Editor’s note: On-demand video of the presiding bishop nominees session can be accessed by clicking here.
[Episcopal News Service – Salt Lake City] The four bishops nominated to become the 27th presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church June 24 joined in a first-of-its-kind session for both bishops and deputies to hear from the nominees.
Diocese of Southern Ohio Bishop Thomas Breidenthal, Diocese of North Carolina Bishop Michael Curry, Diocese of Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas and Diocese of Southwest Florida Bishop Dabney Smith spent nearly three hours answering questions and making opening and closing statements.
“The committee believes the presiding bishop will need to lead, love, inspire the people at a time in which both uncertainty and opportunity define the moment,” said Sally Johnson, co-chair of Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop.
The session was meant to help bishops and deputies discern who of the four bishops is the person to provide that three-pronged response to God’s and the church’s call.
Each nominee was introduced by way for a short informal video they each made using a digital device, after which they each had three minutes to speak to those gathered in person and by webcast. The nominees then responded to questions from the committee, from bishops, deputies and alternates to General Convention, and from members of Episcopal Church congregations.
Johnson said the committee synthesized 186 questions into eight categories with five questions in each group. The categories were leadership matters; theology and liturgy matters; faith-based matters: reconciliation matters; lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual and queer matters; divestment matters; spiritual and self-care matters; and structure matters. The bishops knew the categories ahead of time, but not the specific questions, according to Diocese of Oklahoma Bishop Ed Konieczny, committee co-chair.
The four bishops drew color- and number-coded slips from a bowl during each round of questions and were asked one of the five questions in that category. Not every nominee drew all the questions in every category. The questions were asked from the House of Deputies floor by members of the nominating committee, and each began with “Bishop, the church wants to ask …”
The opening question to each bishop was specific to the vision each nominee cast in the committee’s materials released May 1. That material is here.
Breidenthal was asked how he would, as he had said, make room for people who are on a faith journey, but have not found a place in The Episcopal Church. He replied that first the church has to stop asking the question of how to attract more people into the pews because it is the wrong question.
Instead, he said, Episcopalians must understand that they are called into the world where they can be in “true and holy conversation” with those people who have not yet found a place in the church – and be willing to learn from them.
And, while Episcopalians rightly pride themselves on being in strong relationships with each other, the tightness of those bonds sometimes means there is little space for others, even Jesus, he said. When Episcopalians get comfortable telling each other the “stories of our faith, stories of our doubt” that space will open and teach people how to see Christ in the stranger.
Curry had said the presiding bishop must be two kinds of a CEO: a chief executive officer and a chief evangelism officer. He was asked how he would live into the fiduciary, legal and corporate responsibilities of a chief executive officer while also being the chief evangelism officer. Curry said he would find “the best and most capable people” to run the organization, but he cautioned that just having people “who know how to count and know how to invest and know how to take care of the books is not enough.”
“There’s got to be a reason for doing it,” he said, explaining that the reason is to enable the witness to Jesus that must be the center around which the structure of the church is built.
Douglas had said he wanted to encourage Episcopalians to discover and participate in what God is doing in the world and in their neighborhoods. “I believe in a God that’s alive, a God who actually meets those who are so much in need of healing and wholeness and new life,” he said when asked to elaborate during the session.
This God invites people, by virtue of their baptism, to participate in that healing. “It’s in the world that we are called to be faithful to the new life of God in Christ. So, it’s in our neighborhood where that healing action of God so much needs to be met, celebrated and made real,” he said.
Smith was asked about his stated desire to pursue reconciliation that would keep The Episcopal Church as a “theologically big-tent church” without losing the “pastoral and theological gains made in recent years.”
He told the session that he would pursue that goal as presiding bishop by being “a bridge builder, a trust builder, to share accountability, to constantly be a source of encouragement, to recognize that God has called me to be an evangelist and a pastor, and to work towards reconciliation which the world constantly needs, to stay connected always to the people in the pews.”
He said he wants to be able to work on “turn-around issues” in dioceses and congregations, and in relationships in the Anglican Communion and in The Episcopal Church “so we can journey together in the love of Jesus.”
The Rev. David Jackson, a committee member from Hawaii, emceed the session.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori sat in an unmarked visitor section on the side of the hall listening to the session.
The rest of election process
The four names will be formally submitted to the General Convention during a joint session on June 26, the day prior to the day set for the election by the House of Bishops of the 27th presiding bishop.
On June 27, bishops will gather at the Convention Eucharist at 9:30 a.m. MDT in the Salt Palace Convention Center. Following that, the bishops with seat, voice, and vote will board buses to travel to St. Mark’s Cathedral, where the election will take place in the context of prayer and reflection.
Once the election has taken place, Jefferts Schori will send a delegation to Jennings to inform her of the name of the bishop who has been elected. Jennings will refer the name to the House of Deputies legislative committee on the Confirmation of the Presiding Bishop without announcing the name to the full House. The legislative committee will make a recommendation to the House of Deputies whether to confirm the election or not confirm, and the House of Deputies will immediately vote on the recommendation. Jennings will then appoint a delegation of deputies to notify the House of Bishops of the action taken and the presiding bishop-elect will then come to the House of Deputies.
No communication was permitted from the House of Bishops during the election and until confirmation was received.
The presiding bishop-elect will preach at the convention’s closing Eucharist on July 3, and Jefferts Schori will preside. The presiding bishop-elect’s nine-year term officially begins Nov. 1, 2015.
The presiding bishop is primate and chief pastor of the church, chair of the Executive Council, and president of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.
– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.