Edmond Lee Browning, international peacemaker, promoter of the ordination of women and gays, spiritual advocate for people with HIV/AIDS and defender of minorities and other marginalized people in the church, declared that there "will be no outcasts" during his acceptance speech after his election as the 24th presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church on Sept. 12, 1985 in Anaheim, California at the 68th General Convention.
"I have today invited you, all of you, to share the diversity of views, of hopes, of expectations, for the mission of this Church," he said on that occasion. "I want to be very clear -- this church of ours is open to all -- there will be no outcasts -- the convictions and hopes of all will be honored."
Browning's six decades of ministry in the church are the topic of a new biography, "The Heart of a Pastor: A Life of Edmond Lee Browning," by Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook, professor of theology and religious education at Claremont School of Theology and professor of Anglican studies at the Episcopal Theological School at Claremont, and published by Forward Movement Publications.
Click here for the book.
On Dec. 3, a crowd of 100 or so well-wishers attended a launch party for the book at St. Michael & All Angels Church, Portland, Oregon. Browning, his wife, Patti, and the author were present.
Kujawa-Holbrook recounts the story of a child who knew first-hand the despair of dysfunction that so often leads to marginalization. Browning's father was an alcoholic who was in and out of his son's life. To help the family survive, Browning, who was born on March 11, 1929, in Corpus Christi, Texas, worked a variety of odd jobs: delivery boy, soda jerk, used shoe salesman, and drive-in laundry clerk.
"I am very aware of the potent effect that early experience [his father's alcoholism] had on me," said Browning, quoted in the biography. "I know my scars. I remember them all, and I burn with a longing for the healing of others' pain."
Browning's first act of advocacy for "outcasts" was his decision to briefly leave seminary when the board of trustees refused a request to allow an African-American to enter. He returned when the ban was lifted, to the criticism of some. Browning's reply was: "I know some of my classmates thought I was wrong to go back, to reward a concession that must, in some cases, have been only a grudging one. But I wanted to be there to help make it work."
Being there to "help make it work," was what Browning has been doing ever since. He and Patti, an art student from Taft, Texas, whom he met on a blind date in 1951, took their three young children to Okinawa, where he would become the Japanese island's first bishop in 1968. He often took his children with him on visits to a leper colony. "There are not many things I have seen that have taught me more about Christ that what I saw there," he remarked.
In 1971, the family moved to Wiesbaden, Germany, where Browning served as bishop-in-charge of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe. At that time, Browning called for amnesty for Vietnam War resisters living in. In 1974 White House officials called Browning personally to inform him that President Gerald Ford had granted amnesty.
The Browning family, grown to include five children, eventually moved to Hawaii, where he served as bishop from 1976-1985. Browning became the first bishop member of the EPF, he appointed a Hawaiian Commission to work on indigenous issues and provided for Hawaiian liturgies, and he worked on limiting nuclear arms proliferation. He made international headlines in 1984 when he directly attacked President Ronald Regan's war policies.
During his term as presiding bishop, Browning visited South Africa, Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza; AIDS wards in San Francisco at the height of the epidemic, El Salvador, East Asia, Burma, Panama, Nicaragua, Haiti and Cuba, and was the first Anglican primate to visit China. He met with Yassar Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and was at the White House in 1993 when the Oslo Accord, the first ever face-to-face meetings between Israel and the PLO, was signed. In 1990, Browning met personally with President George H.W. Bush and urged him not to go to war.
Browning was chief consecrator of the first woman bishop in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion on February 11, 1989: Barbara Clementine Harris as Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Massachusetts.
The Brownings are now retired and living in Dee, Oregon (near Hood River). They have 13 grandchildren and raise blueberries and preside over a menagerie of farm and domestic animals. Their ministry continues in their work with Sabeel, an ecumenical grassroots liberation theology movement based in Jerusalem, and with Episcopal Peace Fellowship and the National Episcopal Aids Coalition.