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Monday, February 09, 2009

I've been wondering

There's been a really good discussion over at HOB/D (yes, we have them every once in a while), about the election of a bishop in the diocese of Northern Michigan.

To encapsulate: Jim Kelsey was the absolutely stellar bishop there who died in a tragic automobile accident as he was making his way home after a very long Sunday of visitations in that very large diocese.

Well, it's very large, geographically, but not so in terms of numbers. Someone noted that there are fewer Episcopalians in the diocese of Northern Michigan than the ASA (Average Sunday Attendance) in some of our larger Episcopal Churches.

I should mention that this is a diocese which, like Wyoming and other places, have embraced the idea of Total or Mutual Ministry, in which leadership is raised up locally from the pew, and may or may not be ordained. It is a very pragmatic process, which takes into consideration the geography, demographics and yes, financial situation of the local parish.

The diocese has taken a local practice and applied it to their diocesan process for the election for their new bishop. At this point, the slate consists of one local, albeit it highly qualified, candidate.

You can read all about their process on their web page.

Of course, there is some grumbling about this - locally and nationally. The canons do not specify a required number of candidates to be nominated. While this is clearly a novel approach, the diocese is not in violation of the canons. Still, some are asking if this is an election or an appointment.

Good question, I think, and an important one to ask.

It occurs to me, having read many thoughtful posts on HOB/D, that there is another aspect of the election in Northern Michigan which sheds some light on the election of bishops in particular and the state of the church in general.

It has to do, I think, with the corporate value we claim to place on diversity.

I want to first beg your indulgence if this doesn't sound as if I have intellectually totted all my "i's" and crossed all my "t's". I haven't. I'm thinking out loud here, as I have my second cuppa joe, and ask that you join me in thinking about this idea.

It occurs to me that TEC, since our embarrassing silence and inaction during the Movements for the Abolition of Slavery and the Suffrage of Women, has been trying to make amends. When we began to take an active role in the Civil Rights Movement, it signaled a sea change in our understanding of our identity as well as our ecclesiology.

It's no surprise to me, given this context, that our 1979 BCP should place its focus solidly in the two major Sacraments of the church: Baptism, which gives us our identity (especially in the five marks of our nature and character which we find in the five questions of our covenant) and Eucharist (which nourishes and sustains that identity).

We've had 40 years of having been shaped and formed by our Baptismal
Covenant, which is now read several times a year in the context of community worship. That's two generations, which is not insignificant. It is no wonder, then, that we are becoming, more and more, what we say we are: A community which embraces the radical hospitality of Jesus in the diversity of a God who created that diversity.

So - now the rub in Northern Michigan. I think this is so, in part, because we have only been thinking of diversity in terms of the human condition. That's no surprise, really, because that's what initiated the change in our understanding of our identity and ecclesiology. And, that's the focus of our baptismal covenant.

I think we are being asked, now, to embrace the diversity of our national ecclesiology in the same ways we have embraced the diversity of our individual identities. By that I mean the systems and processes by which we do the business of the church in our local areas, depending on the particularities of the vineyard in which God has asked us to work.

For me, that includes how we determine the tools we use to increase our capacity for ministry as well as consider the danger signs of failing congregational health so that, in both emergent life and threatened death, we might use the right tools in order to be effective.

We have already begun that process on the local level in many areas. The idea of Total Ministry or Mutual Ministry is one of those emergent ideas and tools on the diocesan level for local level use in terms of how it selects and trains its leadership for ministry. It is a natural expansion, at least to my mind, for that understanding of church identity and ecclesiology, to the diocesan level itself, in terms of how the church selects its episcopal leadership.

I see this as a growing national trend. We should not be surprised. One of the pieces of good news to come out of these troubled times is that we are, once again, examining what it means to be an Episcopalian who is a member of the Anglican Communion. I dare say that 40 years ago, most of the 'bums in the pew' not only did not know that TEC was a constituent member of the WWAC, s/he didn't give two figs about it, quite frankly.

Accordingly, I think we are being challenged to look not a standard, cookie-cutter ideas about who we are and how we do church, as well as how we govern ourselves as individual corporate bodies that are part of a unique whole. It occurs to me that even the Rothage scheme of understanding churches needs a greater perfection to include geography and demographics.

I think we are even being challenged to reconsider what it means to be a 'member' of a church. I'm thinking here about the many churches we have in rural, urban and exurban areas where the 'social service' component of the church leads to a higher impact of the church's mission and ministry than it does to ASAs.

I'm thinking of church organizations with soup kitchens and day care centers and day schools which impact a greater number of people than those who actually come to church on Sunday but for whom that local church is the only church they have - the place where they meet Jesus in deep, profound, significant ways.

I guess I'm also wondering if the fact that some folks come to church to have their human and spiritual needs cared for actually outnumber the folks who consider themselves actual members affects the way in which we think about actual membership? If it doesn't, should it?

If I'm a member of St. Swithens and I come to church a half dozen times a year and make a nominal 'pledge', does that make me more of a member than the person who comes to church every day to be ministered by the soup kitchen or school who also faithfully takes part in the Thursday evening Eucharist or Wednesday Morning Prayer?

