For one reason or another, bishop elections have been on my mind lately. With the news out of Maryland, the coming election of a new Presiding Bishop, and the Dean of the Cathedral here in Denver being a finalist in Southeast Florida’s election I find myself wondering about the efficacy of all episcopal seats being elected ones.
As I look at the needs of the Church in the near future, it seems that a certain flexibility may be required in how we call bishops in the Episcopal Church. I wonder if every bishop need be an elected one and if every bishop’s office need be full-time.
My thought is this. If we were to retain elections for all diocesan bishops but allow the naming of suffragan and local bishops by diocesan bishops we could create a certain flexibility that does not now exist in our current process. More than flexibility we could also allow for more direct engagement with bishops and have the kinds of bishops named who might not otherwise be elected.
As we prepare to enter an election cycle in our nation, the issue of primaries and general elections comes to mind. There are candidates who would be excellent presidents who simply are not the kind of people we elect in our processes. Take, for example, the excellent Indiana Senator Richard Lugar. He is a brilliant diplomatic mind and good senator who represented a kind of politics that is lost in our electoral life (he was dislodged from office by a much lesser candidate in a primary). Senator Lugar ran for president ever so briefly but never got the kind of necessary name-recognition or generated the steam to be elected.
A comparison to national politics is imperfect but illustrative. Senator Lugar would, without a doubt, have had all of the skills and the temperament to be an excellent president – but he was ill-suited to be a candidate.
If we were to retain elections at the diocesan level, those bishops could be free to name a less “flashy” or conventionally “attractive” candidate to a local area or to a suffragan position where they could prove their talent and skill and be a more complete candidate later for a diocesan position. We could call pastors, theologians, organizers, and more who are doing innovative and spiritually rich work and give them a chance to grow and serve not because their work is the most “attractive” or because they lead “significant” parishes but because it is essential to sharing the Gospel in a changing world.
The kinds of candidates who could be named could be the kinds of candidates who do not, currently, represent the “norm” in our elections. Whether because they are younger, minority candidates, women, are in relatively unknown ministries, or simply aren’t that “charming” – there are a number of reasons that they might not be “electable” but would still be excellent bishops. In this way, we could take a chance on a different type of leadership and lay the foundation for those candidates to emerge later at the diocesan level.
This would have the benefit not only of raising up different kinds of candidates but do so in a much more cost-effective and responsive way. In a diocese as large as ours, in Colorado, one could easily see the value of appointing a local bishop for areas simply too far away to be regularly seen by our bishop (who works mightily to do this work). It would also allow for those local bishops to be not full-time bishops but perhaps be serving local rectors. In this way we could recognize the local needs of an area and find those with specialized gifts to pastor those areas.
This could happen in a number of ways. The simplest may be for the diocesan bishop to have the wherewithal to appoint a new bishop subject to the approval of the standing committee and, of course, consents from the House of Bishops. There are other, perhaps more convoluted ways to do such a thing, but if part of the goal is flexibility then creating many more hoops to jump through would not be all that helpful.
With this plan, a diocesan bishop could also appoint missionary bishops to work in underserved areas to look for ways to creatively plant and grow churches.
Of course the flexibility that this would create in the episcopacy would transfer to the flexibility we could use at the local level. As we look for ways to spur creative engagement with our communities it would be enormously helpful to have bishops who know their locales in a more intimate way and who can offer guidance and support that is informed by closer relationships and partnerships at the local level. Moreover, they will be formed in, perhaps, a more recent church climate and may better understand the realities of the current day.
There are a host of questions that such a shift would certainly raise but it seems worth the conversation.
At the end of the day though, a bishop is called not because we want management but because our local parishes are extensions of a bishop’s ministry and each Altar is an extension of the bishop’s. However we choose bishops in the future, my hope is that we can view the relationship as a Sacramental one first and a managerial one far below that primary unity.
Susan Mills said:
For the benefit of those of us with older eyes, would you please change the presentation to black on white/light color. It is hard to read white on black. It looks trendy, but it’s not the most accessible combination for those of us who want to read.
Michael Redmond said:
I completely agree with Susan re white-on-black print format.
Perhaps this is an age issue. I am in my 30s and it already appears black text on white background to me.
Michael Redmond said:
Wow, David. That’s strange. No question about what I see — white print, very drak gray background.
PC vs. Mobile versions no doubt…..
Derek Olsen said:
Sorry–I just can’t go there. I do hear what you’re saying and it makes a certain degree of sense, but I simply don’t see it working out the way you do. Rather, it would become another means to further entrench the ecclesiastical insiders. I see quite a lot of inside-outside among the clergy in the diocese with which I’m familiar. Maybe it’s different where you are. But the well-off and the well-connected get preferential treatment as it is and I can’t imagine a direct appointment system would do anything but reinforce this.
After all, when people who are the children of successful clergymen move quickly into high-level positions at dioceses, and proceed from there to an episcopal seat, it makes one wonder if the vetting processes don’t get short shrift due to a favorable insider status.
I do agree that we need more bishops who are stewards of the sacraments, guardians of the faith, and eloquent spokespeople of the spiritual life–I’m just not sure how to help us get there…
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Austin Cooke said:
I have long advocated that Anglicanism emulate the Coptic procedure of choosing their patriarch by lot– the names of all eligible shortlisted candidates are placed in a chalice and, after a few hours of singing psalms and troparia, a child selects one for election by the synod of bishops. It seems to work just fine.
Michael Redmond said:
And there’s scriptural precedent, in Acts …
Gordon Reid said:
Part of what you describe already happens in the Church of England. Most Suffragan and area Bishops are chosen by their Diocesan Bishops, and many of them then get chosen as Diocesan Bishops. The diocesans themselves are, of course, chosen by a very small group, the Royal Appointments Commission which is appointed by General Synod, with the addition of some members from the Diocese concerned. The American Church would not want to copy this, but there might be merit in the idea of elected diocesans and appointed suffragans.