Second Bishop of the Diocese of East Tennessee from Jan 1, 1992 to Feb 27, 1999.
Rest in peace: May 30, 2003
The Rt. Rev. Robert Gould Tharp was consecrated bishop coadjutor on May 4, 1991, following his election Nov. 17, 1990, during a special meeting of the Sixth Annual Convention of the Diocese of East Tennessee. He succeeded as diocesan bishop the Rt. Rev. William E. Sanders, first bishop of East Tennessee, when Sanders retired Jan. 1, 1992.
“When I became diocesan bishop, I invited Bob to be Canon to the Ordinary because of his devoted work as a parish priest with the clergy and laity and his pastoral ministry with them – and in light of their obvious confidence in him. That began for us a companionship in the ministry,” Bishop Sanders said upon the death of Bishop Tharp on May 30, 2003. “He’s been a devoted and able leader at every level of the church’s life. His heart was in his ministry completely, in his guidance and worship, in his eloquent preaching and in his pastoral care of the people of the church and of the community.”
Born in Orlando, Fla., on Oct. 25, 1928, Tharp graduated from Wesleyan University, Middletown, Conn., in 1950 with a bachelor of arts degree. While serving in the U.S. Army, he sought the advice of his bishop as to whether he should enter the seminary. He earned his master of divinity degree from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary near Chicago in 1956. Ordained as a priest in 1957, he served as curate at St. Mary’s Church, Tampa, Fla., for two years. He was vicar and rector at four churches in Florida from 1956 until 1968, then took a sabbatical year in England at Kings College, University of London.
Tharp came to the statewide Diocese of Tennessee in 1969 to become rector of St. Peter’s Church in Columbia. He served there until 1978, when he became canon to the ordinary for Bishop William Sanders of Tennessee. In 1985, when the Diocese of East Tennessee was formed, Tharp continued as Sanders’ canon to the ordinary in the new diocese.
Tharp was five times a deputy to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. As bishop, he served in the House of Bishops. He was elected to the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church in 1988, for which he served as chairman of the Standing Committee on Planning and Development. During the 70th General Convention, he served as secretary for the House of Bishops’ environmental committee.
In 1989, Bishop Tharp traveled to Burundi and Rwanda in Africa as the Episcopal Church USA’s representative to the Partners-in-Mission Consultation for the Provinces of Burundi, Rwanda and Zaire. He attended the 13th Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, England, in 1998, along with nearly 800 other Bishops of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
He continued to serve after his retirement in February 1999, accepting an appointment just two months later from Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold as chairman of the board of directors for Episcopal Relief and Development. The organization previously was named the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief, and Bishop Tharp had been a member since 1996.
He was on the national church’s Council for the Development of Ministry and was chairman and vice-chairman of the Title III Canons Review. Tharp was a trustee for Seabury-Western Theological Seminary for nine years. He received an honorary doctorate of canon law from Seabury-Western for his nine years of work on ministry canons. He also received an honorary doctor of divinity from the University of the South’s School of Theology.
Bishop Tharp’s concern for Knoxville was evident in his community service work. He served on the boards of the United Fund, the Kings Daughters School and Knoxville Youth Service. He was president of the Mental Health Clinic and volunteered for the Red Cross.
For recreation, Bishop Tharp enjoyed reading British mysteries and novels by Southern writers. He also played the piano and the organ.
Bishop Tharp died on Friday, May 30, 2003. He was 74. A celebration of his life was held at St. John’s Cathedral, Knoxville, on Tuesday, June 3, 2003. The Rt. Rev. Charles G. vonRosenberg and the Rt. Rev. William E. Sanders officiated, and private interment was in the Memorial Garden of the Cathedral.