Bob Williams writes:
THE Most Revd Edmond Lee Browning, who, in 1986, became the 24th Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church in the United States — stating “there will be no outcasts” — died on 11 July, aged 87, at his home in Dee, Oregon, where proceeds from his blueberry farm assist international relief.
Having ordained the first female bishop in the Anglican Church, and affirmed LGBTQ rights, while decrying the plight of Palestinians, and condemning South African apartheid, Bishop Browning has been remembered with tributes from church leaders around the world.
Born in Corpus Christi, Texas, Edmond Browning graduated from the University of the South, and was ordained priest in 1955, in the diocese of West Texas. He was elected Presiding Bishop on 10 September 1985 by the House of Bishops, while the General Convention met in Anaheim, California; his term lasted 11 years, from 1 January 1986 to 31 December 1997. Sheryl Kujawa Holbrook traces his life and ministry in her 2010 book The Heart of a Pastor: A life of Edmond Lee Browning.
The Anglican Consultative Council — of which Bishop Browning was a member during its 1984 meeting in Badagry, Nigeria, and 1987 meeting in Singapore — brought him into collaboration with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Robert Runcie, particularly before the 1988 Lambeth Conference and its work regarding women’s ordination.
Later that year, the diocese of Massachusetts elected Barbara Harris, a priest and Philadelphia public-relations executive, as its Bishop Suffragan. Dr Runcie urged respect for the diocese’s choice, and for Bishop Browning, who presided at Harris’s 1989 consecration — a first in Anglican history.
Bishop Browning remained steadfast in LGBTQ advocacy, while addressing acrimony that included ecclesiastical presentments against bishops who had ordained priests of same-gender orientation, issues that also roiled the wider Anglican Communion. As the AIDS crisis unfolded in 1985, Bishop Browning urged strong pastoral care, both locally and globally.
In a 1994 interview with the Massachusetts diocesan newspaper, Bishop Browning cited “not only a tolerance, but an eagerness to include the gifts of gay people within the life of the Church. I think we have also been dealing with the issue of racism for a long, long time — and will continue to do so.”
Bishop Browning’s leadership in cross-cultural ministries included affirming all ethnic groups, and launching a decade of reconciliation with Native Americans. His understanding of indigenous ministries was informed by his tenure, from 1976 to 1985, as Bishop of Hawaii, preceded by his term as bishop-in-charge of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe, and as missionary bishop of Okinawa, to which post he had been elected in 1968.
”I could not have wished for a more supportive friend — both personally and of our church — at the height of our struggle against apartheid,” Archbishop Desmond Tutu said a week after Bishop Browning’s death. “He and Patti [his wife] witnessed for justice everywhere, whether in South Africa, Palestine, Central America or beyond. . . He spoke out for justice, peace, and democracy superbly and courageously.”
The priest and founder of Sabeel, in Jerusalem, Naim Ateek, praised Bishop Browning for his solidarity with Palestinians, recalling their shared visits to the West Bank and Gaza, and meetings with the Palestinian Authority.
”That enduring legacy is still helping to set many a captive free,” the Episcopal Church’s current Presiding Bishop, the Most Revd Michael Curry, said. “It is evidence that God is not finished with us yet; for every once in a while spiritual giants still walk among us as living reminders.”
Among speakers at a memorial service in Trinity Cathedral, Portland, Oregon, on 19 July, was the President of the Episcopal Church House of Deputies, the Revd Gay Clark Jennings, who quoted a predecessor, the late Dr Pamela Chinnis, in paying tribute to Bishop Browning. Together, Chinnis and Browning guided the Church through storms, including a federal judge’s sentencing a former treasurer to five years in prison on charges of embezzling $2.2 million from church-wide funds. All but $100,000 was recovered.
Leading the liturgy with Bishop Curry were former Presiding Bishops Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, who offered the prayer of commendation, and Frank Tracy Griswold III, who preached. “The Ed Browning we have known as husband, father, friend, pastor, bishop . . . continues his journey into the force field of resurrection,” Bishop Griswold said.
”Ed’s warm and loving spirit, and his heart which excluded no one, have been and continue to be enormous gifts to us and to the Church. But they also offer us a challenge: How deep is our compassion? How just is our justness? How willing are we to engage in God’s mission of making all things new?”
Bishop Browning leaves behind his wife, Patti, their daughter, and four sons, and 13 grandchildren.