With nearly 4,000 seats set up in Washington National Cathedral and plans for a live satellite broadcast to sites around the nation, the Episcopal Church set the stage for the installation Saturday of its new presiding bishop, or top officer, Bishop Frank T. Griswold III.
Griswold, an Oxford-educated cleric, will take the church’s helm at a time when its unity is being severely tested by stark ideological divisions among its members.
In keeping with tradition, the installation ceremony called for Griswold, carrying the shepherd’s crook, or crozier, which symbolizes his pastoral duties, to knock at the cathedral’s west doors before being formally admitted by a delegation of church officials within.
Griswold said he had not thought “a great deal about how I’m going to respond” to contending factions among Episcopalians, many of whom are deeply divided over issues relating to sexuality. “I think it’s very important,” he added, “not to lose sight of the fact that there is a vast center” within the church, comprising people “who can talk with one another civilly and have a profound sense of being one church.”
Griswold, 60, served for 12 years as spiritual head of the Diocese of Chicago before he won election as the church’s 25th presiding bishop at the Episcopalians’ General Convention last July, coming in first among five candidates, including some men more liberal and some more conservative than he.
He becomes the leading figure in a church whose social and political impact has exceeded its relatively small size - 2.4 million members - among American denominations. The presiding bishop’s authority is far from absolute in a church where policy making lies with the General Convention, a bicameral body that includes bishops, priests and lay people who meet every three years. But, as Griswold said, the presiding bishop can exercise considerable moral suasion.
“In terms of church law and polity, there’s very little that the presiding bishop can affect,” he said. “But there’s a great deal the presiding bishop can do by virtue of the presiding bishop’s style of leadership.”
Within the church, Griswold is known as a careful listener with a keen interest in the spirituality of the Roman Catholic Benedictine monastic order. He built a record in Chicago as a supporter of the ordination of women as priests, an issue that remains a sore point among some church traditionalists.
And, stepping into far more contentious territory, he was among more than 100 bishops to sign a 1994 statement saying sexual orientation is “morally neutral” and that “faithful, monogamous, committed” relationships of homosexuals were worthy of honor.
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