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.