September 30: +John Thomas Walker (1989)

John Thomas Walker was the sixth bishop of Washington. He was the first African American to attend Virginia Theological Seminary, the nation’s second black diocesan bishop and a candidate in 1985 for the office of presiding bishop. Walker earned a world reputation for his support of social activism. Through his friendship with South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu, he exercised an effective leadership of opposition to apartheid. Walker reached across denominational divisions to people of other faiths and was one of the founders of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington. Walker was born in Barnesville, Georgia. His grandfather and great-grandfather were A.M.E. Church ministers. At age 23, Walker decided to join the Episcopal Church. When he was ordained in the 1950s, the Episcopal Church membership tended to be white, affluent, and mostly of English ancestry. Walker was among those whose work helped transform the Church’s makeup and mission.

Walker came to Washington in 1966 to serve as canon missioner at the Cathedral. This was about the same time Edgar Romig came to Washington as Epiphany’s 13th rector. Over time, the two became good friends and intellectual sparring partners. On May 1, 1971, Edgar Romig nominated John T. Walker to be bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Washington. Walker won out over three other African American contenders. On June 12, 1976, a special diocesan convention was held at Epiphany to elect a bishop coadjutor (having the right of succession to the diocesan bishop). After the first ballot, Epiphany rector Edgar Romig, one of three other candidates for the post, moved that the election be made unanimous for John Walker. When Bishop Walker died in 1989, it was his old friend Edgar Romig that came to the Canterbury Pulpit in Washington Cathedral to deliver the funeral oration. “For even in our grief we are thankful for all that John has meant to us, to the wider Church, and to the world; and we rejoice that he is now in the Lord’s nearer Presence, adding new joy to heaven itself.”

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