c. 1998 Religion News Service
WASHINGTON _ As Bishop Frank T. Griswold III made the transition from leader of the Episcopal Church in Chicago to presiding bishop of the 2.5 million-member national church, he sought refuge in a prayer retreat, knowing he would soon be surrounded by the much more chaotic atmosphere of church controversy.
At a news conference Friday (Jan. 9), the day before his installation at National Cathedral, Griswold spoke of his upcoming challenges as presiding bishop and how he prepared to face them.
Recalling his talks with longtime friends at a Benedictine monastery in Elmira, N.Y., where he made his retreat, Griswold said he told them how much their knowledge of him as a”person of prayer”will mean to him during his upcoming nine-year term.”I told them you’re going to be very important to me in the months and years to come,”said the bespectacled, 60-year-old, his white collar contrasting with the black of his clerical suit.”By virtue of the office of presiding bishop, I’m going to become a center of controversy, like it or not, and probably in some people’s minds, I’m not going to be a human being. I’m simply going to be a living issue.” The”hypotheticals”people have been asking him _ how he will deal with the church’s debates over sexual, financial and legal issues _ will become a reality for him, come Monday, when he arrives at his new desk at 815 Second Avenue in Manhattan.”On Monday morning, I will take a (train) with two very heavy suitcases and head for New York and show up at 8:15 and begin,”he said.
Among the controversies is the recent discovery conservatives within the denomination have taken legal control of the name and the flag of the church. The move was instigated by Bishop William C. Wantland of the Diocese of Eau Claire, Wis.”I’ve had a letter from Bishop Wantland indicating a desire on his part to talk,”he said.”Certainly, I look forward to that conversation.” Griswold will also face bitter disputes over homosexuality, including the ordination of gays and the blessing of same-sex unions.
When asked if he had ever had a role in ordaining sexually active homosexuals, the new leader of the Episcopal Church stated simply,”Yes.” Griswold also said he expects to deal with proposals for the establishment of a separate, non-geographical province (jurisdiction) _ for which the conservative traditionalists have called _ as well as discussions with the four dioceses continuing to refuse to recognize ordained women.
In addition, he also is interested in fostering ecumenical and interfaith relations. For what is believed to be the first time, a Muslim _ Sulayman S. Nyang, president of the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington and an adviser to the American Muslim Council _ will make a presentation during the installation service.
Archbishop Spyridon, head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America, will also make a presentation during Griswold’s installation, a sign of improving relations between the Episcopal and Orthodox segments of Christianity.
In general, Griswold hopes to promote conversations _ within and without his denomination _ among those with whom he may have strong differences.”My sense is that I’m ready for conversation,”he said.”All one can do is open the door and say, please come in, please sit down and let’s talk.” He said he knows people have freedom to choose not to talk, but hopes some Episcopalians who feel”alienated or devalued”will work with him to find a”new way”to continue to be part of the denomination.
But Griswold stressed he also hopes to find a balance between the controversial issues and other areas of church life, such as mission work.”A church that isn’t pursuing mission isn’t being faithful, as I see it,”he said.”For a variety of reasons, we as the Episcopal Church of the United States have been so preoccupied with certain, highly emotional issue _ they’re not unimportant, to say the least _ but on the other hand have become so all-encompassing that we have, I think, failed to respond to that fuller mission, which certainly includes the proclamation of the gospel.” Griswold said his experiences of pastoring wealthy and not-so-wealthy congregations and moving into diocesan leadership have helped him realize he must erase preconceived notions of how he should minister.”In each case, I have been informed by the community,”he said.”The word has emerged from our life shared rather than being something that I simply declared.” In addition to hoping to achieve balance between controversy and mission, Griswold aims to maintain a personal balance between being a humble believer and the church’s top official. One of his goals is to lead prayer retreats for clergy and times of reflection for bishops.”When I talk about prayer it regrounds me in my own need for prayer,”he said.”Publicly sharing some of the things that have been important to me in terms of spirituality and growth in the gospel allow me to hear myself and remind myself, lest I become an ecclesiastical functionary, that at heart, I always remain a praying Christian dependent absolutely on the grace and mercy of God.”
MJP END BANKS