In Memory of James E. Griffiss: A Personal Reflection

Article excerpt

I first met James E. Griffiss as many others have, in the pages of a book. For me it was The Anglecan Vision the first volume of The New Church's Teaching Series, of which he was editor. In the first chapter, he wrote:

A church that values the past and the tradition of Christian belief and practice is increasingly willing to deal with the present and iuture, and to come to terms with the conditions of American political and cultural life under which Christians actually live. It has struggled to hear God's word to us through the tradition and in the new conditions facing Christian people (p. 18).

As I read his words and grasped his vision, I realized I had met a teacher: someone who articulated what I recognized as truth, who gave shape to my own sense of Anglican identity, and then expanded it beyond where I might have imagined going.

I met Jim in the fullness of his person in 1999, when he was appointed the first Canon Theologian to the Presiding Bishop. We were in contact often and, without much conversation about it, we quickly became able to transmit great amounts of both information and emotional content in few words. Now, Jim had become both teacher and friend. When we had dispatched the subject at hand, we happily roved into other topics to our mutual liking. Dogs, of course. He thought it quite fine that our beloved black lab was named Sophia, and when he came to visit he made instant friends with Sophie, whom he pronounced wise indeed. There were frequent humorous exchanges about his clear sense that the Canon Theologian to the Presiding Bishop surely was entitled to a penthouse apartment in New York, with swimming pool, of course. "Did you find my apartment yet?" he would ask in great mock seriousness.

This reflection was not meant to be written as a memorial. Jim and I were still telephoning back and forth when I was asked to make a contribution to this issue, and I had been with him not long before. I expected that whatever I wrote, Jim would have something to say about it, and I actually looked forward to the conversation. I knew he would mutter a bit, chide me for the laudatory parts, and leave me feeling as if I had done what I ought to have done. That was Jim.

It is now summer in Minneapolis and I write this from the 74th General Convention of the Episcopal Church where, among other things, I am reading Trollope. …

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