|The Right Rev. H. Coleman McGehee, Jr.|
Photo Credit: Diocese of Michigan
"In 1973, when I with trepidation and hope approached the newly-installed Bishop McGehee about supporting the entire spectrum of sexual orientations, he immediately put me at ease by saying, 'Absolutely!' He spoke out passionately for all of us for 40 years, as a fearless advocate for justice and peace," said Jim Toy, Secretary of Integrity's Proud Partner OASIS TBLG Outreach Ministry of the Diocese of Michigan.
Bishop McGehee served in the U.S. Army in World War II and then in the Army Corps of Engineers, achieving the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. He graduated from Virginia Tech in 1947 and then obtained a law degree from the University of Richmond, serving for a time as the Deputy Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Ministry called, however. In 1957, he graduated from Virginia Theological Seminary and took the rectorship of Immanuel-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, ministering to the late President & Betty Ford.
In May of 1973, McGehee was elected bishop in Michigan, assuming -- after two years as coadjuter -- the seat occupied by Rt. Rev. Richard S. Emrich since 1948. His ministry was marked by a strong commitment to human rights. He ordained the diocese's first female priest in 1977 and lived up to his promise to the LGBT community.
"He was a man of great courage and faith. He was among the first to ordain women as deacons and priests and he bravely ordained gay people to the priesthood when it was a highly controversial thing to do," the Rev. Rod Reinhart told PrideSource. "Bishop McGehee ordained me in 1984 and I was one of the very first openly gay people to be ordained in the Episcopal Church."
In 1980, Bishop McGehee, Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Gumbleton and the late Rabbi Richard Hertz founded the Michigan Human Rights Coalition, a grassroots organization which brought a religious context to numerous social issues including apartheid. He also was an advid supporter of organized labor and held peace liturgies on Good Friday outside the gates of the Williams missile factory.
Jim Toy, who feels blessed to have served as crucifer at one of those services, points out that Bishop McGehee was not without humor:
"At Bishop McGehee's last diocesan convention before his retirement, he fervently and often exhorted the tellers to finish their ballot-counting speedily.
Finally one of the clergy requested 'a point of privilege.'
'You may speak, Canon Chau!'
'Bishop, is this really your last Convention as bishop?'
'Yes, I have said so!'
'Then I would respectfully urge that at next year's Convention you serve as a teller!'
The ensuing merriment was general and vociferous--a wild gale of laughter. . . ."
Bishop McGehee participated in the life of church and social justice, long into his retirement. Two years ago, he began experiencing symptoms of dementia and withdrew from public life, but remained physically active until he fell ill several months ago. He was remembered at a Requiem Eucharist on Saturday, March 23rd at St. Paul's Cathedral in Detroit, and a memorial is available on the diocesan web site.
May our Brother Coleman's memory be blessed and may his family be supported in their grief with our prayers of thanksgiving for his life.
"Lead him onward, upward to the holy place,
where thy saints made perfect gaze upon thy face."
- With special thanks to Jim Toy for contributing to this article. Jim is a stalwart in the LGBT movement in Michigan, having been instrumental in the founding and life of numerous social action, political advocacy and educational groups. The Jim Toy Community Center in Ann Arbor is named for him.