RIP: Former Southern Ohio Bishop William Grant Black

Posted Jul 8, 2013

The Rt. Rev. William Grant Black, the seventh bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio, died on July 7 of complications from Parkinson’s Disease. He was 93.

Black was the son and grandson of Free Methodist (Wesleyan) ministers in the Southern Indiana/Central Illinois circuit. Born on his parents kitchen table in Muncie, Indiana, April 17, 1920, Black’s family moved from parish to parish every 2-3 years. He loved education, becoming the first person in his family to attend college, graduating from Greenville (IL) College in 1941. It is there he met the love of his life, June Mathewson. Black was working the front desk at the YMCA on the campus of the University of Illinois-Champaign/Urbana on Dec. 7, 1941 when he heard news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor coming over the radio. Black continued his education through the Spring, 1942 semester, then enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was sent to Infantry Office training at Fort Benning Georgia, graduating as a second lieutenant. He married June on December 3, 1942, before shipping out for the island of New Guinea with the 31st Dixie Division.

Through campaigns in Aitape, Morotai and Mindanao, Black led a platoon on missions to root out the enemy in the jungles of the South Pacific. As a result of his work in these campaigns, he was awarded the Purple Heart and the Silver Star for valor. Black discussed his war record only reluctantly. His silver star commendation, authored by his battalion commander, noted he “wiped out several Japanese machine gun nests using hand grenades.” In these dangerous operations, he drew enemy fire on to himself as his platoon circled around behind to cut off enemy escape routes.

Returning to the United States after his stint in the Army, Black returned to his work at the YMCA in Champaign, Illinois, then served for two years with the intercollegiate student Christian movement before completing his Master’s of Education at Illinois in 1952.

From 1952 to 1962, Black took classes at the University of Chicago School of Divinity, earning a second bachelor’s degree in 1955, converting to the Episcopal Church in 1957 and becoming an Episcopal priest on his 42nd birthday at Rockefeller Chapel in Chicago.

Black accepted the call to the Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio in 1962, where he spent the most productive period of his professional life. In his time in Athens (1962-1973), he: served as chair of the Athens Human Relations Commission (seeking to, among other things, integrate housing), chair of the O’Bleness Regional Hospital Board project, was appointed by Ohio Governor James Rhodes to both the State Commission on Mental Health and Retardation and to the 13-state Appalachian Regional Commission – serving with two U.S. Senators, Robert Byrd (D-WV) and Ohio Senator Robert Taft (R-OH), was named “Man of the Year” in 1971 by the Southeastern Ohio Regional Commission for his work on serving the needs of the poverty-stricken in that region of Appalachia, served as a facilitator at the Carl Rogers Institute in San Diego from 1971-1972 and was named University of Chicago Divinity School Alumnus of the Year in 1972.

Black moved to Cincinnati, serving as rector of the Church of our Savior, an inner-city parish with a storied past, as well as leading the effort to establish ecumenical dialogue between Christians, Jews and Muslims in Cincinnati area and serving on other Diocesan committees. He was briefly chair of the search committee for the next diocesan bishop after Bishop John Krumm announced his intention to retire. Colleagues convinced him to run for the post, so he resigned as committee chair and put his name in the hat. Elected on the fourth ballot, Black served as bishop of the 88-parish diocese from 1979 through 1992, when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 72. His major accomplishments as bishop included increasing pastoral care, strengthening relationships with the Anglican community around the globe, especially in Africa, and putting the diocese at the forefront of peace efforts through active involvement at the peace tables in Geneva, Switzerland and raising funds for the Peace Studies Chair at the Ohio State University. Black holds honorary doctoral degrees from Kenyon College (1980), Ohio University (1993) and the Hebrew Union College and Jewish Institute of Religion (1993).

Long a believer that God’s grace saves us from even the worst of civilization, Black’s favorite scripture reading is from Roman’s 5:3-5 “…we triumph even in our troubles, knowing that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope – a hope which never disappoints us, since God floods our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” Long into retirement, Black continued his work in the area of dialogue between Christians, Jews and Muslims, believing that is the most promising area for continued peace and stability in the Western world.

