Election Madness, Episcopal Style    


Last weekend saw the election of three new bishops, for Arizona, Kansas, and the Churches in Europe. This weekend, there will be two more. Colorado will elect a new diocesan on Saturday, following a process which saw the removal of one candidate from the final slate, pending a disciplinary investigation. (Our previous coverage is available here.)

The second election is notable because it is unusual. In arrangement designed to enhance mission opportunities in the Lake Erie region, the dioceses of Western New York and Northwest Pennsylvania today ratified a five-year agreement to share a bishop – The Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe – and a staff.

The move was formalized when Western New York elected the Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe, bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania, for a five-year term as its provisional bishop. Rowe will assume the office upon the retirement of Bishop William Franklin in early April.

… During the first three years of the partnership, the two dioceses will work together to deepen relationships and develop shared mission priorities. In October 2021, they will re-evaluate the partnership and in October 2024, decide whether to continue it.

“We have all experienced the new energy that the conversations about this partnership have created, and we have felt what this infusion of energy could mean for our ministry here in Western New York,” said Franklin, who has been bishop of Western New York since 2011. “It’s created a kind of electricity and given many of us a renewed, missional hope for the future of the Episcopal Church in this region.”

The full text of the press release from Western New York is available here. This is the second time Bishop Rowe and Northwest Pennsylvania have shared their resources with another diocese, as Rowe completed a five-year stint as bishop provisional in Bethlehem in September.

Last, but not least, The Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, who is serving as Assisting Bishop in San Diego, has written to the diocese to explain a little about the process which led the Standing Committee to release a slate with a single name earlier this week (our previous coverage is here). She notes that,

This is a time in the wider church when more than twenty dioceses are seeking bishops, and that has presented challenges. While I believe that people called to the ministry of a bishop are called into a particular diocesan context, it has nevertheless been a challenge across The Episcopal Church when 20+ dioceses are each seeking 20+ candidates for the episcopate. 

… [T]he Bishop Nominating Committee forwarded a short list to the Standing Committee, whose duty it has been to judge whether anything in a nominee’s history or background might be disqualifying for the office of bishop. The Standing Committee also worked diligently and prayerfully to weigh the realities, and found they could only discern one person to be fully qualified. 

The Standing Committee consulted with the Bishop for Pastoral Development (in the Presiding Bishop’s Office) and with me about the best way forward. The Committee felt strongly that the Rev. Canon Susan Brown Snook is fully qualified to advance to discernment in the Diocese, and did not want the lengthy and careful work done so far to be lost. The hope is that the petition process (now open, until 16 November) will provide sufficient opportunity for others who might feel called to this work in San Diego to apply and be considered. 

Jefferts Schori goes on to remind her readers that there are recent precedents for a single nominee, and that, “This is a lengthy process, with multiple steps that include careful discernment by different groups in and beyond the diocese. It may be frustrating, surprising, or annoying when the steps produce unexpected results.”


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