Former Presiding Bishop Henry Knox Sherrill Dies

Episcopal News Service. May 15, 1980 [80174]

Boston -- The Rt. Rev. Henry Knox Sherrill, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church from 1946-1958, died at his home near here May 11. He was 83.

An active advocate of ecumenism, Bishop Sherrill was the first president of the National Council of Churches and later served a term as a president of the World Council of Churches. His broadcast Lenten appeal in 1948 raised $1.5 million for relief for the needy and launched what has become the "One Great Hour of Sharing" program in which 17 denominations now take part.

His current successor as Presiding Bishop, the Rt. Rev. John M. Allin, said of his ministry: "Henry Knox Sherrill served the Lord with faithfulness and enthusiasm. His vision of the Church was that of a missionary. His ministry was that of a skilled pastor. He was committed to ecumenism and his preaching brought the Gospel to Christians the world over. We will miss him but we shall not forget him, for our memories of him will continue to challenge us all as we seek to know and to serve Christ."

Bishop Sherrill was a native of Brooklyn, N. Y. He received a bachelor's degree from Yale in 1911 and his bachelor of divinity degree from the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Mass., in 1914.

He began his ministry at Trinity Church, Boston and then served as a chaplain with American forces in France during World War I. He remained in France as a chaplain for a year after the war.

On his return to the states, he became, first, rector of All Saints, Brookline, Mass., and then, in 1923, was called as the youngest rector ever of Trinity Church. He earned a reputation as a liberal churchman and early foe of intolerance.

He became bishop of Massachusetts in 1930. During World War II, he served as chairman of the Church's Army/Navy Commission and the General Commission of Army/Navy Chaplains. He traveled in that role throughout the war zones and training schools and became well-known to many of the Forces' chaplains. The nation honored his work with the Medal of Merit, highest award given to a civilian.

In January, 1947, he became twentieth Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, succeeding Bishop Henry St. George Tucker. His tenure was characterized by his belief in the power of cooperative Christian action. In a statement shortly after he became presiding bishop, he noted: "Progress cannot be attained by sporadic, intermittent, individualistic action by churches working as separate and distinct units, but only by a well-planned and effective strategy backed by the pressure of Christian consciences and purposes in all Churches. "

Convinced that "Far too many people in the Church have very great convictions about very small things," Bishop Sherrill used his gifts as a preacher and mediator to help move the Church beyond the Establishment role in which Protestantism found itself after World War II. He himself refused to accept a pay raise -- from $12,000 to $15,000 -- offered to him in 1949.

That same year, the Episcopal Church Foundation was created to fulfill a dream of his that lay men and women could take a leading role in developing new work in the Church. The group was designed to educate laity by giving them the responsibility of seeking out the Church's needs and then securing the resources to meet those needs. Today, with over $5 million in assets, that Foundation provides grants and loans for emerging needs (such as energy resources for churches), graduate education and parish development.

The current executive vice-president of the Foundation, Frederick L. Redpath, said of Bishop Sherrill:

"Throughout his years as Presiding Bishop, he was deeply involved in the affairs of the Foundation. Since his retirement, he has maintained this interest; it has been a source of constant pleasure and inspiration to Foundation directors and staff members to visit him and Mrs. Sherrill at their home in Boxford, Massachusetts. In 1975-1976, the Foundation successfully completed an $800,000 capital campaign, The Henry Knox Sherrill Fund.

"We have cherished Bishop Sherrill's warm friendship, and shall greatly miss his wise counsel and lively interest in Foundation matters."

It was under his administration that the Seabury Press was begun as a publishing house for the Church's Teaching Series. It is now one of the major publishing houses of the Church. He was also instrumental in acquiring the Seabury House Conference Center in Greenwich, Conn., which has served as a national Church conference center and residence for presiding bishops for more than 30 years.

He served as President of the National Council from 1950 to 1952 and of the World Council from 1954 to 1961.

He retired as Presiding Bishop in 1958 and has lived in the Boston vicinity ever since.

Bishop Sherril was honored throughout his career with 21 honorary degrees, including doctorates in divinity from Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia Universities. He served on President Truman's Committee on Civil Rights and is the author of "William Lawrence: Later Years of a Happy Life," "The Church's Ministry in Our Time," and "Among Friends."

At his death, Bishop Sherrill was the oldest bishop of the Church and second in seniority only to Bishop Henry Wise Hobson, who was consecrated a bishop six months earlier in 1930.

He is survived by his widow, Barbara Harris Sherrill, and four children: the Rt. Rev. Edmund K. Sherrill, Bishop of Northern Brazil, the Rev. Franklin Goldthwaite Sherrill of Brooklyn, N.Y., the Rev. Henry R. Sherrill of Cambridge, Mass., and Mrs. Mason Wilson, Jr., of Woods Hole, Mass.

Bishop Allin joined Bishop John Coburn of Massachusetts and the Rev. Thorn Blair, rector of Trinity Church, Boston, in funeral services May 14 at Trinity Church.