Frank T. Griswold III, 25th presiding bishop, dies at 85

By ENS staff
Posted Mar 5, 2023

Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold III smiles to his predecessor Edmond L. Browning during his installation ceremony as the 25th presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Jan. 10, 1998, at the Washington National Cathedral. Photo: Reuters

Editor’s note: Funeral Mass details for attending in person or watching online have been added to the bottom of this obituary.

[Episcopal News Service] The Rt. Rev. Frank Tracy Griswold III, the 25th presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, died on March 5 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Griswold, 85, was bishop of the Diocese of Chicago when he was elected at the 72nd General Convention in Philadelphia in July 1997 to succeed Presiding Bishop Edmund Browning. He officially took office on Jan. 10, 1998, as he was invested in the role at Washington National Cathedral. He served until Nov. 1, 2006, when he was succeeded by the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori.

“Please join me in prayer for Bishop Griswold’s family and for all of us who give thanks for a remarkable and faithful servant of God who served among us as the 25th presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church. May the soul of Bishop Griswold, and the souls of all the departed, through the mercies of God, rest in peace and rise in glory,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said in a statement.

The Rt. Rev. Frank T. Griswold III, former presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, preaching during the Aug. 14, 2016, institution of the Rev. Nathan J.A. Humphrey as rector of St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in Newport, R.I. Photo: Zach Allen

RELATED: Memorial tributes pour in for Griswold

Griswold was the first of the church’s presiding bishops to serve a nine-year term after the 1994 meeting of convention had reduced the term from 12 years.

Known for his ecumenical and interreligious work, Griswold helped to shepherd The Episcopal Church’s full-communion relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The relationship grew out of an agreement passed at the 1997 General Convention during which Griswold was elected.

The actual terms of what became known as “Called to Common Mission,” were contentious in the intervening years as both denominations struggled with the other’s view of bishops’ authority. Eventually, the agreement was formalized during a liturgy on Epiphany 2001 at Washington National Cathedral.

Griswold also served as co-chair of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission from 1999 to 2004. He co-chaired the Anglican-Roman Catholic Theological Consultation in the United States from 1992 to 1997.

While his term was marked by deepening ecumenical relationships, at the same time Episcopalians and Anglicans struggled with sharp disagreements amongst themselves. Some of the so-called “bonds of affection” that many believe hold together the worldwide Anglican Communion snapped in 2003 when the Diocese of New Hampshire became the first in the communion to elect an openly gay partnered priest, the Rev. Gene Robinson, to be its bishop.

Those bonds had begun to fray about 15 years earlier when the Diocese of Massachusetts elected the Rev. Barbara Harris as bishop suffragan. She was the first female bishop in the Anglican Communion at a time when some Anglicans opposed women becoming priests, much less bishops.

When members of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies were asked to consent to Robinson’s election, a majority in both houses agreed. Griswold said that he voted for Robinson “because I see no impediment to assenting to the overwhelming choice of the people of New Hampshire.”

Griswold presided at Robinson’s ordination and consecration on Nov. 2, 2003, amid intense security and a strong airing of objections when he asked the ritual question of whether anyone knew any reason the service should not proceed.

“We’re learning to live the mystery of communion at a deeper level,” Griswold said after hearing those objections. The consecration proceeded.

Jefferts Schori, in a written statement to Episcopal News Service, praised Griswold as a “peaceable diplomat” who navigated the church through those tense years.

“That journey was not easy, but he led from the heart he knew. And sometimes that heart prompted surprising humor, slipped in slantwise,” Jefferts Schori said. “We give thanks for his steady and sacrificial leadership, his deep wisdom and lightheartedness, and his care not only for this chafing church, but for all God’s creatures.”

Griswold received honorary degrees from the General Theological Seminary, Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, Nashotah House, Sewanee, Berkeley Divinity School, Virginia Theological Seminary, Episcopal Divinity School, Seminary of the Southwest and Rikkyo University in Tokyo.

His books include “Going Home,” “Praying our Days: A guide and companion,” “Tracking Down the Holy Ghost: reflections on love and longing” and, co-authored with the Rev. Mark McIntosh, “Seeds and Faith” and “Harvest of Hope.”

From left, 26th Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, 27th Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry and 25th Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold. Griswold died on March 5, 2023, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo: Frank DeSantis/Diocese of Oregon

In retirement, Griswold continued a ministry of teaching, preaching, writing, lecturing and leading retreats, nationally and internationally, drawing on a broad range of spiritual traditions. He served as a visiting professor in seminaries and universities in South Korea, Cuba and Japan, as well as at the Episcopal Divinity School, the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Virginia Theological Seminary, and Seabury-Western. He also served as bishop visitor to the Society of St. John the Evangelist.

Griswold was born on Sept. 18, 1937, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and educated at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature at Harvard College in 1959. He attended the General Theological Seminary and earned a master’s degree in theology at Oriel College, Oxford University (1962, 1966).

Then-Pennsylvania Bishop Suffragan J. Gillespie Armstrong ordained Griswold to the priesthood in 1963. Griswold served three parishes in the Diocese of Pennsylvania before being elected bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of Chicago in 1985. He became the diocesan bishop when Bishop James W. Montgomery retired in October 1987.

Griswold was related to two Episcopal Church bishops, Alexander Viets Griswold, who was the church’s fifth presiding bishop from 1836 to 1843 and Sheldon Munson Griswold, who was the missionary bishop of Salina in what is now the Diocese of Western Kansas.

Griswold is survived by his wife, Phoebe, and daughters Eliza and Hannah, and three grandchildren.

Funeral details follow:

The Rite of Christian Burial
Saturday, March 18, 2023, at 11 a.m. Eastern
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
5421 Germantown Ave.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

All are invited to attend. The service also will be broadcast via YouTube livestream. Deacons, priests, and bishops will have special seating, clergy is requested to arrive by 9:30 a.m. Due to limited floor space in the front of the church, there will not be a procession. All clergy will enter at random during the prelude. Deacons and priests will vest at St. Barnabas on church grounds: Alb, white or gold stole.