EPISCOPALIANS have long cultivated a tradition of tolerance. More than most denominations, the Episcopal church has welcomed a broad spectrum of opinion among its members by making distinctions between bedrock matters of the faith and those on which different approaches or even disagreements are acceptable.
In recent decades this tolerance has been sorely tried as Americans of all faiths face the pressures of an increasingly secularized culture and a society less trustful of authority. Maryland's Episcopal diocese has not been immune to those pressures and, in recent years, tensions have flared between various factions.
This weekend, however, the entire diocese welcomes a new bishop, one explicitly recognized as a healer. The installation yesterday at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. of the Rev. Robert W. Ihloff was in itself a kind of healing, with representatives attending from parishes long alienated from the diocese.
A man of deep spirituality, Bishop Ihloff is noted for his ability to describe his experience of faith. He is also known as a man who treasures his convictions, but is open to opposing arguments. Most important for this diocese, he has already begun the hard work of reaching out and healing old divisions. At a meeting with clergy of the diocese, Bishop Ihloff invoked the image of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. He reminded priests that both he and they are called to be servants in their ministries, to bend and kneel -- not to a particular cause or faction but to a common faith.
A grower of roses as well as a devotee of step aerobics and long walks with his wife, Bishop Ihloff brings to Maryland's Episcopalians a style of leadership that holds much promise for the future of their church.