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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Oh, behave!

Let me say a few things, right from Jump Street, about the November 19th episcopal election in the Diocese of New York.

I have no doubt that the Rev. Canon Andrew M. L. Dietsche, who has served faithfully and loyally as Canon Pastor to Bishop Mark Sisk and the clergy and lay leaders of the Diocese of New York, will not only continue to be pastoral, but he will also vote on the side of the angels on all the issues of justice.

He is almost universally described by those who know him as "a nice guy" with a "gentle spirit" who "really cares about the church".

I've not met the man, but it's pretty clear from his picture that the words are not too far off the mark.

Dietsche, a Poughkeepsie, NY resident who is currently on the diocesan staff as Canon for Pastoral Care, was elected on the third round of balloting by a majority of the active clergy (176 of a total 262) of the diocese and of delegates from all of its congregations (131 out of a 233). A brief biography of the bishop elect may be found here (where you will also find information on the other nominees and videos of all).

Bishop-elect Dietsche was one of two candidates nominated "from the floor" in addition to the five who were put forward at the end of August by a special Committee to Elect a Bishop, which began work following Bishop Sisk's call for an election at the diocese's 2010 annual convention last November.

You can learn more about the election process and other nominees by clicking here.

Let me also admit that I had my own "favorites" among the nominees. It's no secret that Tracy Lind was my absolute favorite. She's a skilled, talented, competent and proven leader. Her election would not only have been of great bishop for that diocese but for the whole church.

Which leads me to admit some things that just might ruffle some feathers. I've never been a "good girl" in the church. I've never really "behaved".

Or, as some bishops are wont to say, been a "good team player". Which means that you understand that they are the "captain" and you take your directions from them. Including keeping your mouth shut and not ruffling any feathers.

If that's what you expect of me, well, good luck with that. Be sure to have a comb and brush nearby after you read this.

What is disturbing and, in fact, deflating about the NY election is that, in one of the most diverse dioceses in The Episcopal Church - indeed, I dare say, the Anglican Communion - the good people of the Diocese of NY elected someone who looks for all the world like The Episcopal Church of Olde.

Nice, heterosexual, white guy - complete with beard - who bears little resemblance with the majority of the people in that diocese.

It's not like the candidates didn't offer diversity. They did. So, I'm wondering what the heck happened. Apparently, so are a lot of people who were there. And, voted.

One theory is that some folks followed the "First Ballot Is Always A Crap Shoot Theory of Episcopal Elections".  People vote for the "sentimental favorite" or for their committed candidate, or to make a statement of sorts, but mostly, they want to see how the first ballot goes before making a decision.

People who subscribe to the "First Ballot Crap Shoot Theory" are often those who haven't done their homework - read: political campaigning.

Oh, I know. I know. No one campaigns during an episcopal election because it's not political. It's spiritual and prayerful. If you believe that, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you.

Don't even get me started by having to ask where the caucuses of the LGBT people, Women or People of Color were in all this.

Bishops are rarely elected on the first ballot, although it has been known to happen. This is often seen as a clear mystical working and a strong statement from God, "himself", that this candidate is, in fact, God's choice.

Others see it as the predictable result of a 'crap shoot'. "It" happens when some folks play fast and loose with the power of their vote.

My recollection of episcopal elections in the Diocese of NY is that they tend to go on a bit. Days, even. So, I'm sure most folks felt comfortable with that first ballot as being a window into where folks were leaning, never thinking for a red hot NY minute that momentum would build and the election would be over in three ballots.

Let those who have ears, hear. And, learn.

I also think that the good people of the Diocese of NY forgot that, when we ordain a priest or elect a bishop, we are not just doing so for the diocese. We ordain priests and consecrate bishops for the whole church.

Which is why the election process is not complete until a majority of the diocesan bishops and standing committees in The Episcopal Church give their consent to the election, and the Presiding Bishop must certify that this is so.

What The Episcopal Church ( and all of the dioceses and provinces) needs right now is bold leaders who are willing to take the risks of leading the church into a future which will hold challenges on every level of institutional governance.

I'm not saying that the new bishop-elect will not be that leader. Eventually. It's just that nothing in his portfolio gives that indication.

Then again, I am remembering that the election of Edmond Browning as Presiding Bishop gave rise to a similar sense of deflation and disappointment.

No one has a larger pastor's heart than Ed Browning. When he said, "In this church of ours, there will be no outcasts" he said that from a place of absolute authenticity as a pastor.

