Barbara Bush

Behold, a Barbara Bush mystery: Family matriarch waited 'til age 90 to be confirmed as Episcopalian?

Behold, a Barbara Bush mystery: Family matriarch waited 'til age 90 to be confirmed as Episcopalian?

If you watch the whole Barbara Bush funeral, you really get a sense of her personality and how she fit into Houston as a community, but especially life at St. Martin's Episcopal Church (the largest Episcopal congregation in North America).

The service (click here) was loaded with interesting choices, in terms of the readings and hymns -- all negotiated in fine detail, months before her death by the clergy and the extremely literate Barbara Bush.

There's a lot of humor in the service, since we are talking about the life of one of the wittiest figures to grace the American political stage in the 20th Century. There are quite a few tears, too, since she led a large family and clearly had a big impact on all of them.

However, let me note that the service also contained one big surprise and/or mystery and, sure enough, it concerned Barbara Bush's faith. I am sure that religion-beat reporters -- had any been given this choice assignment -- would have caught it.

So what was it? In my GetReligion post following the Bush matriarch's death, I noted that George H.W. Bush and his wife were dyed-in-the-wool, old-school Episcopalians and that this fact helped shape their lives, culture and style. You can see this right at the top of the fine New York Times story about the funeral:

HOUSTON -- At the Episcopal church that has been her spiritual home for more than 50 years, the former first lady Barbara Pierce Bush was celebrated at her funeral as one of the most beloved political matriarchs in American history.

Mrs. Bush, the wife of the 41st president and the mother of the 43rd, died on Tuesday in the bedroom of her home in Houston. She was 92, and took her last breaths holding the hand of her husband of 73 years, former President George Bush.

Note especially the reference to St. Martin's being her "spiritual home for more than 50 years." With that in mind, note this material drawn from the eulogies by son Jeb Bush and the church's rector, the Rev. Russell J. Levenson Jr. This passage was way down in the USA Today report:

When [Jeb Bush] asked his mom recently how she felt about the idea of dying, he said, she didn't miss a beat. "She said, 'Jeb, I believe in Jesus and he is my savior. I don’t want to leave your dad, but I know I will be in a beautiful place.’”

Rev. Russell Levenson Jr., the Bush's pastor for the last 13 years, revealed that Bush came to him in 2015 -- at the age of 90 -- and asked to be confirmed in the church.

Wait a minute!

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Barbara Bush: Last old-school mainline Protestant to serve as America's first lady? (updated)

Barbara Bush: Last old-school mainline Protestant to serve as America's first lady? (updated)

At least once a month, I pop open a search engine and go fishing on the World Wide Web, looking for a quotation or some other reference that I remember from the distant past. Just because you remember something -- as an aging religion-beat scribe -- doesn't mean that you are going to be able to find a reference online (or in the boxes of notes and clippings that line a wall in your basement).

So let me share what I remember about a First Things article I read just before the birth of the Internet. It focused on the differences, in terms of faith and personal style, between President Bill Clinton and the recently ousted President George H.W. Bush.

The basic idea was that Clinton, as a Bible Belt Baptist, was much more comfortable talking about his faith than the more reserved Bush, a Yankee Episcopalian. At one point there was a footnote to a press-conference transcript from the Bush campaign.

As I recall, Bush was asked what he thought about during the hours in which he floated in shark-infested Pacific Ocean waters after his fighter plane was shot down during World War II.

The transcript indicated that Bush said that he thought about Barbara, this family and God -- then there was a strategic pause before he added -- and "the separation of church and state."

Now there's a man who is a mainline Protestant's mainline Protestant.

I thought about article (if anyone can find it online, I'd love a URL) this morning while reading lots of news and commentary about the death of the 92-year-old Barbara Bush, the Bush family's beloved "Silver Fox" who had become a quirky, candid grandmother figure for millions of Americans. Good luck trying to find insights into the family's faith -- which can be sensed in between the lines, but that's as far as journalists were willing to go.

My main question: Were Barbara and George H.W. Bush the last old-school mainline Protestants -- in terms of low-key style and quiet faith -- to occupy the White House?

I mean, George W. Bush was a United Methodist, but he adopted a more outspoken, evangelical style after the religious rebirth that helped him defeat alcohol.

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