The Rt. Rev. Frederick Houk Borsch, Class of 1960 and D.D. 1988, died in his sleep early April 11 from complications of myelodysplastic syndrome, a form of leukemia. He was 81 years old. Borsch served as the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles from 1988 to 2002. The clergy of the Diocese learned of Borsch’s death as they gathered for the annual Holy Tuesday renewal of vows at the Cathedral Center on April 11.
Borsch was educated at Princeton, Oxford as well as General, and held a doctorate in New Testament studies was from the University of Birmingham in England. He held teaching posts in England, at Seabury-Western Seminary, and at General prior to becoming Dean and President of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, where he served from 1972 until 1981. That year he became Dean of the chapel and religious life at Princeton University. Borsch remained at Princeton until his 1988 election as bishop.
“Bishop Borsch was a strong friend of General Seminary,” said Dean Dunkle. “He was an alumnus, served as Professor of New Testament Literature from 1971-1972 and received our honorary doctor of divinity. Alumni still ask for copies of his long out-of-print publications. He was also a mentor to me, personally offering sage advice and counsel that only comes from the marriage of theological sophistication and decades of experience in our church. I, and we, will miss him greatly.”
Long a beloved leader in the life of the Episcopal Church, his tenure as bishop was marked by his theme of “Adelante: Forward Together”. He was an early and longtime crusader for LGBTQ rights when the church was torn on the issue and pushed for a living wage for Los Angeles’ front-line workers when City Hall was resistant to such reform. At a time when L.A. was still sharply divided along racial and economic lines and a push for change was met with resistance at City Hall, Borsch was a beacon of tolerance and an advocate for social justice in the six Southern California counties the diocese served.
He marched outside a Beverly Hills hotel with workers demanding higher wages, stood outside the federal building in L.A. during a demonstration to lament the beating death of gay college student Matthew Shepard and demanded — successfully — that the Los Angeles Police Department apologize for detaining and handcuffing a black priest during a routine investigation.
From 1998 to 2000 Borsch was chair of the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops. He served for seven years on the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council, and was a member of the Anglican Consultative Council, after which he chaired the 1988 Lambeth Conference section titled “Called to Be a Faithful Church in a Plural World.”
Borsch returned to academics after leaving the Diocese of Los Angeles, serving as professor of New Testament and chair of Anglican studies at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. The seminary honored him in 2014 by instituting the Frederick Houk Borsch Chair in Anglican Studies.
Contributor of essays, articles and poetry to a number of journals and newspapers, Borsch was the author or editor of some 20 books.
He is survived by Barbara S. Borsch, his wife of more than 56 years and by their sons Benjamin, Matthew and Stuart, daughters-in-law Jeannie, Elizabeth, and Fang Zhang, grandchildren Jack, Emily, Owen and Zoe; by his sister Jane Borsch Robbins and by five nieces and three nephews and their families. A memorial service is planned for Saturday April 22, 1 P.M. at St. Martin in the Fields Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, PA, and another service will be held at a later date at St. Augustine by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, Santa Monica, California.