Episcopal Bishop M. Thomas Shaw says he will retire

Bishop M. Thomas Shaw of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts announced Tuesday that he will retire sometime after the fall of 2014, following two decades in office.

Shaw, 67, a quiet monk who became known for his outspoken advocacy on economic and social justice issues, led the diocese through a turbulent decade in the worldwide Anglican Communion, during which controversy over the Episcopal Church’s first gay bishop and gay unions threatened to split the church globally and divided some congregations at home.

He said little about the reasons for retiring in a letter posted on the diocesan website Tuesday, other than it came “from prayer and conversation with my community, friends and family.”

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“I love being your bishop and it is an honor to serve you,” he wrote. “These years have been some of the richest years of my life. All of you and this work have taught me much about myself and the nature of our loving God for which I will always be grateful.”

Shaw said the diocese’s Standing Committee, which advises the bishop, will begin laying out a more detailed timeline for the nomination and election of his successor in the coming months, but he said the proposed date for the electing convention is April 5 of next year. He also expects the consecration of the new bishop to take place in the fall of 2014.

He and his successor will work together, as is customary in the Episcopal Church, until he retires, probably some months after that. Bishops in the Episcopal Church are required to retire at age 72.

Shaw is unusual among Episcopal leaders in that he is a celibate monk, a member of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge.

He is the fourth Episcopal bishop in the region to recently announce his intention to retire. The dioceses of Western Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire have chosen new bishops within the last year.

In 2009, he gave permission for priests in Eastern Massachusetts to officiate at same-sex weddings. He is a friend and strong supporter of the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who recently retired.

In his letter, Shaw said that between now and his retirement, he will implement the projects funded by the diocese’s $20 million fund-raising campaign, which is nearly complete. He is also putting together a task force on non-violence, in honor of the shooting death of Jorge Fuentes, a 19-year-old student, aspiring Marine and member of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in the South End who was killed in September.

State Representative Byron Rushing, a Boston Democrat who holds a leadership position in the Episcopal Church, praised Shaw in a phone interview late Tuesday.

“He’s been an excellent bishop for this diocese, and he has led us in a number of positive directions,” Rushing said. “He has been a leader, not only in this diocese but in the Episcopal Church in the areas of openness and diversity for all people, but especially for people of color and for people in various sexual minorities in our society. And he’s also a good fund-raiser.”

Retired Bishop Suffragan Barbara Harris, who worked closely with Shaw in the diocese until her retirement in 2002, also lauded him for his work with youth and for his efforts to help congregations grow.

“It has been a privilege and honor to work with Bishop Shaw, and we have not only been colleagues but we are good friends,” Harris said.

Reverend Canon Edward Rodman, a faculty member at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge and a former diocesan official, credited Shaw with helping to guide the diocese through a difficult period after his predecessor, Bishop David Johnson, took his own life in 1995.

“He just had to step up to the plate and get it going and of course deal with a very delicate and difficult healing process,” Rodman said Tuesday night. “I would say that is the single most impressive thing that he was able to accomplish.”

The Rev. Steve Ayres, vicar of the Old North Church in Boston, also said Tuesday night that Shaw performed well during that period and like Rodman, praised him for raising funds for an Episcopal camp and conference center in New Hampshire that is named for Harris.

“He’s had a great tenure of 18 years,” Ayres said.

“Bishop Shaw is steadfast in his commitment to include all God’s children in the life of the church,” said Laura Everett, of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, an ecumenical organization. “He set a high bar and challenged the church to live up to this vision. ... He will leave the church in Massachusetts stronger, younger, more diverse, and more attentive to the spirit moving us to new places.”

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