Saturday, September 29, 2012

Happy 50th Bishop James Montgomery

Bishop Montgomery with his Sffragan Bishop, Quinton Primo
a former rector of St. Simon's Church, Rochester
The Feast of St. Michael & All Angels, aside from being my name day, is the anniversary of the consecration of the Rt. Rev. James W. Montgomery, IX Bishop of Chicago, retired.  Today is the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the episcopate, a rare celebration indeed.  He was consecrated Bishop Suffragan of Chicago on September 29, 1962. I was not quite a year and a half old!

Bishop Montgomery was born May 29, 1921, which means he was 41 when made bishop, and is 91 now.

Many know that my ordination process was bumpy, and that I left my original diocese and seminary in order to get clear about my life and health.  I moved to the Diocese of Chicago during the end of Bishop Montgomery's tenure (he retired on October 1, 1987).  He was very, very kind to me and helped me to get settled and to start the ordination process over again in the Diocese of Chicago.  I could not have done it without him.

When John and I lived in Greenbelt, we were able to see Bishop Montgomery once and awhile, since he had moved to Alexandria, Virginia in his retirement (although he kept an apartment in his beloved Chicago).  He also did occasional episcopal visits in the Diocese of Washington, including to my parish, St. George's, Glenn Dale.

I learned the importance of the personal touch from Bishop Montgomery. He remembered names and facts about people throughout the diocese that amazed me.  I have watched and listened at church doors as he greeted most everyone by name and often asked about children or grandchildren.  

He also taught me how to be an Anglican in many ways.  He himself was a convinced Anglo-Catholic; it was all as natural to him as breathing.  And he lived what he believed.  He was not, however, an idealogue. There was room in his life for the broad spectrum of experience within the Episcopal Church.   It was not begrudged acceptance, either, but a true charity, in all the best senses of that word.

The best example of this was his handling of the ordination of women.  He himself never ordained a woman to the priesthood (and never has, to my knowledge), although he ordained many deacons who were women.  He allowed them to be ordained, however, by his Suffragan or other bishops and to serve congregations. He presided over the installation of several women as rectors in his diocese.  On two occasions I watched him at the Altar with the Bishop Suffragan of Washington, Jane Holmes Dixon, as if it were the perfectly natural thing to do.

He also taught me that no amount of high church piety could replace the commitment to social justice that was every Christian's duty.

By the time I was ordained a deacon at St. James' Cathedral, Chicago, Bishop Montgomery had retired. His successor, Bishop Frank Griswold, ordained me. But he was there and the photo here is of the two of us at the reception following.

If this has sounded like a eulogy, it is decidedly not. Bishop Montgomery is alive and well and just may see his 60th anniversary. His mother, after all, died at the age of 100.


Corinne C. said...

Sorry - simply not true that Bp Montgomery allowed women to be ordained in his diocese - not by anyone. When I first became an Episcopalian in 1987, I was baptized by Bishop Montgomery and became a member of the Cathedral. Whoever told you Montgomery tolerated the ordination of women in his diocese is mistaken. I was there.

John Dixon said...

Corinne C.,

Somehow you are misinformed. From the Chicago Tribune:

"Bishop Primo led his own empowerment campaign in the 1970s by ordaining female candidates to the priesthood while Chicago's suffragan bishop. His activism was carried out while his superior, James Montgomery, then the Episcopal bishop of Chicago, was unwilling to ordain women, according to a news release from the diocese's office of communication."