Black was preceded in death by his wife June in July of 1993. He is survived by his second wife, Frances King Mathewson Black (married, May 15, 2000), his children Greg (Ginny) Black of Danville, IN, Jan (Dave) Mortensen of Aurora, IL, and David (Kari) Black of Madison, WI, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Funeral services will be private. There will be a public memorial service, to be announced at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made in the name of Bishop Black to Greenville College, 315 East College Avenue, Greenville, IL 62246 or the Church of the Good Shepherd “Good Earth Farm” hunger project, 64 University Terrace, Athens, Ohio 45701.


Comments (13)

  1. Fr. Marshall Shelly says:

    Bp. Black confirmed me, and was rector in my home parish. A good man. God rest his soul, and may he be raised in Christ to the glorious company of saints….

  2. Mike Barwell says:

    Bill was a fascinating man who was more than a “boss” — he was a mentor, colleague and friend for many years. He hired me in 1986 as communications director for the diocese and almost immediately pushed me out the door to explore the worldwide church as well as cover the diocese. With his encouragement and enthusiastic blessing, I covered or staffed dozens of national and international conferences and my travels over 12 years took me all over the U.S., and to Africa, England and Russia, among other places. I accompanied him to Egypt and the Middle East in 1989 to write about his passion for creating “trialogue” between Christians, Jews and Muslims. Sometimes controversial (he once said he thought his job as bishop was to walk along the street and throw cherry bombs into the little fenced-in yards we call churches to see who would come out and yell at him!), he was incredibly well-read, interested in everything, willing to challenge conventional thinking, and at heart an evengelical in the best sense of the word. He opened my eyes to a large and beautiful world and to dozens of places, people and issues I might never have explored, met, or considered. In our lives we sometimes are privileged to encounter people who change us forever; Bill Black was one of those important people for me. I shall miss him.
    Mike Barwell

    1. Dave Black says:

      Thank you all for your kind words. I should have asked Mike Barwell to write the obit 🙂

      1. Rev Richard White (Anglican) says:

        This is a very late posting. I just saw the news of your dad’s passing David. I was a student at Ohio U from ’63-’67, member of the student Episcopal youth group and an active member of the Good Shepherd. Your father had a profound effect on my faith, and mentored me through some difficult family times. I moved back to my home in Canada after graduation. in the 1980s my family and I became missionaries to the Middle East. Your dad flew out to visit us there as part of his keen interest in Muslim-Christian relations. He generously supported our mission work. After our years there both my wife Linda and I entered seminary in Toronto graduating in 94. . This past spring we retired from parish ministr in the Diocese of Algoma, Ontario. We of course will continue to be active, just as your dad was. David, your father was instrumental in shaping my Christian walk. He was the kind of compassionate pastor and priest I have always aspired to be. He was, quite literally, a father-figure to me. God bless you Bill Black !

        1. Dave Black says:

          of course I remember, Richard, I am glad you are doing so well and had such a wonderful career

  3. The Rev Thomas P. Davis says:

    Bill was a wonderful friend and a caring Bishop. I will miss him greatly. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace.

    1. Robert Kelley says:

      Bishop Black was a kind person, I was always welcomed at 412 Sycamore and if was close to 12:00pm he always took me to lunch. He loved Sayler Park the most west part of Cincinnati.

      Robert Kelley
      Sayler Park

  4. Raleigh Daniel Hairston, D.Min. Rector Retired says:

    With fond memories I recall the years when I was in Lincoln Heights, Ohio as the Rector of St. Simon of Cyrene Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Southern Ohio when the late William “Bill” Black was elected as Diocesan Bishop. He was well loved in the Diocese, served well, and did a creditable job while I was present there. My prayers and sympathies are with his family and loved ones. May his soul rest in peace, and someday rise in glory with our Lord Jesus the Christ.

