The Rt. Rev. Edmond Lee Browning, 24th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, died July 11. His death is a loss to Integrity USA as an organization and to me personally. Bishop Browning’s stance that there would be no outcasts in The Episcopal Church was a costly position for him to take. He was criticized by those in our church who considered themselves to be of a more traditional bent. His ministry is summarized here: RIP: Bishop Edmond Lee Browning, 24th Presiding Bishop. He made room in The Episcopal Church for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people who found their way to a faith community where they could be who God created them to be.
Bishop Browning’s vision of no outcasts was a broad vision. In addition to including those who were LGBT, he also embraced those affected and infected by HIV/AIDS. He was the chief consecrator of the first woman bishop in the entire Anglican Communion, The Right Reverend Barbara Harris. As an African-American, Bishop Harris would break even more boundaries to the full inclusion of all in our church.
I met Bishop Browning during the General Convention of 1991, held in Phoenix, Arizona. Ours was an “official/unofficial” meeting brought about by some of the nastiness being directed at LGBT folks at that convention. My “poker face” proved to be more revealing than I thought at one of the morning Eucharist’s and a bishop at our “church table” shared his concerns about me with my bishop who got in touch with me. Out of all of that I found myself in a meeting with Presiding Bishop Browning, my bishop, and the officers of the House of Bishops. When asked what was wrong and what we wanted, I had a few simple requests on behalf of my kindred LGBT souls. We were weary of the nastiness being directed at us by clergy and laity alike who really did not want us included in the life of The Episcopal Church. The world and the church were very different then. We wanted to be treated with the respect accorded us in the vows of our baptismal covenant. Progress had begun and with it came some of the first positive legislation about LGBT issues, not to mention the fact that the first openly LGBT Deputy to General Convention came out on the floor of the House of Deputies. This was also the General Convention where the first true public hearing on LGBT issues was held. We had as a church begun talking about who we were. The speakers were The Reverend Sam Candler and The Rev. Kendall Harmon. Sam was our champion.
Some months later I would become the first President of Integrity to meet with a Presiding Bishop. I traveled to New York and proceeded to 815 Second Avenue and was escorted to the Offices of the Presiding Bishop. I was a little nervous, but I need not have been. Bishop Browning embraced me with his loving aura and sat with me on a sofa in his office as we talked. It was not unlike carrying on a conversation with one’s grandfather. (Although I realized later that he was only twenty years older than I….it must have been the trappings of his office that made me think he was older than he was.)
Subsequent to that meeting would happen the first and historic meeting of an Integrity Board of Directors with The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. He was, at least at first, a bit hesitant to have the meeting publicized, but we were clear that it would be documented in “The Voice of Integrity” which was our official publication at the time.
Another first and an expression of his vision of no outcasts was his acceptance to be our speaker and guest at our next Integrity Convention (yes, we used to have those regularly!). When he stated from the pulpit at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, that he really didn’t care what the press thought, we got a glimpse of his ardent support for us and his refusal for us to be outcast by the church.
We (and I) have lost a great friend and ally with the death of Bishop Browning. The Episcopal Church has lost one of its giants. Edmond L. Browning now rests in the bosom of the God who created, redeemed and sustained him throughout a long and productive ministry. By now he has heard the words “well done, good and faithful servant.” May he rest in peace and rise in glory. May we ponder our loss even as we celebrate a ministry from which we received innumerable benefits.
Bruce Garner, President