Armed Forces and Federal Ministries

The Right Reverend Arnold M. Lewis (1964 – 1971)

The Armed Forces Bishop

Arnold Lewis has the distinction of being the first “Armed Forces Bishop” of the Episcopal Church. He acquitted himself admirably. His appointment came ironically at a time when the Viet Nam Conflict was escalating. I say “ironically” because it is well known that the military, and anything connected with it, was unpopular at that time.

Yet there was a demand in our Church for a chief pastor for the approximately 145 active duty military chaplains and the thousands of military members under their spiritual care. Fortunately, the Armed Forces Division of the National Council (now called, “Executive Council”) approved the request. Then Bishop Lewis was approved/elected by a closed meeting of the House of Bishops at the 61st General Convention, 1964. At the same meeting, also approved were The Rt. Rev. James C. Wong – Missionary Bishop of Taiwan; The Rt. Rev. George Masuda – North Dakota; and The Right Rev. F. Reus-Froylan – Puerto Rico. From these names and the territories, we can deduce that this ministry to the military in Taiwan, North Dakota, and Puerto Rico was envisioned as a missionary Episcopate. These were missionary Bishops. (You will recall that the General Convention of 1835 stressed the importance of our missionary identity by making the official/corporate name of this Church the “Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society,” as it has been ever since.)

Bishop Lewis had previously been Bishop of Western Kansas (See City: Salina, Kansas), 1960-1964. Prior to that, he had been Executive Director of the Presiding Bishop Arthur Lichtenberger’s Committee on Laymen’s [sic] Work. Also, in his long career he had been a US Army Chaplain during World War II, 1940 – 1946, and Rector of St. Mark’s Church, Westhampton Beach, Long Island, among other positions. Well regarded in the Church, Bishop Lewis seems to have been the ideal servant leader to get us off on the right start.

Assisting Bishop Lewis in this groundbreaking and counter-cultural ministry was The Rev. Edward I. Swanson, of Massachusetts, whose duty title was “Civilian Coordinator to the Bishop.”

Anecdote: From Bishop Wright: I confess that I’m too young to have known Bishop Lewis, but his reputation preceded him. Better yet, I have an eyewitness account from The Rev. Edward Sterling (Chaplain, Colonel, US Army, Retired), when Bishop Lewis made an official visit to Rev. Sterling’s station in Viet Nam. Father Sterling wrote:

“Now about Bishop Lewis. He was a robust man, very dedicated to his mission. He regularly sent letters to his chaplains and made visitations. I had informed him of an Army regulation giving equivalent ranks to civilian dignitaries. An Episcopal Bishop was equivalent to a Major General. So, in his letters, he said he wanted accommodations accordingly when he visited…In September 1966 he made an invited official visitation to the US Forces in Viet Nam. I was assigned to escort him. There was dinner at General Westmoreland’s [Commander of US Forces in Viet Nam; later, Chief of Staff of the US Army] requisitioned mansion. Then by plane to General Walt’s Marine Force at Danang. Thence to the First Field Force Headquarters Nha Trang and on to the 1st Infantry Division base at Tay Ninh. Didn’t see the 3 Division Commander. Chaplain Bertram Gilbert received us there. At Danang, US Navy Chaplain George Sheldon took me to his sandbagged bunker Chapel on the line with the 7th Marine Regiment. Bishop Lewis was very conversational everywhere he went and thoroughly into the conversations with the three different generals. They all seemed frustrated by the political control of their missions! [Editor’s Note: Nothing’s Changed!] Faithfully yours, [The Rev.] Edward Sterling (WWII in Italy; Ordnance Officer 1942-1953; Viet Name 1966-1967; US Army Chaplain 1959-1975.)”

The Rt. Rev. Carl Walter Wright

Bishop Suffragan for the Armed Forces and Federal Ministries