An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Burgess, John Melville

(b. Mar. 11, 1909). First African American diocesan bishop. Burgess was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He received his B.A. and M.A. from the University of Michigan. In 1934 he received his B.D. from the Episcopal Theological School. Burgess was ordained deacon on July 29, 1934, and priest on Jan. 25, 1935. He served St. Philip's Church, Grand Rapids, 1934-1938, and St. Simon of Cyrene Church, Lincoln Heights, Ohio, 1938-1946, before becoming the Chaplain at Howard University in 1946. From 1951 until 1956, Burgess was Canon of the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, Washington, and from 1956 until 1962, he was Archdeacon of Boston. On Dec. 8, 1962, he was consecrated Suffragan Bishop of Massachusetts, and on June 7, 1969, he was elected Bishop Coadjutor of Massachusetts. On Jan. 11, 1970, Burgess became the Bishop of Massachusetts, the first African American diocesan bishop in the Episcopal Church. He retired on Jan. 1, 1976. During his episcopate he had an active ministry to college students and to the urban poor. After his retirement Burgess taught pastoral theology at Yale Divinity School and was active in programs for the welfare of the African American community.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.