Interchange March 1999

The Rt. Rev. Nelson Marigold Burroughs dies at 99

by Charlie Rice

The Rt. Rev. Nelson Marigold Burroughs, seventh Bishop of Ohio, and a former rector of Christ Church, Cincinnati, died on December 19, nine days prior to his sixtieth wedding anniversary, and seven months short of his 100th birthday.

Bishop Burroughs founded the Boar's Head and Yule Log Festivals in Cincinnati and Cleveland. The festival has become a holiday tradition in both cities. In recent years, Bishop Burroughs, a resident of Exeter, New Hampshire observed a different holiday ritual. He made an annual pilgrimage to Boston to attend a carol service.

"He and his wife, Nancy, had traveled to Boston to attend a service of Lessons and Carols at Trinity Church," reported the Rt. Rev. J. Clark Grew II, Bishop of Ohio. "It is presumed that he died of a heart attack while walking from the car to the hotel. He collapsed on the street and did not suffer."

Learning from the masters
Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, July 12, 1899, the young Nelson Burroughs regularly visited the Barnum and Bailey Circus.

Right: Bishop Burroughs' pectoral cross was a gift 
from the parishioners of Christ Church, Cincinnati

"Here he saw the great patience of the animal trainers, the precision and marvelous perfection of the organization of the circus, and the fellowship and understanding among the performers. This began an appreciation of qualities which have helped him throughout his career," wrote Wallace Baker in his work, The Bishops of Ohio.

He graduated in 1922 from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, and in 1925 from the Berkeley Divinity School. After his ordination in 1925, he spent five years in Syracuse, New York, where he served as an assistant at St. Paul's for two years, and as rector at St. Mark's for three years. Through most of the 1930's, he was rector of St. John's, Troy, New York, where he met and married his wife, Nancy Cluett. With her support, he embarked upon a remarkably creative career.

"Bishop Burroughs started Cleveland's annual Boar's Head and Yule Log Festival," reported The Cleveland Plain Dealer. "He introduced the medieval English Yuletide bash in Cincinnati, while serving as rector of Christ Church in the 1940's. The festival has expanded in the bishop's absence."

"I must tell you that the first celebration of the Boar's Head was really awfully funny," said Bishop Burroughs in a 1994 interview.

"We tried to make some costumes but didn't have time to make all of them," said the bishop. "When the costume rental agency sent us presumably the Boar's Head costumes, they turned out to be outfits from the Prince of Pilsen - a drinking company!"

Guiding the church through war
Under Burroughs' leadership, Christ Church entered into the war effort by supporting their more than 400 men and women in the service. There were daily noonday prayers in the Centennial Chapel. A committee of the Women's Auxiliary sent the weekly bulletin to all service people. As the war progressed, Centennial Chapel became a community war shrine, open around the clock. At one time, there were more than 4,000 for whom prayers were offered.

Following the custom in European war shrines, the Rev. Mr. Burroughs conceived the idea of hanging flags of the Allies.

When the United States forced Japanese American citizens to be moved away from the coasts, Bishop Hobson volunteered to take 300 in Southern Ohio.

"He turned the group over to Christ Church," recalled Ruth Avram, the cathedral's archivist and historian. "Christ Church secured living places for them and saw that they were incorporated into the parish. During this time, one of the babies in the group died. With no church home or country, Mr. Burroughs provided space on Christ Church's lot in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati for the interment."

Building a new Christ Church
By the end of World Ward II, the 1835 vintage Christ Church was in bad condition. On Easter Day 1941, the Rev. Mr. Burroughs preached a sermon in which he and the vestry proposed building a new church on the same site in memory of Burroughs' predecessor, the Rev. Frank H. Nelson, who served as rector of Christ Church for forty years.

"I remember the only time I ever visited Mr. Nelson was when I came out there to meet the vestry after they had called me," Bishop Burroughs recalled. "Mr. Nelson said, 'Burroughs, this is the old church. We love it, it's homey, but we must have a new one, and it will be your job to build the new structure.'"

Bishop Burroughs fondly remembered his time at Christ Church.

"I think that strong, outgoing ministry is the secret to what Christ Church stands for," he said. "I loved the whole bit. I worked harder than I ever have in my life before or since, and I cherish all the memories which came out of it."

Called to be a bishop
"He was at heart a pastor to all people, especially his clergy," said Bishop J. Clark Grew, the tenth Bishop of Ohio. Burroughs was the diocese's seventh bishop, having been called in 1949. ''They were devoted to him. He did so many small acts of generosity that nobody knows about. He had a great love for the congregations in his diocese. He loved being with the people in those churches. He had a vision of the future, about what the church could become."

He oversaw the establishment of 19 new congregations and the construction of 36 church buildings in his diocese during his 16 years as bishop. Under his leadership, a building located next to Trinity Cathedral was purchased and put into operation as the diocese's administrative Church House.

Bishop Burroughs served for six years as president of Province V. In 1963, he became a member of the national church's Executive Council. He was also elected to four terms as vice chairman of the House of Bishops.

Committed to a broad ministry, Bishop Burroughs also served as a trustee of the Church Pension Fund, of Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, and of Berkeley Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut.

In addition to his wife, Nancy, Bishop Burroughs is survived by his children, Timothy, Margaret and Anita. His son, Robert, died in 1968 while on service with the United States Marine Corps in Viet Nam.

Funeral services were held in Chatham, Massachusetts on December 26. A memorial Eucharist was held at Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland, on January 15. A memorial services was also held at Christ Church Cathedral, Cincinnati, on February 9.

Interchange March 1999

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