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CENTRAL PENNSYLVANIA: Baxter consecrated as 10th bishop

By Mary Frances Schjonberg

Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold and House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson greet Nathan Baxter before his consecration as the 10th bishop of Central Pennsylvania.  

[Episcopal News Service]  The Rev. Dr. Nathan D. Baxter, 57, rector of St. James' Church, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and former dean of Washington National Cathedral, was consecrated October 21 to be the 10th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania.

Baxter will succeed Bishop Michael Creighton, 65, who has been bishop since January 1996 and will retire later this year.

Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold was the chief consecrator in the service, which was held in the Zembo Shrine Temple in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

The co-consecrators, in addition to Creighton, were Washington Bishop John Chane,
Easton Bishop James Shand, Massachusetts Bishop Suffragan Gayle Harris, Long Island retired Bishop Suffragan Richard Martin, Central Pennsylvania retired Bishop Charlie McNutt, Washington retired Bishop Ronald Haines and Washington retired Bishop Suffragan Jane Dixon.

Episcopal and Anglican guests who participated in the service included House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson, Maryland Bishop and Province III President Robert Ihloff,  Sao Paulo (Brazil) Bishop Hiroshi Ito and former Bishop of the Diocese of Northern Uganda Benowi Ogwal-Abwang.

Desmond Tutu, the retired Archbishop of Cape Town and Primate of South Africa, preached at the service.

Pastor Carol Hendrix, bishop of the Lower Susquehanna Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and Pastor A. Donald Main, bishop of the ELCA Upper Susquehanna Synod, participated in the laying on of hands.

Ecumenical guests included the Rev. Charles Clark, ecumenical officer, Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg; the Rev. James Lyons, Vicar General of  the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg; the Rev. Kevin Brown, representing the Downtown Ministerium of Lancaster; the Rev. Anthony Cease, representing the Black Ministerial Alliance of York; the Rev. Gary Harke, executive director of Pennsylvania Council of Churches; the Rev. Dr. Marja L. Coons-Torn, conference minister and president, United Church of Christ’s Penn Central Conference; and the Rev. David Scrivens, president, Harrisburg Ministerial Alliance.

Lancaster Mayor Richard Gray and Harrisburg City Council President Vera Jean White also attended.

Baxter had been rector of St. James, the largest parish in the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania, since October 2003, when he was elected bishop July 22.

A native of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the seat of the diocese, Baxter was graduated in 1976 from the Lancaster Theological Seminary. After canonical studies at the Diocesan School of Christian Studies, he was ordained deacon in June 1977 and priest the following December by Bishop Dean T. Stevenson.

From 1991 to 2003, Baxter was the dean of Washington National Cathedral. During that time, he led the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance Service following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and officiated at the memorial service for the crew of the space shuttle Columbia. He presided over the funerals and memorial services of many prominent Americans, including Thurgood Marshall, William Colby, William Fulbright, Clark Clifford, Pamela Harriman, Ron Brown and Katherine Graham, as well as the American memorial service for Princess Diana.

Previously, he was administrative dean at Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts; dean, Lancaster Theological Seminary; chaplain, St. Paul’s College Lawrenceville, Virginia; rector, St. Cyprian’s Church, Hampton, Virginia; and curate, St. John’s Church, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He served as a member of the diocesan finance committee, the Bishop's Council of Advice, and was chair of the diocesan deputation to General Convention.

In l984, he completed the Doctor of Ministry degree at Lancaster Theological Seminary, where he is presently adjunct professor of preaching. Lancaster Seminary and Washington National Cathedral have established endowed lectureships in his name. Harvard Divinity School named him a Charles E. Merrill Fellow in 1998 and Philadelphia Lutheran Seminary named a classroom in his honor in 2006.

A decorated veteran, he received the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm. He is an associate of Holy Cross Monastery and a chaplain in the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. His publications include "Visions for the Millennium" and the award winning "Challenge and Comfort: A Pastor’s Thoughts for a Troubled Nation."

In 1969, Baxter married Mary Ellen Walker Baxter of York, Pennsylvania. She is a musician and educator. They have two children, two foster children and 9 grandchildren.

The Diocese of Central Pennsylvania consists of about 15,300 Episcopalians worshipping in 68 congregations.