He has chided the president of the United States from his cathedral pulpit for neglecting the poor; he has marched through Waikiki to protest nuclear weapons; he has battled racism with both preaching and example.

But the Rt. Rev. Edmond Lee Browning, who today becomes the 24th presiding bishop of the 2.7 million-member Episcopal Church in ceremonies at the Washington Cathedral, doesn't like to be called an activist.

"I don't like the label. It doesn't explain one's total ministry," he said in an interview in the comfortable office that has been his headquarters for the nine years he has been Episcopal Bishop of Hawaii. Now it is stripped nearly bare, his books, papers and personal mementos already shipped to the New York City skyscraper that will be his work place for the next 12 years.

"I'd like to be remembered here in Hawaii as one who has been a pastor and one who has enabled ministry of others, both ordained and lay," he explained. "Along with this has been the need to speak out on social issues. I think the prophetic and the pastoral roles go hand in hand."

To explain what he meant, he cited his outspoken opposition to nuclear weapons. Browning was the first religious leader in Honolulu to take a public position against nuclear weapons -- a stance not taken lightly in the state that houses the world's largest storehouse of nuclear warheads and where military personnel represent a substantial segment of the population.

"As a result of speaking out , I found myself in a pastoral role with people I never would have met otherwise . . . with people in the military who were concerned about their role, whether they as Christians should get out of the military." He counseled against it.

By taking a pastoral stance, the conversations took on the nature of a discussion "rather than becoming a debate," he said. "I met with some of the top military leaders, in a sharing that enlarged my vision.

"My conclusion is that you can't be a prophet without becoming a pastor."

Browning says he is "not a pacifist. The military does a service and has a real place." But for him, the nuclear issue is paramount. "There is no question in my mind that the use of nuclear weapons would be tantamount to the destruction of a large part of God's creation.

"For me, that imposes the obligation to do all I can to halt the arms race, to try to eliminate nuclear weaponry. I realize there are difficulties, that it's not clear-cut. But as a Christian, as a church leader, that vision has to be held up in the face of an arms race that seems increasingly at times out of control.

"And of course related to that is the question of the hungry, the dispossessed in our nation. For that reason, I have to speak out."

In the complex and diverse institution that is the Episcopal Church, Browning succeeds a presiding bishop, John Maury Allin, who for the last 12 years has determinedly kept a low profile on most social issues.

Yet it would appear that the church is ready for a national leader in the activist mold. All four of the candidates who were proposed for the post have track records of social involvement, and the runner-up in the September balloting was Washington Bishop John T. Walker.

Browning, a native of Texas, served a couple of small churches there before going as a missionary to Okinawa in 1963. Five years later he was named the first missionary bishop of Okinawa. In 1971, he became bishop-in-charge of American churches in Europe, and in 1974, he was brought back to church headquarters in New York as executive for national and world mission.

He has pledged to spend his first year as presiding bishop acquainting himself with the whole church. "I really feel that it is imperative to spend a good deal of time listening to as many groups and sections of the church as I possibly can," he said.

The 10,541-member Episcopal Church scattered over Hawaii's five most populated islands -- seventh among denominations here -- bears little resemblance to the prestige and status of the church in much of the mainland.

But Browning is credited by many here with giving new stature to his church in this Pacific paradise.

"As far as I'm concerned, he really put the Episcopal Church on the map," said Michael T. Higashi, who experienced Episcopalianism as a student and for the last 16 years as guidance counselor at the church-related Iolani prep school.

"He's been involved in the things I think the church should be involved in -- the nuclear issue, social problems, helping people no matter what church they belong to."

Browning has not only supported women priests but has quietly put them in places of visibility and influence. Deacon Dorothy Nakatsuji, who has assisted him at the cathedral here, will also be part of his installation service at the Washington Cathedral.

He has some hope that there may yet be reconciliation with traditionalists who left the church a decade ago over the issues of women's ordination and prayer book revision. "There are conversations going on," he said. "You always hope."

Whether it's his nature or the laid-back influence of the island culture, the new presiding bishop projects an easy-going informality. "This is Ed Browning," he identifies himself to a total stranger on the telephone.

Tall, with his sandy hair gone mostly white, he chats easily, in English or in Japanese, the latter learned during his Okinawa stint and a real boon here where persons of Japanese ancestry are the second largest ethnic group.

His ease with people has served him well. "When I became a bishop, people said, 'It's going to be a lonely job.' It hasn't been a lonely job," he said, adding, "I just pray I can keep that same kind of relationship."

His main insulation from burnout, he says, has been "my family. Patti his wife has been a tremendous support. We have a good team ministry."

They have are five children: Mark, a deputy prosecutor in the Hawaii attorney general's office; Paige, an architect; Philip, in his third year of medical school; Peter, a counselor in a California home for abused children and who is thinking of following his father's footsteps into the priesthood; and John, a senior at Iolani, who is the number two ranked doubles player in Hawaii tennis.

All but Peter will continue to live in Hawaii.

When President Reagan attended Easter services at St. Andrew's Cathedral here in 1984, Browning preached about how Jesus ministered to the poor and needy. Tactfully but pointedly, he deplored the switch of national resources from "the compassionate face of government" to more armaments.

Some in his flock disapproved, but the bishop saw it as his duty as a religious leader. He plans to "move along the same lines as presiding bishop," he said.

"There is no question in my mind that it is the role of the presiding bishop to articulate certain issues that are facing the nation and the church," he said.

"I'll have to do things I know not everybody will agree with, people will not always understand. What I have tried to do here is to hold up the diversity of the church and try to uphold that tradition in the church, and it's worked pretty well."

Then he added with a self-effacing grin, "Or maybe I'm getting out just in time."