The Living Church

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The Living ChurchFebruary 5, 1995Church Bids Peace to Bishop Johnson by Jay Cormier210(6) p. 6

Only a few weeks before, he stood in just about the same spot in Boston's Trinity Church, presiding at his last diocesan convention. On that unusually warm and sunny November Saturday, he and his wife, Jodie, were honored with a thunderous ovation by the delegates for their 10 years among them.

Now, on this dismal January day, the diocese gathered around him again for another goodbye - much more painful, infinitely more final. On that same spot in the Trinity sanctuary the paschal candle stood near the plain wooden casket bearing his remains. A plain white pall covered it; on top of the pall, his family placed roses and his simple, wooden staff.

Fifteen hundred people packed the Copley Square church for the funeral for the diocese's 14th bishop, David Elliot Johnson. Bishop Johnson, who planned to retire in June, was found dead in his Framingham apartment Jan. 15 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.

The Most Rev. Edmond L. Browning, Presiding Bishop, was the celebrant of the Jan. 19 funeral liturgy. Concelebrating were Bishop Johnson's successor as diocesan, the Rt. Rev. M. Thomas Shaw, and Bishop Barbara Harris, the diocese's suffragan bishop.

The congregation included some 30 bishops from around the country, including two of Bishop Johnson's predecessors, Bishop John B. Coburn and Bishop John M. Burgess. Also attending was Gov. William Weld and his wife, Susan, and a large delegation of leaders of other churches, including Cardinal Bernard Law, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Boston.

More than 200 other people, who could not be seated in the packed church, remained outside in the cold January drizzle, listening to the service over loudspeakers in Copley Square. Sharing worship leaflets, they joined in the prayers and sang the hymns; ministers brought the Eucharist to the crowd outdoors.

In his homily, Bishop Shaw spoke of the "outrageous tension between gratitude, pity and love on the one hand and pain, bafflement and anger on the other" that all felt at this inexplicable tragedy.

"This ordeal of David's death at his own hand can already begin to be redeemed if it forces us out of our customary denial and brings us to the very edge of the abyss, if it shocks us into the realization of our pathetic vulnerability, our closeness to despair and the void. If we look down into that void and realize that God has descended into it for our salvation, in the utter solidarity of his passionate love for us, at the inconceivable cost of his own blood, then the proclamation of his resurrection can blaze up amongst us in the integrity of its terrible and wonderful truth."

Such resurrection is already "underway," Bishop Shaw said, in "everything good that David gave and achieved" for the church and community, in "the gifts of love among us which will bring healing to one another," and in our rededication to 11 our vocation ... to be bearers of hope for the world."

In one of the most moving moments of the liturgy, the late bishop's three children, Scott, Stephanie and Elizabeth, read what they called "the ultimate thank you" to their father. Recalling memories of their childhood with their father, Scott said, "Words cannot express our gratitude for the wonderful father you have been ... You're the dad we pray all children should be so lucky to have."

Then Bishop Johnson's three children commended to God the soul of their father. "We entrust to your wonderful and mysterious love and grace our Dad, David. Wrap him and bathe him in your wonderful spirit in your wonderful house."

Bishop Coburn prayed that his successor's family and friends "not press too hard to figure things out. Let us now rather be content to offer David to you, let him go home to you, and with you be wholly himself in that place where, with those who have brought you to him, he will live in faith, hope and love."

In remarks before the beginning of the Eucharistic liturgy, Bishop Browning, his voice breaking, said "The church is never more like the church it should be than on a day like this, at a service like this."

The final commendation was led by Bishop Harris.