In the Episcopal Church, Sunday, June 28, 2020, was celebrated as Bishop Guerry Day to honor Bishop William Alexander Guerry, bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina from 1907 until his death in 1928. Bishop Guerry was an impactful and passionate leader and a trailblazer for fighting for racial injustices in the church.
Bishop Guerry was born in Clarendon County, South Carolina, in 1861. Guerry attended the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and later became chaplain of the university while serving as professor of homiletics and pastoral theology. On April 22, 1907, Guerry was named the eighth bishop of South Carolina.
The trademark of Bishop Guerry’s ministry is his “discernment of truth,” according to the Episcopal Church in South Carolina. He truly valued the idea that though we do not know God’s whole truth, we all possess a part of it within ourselves. This was the driving force behind his fervent ministry and his belief that the church must embrace all within the church.
In 1909, while addressing provincial church leaders in Birmingham, Alabama, Guerry spoke on his belief in embracing the breadth of the people within the Episcopal Church and his mission to do so. Bishop Guerry profoundly stated, “We should strive for unity, not uniformity. Uniformity is mechanical, barren, unfruitful, and unprofitable. Unity is organic, living, and capable of endless growth. If we are to be truly catholic, as Christ himself is catholic, then we must have a church broad enough to embrace within its communion every living human soul.”
Guerry’s beliefs led him to propose electing a black suffragan bishop to oversee the black Episcopalians in the church. Bishop Guerry believed in giving all people a voice and a place of worship, and this was his way of helping and embracing all within the Episcopal Church.
On June 9, 1928, Bishop Guerry passed away five days after being shot in his office. Guerry, the passionate leader he was, welcomed a clearly troubled priest who had heard Guerry’s proposal on working to eliminate racial inequality in the church. The priest had opposed Guerry’s proposal, and the troubled man turned a gun on Guerry and then on himself.
In his final days, Bishop Guerry spoke of the harrowed priest, by saying, “Forgive him, Father, he knew not what he did.”