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Tracking Down the Holy Ghost: Reflections on love and longing by Frank T. Griswold

31 August 2018

Jesse Zink considers a former US Presiding Bishop’s reflections

FRANK GRISWOLD concluded his ministry as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States in 2006 — but don’t call him retired. In this book of spiritual reflections and reminiscence, he tells of how he told a fellow bishop that he was retiring. “Not retired,” replied the bishop. “Pensioned!” And so Griswold has continued his long and distinguished ministry across the Church.

Tracking Down the Holy Ghost is not a memoir, but Griswold does tell some of his story: his deepening faith while attending prestigious educational institutions, his vocation to the priesthood, and his ministry in a handful of parishes, before his election as Bishop of Chicago in 1987 and then Presiding Bishop in 1997.

The personal reminiscences tend toward the first portion of this ministry, and his learning and growing in faith while also serving as a parish priest, father, and husband. The reader who is looking for greater reflection on his leadership of the Episcopal Church at a time of great dissension, particularly over sexuality issues, will not be greatly rewarded. There is little here about the part that he played as chief consecrator of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, and mostly oblique references to his relations with other Churches in the Anglican Communion.

But to read this book for those purposes would be to miss the point. Instead, Tracking Down the Holy Ghost collects the questions, musings, reflections, and ideas of a lifetime of faith. Here, Griswold reflects on the centrality of the sacraments in his own understanding of the gospel. He writes at length about how he understands prayer, and it is not surprising that this discussion is connected with his writing about the importance of the Church.

The Most Revd Frank Griswold (centre) shares a joke with Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana as the US delegation arrive to address the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Nottingham in June 2005

Here, the reader may hear some echoes of controversies in which Griswold was involved, as when he writes: “The polarizing effect of conflicts in our churches reveals that many people on all sides of contentious questions have little sense of what it means to be ‘church’. For them, Paul’s notion that Baptism binds us together is simply not a fundamental and shared perception.”

These are the reflections of a servant of the Church, whose life since his teenage years has been bound tightly with the institutional Church. But, as he looks back, he also has important perspective to offer, noting how easy it is for people involved with the “church-as-institution to substitute the institution for the person of Christ and to live out of our own strength rather than out of the vital energy supplied by the Spirit”.

The reader of this book is left in no doubt about Griswold’s faithfulness and the great gifts that he has offered many in his ministry. Those looking for greater detail on the ins and outs of his leadership of the Episcopal Church will have to await his next book.

The Revd Dr Jesse Zink is Principal of Montreal Diocesan Theological College, in Canada.

Tracking Down the Holy Ghost: Reflections on love and longing
Frank T. Griswold
Church Publishing Inc £13.99

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