Elected 1967, Day 6; served through 1976
The Very Rev. John Bowen Coburn would become Bishop of Massachusetts in 1976, but not before he could serve out a final third term in the House of Deputies, which he held in high esteem. He was born in 1914 and raised in Danbury, Connecticut, graduating from the Wooster School, founded by his father, Rev. Aaron Coburn, and attending Princeton University. After graduating from Princeton in 1936, Coburn taught biology for three years at Robert College in Istanbul. Following this, he attended Union Theological Seminary and was ordained in 1943. During World War II, Coburn served as a Navy chaplain on an attack transport in the Pacific. Upon his return, he became rector of Grace Church and Amherst College chaplain and lacrosse coach in western Massachusetts. He became dean of Trinity Cathedral, Newark, and later, dean of the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Cambridge. In 1969 Coburn became rector of St. James’ in New York City, after teaching English for a year in Harlem as part of an Urban League program, an experience that solidified his views on the social justice program of the Church. As President of the House of Deputies, Coburn helped to guide the Church through the adoption of a new Prayer Book and the turbulent conflict over the ordination of women. He was considered a “forward-looking yet conciliatory” leader. As Bishop of Massachusetts in 1977, he ordained his son Michael and his daughter-in-law Ann Struthers Coburn to the priesthood. Bishop Coburn received a number of honorary degrees in his long and active lifetime, and wrote prolifically, publishing books helping lay Christians to deepen their faith experience. He passed away at his home in Bedford, Massachusetts, in 2009, at the age of 94.


Executive Council Presentation 1975, Rev. Coburn’s presentation to the Executive Council on Sept. 30, 1975 offers an example of his engaging speaking style and his deep commitment to unity within the Church.

Rev. Coburn stands before a class in a storefront school in Harlem in June of 1969. In 1968, Rev. Coburn resigned his position as Dean of the Episcopal Theological Seminary to teach English for a year, as part of the Urban League’s Street Academy program. The program was intended to assist high school dropouts and graduates to gain admission to college.