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Interim Leader Appointed for L.A. Episcopal Diocese

July 18, 1986|RUSSELL CHANDLER | Times Religion Writer

A special committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles appointed Suffragan (assistant) Bishop Oliver B. Garver Jr. Thursday to take charge until a successor is elected to replace Bishop Robert C. Rusack.

Rusack died suddenly Wednesday night in his Pacific Palisades home of an apparent heart attack. He was 60.

Funeral services, with a Requiem Eucharist celebrated at 2 p.m. Saturday, will be held in St. John's Episcopal Church, 514 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles. Interment of ashes will be at St. Matthew's Church in Pacific Palisades.

On Sunday, Trinity Episcopal Church in Orange will hold memorial services for Rusack at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. The Rev. Douglas Edwards, rector of Trinity, said the Liturgy for the Dead will be incorporated into the service, which will focus on the life and ministry of the bishop. The church is at 2400 N. Canal St. in Orange.

Daughter of Bishop

The Diocesan Standing Committee, composed of four lay and four clergy members, is chaired by the Rev. Emily Hall, 67, a priest at St. Andrew's Church in Ojai and the daughter of the late W. Bertrand Stevens, the second Episcopal bishop of Los Angeles, who in 1947 also died in office.

In Episcopal church administration, the standing committee acts as the interim policy-making unit of a diocese while a new bishop is being selected.

Rusack's successor will be elected by about 1,200 clergy and lay delegates from throughout the diocese, according to diocesan spokeswoman Ruth Nicastro. The standing committee has not yet set an election date.

There appeared to be no early front-runner for leadership of the 100,000-member diocese that spans Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and part of Riverside counties. But Garver, 61, has been mentioned as a potential nominee because of his longtime association as Rusack's executive assistant.

Garver is out of the country until tonight and could not be reached for comment.

Other Candidates

Other possible candidates--who were nominated in the February, 1985, election for suffragan bishop won by Garver--are the Very Rev. Harvey H. Guthrie, since 1969 the dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass.; the Rev. Canon Gethin B. Hughes, Welsh-born rector of All Saints-by-the-Sea Church in Santa Barbara, and the Venerable Lorentho Wooden, a black archdeacon in the Cincinnati-based Diocese of Southern Ohio.

Rusack presided over one of the most populous and diverse Episcopal dioceses in the nation during more than a decade of dramatic ethnic and religious change.

R. Bradbury Clark, a Los Angeles attorney who as chancellor of the diocese served as Rusack's legal adviser, said the bishop's "concern for the people of the diocese included us all: men, women, children, the handicapped, homosexuals. He believed that we are all God's children and acted accordingly."

Rusack, elected bishop coadjutor of Los Angeles by a narrow margin over eight other candidates in 1972, steered the 152-church diocese through controversy that ripped the Episcopal Church during the 1970s. Rusack was an ardent supporter of the ordination of women, approved by the 3-million-member denomination in 1976, and he upheld revisions of the church's historic Book of Common Prayer approved in 1979. Several traditionalist congregations in the diocese broke from the denomination over those issues.

Cathedral Demolished

Rusack also presided over the controversial 1980 demolition of 56-year-old St. Paul's Cathedral on Figueroa Street near Wilshire Boulevard in downtown Los Angeles. The interest on money obtained from the sale of the historic site to a Japanese firm have been used to extend the outreach mission of the diocese, but the property has yet to be developed and remnants of the cathedral's walls can still be seen.

Although the principal fund from the sale is in reserve for capital expenses, Clark said, there is presently no Episcopal Cathedral in the diocese, nor are plans to build one in progress.

The facility's large operating cost would have been increased had it been brought up to earthquake safety standards, and a continued loss of members appeared to dictate its sale for about $4 million to developers. Nonetheless, many parishioners objected on grounds that church authorities seemed more interested in financial profit than continued downtown ministry.

Rabbi Allen Freehling, president of the Southern California Board of Rabbis, praised Rusack for his interfaith and community endeavors.

'Commitment and Action'

"During his long career he has . . . made it possible for people of all faiths to work together for the benefit of everyone," Freehling said. "The legacy he leaves will be one of commitment and action."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, who heads the Anglican Communion, which has close ties to the Episcopal Church in this country, also paid tribute Thursday to Rusack, United Press International reported.

"He was a bishop of unbounded enthusiasm for the Christian faith and eager that people should see its crucial relevance to everyday life," Runcie said. "He was a familiar figure in the Anglican Communion, a great family man filled with infectious enthusiasm. He was supported by the best of bishop's wives and a wonderful family."

Rusack is survived by his wife, Janice, and two children, Geoffrey, of Santa Monica, and Rebecca Waycott, of Caracas, Venezuela.

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