 bishops gathered at historic Christ Church in Philadelphia, where William White was elected first presiding bishop in 1789. He will assume the office January 1 as successor to Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning.

The election came on the third ballot when Griswold received 110 votes and Bishop Herbert Thompson Jr. of Southern Ohio received 96. For the first time, the vote tallies were announced before the House of Deputies was asked to assent, which they did with an overwhelmingly positive vote.

Escorted by the deputation from his diocese, Griswold greeted both houses in a joint session and drew on a quote from Roman Catholic bishop Helder Camara of South America: "The bishop belongs to all.... Let no one be alarmed if I am seen with compromised and dangerous people on the left or the right. Let no one bind me to a group. My door, my heart, must be open to everyone -- absolutely everyone."

Early reactions to election

Response to Griswold's election was swift and largely supportive. "I understand he's a great reconciler and I think that's what's needed at this time," said the Rev. Julia Phillips of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast.

"He will be able to dialogue with the conservative and liberal agendas," said the Rev. Dennis Nichols, of the Diocese of New Jersey.

The Rev. Dane Bragg, of the Diocese of Southern Virginia, agreed, suggesting Griswold "will continue Bishop Browning's legacy of inclusiveness."

"I think all of us who have worked for him feel that we're giving a great gift to the Episcopal Church, but it's a sacrificial gift," said Phoebe Pettingell of Wisconsin, who served three years with Griswold on the Standing Liturgical Commission.

"He's somebody who is able to convey such a vision to everyone that you feel that you are working for love and you feel that you're inspired with a vision of God's kingdom," Pettingell said. "There's no question in my mind that he's the person who can give this church the vision that can remind us that we're in Christ and that whatever differences that we have, we're united in the work that we do to be Christ's hands in the world."

Griswold also was credited by many for his strong ecumenical work with Roman Catholic dialogues, ongoing leadership in conversations with the Russian Orthodox Church, and with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which is based in Chicago.

Katie Sherrod from Forth Worth, vice president of the Episcopal Women's Caucus, said, "I think he will continue the philosophy that there are no outcasts in this church." She called him someone capable of providing the "kind of balance that is sorely needed in the church."

Hope for healing wounds

Conservatives in the church also responded quickly with expressions of support and hope for the future. Yet some adopted a "wait and see" attitude.

Bishop John Howe of the Diocese of Central Florida said Griswold "is an extremely gracious leader within the church and an accomplished bishop, and I wish him well." He pointed out that in the House of Bishops "the vote on virtually all of the hot-button issues before this convention reveals an almost equal split," including the election.

Griswold has "as his first order of business," Howe said, "reaching out to those on the other side of the great divide. If he does not do that, it is hard to see how these two constituencies will continue under one roof."

Some traditionalists expressed hope that Griswold would heal wounds from the past. Diane Knippers, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy and a member of the board of the American Anglican Congress (AAC), an umbrella organization pulling together many of the conservative organizations in the church, said in a press release: "We pledge to encourage and assist Bishop Griswold in the much-needed efforts to restore godly civility and common decency to the Episcopal Church."

Roger Boltz, administrative director of the AAC, added, "It is our hope that he will be more committed to holding the Episcopal Church together and to improving our relations with other provinces of the Anglican Communion. Important steps to these ends would be to see that all points of view are fairly represented on national committees and to speak to the public on behalf of the whole church only when the whole church truly has one mind and voice.

Staying grounded

At his first press conference, Griswold said that "the ministry of the presiding bishop is to stand at the center." When asked whether he would offer some hope to conservatives who feel marginalized, he said, "I hope I am orthodox in my theology. All of us have truth to tell."

He said that "the church is destined always to contain diametrically opposing views" and part of his task is to "help the different voices hear one another" through continuing conversation. "I see myself as an Anglican with the breadth to live with ambiguity and contradicting perspectives and stay grounded."

Known for his ability to listen, Griswold talked about how he had been stretched as a bishop of Chicago. When members of the black community shared their painful stories with him, "I realized that my perspective on racism was naive and that their reality had to become my reality," he said.

When asked about the church's continuing division over sexuality issues, he declined to predict the outcome, but insisted that opposing sides might enrich and transform one another through their conversation.

"We must acknowledge the very different perspectives in our community," he said, emphasizing the importance of staying at the table together.

"Discovering truth and catholicity is what I commit myself to as presiding bishop," he said. Pointing out that conversation and conversion have the same root, meaning to turn or be turned, he added, "We are designed to discover truth together through conversation."

"Conversion is a sacred enterprise in which I am turned around, I am changed by making room for, by considering, by being hospitable toward the opinions, the word, the lived and incarnate truth of another," Griswold said later in a sermon at the closing Eucharist (full text in News Features). "Left to our own devices, we are critical, fearful and protective of our own take on truth."

Through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, he said, we can "welcome the paradox, complexity, ambiguity and outright contradiction, which is where real life is lived and the grace and peace of God are truly to be found."

At the closing press conference, Griswold expressed his hopes that "the community of faith must remain resilient and learn to travel light," especially as it tries to deal with major cultural shifts in society. Part of his duty will be to "point to the larger picture" as the church struggles to deal with difficult issues.

Assumes office in January

Griswold, 59, is in his 10th year as bishop of Chicago. His term has been marked by greater acceptance of women priests, a shift to a voluntarily funded diocesan budget, a revamping of congregational development policy leading to self-sufficiency for assisted congregations, and more emphasis on the work of the 13 social service agencies of the diocese's Episcopal Charities.

Griswold assumes office January 1 and will be formally installed January 10 at Washington National Cathedral. Because of a revision in canons at the 1994 General Convention, he will serve a nine-year term rather than a 12-year.

Griswold was born and raised in Bryn Mawr, a suburb of Philadelphia, and served three area parishes as an assistant priest or rector for 22 years before he was elected bishop coadjutor of Chicago in 1984.

A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, Griswold was ordained priest in 1963. He served as curate at Church of the Redeemer, Bryn Mawr, the parish in which he was baptized and confirmed, and as rector of St. Andrew's in Yardley and St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Philadelphia. Griswold succeeded Bishop James Montgomery in 1987 as bishop of Chicago.

On the national level, Griswold is known for his skills as a liturgist and spiritual director, and for his role overseeing ecumenical dialogue between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church.

Griswold and his wife, Phoebe, have two adult daughters -- Hannah and Eliza -- who joined him, along with Eliza's husband Chris Allen, at the convention.

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