What caused some of us to raise a left eyebrow in suspicion was that there was nothing in his portfolio to back up the claim that he had the "right stuff" to live out that bold statement and lead us into the future of the church.

For the first third of his episcopacy, he was a disappointment to many of us. I think the turning point was the Ellen Cooke debacle - the former treasurer of The Episcopal Church who was found to have systematically diverted 2.2 million dollars from the PB's discretionary fund to renovate the manse in Virginia where she and her husband, a priest at St. Luke's, Montclair, NJ, were planning to live.

That deep betrayal changed Ed Browning and emboldened him to be one of the great leaders in The Episcopal Church. He was able to see much more clearly and take important stands for what was right - no matter the cost.

Perhaps God has something similar in mind for New York. I'm waiting to be pleasantly surprised.

Meanwhile, you'll excuse me if I continue to sit with my dismay and distrust while my sense of disappointment and deflation linger around the corners of my heart.

Indeed, if the Diocese of NY went for what was - at least at all outward appearances - to be the "safe choice," I'm wondering if the Spirit isn't sending us a message in all this.

I'm wondering if we ought to depend on bishops to be the leaders in the institutional church to bring about the change we so desperately need.

I'm wondering if we aren't electing the very reasons the institutional church MUST change or die.

I'm wondering if we aren't electing hospice chaplains to tend to a church that is dying to be reborn.

I'm wondering if change is going to come, it's going to come from the ground up - and, in fact, outside the grounds of the institutional church.

I'm wondering if change can happen in straight lines of institutional authority, or if it happens best in small circles of people, whispering among themselves.

Breathing together.

A "con-spiracy", you know?

I'm wondering if "revolutions" don't always begin in small circles comprised of people who don't behave in the way the institution or "powers that be" expect or want us to.

Not "team players".

Uppity women - and men - who question the status quo and challenge the way things are and always have been, world without end, amen.

People who look around at all the problems and challenges and hear people ask, "What are we to make of this?" and hear in that a call to enter into the process of being Co-Creators with God.

To "make" something out of what appears, at least at first, to be chaos. You know. Just like it was at the beginning of creation when God breathed over the chaos and formed "this planet earth, our island home".

People who listen to those around them who say, "We're headed for disaster!" and change the narrative by asking, "But, what if we're headed for an adventure?"

You know. Dreamers. Visionaries. Risk takers. Fools for Christ.

You know. What the Church in every diocese in The Episcopal Church in every province of the Anglican Communion desperately needs right now.

Leaders who are less interested in either preserving or making history, but listening to cries of the people who occupy the present reality and commit themselves to molding the future of the church.

As for me, I'm not holding my breath for any other election as I did for the Diocese of NY. Instead, I will continue to think globally and work locally and believe more in Jesus and less in the institutional church.

I think I can accomplish more this way.

Besides, this way, I don't have to behave.


Dom said...

Like your comment "Nice, heterosexual, white guy - complete with beard - who bears little resemblance with the majority of the people in that diocese."

I've become a bit disillusioned by how few (relatively speaking) women there are among the ranks of priests and rectors. Even in Austin, Texas (considered very progressive, at least by Texas standards), I'm willing to venture that no more than about 20% or our priests are women. I can only imagine what things would be like in a more conservative area.

It would be great if the good ole boys network would move out and make way to equality and new blood. Just my 2 cents.

Ueber-G said...

Thank you for this Elizabeth.

The one thing that you fail to mention is that the voting for Canon Dietsche was, from the beginning, clergy driven. He actually received enough votes on the second ballot to win in the house of clergy. He only just received enough votes in the house of layity on the third ballot.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I saw that, Ueber-G. I wondered what THAT was all about. I mean, for Pete's sake! There IS diversity among the clergy. Why wouldn't they want that diversity represented in their bishop?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Dom - You won't get much of an argument from me on that issue.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Dear, I'm afraid it's more basic than that. How can people vote against someone who looks like the spittin' image of Jolly Old St. Nick? I am telling you, there's more to the Santa Factor than people want to admit. I have seen this happen in medical staff meetings, too. Looking like Santa is a fast track to Chief of Staff.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Kirke - It's either Santa or Fred Rodgers. Honest to Pete! Really? That's what it takes? Then, no wonder so few women and People of Color are elected to office. I want Hillary Clinton for our next PB.

That sound you hear is all the nice white men, folding their hands in their laps.

it's margaret said...

Dom said, "I've become a bit disillusioned by how few (relatively speaking) women there are among the ranks of priests and rectors."

Dom --I personally know nine female priests that have been run out of congregations... and two more on the way.

