Bishops of the Episcopal Church elected Chicago Bishop Frank T. Griswold III as their new leader Monday, choosing a gentle voice of liberalism to lead the 2.5 million-member denomination into the next millennium.
The news was greeted by enthusiastic cheers at the church’s general convention in Philadelphia, where elected deputies quickly confirmed Griswold as presiding bishop, the chief administrator and spiritual leader of the church.
But it took the bishops, sequestered nearby in colonial-era Christ Church Cathedral, three ballots to deliver Griswold the narrow majority needed for election, as he nudged aside the 11th-hour challenge of a more conservative bishop from Cincinnati.
With the denomination, like so many Protestant churches, in the midst of a prolonged struggle over the roles of women and homosexuals in the church, Monday’s close vote offered no clear mandate.
Griswold, whose approach to those controversies has usually been conciliatory, indicated in an interview Monday evening that he had taken those mixed results to heart.
“As presiding bishop, one of my roles is to honor the diversity of perspectives,” he said.
“I think the narrowness of the election margin makes it clear to me that the church would be the poorer should any one of those points of view be shut out.”
Griswold, 59, will take office on Jan. 1, moving to New York for his nine-year term. At the same time, he will vacate the leadership of the 49,000-member Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, launching the 18-month process of electing a new diocesan bishop.
If that signals change for Chicago, Griswold’s selection suggests that the denomination’s bishops ultimately chose to stay the course at the national level.
In denominational meetings and here in Chicago, Griswold has followed the lead of current Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning, carefully pushing for acceptance of women and homosexuals in new roles, but tempering those stands with calls for greater church unity.
H. Coleman McGhee Jr., retired bishop of Michigan, acknowledged that many of his colleagues thought Griswold was too liberal, but said that he expected the new presiding bishop to be as attuned as his predecessor to social and economic issues.
“Griswold is good for the church, a very good choice,” said McGhee, calling him “intelligent, progressive and open to other views while maintaining his.”