The Diocese of Massachusetts is among the oldest and largest in the Episcopal Church, with 65,000 baptized members in 183 congregations. It officially dates from 1784 when delegates from a few struggling parishes around Boston met with others in the first convention of the Episcopal Church since the Revolutionary War. It took a great sense of mission to build a diocese out of a handful of 18th century parishes, but the spirit matched the purpose. With the 19th century leadership of bishops Griswold, Eastburn, Paddock and Brooks, the church in Massachusetts entered the 20th century as the second largest Episcopal diocese in the country—growth that resulted from a focus on ministry in mill towns and emerging cities.
The accelerated pace of social and economic change in the late 19th century gave enormous opportunity for mission. By 1900 the church’s responsibilities threatened to become unwieldy. Bishop William Lawrence pushed for the establishment of the new Diocese of Western Massachusetts in 1902, and immediately sought to unify the now compact eastern Diocese of Massachusetts in a common mission around a physical symbolic center. The vision for a cathedral church was brought to fruition in 1912, when the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston was commissioned to be the “People’s Church.”
The Diocese of Massachusetts is known for some auspicious firsts. In 1970 the late Rt. Rev. John M. Burgess was installed as the diocese’s 12th bishop, thus becoming the first African-American diocesan bishop in the Episcopal Church. In 1989 the Rt. Rev. Barbara C. Harris (bishop suffragan, now retired) was ordained and consecrated, becoming the first woman to be consecrated a bishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion.
The Bishops of the Diocese of Massachusetts
|1811-1843||Alexander V. Griswold
|1873-1891||Benjamin H. Paddock
|1913-1938||Samuel G. Babcock |
|1927-1930||Charles L. Slattery|
|1930-1947||Henry K. Sherrill
|1938-1954||Raymond A. Heron |
|1947-1956||Norman B. Nash
|1956-1970||Anson P. Stokes, Jr.
|1956-1968||Frederic C. Lawrence |
|1962-1969||John M. Burgess |
|1970-1975||John M. Burgess
|1972-1982||Morris F. Arnold|
|1976-1986||John B. Coburn|
|1986-1995||David E. Johnson
|1989-2002||Barbara C. Harris*|
|1995-||M. Thomas Shaw III, SSJE|
|2001-2011||Roy F. Cederholm, Jr. |
|2003-||Gayle E. Harris |
Information and quotes from G.L. Blackman & M.J. Duffy, "The Tradition of Massachusetts Churchmanship," The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, 1784-1984, M.J. Duffy, ed.
October 12, 2007