Thursday, March 21, 2013

Requiescat in Pace: The Right Rev. Coleman McGehee, Jr.

The Right Rev. H. Coleman McGehee, Jr.
Photo Credit: Diocese of Michigan
Integrity regrets to share news of the death of the Right Rev. H. Coleman McGehee,Jr., Eighth Bishop of Michigan, on March 14th. He was 89. Bishop McGehee was a very staunch supporter of Integrity's work beginning at a time when it was not politically expedient, but this was very much in keeping with a lifetime commitment to human rights.

"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.

1 comment:

Christian Paolino said...

Jim Toy offered these thoughts after the Bishop's memorial service

The Diocese of Michigan gave thanks for the life and work of the Right Reverend H. Coleman McGehee, Jr. at a Requiem Eucharist on Saturday, March 23, 2013 in the Cathedral Church of St. Paul. The church was filled with the bishop's family, friends, and supporters--a congregation at once grieving and joyful.

The Service was planned in detail by Bishop McGehee himself.

Voices, organ, trumpet, and bagpipe filled the air.

The Rev. Harry C. Cook, a priest of the diocese, gave the sermon. (Google Harry Cook to read his blog)

At one point Harry turned to survey the altar--bright with many candles--and the crowd of Eucharistic ministers: "I wonder what Coleman would have thought of this!"

And Harry noted, "When Coleman was installed--not enthroned--as Ordinary, the thinking was 'Well, we're ok--he'll be a middle-of-the road bishop.'"

Whereupon the congregation burst into laughter.

Hymns: Glorious things of thee are spoken, Christ for the world we sing, O God our help. And at the Offertory: I sing a song of the saints of God.

As I type, my eyes fill with tears.

A life remembered, a life so faithfully lived, a life so inspiring.

At the Vigil preceding the Requiem Eucharist, we prayed, "May angels surround him, and saints welcome him in peace. Into your hands, O Lord, we commend our brother Coleman."

May it be so.


At one of the regional gatherings marking Bishop McGehee's advancement--the word "retirement" isn't in my vocabulary and I wonder if it would have been in his--
as Bishop MeGehee left us, he pumped a huge "Thumbs up!"

Thumbs up, Bishop!