--there is a lot more we must change in the church besides ordaining and electing women... a LOT. Elizabeth, I know you know that already.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Margaret - From my experience, I would wager that those 11 women are being 'run out of churches' for the same reason the women I know who have been run out of churches. It's the same reason some women are not called to be rectors (or bishops) in the first place: because we challenge the status quo.

Which is why I'm thinking that we ought not look to bishops to change anything but begin to change things where we are and let bishops have to deal with the change - or, become midwives to the new church that will be reborn from the ashes of what the "good old boys (and some Very Good Girls)" have created by their "good works".

Matthew said...

Luckily, perhaps because of great bishops you worked with, you are at least still here and still in good standing. Or maybe you knew when to pick your battles or knew how to misbehave in a way that was not disobedient. Some of the really bold people were defrocked or drummed out because thy defied their bishop. They said they were going to do same sex blessings in defiance of their bishop and were removed. Or they said they were going to allow lay people to preside at the Eucharist in defiance of the bishop and were disciplined. Or killed. Perhaps being well behaved is not the same thing as obedience. I often think that our boldest leaders by definition cannot get ordained or if they do cannot do what needs to be done because of canons and rules and discipline. I often think a non denominational pastor has more freedom if less accountability and less support. Look at the bishop candidate for no. Michigan that did not get selected. I feel like I live on the very edge of excommunication because I simply cannot go along with some things. There are days like today, in part because of this news that I just wqnt to leave and become Unitarian.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - Perhaps it is because I worked with some Really Great Bishops that I have such high standards. We don't have leaders in the HOB/D like we used to. No one is organizing for a vision of mission in The City. No one really much cares about anything that won't put the spotlight on them so they'll convince themselves that they are leaders. No one makes a bold statement unless S/he knows she is holding an increasingly majority view (and, asking for a "generous pastoral response" to blessing same gender covenants is NOT leadership).

Then again, I think we elected and just consecrated a real leader in DC. Time will tell. It always does.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

The heck of the Santa Factor, Elizabeth, is as gray as I am, I could have a nice white beard too--but that would just mean I also have polycystic ovaries and people just don't think that's a cute. *sigh*

susankay said...

We are SO out of money at our church. (economy of course and in-betweed rectors). We have little flexibility in our budger. We really have only two areas that don't involve cutting low lay salaries or not paying utilities: outreach and diocesan/regional contributions. Guess which our interim said I had to cut (or cut out). Sometimes I want to return to the Congregational Church (UCC)!

Perejean said...

Thank you Elizabeth for your comments on not behaving. I too have a tendency not to behave. The words "team player" make my eyes bulge and my hands form into fists. I have spent a good deal of time in my ministry listening to "heterosexual white guys" tell me what is best for me as a "homosexual white guy" I've never listened and I don't intend to start listening now.

Having said that I do feel moved to point out that just every once in a while a "heterosexual white guy" can surprise you. Names like John Spong and John Hines come to mind. Ed Browning may have come to courage late but he did come and made himself something of an outcast in the process. Visionary justice is costly.

Now I don't know the bishop-elect of New York. I have no reason to suspect that he will turn out to be one of those surprising white guys. I can't say he strikes me as possessing that "visionary courage." Know what? I couldn't care less.

After twenty years of ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church I have ceased to place any confidence in the clerical hierarchy to effect any change in the church. Not just change for the better but any change at all.

Too often I have allowed myself to hope and been disappointed. Too often I have looked to the future with rose colored glasses and been disillusioned. These bishops, priests, and deacons are not going to do diddly about anything that is really important. The clergy are far too busy "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic" to do anything else.

These days I place my trust and my hope in the lay people of the church. I have over the years come to rejoice in the good sense, good will, and good faith of the good people in the pews. They are my hope for the future of this church. They are revolution and resurrection all rolled into one.

We clergy exist to serve the people of the church and not he other way round. The good folk of the church know this and are increasingly willing to demand that this reality be honored. So I have faith that the revolution will come. No Santa-bishop or Mr. Rogers-priest can prevent it. When it does my sister in faith and struggle, I'll see you there. Who knows? Bishop Dietsche may show up too.

tyrdofwaitin said...

The NY vote is a vote for: mediocrity over exceptionalism; fear over hope; politics over moral authority; will-to-power over Spirit; patriarchy over egalitarianism; old boy network over "the Episcopal Church welcomes you"; business as usual over vision; and 19th century smugness over the 21st century imperative for change.

