When I became Dean of Nashotah House, I learned that it was the custom of the House to have a fall retreat. The Reverend Richard Cornish Martin led the retreat in October of my first academic year, having been invited by my predecessor. Fr. Martin, sometime rector of Advent, Boston, and St. Paul's K Street, Washington, DC, and a Trustee of Nashotah House, led an superb retreat for our seminary community.
As I began to think and pray about who I would invite to lead the first retreat for which I would have responsibility, one name came immediately to mind: Bishop Cox!
The Rt. Rev. William J. Cox was Suffragan Bishop of Maryland from 1972-1980, when he resigned to become Assistant Bishop of Oklahoma, the position in which he served until his retirement in 1988. I first heard Bishop Cox as a Lenten series speaker at Calvary Church, Memphis, nearly 30 years ago. Calvary was a moderate to liberal Episcopal parish—some might say it was an unlikely place for someone as well known as Bishops Cox was in Episcopal "renewal" circles to be preaching. But that was Bishop Cox—he would preach the Gospel wherever he could gain a hearing. Winsome, endearing, compelling—he continues to be much-loved by Episcopalians across the theological spectrum.
While a bishop in both Maryland and Oklahoma, Bishop Cox became a much sought-after speaker, preacher, and conductor of retreats. He and his wife Betty were active in Episcopal Renewal Ministies (now Acts 29), the Order of St. Luke; and Bishop Cox also served as Chaplain to the Brotherhood of St. Andrew.
Stocky, bald, wearing round glasses with his eyes appearing large through lenses as thick as Coke bottle bottoms, it is easy to imagine one is talking with the Apostle Paul when speaking with Bishop Cox. His voice is both warm and rich, and conveys genuine love and appreciation for everyone with whom he speaks. If an article were ever written explaining what it means to be a godly bishop, it would be incomplete if it were not illustrated by the example of Bishop Cox.
Even though technically in retirement, Bishop Cox has continued an active ministry. Now age 87, he has been the Episcopal Church's oldest living bishop. It is so hard to envision him as anything but a bishop that one is surprised to hear of his early military service and that he became a civilian pilot after he was in his sixties.
Today, the Episcopal Church's House of Bishop, acting on the recommendation of Presiding Bishop ☠ Katharine Jefferts Schori, voted to depose Bishop William Cox.
What had Bishop Cox done that led to his deposition? In June 2005, Bishop Cox ordained two priests and a deacon at Christ Church in Overland Park, Kansas, after he was asked to do so by the Primate of Uganda, the Most Rev. Henry Luke Orombi. The following month, Bishop Cox returned to Christ Church and led a service of confirmation.
In April 2005, Christ Church agreed to pay the Diocese of Kansas $1 million over the next 10 years as part of a separation agreement which allowed the congregation to retain its property, and for the clergy to be relieved of their canonical obligations to The Episcopal Church. Christ Church and its clergy subsequently affiliated with the Province of Uganda.
It is important to note that Bishop Cox did not perform acts in any congregation of the Diocese of Kansas without the Bishop of Kansas' permission. He minstered to a congregation that had left the Diocese of Kansas and had been received into the Province of Uganda. Bishop Cox, as an Anglican Bishop, ministered at the request of an overseas Anglican bishop (in this case the Archbishop and Primate of Uganda) to a congregation that was under his jurisdiction.
In 2006, two bishops—the Rt. Rev. Dean Wolfe, Bishop of Kansas and the Rt. Rev. Robert Moody, Bishop of Oklahoma—presented then Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold with charges that Bishop Cox had violated the Canons of the Episcopal Church. Bishop Griswold forwarded the charges to the Title IV [disciplinary] Review Committee, which determined that there were sufficient grounds to proceed to trial.
Concerned that his presentment trial would be a financial and public relations disaster for The Episcopal Church, retired Bishop William J. Cox informed Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori on March 29, 2007 that he had left The Episcopal Church and had been received into the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone, by Archbishop Gregory Venables.
“I don’t want a fight amongst Christians,” Bishop Cox told The Living Church on 3/30/07. “I don’t hold a grudge against [Oklahoma] Bishop [Robert] Moody or [Kansas] Bishop [Dean] Wolfe for bringing charges against me.
“At the request of another Anglican primate, I tried to minister to Episcopalians who had been made outcasts by their church,” he said. “This is not the same church in which I was ordained.” [Many of us who have been ordained a lot less longer than Bishop Cox can say "Amen" to that!]
“I would hope this transfer [to the Southern Cone] will enable me to be of service to congregations in this country that have already affiliated with the Southern Cone, but that decision will be up Archbishop [Gregory] Venables."
Bishop Cox is now listed as Acting Provincial Assistant Bishop of the Southern Cone, and he remains a bishop in Christ's one holy catholic and apostolic Church. He has earned the undying love and admiration of many, many of God's people—and our prayers will continue to be with him. God bless you, Bishop Cox!