A. Theodore Eastman, former bishop of Episcopal Diocese of Maryland who supported same-sex unions, dies

A. Theodore Eastman, former bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland who was a proponent of same-sex unions and gay rights, died Thursday at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington from Parkinson’s disease.

The former Guilford resident was 89.

“Bishop Eastman was a man of quiet faith, compassion and love for all people,” wrote the Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, a Canton resident who is now bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, in an email. “He was soft-spoken in speech but mighty in action, and he led the diocese effectively through turbulent times in the Church and society.”

“He was a quiet person, a scholar and a wonderful pastoral presence,” said Bishop Robert W. Ihloff, a Locust Point resident who succeeded Bishop Eastman, serving from 1995 to 2007. He now works part-time for the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. “I inherited a very healthy diocese.”

“Ted always put love first and celebrated people’s differences,” said Dr. Philip Trangmar, parish administrator and lay reader at St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church in St. Barts, French West Indies.

Dr. Trangmar said that for more than 20 years, Bishop Eastman conducted services when visiting the island with his wife and was affectionately known there as “Bishop Ted.”

“He was open-minded and welcoming to gays when some clergy from his generation did not always think that way. He was open in his thinking,” said Dr. Trangmar. “He had all the gravitas of a bishop but one could walk up to him and speak very freely.”

Albert Theodore Eastman was born in San Mateo, Calif., the son of Carl John Eastman, an advertising executive, and Inette Nordeen Eastman, a teacher. He was raised in San Mateo and was a 1946 graduate of Burlingame High School.

In 1950 he graduated from Haverford College in Pennsylvania, then obtained a bachelor’s degree in divinity from Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria.

Ordained a priest the next year, he began is pastoral career with the Episcopal diocese of California as vicar of Trinity Church in Gonzales, a small agricultural community. He also served as chaplain at a California state prison in Soledad.

In 1957, he became executive secretary of the Overseas Mission Society of the Episcopal Church, and held that position until 1968. During this assignment he held short-term pastorates in Tokyo, Mexico City and Vienna, Austria, and aso served as a consultant for a year to the House of Bishops.

He then served for four years as rector of the Church of the Mediator in Allentown, Pa., and in 1973 was named rector of St. Alban’s Church in Northwest Washington.

In 1982, he was elected bishop coadjutor of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland — the position generally involves the administration of the diocese. In 1986 he was named the 12th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, succeeding the Right Rev. David K. Leighton.

Bishop Eastman retired in 1994. At the time, The Baltimore Sun wrote that he had “given leadership to a sometimes fractious church” whose “conservative and liberal wings have been at odds on theological and social issues such as ordination of women, rights of homosexuals and mission priorities.”

The bishop told The Sun in 1994 that he viewed his role as being a “unifying force,” in a diocese of more than 100 congregations and 23 schools in 10 counties, adding, “I felt tension of trying to hold people with different points of view together.”

In 1992, after a lesbian wedding held at Memorial Episcopal Church in Bolton Hill caused an uproar, Bishop Eastman ordered the clergy of the Diocese of Maryland not to bless any more homosexual unions.

Two years later, he reversed this position. The Sun reported that he was one of 53 Episcopal bishops from across the nation at the Episcopalians’ General Convention meeting in Indianapolis who signed “A Statement of Koinonia (Collegiality).” The document stated that monogamous, committed relationships between homosexuals “are to be honored.”

“He opened up the conversation of the Diocese of Maryland to this highly complex issue of human sexuality and the role of the church addressing the emerging issue,” said the Right. Rev. John Bryson Chane, a former bishop of the Diocese of Washington. “Ted was also a guy that was not somebody who would stand up on a soapbox…. He created that space and that environment for those conversations to begin.”

“Ted was a moderate in these things but had a progressive image and stance,” Bishop Ihloff said. “He was very supportive of this.”

Bishop Eastman’s ministry was also defined by concern for the mission of the Christian Church. He was vice chair of the standing commission on World Mission, chair of the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief and chair of the Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations.

From 1984 to 1992, he was co-chair of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Consultation in the United States, and his deep interest in ecumenism led him to travel to more than a dozen countries in Africa, Europe and the Middle East, and throughout the U.S.

During his years in Baltimore, Bishop Eastman resided at Clover Hill, the historic 1790 home that is on the grounds of the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation in Guilford.

After retiring, he held numerous roles at the Washington National Cathedral, where he was appointed vicar in 2003.

He was the author of a half-dozen books including “Christian Responsibility in One World,” “Chosen and Sent: Calling the Church to Mission,” and “The Baptizing Community: Christian Initiation and the Local Congregation.”

In retirement he and his wife of 64 years, the former Sarah Virginia Tice, lived at Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads in Falls Church, Va. He was a communicant of St. George’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, Va.

He was an accomplished woodworker. He enjoyed writing limericks and short stories that centered around various family experiences.

“Bishop Eastman was such a jewel in our world and was filled with grace and a wonderful sense of humor,” said Ashby Thompson of Rodgers Forge, who had been his assistant and retired after a career of more than two decades with the diocese. “We know that heaven is now all the brighter, but oh how he’ll be missed on earth.”

“He was a mentor and friend to me,” said Bishop Sutton. “I will miss him greatly, as will others around the world.”

Plans for service to be held at the National Cathedral in Washington are incomplete.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son, Andrew Tice Eastman of Falls Church; two daughters, Anne Eastman Rosenbaum of Savannah, Ga., and Sarah Eastman Reks of Fayetteville, N.Y.; 10 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Reporter Ellie Silverman of The Washington Post contributed to this article.

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