I'm also willing to be surprised Elizabeth and at this juncture in the life of the NY Diocese, nothing would surprise me.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Kirke - Right. Women with gray hair are old hags. Men with gray hair are "distinguished".


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Susankay - I didn't have to break a sweat to know that it was "Outreach". I HATE that term. I wish we would abolish it from our Christian vocabulary. I actually had a Warden say to me once that "we take care of ourselves first and then we 'reach out' to others".


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Perejean - You know what? It just occurred to me that someone may point the bishop-elect to this blog. And, if they do, and if he has the courage to read it - and the comments - I hope it may make a difference.

I'm not holding my breath but I do "live in sure and certain hope".

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

tyrdofwaitin - as I said, I'm willing to be surprised but I'm not holding my breath. Not anymore.

browe said...

So pleased to see someone else shares the same feeling of disappointment if not panic at the election of the bishop for the Diocese of NY. Canon Dietsche has nothing to show in the way of growing congregations in spite of his years in the diocese. His qualifications pale in comparison to the likes of Lind and Eaton. For the sake of the Episcopal church and all struggling parishes in NY, he should abdicate the office.

Turtle Woman said...

Elizabeth, why would adding women as bishops change anything in an institution like the episcopal church? You can't make significant changes within these institutions, and I don't know why lesbian clerics would be fooled into believing this either. Just like lesbian marriages are going to destroy lesbian community... marriage is about conformity, about immitating, not changing.
Change and innovation come from completely outside these systems, but a lot of times the changers then become successful, and then they conform too. It's why Mary Daly, who actually WALKED OUT of Harvard Memorial Chapel is the real deal, and all the women who decided to get jobs inside the club are not radical at all. Let me know when Mary Glasspool celebrates a huge mass for an all lesbian gathering. I'm not holding my breath.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Browe - I'm not in NY. I don't know your new bishop elect. I do know that he seems to have won fair and square. The best anyone can do at this point is to pray daily, prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

TW -I am not a lesbian separatist so while I hear your point, I don't share it. I have seen changes in the past 25 years of my ordination that I think are directly attributable to having ordained women in church. Not as much as I'd like to see, but much more than I expected.

Turtle Woman said...

Actually, I really do want to know what changes to the Episcopal church really did signify a change in patriarchal structure. Cosmetic changes, but the foundation really is about a text that was written thousands of years ago, in which women weren't the writers. This is the problem.
Patriarchy is about adding women and stirring, the existing system is not about to change Elizabeth. I know you want to believe this, but this is not radical thinking, it is simply liberalism. The Episcopal church is not BP, and it doesn't manufacture drones, but it is based on a male authored text, in which males believe in a male god. Since other books aren't used as the foundation, you're kind of stuck with what you've got.
Liberal but not radical.

Turtle Woman said...

P.S. I really would like to see all the lesbian clerics step up and create all lesbian services throughout the U.S. It would be a true woman centered innovation, and it would be a lesbian centered experience. I think that's the purpose of women getting into these power positions in the first place, to open new doors in new ways. What's so hard about this, and why is it scary? Well it would disrupt patriarchal assumptions, and it would center lesbians, and that IS RADICAL. So I'm going to challenge you to do that at least once in 2012... just putting it out there.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

TW - I think the Episcopal Church is mostly liberal and has rarely been radical. That's the function of being an institution.

It is what it is.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

TW - Check out CLOUT. Christian Lesbians Out (United Together).

susankay said...

Elizabeth -- I am almost serious. Stepson working for a UCC sponsored homeless outreach in Albuquerque. They devote WAY more attention/money/commitment to feeding/housing/healing than we do who have to support a hierarchy. I may need some comments to help me support my committment to TEC.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Susankay - I understand. Absolutely. At my last.... assignment.... we spent at least four times as much on Building, Grounds and Maintenance than we did on "Outreach". It was Highly Distressing for me and several others in the congregation.

fthrnick said...

I am a reader of this blog who doesn't usually comment on posts. After reading the comments here, it occurs to me that this conference in Richmond in February 2012 might be of interest to some other readers. The friend who invited me indicated that men were welcome at the session Krista Tippett will offer on Friday, 2/17/12, which suggests to me that the rest of the time is intended for women only. I have no vested interest in the conference, other than supporting a friend who is involved in running it.
I would suggest that The Rev. Ann Dieterle of St. James's Episcopal, Richmond, is a good contact for any with further questions. (

--Nick Szobota, Christ Episcopal Church, West River, MD.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Nick. Sounds very interesting.