Update #2. The Society of St. John the Evangelist has announced that the Rt. Rev. M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE, monk and, for 20 years, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, died on Friday, Oct. 17 in the care of his SSJE brothers at Emery House in West Newbury, Mass. He was 69.
“During his last days, our brother Tom spoke of how very, very thankful he was for the life God had given him: for the many wonderful people he had met, for the opportunities and challenges he had faced and for the amazing grace he had experienced throughout his life,” the Rev. Geoffrey Tristram, SSJE, Superior of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, said in the announcement.
Shaw “was a man of deep prayer, a charismatic figure who connected easily with young and old alike and a leader whose creativity and entrepreneurial spirit led him to invent what was needed and new. He was known for his sometimes-mischievous sense of humor, his tenacious courage and his passion to serve Jesus, both among the privileged and the poor,” the SSJE announcement said.
Funeral service arrangements are pending.
Here is a video reflection by Bishop Shaw on his life.
From the obituary:
When Shaw returned for his second Lambeth Conference 10 years later, there was rift in the Anglican Communion over issues of sexuality surfaced by the 2003 consecration of the openly gay bishop of New Hampshire, the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson.
Shaw, himself a gay man, often spoke of conversation as the hard work that is necessary to conversion—a theme of his 2008 book, Conversations with Scripture and with Each Other—and he attended Lambeth with a commitment to sharing the experience of the Diocese of Massachusetts, where the ordination process was open to all qualified candidates and same-sex marriage had been legal statewide since 2004. “You know, we didn’t come to where we are around ordaining gay and lesbian people or blessing same-sex unions lightly. It is the context out of which Christ has called us to minister, and we’re trying to do that as faithfully as we can to tradition, to Scripture and to the experience that we have,” Shaw said in an interview upon his return from Lambeth. Remaining faithful to God’s mission in the world—particularly where that meant advocating and implementing poverty-alleviating measures—was the communion’s way forward, he said.
Shaw saw no dichotomy between the daily hours he spent in solitary prayer and the public demonstrations he joined on city streets and State House steps; he believed that prayer leads to action, and sought to make the Episcopal Church a visible and vocal presence in the public arena.
“We are what God has to do good in the world. Every one of us has a voice and can make a difference if we exercise that,” he said in a 2004 interview. “I don’t think that on most civil rights issues, for instance, we can point to one huge event that’s changed everything. I think instead it’s thousands of ordinary people doing what they think is right, taking risks, speaking out in their lives in big ways and small ways. Eventually that turns the tide. God really depends on us for that.”
For Bishop Shaw, once called upon to be a leader, fulfilling the will of God meant becoming a citizen of the world far beyond the doors of the serene monastery on Memorial Drive in Cambridge that was his home for nearly four decades. Though he preferred the life of a monk, he appeared in national TV interviews, lobbied State House officials, worked as an unpaid congressional intern, traveled to distant dangerous lands, and created programs to address urban violence, particularly among the young.
He also went online with “Monk in the midst: Bishop Shaw’s blog.” Still, his presence always reflected his background, and he wore his monastic garb whether riding the T to his downtown Boston office or walking through Washington’s halls of power.
Among Boston’s most powerful clergy, Bishop Shaw was an early, key advocate for gay rights and for the ordination of women, gays, and lesbians as priests in his denomination, and in a 2012 interview for a documentary, he let it be known that he was gay and celibate. Long before making his sexuality public, he guided his diocese through a stormy decade while a conflicted Episcopal Church decided whether it would consecrate a gay bishop and allow clergy to bless same-gender unions.
“The life of the church is always enhanced by including people that live on the margins of society – women, people of color, gay or lesbian people,” he told the Globe in 1997. “They have something profound to say about the Kingdom of God and they are the people Jesus specifically included among his disciples.”