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Franklin Delton Turner, 80, auxiliary bishop

Bishop Franklin Delton Turner, 80, of Elkins Park, the first African American to become a bishop suffragan, or auxiliary bishop, of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, died Tuesday, Dec. 31, of prostate cancer at his home.

Franklin D. Turner
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Bishop Franklin Delton Turner, 80, of Elkins Park, the first African American to become a bishop suffragan, or auxiliary bishop, of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, died Tuesday, Dec. 31, of prostate cancer at his home.

With his Oct. 7, 1988, consecration, Bishop Turner became the first person of color to receive such a post in the then-205-year history of the diocese that includes Philadelphia and the four surrounding Pennsylvania counties.

"Father, make Frank a bishop in your church," the bishops prayed during the service. "Pour out upon him the power of your princely spirit."

Bishop Turner, then 54, donned the miter, the liturgical headdress of a bishop, and accepted the crosier, a staff symbolizing the authority of the office.

During the next dozen years, Bishop Turner helped Bishop Allen L. Bartlett Jr. in ministering to the 65,000 Episcopalians who belong to the 140 parishes of the diocese.

He used his insider status to help black priests and to steady struggling urban congregations. At the same time, he brought what he called "the gift of blackness" to enrich worship across color lines.

In December 2000, shortly before retiring, for example, Bishop Turner patiently taught white parishioners at a Main Line church an old Negro praise song, "O, How I Love Jesus." Verse by verse, he intoned the lines, and they sang them back to him. "He served to loosen up a lot of Episcopalians. I can testify to that," the Rev. David Gracie, a longtime priest and friend of the bishop, said in a 2000 Inquirer interview. Gracie died in 2001.

Bishop Turner made a priority of children's ministries across the diocese, and was a troubleshooter and adviser on congregational growth.

For a while, he was welcomed by the six parishes of the archconservative "Forward in Faith" movement that broke away from the diocese after Bartlett ordained an actively gay man in 1993.

The parishes later disavowed Bishop Turner because he did not disassociate himself from Bartlett.

"We felt we couldn't in good conscience give Bishop Turner spiritual authority in our parishes. But it was a very difficult decision," the Rev. David Moyer, then of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Rosemont, told The Inquirer.

In 2000, as Bishop Turner made his farewell tour across the diocese, Episcopalians showered him with accolades, calling him a remarkable administrator, pastor, and preacher.

"He is sort of a happy warrior," said Bartlett. "He gave a strong push forward in terms of congregational parish life. One of his mantras was, 'Get going, get growing, get glowing.' "

Bishop Turner's stature among black Episcopalians was heralded when St. Thomas African Episcopal Church in Overbrook included him in a stained-glass window depicting black heroes of faith - among them St. Augustine, St. Simon, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Born in Norwood, N.C., he attended segregated schools in "red clay," the Jim Crow south, he liked to tell listeners. He was raised in the A.M.E. Zion denomination. Later, at Livingstone College, he grew disenchanted with the A.M.E. Zion hierarchy and, after soul searching, became an Episcopalian in 1956.

He graduated from Livingstone and Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University, and was ordained in 1965.

He was vicar of the Church of the Epiphany in Dallas from 1965 to 1966, and rector of St. George's Church in Washington from 1966 to 1972.

From 1972 to 1983, he was a national staff officer for black ministries with Episcopal Church headquarters in New York.

As a member of the executive council of Berkeley Divinity School, Bishop Turner advocated for recruitment of black leaders into the ministry. He also founded the Organization of Black Episcopal Seminarians.

He edited Lift Every Voice and Sing, an African American hymnal now in wide use by Episcopalians.

In retirement, Bishop Turner served as a visiting preacher until spring 2013, and pursued a favorite hobby, fishing.

He is survived by his wife of 50 years, the former Barbara Jean Dickerson; a son, Franklin Dickerson Turner; daughters Jennifer Turner Wamble and Kimberly; and three grandchildren.

A funeral service will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11, at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, 13 S. 38th St. Burial is private.

Contributions may be made to the Philadelphia Prostate Cancer Foundation, African American Research Initiative, Rebecca Boudwin, Executive Director, 1617 John F. Kennedy Blvd. Suite 1840, Philadelphia 19103.