Eight bishops agree to serve as 'episcopal visitors'
by Bob Williams
[Episcopal News Service, New Orleans] Eight bishops have accepted Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's invitation to serve as "episcopal visitors" to dioceses that have requested this provision.
At her request, the Presiding Bishop's canon, the Rev. Dr. Charles Robertson, advised Episcopal News Service of this measure the evening of September 19. The announcement preceded the opening plenary session of the House of Bishops' September 20-25 meeting in New Orleans. Robertson said Jefferts Schori expected to announce the names of the eight bishops during that session, which is devoted to the bishops' private conversation with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, and is closed to the public and media.
Jefferts Schori has conferred with Williams about the invitations, which she extended after a process of consultation with bishops in the Episcopal Church, Robertson said.
"All eight are true bridge-builders who empathize with the concerns and needs of dioceses that are struggling with the issues of the current time," Robertson said, adding that "while all are sympathetic to to these concerns, each is clear that the Presiding Bishop's ultimate goal is reconciliation."
The eight are active diocesan bishops Frank Brookhart of Montana, Dorsey Henderson of Upper South Carolina (based in Columbia, S.C.), John Howe of Central Florida (based in Orlando), Gary Lillibridge of West Texas (based in San Antonio), Michael Smith of North Dakota, James Stanton of Dallas, and Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island, together with retired Connecticut Bishop Clarence Coleridge.
Robertson said all have agreed to serve as official "episcopal visitors" (the lowercase adjective referring generally to bishops and their ministries rather than the church's denomination), or to provide "Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight" (DEPO), an option provided by the House of Bishops' March 2004 statement "Caring for All the Churches" and a concept affirmed by the General Convention in 2006.
Jefferts Schori's invitation to the eight bishops seeks to delegate the first of three primary canonical duties of the Presiding Bishop, that of visiting each of the Episcopal Church's 110 dioceses during each Presiding Bishop's nine-year term. The Presiding Bishop's other two principal canonical roles are to "take order" for ordaining and consecrating bishops, and to oversee certain disciplinary actions as needed.
The Presiding Bishop's invitation to the eight bishops "offers opportunities for dioceses to have an episcopal visitor other than herself," Robertson said.
"This gives dioceses the pastoral guidance and care they need while remaining faithful and loyal members of the Episcopal Church," he said. "It is also the Presiding Bishop's hope that at some point in the future she would be invited to visit these dioceses."
The action is "a significant effort at building a bridge while still honoring our uniquely American polity," Robertson said.
He added that Jefferts Schori is "comfortable letting the details be worked out by the bishops involved."
From among the Episcopal Church's 110 total dioceses, six stand by requests
initiated in 2006 for pastoral oversight other than that of the current Presiding Bishop. Those dioceses are Central Florida, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Quincy (based in Peoria, Illinois), Springfield (Illinois), and San Joaquin (based in Fresno, California). A similar request by the Diocese of Dallas was later modified.
In all of these dioceses there has been expressed opposition to the 2003 election and ordination as diocesan bishop of New Hampshire Gene Robinson, who is openly gay and lives in a long-standing committed relationship with his male partner.
In three of these dioceses -- Fort Worth, Quincy and San Joaquin -- the bishops have not ordained women despite the General Convention's 1976 authorization to do so.
-- Canon Robert Williams is director of Episcopal Life Media, the new communication group that includes the Episcopal News Service.