  5. Polly Hewitt says:

    Bishop Black was my rector in Athens during the turbulent late ’60s. The Church of the Good Shepherd had a vibrant youth ministry under the leadership of Edward (Ned) Daughterty, who exposed us to political activism, community service — and even better, foreign films! It was a wonderful environment that had a lasting and profound impact on my life.

  6. Josh Thomas says:

    This wonderfully detailed biography of the great Bishop and pastor Bill Black somehow fails to mention the thing he was most famous for – at least in Cincinnati: he opened Church of Our Saviour, Mt. Auburn, to Gay people, decades before the rest of the Episcopal Church got its act together.

    Starting in the 1970s, Our Saviour hosted a fledgling MCC congregation, which met there every Sunday night despite the opposition of some in the parish and the reluctant acceptance of others. Some people were members of both churches, and Our Saviour grew as a result. For years, every time the local LGBT community had a crisis (and they often did, thanks to homophobic politicians and police), someone would call a community meeting at Our Saviour and the place would be packed.

    Unless you’ve experienced discrimination, you can’t know how important it is to a stigmatized group just to have a place to go. Every other church in town was closed to us – but not Fr. Black’s church; he welcomed us. How many lives did his hospitality save? How many souls were brought to Christ because of him?

    That’s what made his election as Bishop so amazing; “My God, they’ve elected the friend of the queers.” No one expected him to win – but by God he did. And he used his office to further the inclusion for women and LGBTs in the city, the diocese and the national Church.

    I should know; I was one of the Gay leaders he embraced. When the city and the Church went through excruciating Gay turmoils – including the Disease of the Century and a billionaire’s successful campaign to write homophobic discrimination into the city charter – he put us front and center. And where were those later meetings held? In Bill Black’s old church – which to this day remains, under the leadership of Mother Paula Jackson, the capital of Gay Cincinnati.

    We revered him. You know that word “reverend” that clergy routinely get appended to their names? It means “revered one.” I have to tell you, I’ve met a lot of reverends in my time, but not so many revered ones. But Bill Black was one – and on his death the heavenly choirs burst into song. “Forasmuch as you did it to the least of these my family…” – and that’s what we were, the very least, not even human to some people – “you did it to me.” Hallelujah!

    1. Anne Warrington Wilson says:

      Josh–this is a really lovely reminiscence of Bp. Black. He accepted me into the ordination process in 1980 and was thrilled that I came from an Episcopal/Roman Catholic family background. Your comment and the ones above it have captured the man I knew and admired. One could have really exciting conversations with him, ranging over an amazing number of topics that he delighted in connecting.

  7. Bishop Black mentored me as I was caught between Dioceses and a nightmare of a diocese who wouldn’t ordain women and another diocese that wanted me to go through their entire process. Bp. Black was one of the kindest and courageous Bishops I have ever known. The church has lost a great advocate and leader.

  8. Karen Strand Winslow says:

    Bishop Black was the answer to my prayers for my task of raising funds for the Chair of Jewish Christian Studies at Greenville College. We met one Sunday on the steps of Hogue Hall and thereafter became fast friends. He was able to help me establish the Samuel Sandmel lectureship at Greenville College by providing funds that were then matched by the Shapiro Foundation of Chicago, which then led to a huge increase of required amount for the Chair and the Jewish-Christian Studies program. Through all our meetings and conversations we grew in respect and fondness. He came to my GC classes and told the stories of his life as FM, as an episcopal priest, as a Bishop, as a friend of people of other faiths, as a family man.
    Later, after we moved, he sent me letters that he had sent to his family with handwritten copies of prayers from the BCP that I still have on my refrigerator and in my devotional books. One of the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was tell him we were moving to California.
    We maintained contact by snail mail–he gave up on email! I knew that someday he would pass to behold the face of his father in heaven and I feared I would not know. This did indeed happen. I learned through the Greenville Response about his passing to glory and was reduced to great grief. Unlike Charles Wesley, I love life on earth and Bishop Black did as well. But we know he is seeing God in a new way, and, as with all our passed on loved ones, we rejoice for him. My prayers are with his family, which he loved so much. Karen Strand Winslow, Azusa Pacific University.

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