Frank T. Griswold III, 25th presiding bishop, celebrated as a ‘contemplative with a quiet courage’

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Mar 18, 2023

[Episcopal News Service] The Rt. Rev. Frank Tracy Griswold III, the 25th presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, was remembered March 18 as a leader who “bathed us in the love of God.”

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry in his sermon described Griswold as “a praying brother” who constantly invoked the example of the contemplative and ascetical Desert Fathers and Mothers and who also acted with quiet and clear courage.

Curry cited the example of Griswold choosing to be the chief consecrator of Diocese of New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson, then the first openly gay partnered priest to be elected a bishop in the Anglican Communion. Instead of delegating that role to another bishop, Griswold presided at Robinson’s ordination and consecration on Nov. 2, 2003, amid intense security and strenuous objections.

“He could have maybe made life easier for himself, maybe, in the Anglican Communion and with those who oppose Bishop Robinson’s consecration; he could have but, he didn’t,” Curry recalled.

Nineteen Episcopal and one Lutheran bishop were present March 18 at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to pay their last respects during the Rite of Christian Burial for the Rt. Rev. Frank T. Griswold, 25th presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church. Griswold, 85, died on March 5. Photo: Sharon Jones

Robinson was among the bishops who attended the Rite of Christian Burial service at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Germantown, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The service was livestreamed with nearly 800 viewers from all over the world from Blaine, Washington, to Waterloo, Belgium, offering prayers for Griswold and his family.

“Bishop Griswold was such a blessing and a great partner in ministry for so many people!” wrote Sue Cromer, youth minister at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, Virginia, who noted that she wanted to be present but was leading a confirmation retreat. Cromer served on Griswold’s Diocese of Chicago staff.

The Rite of Christian Burial service for the Rt. Rev. Frank T. Griswold was held on March 18 at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo: Liam Reid/Diocese of Pennsylvania

Griswold, 85, died on March 5 in Philadelphia. He was bishop of the Diocese of Chicago when he was elected at the 72nd General Convention in Philadelphia in July 1997 to succeed then-Presiding Bishop Edmund Browning. He officially took office on Jan. 10, 1998, when 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.

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

The liturgy at St. Luke’s used Eucharistic Prayer B from the Book of Common Prayer. Griswold helped write the prayer for the 1979 version of the prayer book.

The Rt. Rev. Geralyn Wolf, formerly the bishop of the Diocese of Rhode Island, presided. Jefferts Schori was a communion minister. The order of service is here.

Curry said Griswold helped the church by showing “the courage of continually seeking relationship and reconciliation with those who profoundly disagreed with him.” Griswold “knew, as Dr. Martin Luther King said, the end is not just a protest; the end is not just redemption. The end is the creation of the beloved community as God has dreamed and intended from the beginning.”

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached during the Rite of Christian Burial service for the Rt. Rev. Frank T. Griswold, the 25th presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church. Photo: Liam Reid/Diocese of Pennsylvania

The former presiding bishop’s example of “unselfish, sacrificial” love helped the church “navigate tough, tough times,” Curry recalled. “When we weren’t sure if the old church would sail, like Jesus on the boat on the turbulent Sea of Galilee, Frank taught us how you get through a storm. You sleep [you stay calm, contemplative and prayerful] your way through it. ‘Go to the heart, the heart of God and dwell there in prayer,’ I can hear him say now.”

That example continued into Griswold’s retirement, Curry said, during which the former presiding bishop led pilgrimages, led retreats, and preached as he continued to be “kind of the spiritual director of The Episcopal Church.”

At its recent meeting at Camp McDowell in the Diocese of Alabama, the House of Bishops passed a resolution that, in part, invoked one of the earliest Desert Fathers as it celebrated Griswold’s “depth of theological wisdom and spiritual insight, as well as a generosity of spirit, along with his understanding, following Saint Anthony the Great, that our life and death are with our neighbor, binding us thereby in baptism to the journey of the discernment of truth in communion.”

The bishops praised him for the way he “gracefully embodied, with cultured humanity and holiness of life” the Anglican tradition of bishops. The resolution also noted Griswold’s ecumenical leadership, especially as the Anglican co-chair of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission from 1999 to 2003 and his championing of the 2001 full-communion agreement between The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The bishops also remembered “with gratitude his selfless ministry in his pensioned years as a pastor, teacher, spiritual director, retreat leader, and friend to many of us in this House and to others, who, rooted in the fullness of the human experience, encouraged us, in tracking down the Holy Ghost and in gathering up the fragments, to pray all our days, that we might grow more deeply into the love of, and longing for, God, and so might become prayer itself.”

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg retired in July 2019 as senior editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service.