Members of Congress and the Washington community came together April 28 to honor Congressman Amory Houghton Jr., as the Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold presented him with the Presiding Bishop's Award for Faith and Public Service. Bishop M. Thomas Shaw of Massachusetts and Congressman John Lewis of Georgia were guest speakers at the ceremony.
The Presiding Bishop's Award for Faith and Public Service is given to a lay member of the Episcopal Church who, in his or her public life, has demonstrated the profound influence of faith as shaped by the Anglican tradition. The award was last given in 2000 to Pamela P. Chinnis, president of the Episcopal Church's House of Deputies from 1991 to 2000.
Houghton was elected to Congress for the state of New York in 1986, following a long career with Corning Glass Works (later Corning Incorporated). Well known as a moderate Republican, he is a founding member of the Republican Main Street Partnership, which fosters centrist values within the party. He is also, along with Lewis, co-chair of the Faith and Politics Institute, an organization created to support and empower political leaders through spiritual reflection and discernment. Houghton announced in early April that he will retire from public office at the end of this year.
Among those attending the ceremony were Episcopal members of Congress, members of the New York congressional delegation, Faith and Politics Institute, and the Republican Main Street Partnership, as well as family and friends. Fresh Start Catering, a non-profit organization that trains the traditionally unemployable for careers in food services and uses its profits to support the DC Central Kitchen for the homeless, catered the reception.
Always building bridges
Shaw, a longtime friend of Houghton and his wife, Priscilla, opened the ceremony at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation. "His kindness, his pastoral care, his sense of fairness, his civility...all of that Amo Houghton learned from the master, our Lord Jesus Christ, in inviting Christ deeper and deeper into his life," Shaw said.
He also addressed the importance of recognizing Houghton's commitment to dialogue in government and beyond. "We so deeply need, with all the polarization in the church, in government, in our society, an icon like Amo, who is always building bridges, always trying to get people to talk to one another and come together," Shaw said.
Lewis, who met Houghton in 1987 when they were both freshmen representatives, spoke eloquently of his work in Washington. "I believe Amo sees his involvement in politics as an extension of his faith. He is a believer that...we come into this world to make a contribution, to do some good," he said.
Houghton told of passing the Lincoln Memorial on the way to an orientation meeting, and asking Lewis if he, too, had been there the day Martin Luther King Jr. spoke in 1963. He recounted his chagrin at discovering that Lewis, a civil rights activist from an early age, was actually one of the speakers that day. The congressmen have worked together often, most recently in co-chairing the Faith and Politics Institute.
"When historians pick up their pens and write about this period in our history," Lewis concluded with obvious emotion, "they will have to write that a man--a gentleman, a leader, a friend...tried to make a difference, tried to bring people together."
Griswold then presented the award--a garden statue of St. Francis of Assisi--to Houghton and also read letters of greeting from Bishop Jack McKelvey of Rochester and former president Bill Clinton.
"You have been a beacon for both your commitment to the faith of Christ and for the many ways it can be lived out in real life," McKelvey wrote.
Griswold explained to the audience the philosophy behind the award and Houghton's appropriateness as a recipient. "The Anglican tradition has at its heart...the diverse center... It is able to contain divergent points of view and seeks to bring those points of view together in creative tension that serves the common good," Griswold said. "That Anglican consciousness is perfectly embodied in Amo."
Houghton accepted the award and accolades of his peers with characteristic modesty and humor. Thanking Griswold, he said, "Bishop, you're our leader--outgoing, far reaching, gutsy, strong. I'm so honored to be part of your flock, so I thank you."