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Saturday, May 19, 2018

It takes a village to elect a bishop

Today, the Episcopal Diocese of Newark elected the Rev'd Carlye J. Hughes as its eleventh bishop.  The election was won on the first ballot.

There were three candidates: Carlyle J. Hughes of Ft. Worth, TX, Lisa Hunt of Houston, TX and Scott Slater of Maryland.

There were 116 clerical and 241 laity ballots that were cast. A simple majority was required concurrently in both orders. That meant 59 votes in the clerical order and 121 votes from the laity.

Bishop-elect Hughes won with 62 (out of 59 needed) clerical votes and 141 (out of 121 needed) votes from the laity. You can find all the details here.

She is the first woman and the first African American woman to be elected bishop in the Diocese of Newark. She joins one other diocesan bishop who is an African American woman (Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows) and two others who are Bishops Suffragan (Barbara Harris, retired and Gayle Harris).

My phone has been blowing up. Social Media has been absolutely agog.

There is great joy in The Episcopal Church today.

This morning, our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, the first African American man to be elected Presiding Bishop, was privileged to deliver the sermon at the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

We have gotten more than our "market share" of PR from these two events.

Update: Even SNL's Weekend Update featured a parody of a visit from Michael Curry. Okay, they didn't get him exactly right and they said he was "the bishop from Chicago" but it's a parody, for goodness sake.

Amid the many congratulatory messages I received from Episcopalians and non-Episcopalians alike, came the same question, over and over again: How did you do it? How did you get a woman elected? And, an African-American woman at that?

The expected answer, of course, is "the work of the Holy Spirit". As Bishop-Elect Hughes said in her acceptance remarks, "I am well aware that moments like this do not come in a vacuum. It takes a village to discern a call to the episcopacy."

My answer to that is not an answer but to make a few observations.

First, I think it's much easier to imagine something when you've seen examples of it. I think it's much easier to imagine a black woman as your bishop once you've seen other strong, black women in the role of leadership.

So, yes to the three African American women who are already bishops and especially to Barbara Harris, the first woman to be bishop in The Episcopal Church who is also a woman of color; but I'm also thinking about strong, black women who are leaders like Sandye Wilson (pray for justice), Teddy Brooks, Nan Arrington Peete, Stephanie Spellers, April Alford-Harkey and a growing contingent of amazing others. (Please feel free to add the names of other women in the comments).

I also don't want to discount women like Michele Obama, Kamala Harris, Maxine Waters, Eleanor Holmes Norton, and, of course, Shirley Chisholm and Barbara Jordon. We see and hear these intelligent, wise women leading our government, some of them against odds that are daunting.

We also see and hear strong women of color, especially African American women, who are doctors, lawyers, judges, scientists, teachers, professors, and yes, astronauts.

And, go ahead and snicker, but I wouldn't minimize the impact of the recent Beyonce Mass held at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco which was a celebration of the spirituality of Black Women. Or, Oprah Winfrey who has a program on her own network about spirituality.

The word is out that the stereotype of Black women is cruel and wrong. The word is out that Black women are intelligent, strong, skilled, capable and wise.

I think, when "the word is out," that is evidence that the Holy Spirit is working.

And, people pay attention to that.

The week after the "Walkabouts" the Newark Episcopal Clergy Association (NECA) reorganized itself and gathered together to discuss the candidates. The word was out about that.

Two weeks later, just this past week, the women clergy gathered to discuss the candidates and develop a strategy for election. With two women out of three candidates, there was a definite 'buzz' to the word that went out about that.

The word was also out that the Newark Chapter of The Union of Black Episcopalians had also caucused.

Now, some would call that 'politics'. Some would say that with more than a bit of obvious disdain. As if 'politics' were a vehicle too tarnished for the Holy Spirit.

That is not to say that anyone sent out word that one candidate was favored over another. Indeed, people were pretty tight-lipped about what was discussed or if any concenses had been reached.

That is also not to say that the other two candidates weren't qualified and might have also made good bishops. The Search Committee did  a good job presenting us with a qualified slate.

And, it's absolutely not to say that folks were working purposefully AGAINST anyone. I didn't hear or see any evidence of that. And, even though I live in DE, my heart is still in the DioNwk and my ear is still pretty close to the ground there. The network of relationships among the baptized is "the tie that binds our hearts" and will do so forever.

It is to say that I think that, when "the word goes out" (even when that was not the intention), that is evidence of the work of the Spirit.

And, people begin to pay attention to that.

I'm sure Bishop-Elect Hughes (or any of the other candidates, in fact) probably didn't know about these groups meeting, but it might have been part of what she meant when she said that "moments like this don't come in a vacuum."

I think that is at least part of what she might have meant when she said that "it takes a village to discern a call to the episcopacy."

She called out the Diocese of Ft. Worth in general and the church where she is presently rector, Trinity Episcopal, as well as her fellow candidates and the Diocese of Newark, in general and the ministry of Bishop Beckwith in particular for being integral parts of that "village".

Yes, yes, yes and, yes, of course.

And, I think when "the word goes out" that specific demographic groups are meeting, the Holy Spirit moves in powerful ways.

What do you think happened when "the word went out" that the disciples were "hiding out" in that Upper Room for a couple of days after the crucifixion? Do you really think those guys were just up there, shaking in their sandles the whole time?

Do you suppose it was Monday or Tuesday after the resurrection when Peter slapped his hand to the table, got up and said, "Well, I don't know about you, but I'm going fishing!"?

And, the word went out.

And, people paid attention.

And, with that, the Jesus Movement began to take its first few steps.

Tomorrow is Pentecost, the day when the people of God were given the gift of the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus in the power of The Holy Spirit.

I think we, in The Episcopal Church, have had a "Pentecostal" moment today, in the powerful preaching of our Presiding Bishop - the first African American man to hold that position - and the election on the first ballot of a new bishop for the Diocese of Newark - the first African American woman to do so.

It does take a village to discern and elect a bishop.

But it takes the Holy Spirit, working through all sort and manner of people in a great variety of ways.

Including "politics".


Brother David said...


Cheryl Parris said...

Amen and a long hand clap

S said...

...Not to mention the difficult path Mother Carlye must have had to get to the priesthood in the first place, as she grew up in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, which did not allow women to be priests until 2008! She had to leave the diocese to be ordained in the first place. It has been a joy to have her return to the Diocese of Fort Worth and flourish as a priest at Trinity.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Dear "Anonymous". I do not post anonymous comments unless revealing the person's identity would do them harm, which, in your case is a distinct possibility. Clearly, your post calls into question your level of reading comprehension and ability to think critically. I stated clearly that the Search Committee did a fine job of presenting an excellent slate of candidates. I'm sorry you are angry that your friend didn't win. I'm assuming he's your friend but since you didn't identify yourself (coward) and were obviously Very peeved with my post, I'm assuming that this is the reason for this screed.

Fare thee well.