Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold has announced that, following 'a very good conversation,' Sonia Francis, his assistant for program, has decided to take early retirement 'in order to make her own health and healing her first priority.'
Griswold said in a note to staff and the Executive Council that 'Sonia reports that her treatment is coming along in an encouraging way and it is important that she focus on getting well rather than the significant demands of her position. Sonia has been a valued friend and colleague to me and a true servant of the Gospel. I know from her absence just how much she will be missed.'
Francis, who has been on the staff at the Episcopal Church Center for over 37 years, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma last summer. 'My prognosis is good,' she said, 'but I need to pay attention to my treatment and focus on getting well.'
In 2000 Francis received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Episcopal Divinity School in Massachusetts 'for distinguished witness and service in church and society.' The biography prepared for the occasion cited 'a long and diverse career marked by unwavering dedication and service, ' adding that 'with grace and sensitivity you have filled the position of Assistant to the Presiding Bishop for Program since 1997, working with congregations, dioceses and provinces to help them realize their aspirations and needs in ministry.'
The biography added, 'Yours was a family where multiculturalism was normative.' Francis was born in Honduras to Jamaicans with links to Cuba and Bengal. After graduating from an English-speaking boarding school in San Antonio, Texas, Francis served in the Women's Army Corps (WAC) from 1960-65. 'This diverse background has given you a unique ability to understand people from many different cultural backgrounds, and has helped you serve as a bridge-builder between persons and organizations in the church,' the biography said.
Francis spent most of her career at the Episcopal Church Center in communications, at a time when 'a rapidly expanding communication agenda...addressed the church's increasing involvement with national social issues, especially the Civil Rights Movement,' according to the EDS biography. In her work experience and study at the State University of New York, she specialized in documentary film and the emerging video technology.
In 1971, Francis was one of the founding members of Episcopal Communicators, the national organization for church-based communications professionals. After serving as a radio and television specialist, she was appointed executive of the communications office at the Church Center in 1983 and was instrumental in planning and launching Episcopal Life, the church's national newspaper, in 1989. In 1995 she was appointed director of program.
Former colleague Kris Lee, now on the staff of the Anglican Communion Office, said that 'Sonia was among the very first denominational communication executives in the early 80's to produce network radio and TV spot campaigns for evangelism and for social justice causes. She was also a striking media performer and I remember well that evening when she received a standing ovation for her singing tribute to Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning at his final General Convention. At the Episcopal Church Center, Sonia championed the need for collegial partnerships with other departments by creating a successful inter-unit working group for planning and evaluating communication projects.'
Several former colleagues also pointed out the significance of her career in the life of others. Bishop Arthur Williams, interim director of ethnic ministries, said that his career in the church has paralleled Sonia's. His comments echoed many who said that she has been 'an effective and persistent presence on the national church scene--and we will miss her warm and welcoming ways. Over these years she has served as a wonderful role model for black women, in the church and in society.'