Bishop Joseph Heistand, the third bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, died Tuesday at his home in Richmond, Va., after a long illness. He was 84.
Heistand led the diocese from 1979 until his retirement in 1992. Prior to that, he had been the rector of St. Philip's in the Hills Episcopal Parish in Tucson.
A high point of Heistand's 13-year tenure as bishop was the diocese hosting the denomination's General Convention in 1991, a national meeting of Episcopalians held every three years and drawing about 10,000 people.
The Phoenix convention became controversial because of threats by black Episcopalians and others to boycott it because Arizona was one of three states that did not have a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. civil rights holiday.
"Although I did not serve directly under Bishop Heistand, he was an important person in my spiritual formation," said Bishop Kirk Stevan Smith, who has served as bishop since 2004. "He ordained me to the diaconate at St. Mark's in Mesa in 1979."
Smith said Heistand will be remembered by many "as a caring pastor during a difficult time of the diocese and an outspoken advocate of social justice in our community."
Heistand served during a difficult time of transition in the Episcopal church national, said diocesan spokeswoman Greta Huls. "It was right after women started being ordained to the priesthood," she said. "There was an instance in Payson where he was locked out of one of the churches, and someone actually pointed a shotgun at him."
The Rev. Albert Rich, of Sun City, a friend of Heistand since their seminary days, remembered the bishop's tough stand in that incident in which some of the Episcopal church's parishioners wanted to secede from the diocese because of the directions the denomination was going, including revisions adopted in 1979 to the Book of Common Prayer.
"He was a good combination of intellectual and humorous and was a natural person who mixed well with people and in his missionary outreach," said Rich, retired rector of St. Christopher's parish in Sun City.
Heistand was ordained a priest in 1952 and served parishes in Pennsylvania and Virginia before taking the Tucson post in 1969.
He and his wife of 57 years, Roberta, had three children.
Smith will represent the diocese for funeral services 2 p.m. Monday at the Westover Episcopal Church in Charles City County, Va., where a daughter, Virginia Heistand Jones, serves as rector. He said a memorial service will be held at the diocese's Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix at a later date.