What I'm trying to say is that perhaps we ought to look at standards and principles and values rather than the particulars of the situation. I'm wondering if these same values and standards and principles apply on a national level and find application in places like Northern Michigan's election process which we ought to consider before w
e vote up or down on a candidate for the episcopacy. Clearly, canon law is one of those components, but there are others. And, perhaps canon law needs to be changed, or at least, modified.

I guess my curiosity is about the integrity of the process as it applies to the particulars of the situation. I'm wondering about the geography and demographics of a "local diocese" that might find its way to a national understanding of who we say we are and how we do our business as TEC.

Perhaps this is a challenge for our commission on Church Structure. Perhaps I have outlined the work for a doctoral thesis which might find its way into a helpful book for TEC.

Does any of this even begin to make some sense?


David@Montreal said...


I think the following pretty much sums up much of the issue.

'I think we are being asked, now, to embrace the diversity of our national ecclesiology in the same ways we have embraced the diversity of our individual identities. By that I mean the systems and processes by which we do the business of the church in our local areas, depending on the particularities of the vineyard in which God has asked us to work.'

Not only does it bespeak the active engagement of the Holy Spirit in the Church but Her call to us to embody authentic presence as the Living Body of Christ in the World.

Likewise your discussion of St. Swithen's and membership. Authentic presence in the sacrament of the reality before us has no time for either cookie-cutter solutions or the us/them of the pew versus the soup kitchen line. Authentic embodiment siply turns up to meet Christ in the situation God presents us with. Sorry if that sounds simplistic, but you asked.

And credit to the parishes which got out of their pews and organized their soup kitchens!


David@Montreal said...

i.e. perhaps our first question in situations like Northern Michigan should be what is God working here, rather than which canons should we be enforcing here?

Just a thought


Brother David said...

So, are folks upset because the candidate is homegrown or because he is the only one on the slate? Or both?

This is certainly how many corporate CEOs are selected. But if the nomination is not confirmed by the people the process begins again.

The nominating/selecting committee needs to really be in touch with their constituency to take this much risk. It is expensive to have to do a "do over."

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Well... Northern Michigan wasn't first having an election without a choice, it was (South?) Carolina with that Lawrence fellow (twice), who didn't get the required number of consents t´he first time, not even after prolonging the match...

Muthah+ said...

I am a bit concerned. I have just returned from Ft. Worth. For 30 years that diocese elected candidates that were hand picked by a small cabal of former bishops, clergy and lay folks that allowd the diocese to continue down a path that eventually brought them to the present schism.

One of the important charisms of TEC is our elective process. Perhaps the peculiar natures of N. MI does make it seem that only 'peculiar' (in the English sense) people can serve there. But all too often the local peculiarity then becomes the "only" way. And ONLY ways all too often get perverted into MY way.

I am sorry that the dio has chosen to follow this path that supports local custom rather than go a bit farther afield to draw from the richness of the church to bring in newness.

It has been my experience that clergy who are chosen from the diocese often have too much baggage to greet all the members of the diocese with the respect that is needed for one to be a bishop with responsibility for the whole of the diocese.

It is a delicate balance we have to maintain. We as TEC in the AC have chosen to go our own way with regards to international views on human sexuality. We have basically said that we have pastoral needs that need to be addressed. At the same time we enjoy membership in a body greater than TEC and respect for that is important. The same is true for our dioceses.

God may be calling one specific person to ministry in that diocese--but a bishop is called to ministry in the whole of the Church. I do hope that N. MI is chosing a bishop for the whole of the church, not just N. MI.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

This is hard. I say this because I know the problems with rural areas and highly specialized employment.

It's incredibly frustrating to open up a job to continually find no one to fill it at the amount of money you can afford to pay (which in a rural area is often going to be considerably less than urban/suburban) who is capable and competent. Sometimes, you have to settle for less than you'd like for competence simply because you have no one to fill their slot in a timely fashion if you fire them. So the "grow your own" movement starts.

In rural areas, frankly, we look unattractive, un-diverse, and lots more "uns." Yet those of us who live here stay because there are "intangibles" to this lifestyle that make life wonderful for us, despite the "uns."

But there is just such a dichotomy to rural vs. urban/suburban life that it is nigh onto impossible to convince folks from elsewhere to even give it a try.

It isolates us.

So I can see both sides of this...and the problem remains "no one will take the job, so sometimes one candidate is all you can get." No easy answers!

doug said...

Reverend Doctor Elizabeth

This is what happens when one integrates democracy and religion. I believe our forefathers were warned about this.

Due to this integration, we do get 'conservative' bishops. And due to this integration, an openly gay man was elected bishop in New Hampshire.

While Muthah+ cautions that 'we' must also respect our involvement in the AC. Hmmmmm. Due again, to the integration of democracy & religion, despite the fact that over 40% of the dioceses in the AC do not allow women to become priests and despite the fact that the "mother church" (COE) does not allow women to become bishops, TEC has elected a woman as our presiding bishop, "Primate."

So, Reverend Doctor Elizabeth, would you prefer that TEC follow the model established by the Church of Rome, whereby all our bishops are appointed by the ABC.

Might make TEC safer and saner, but would we all be happy?

it's margaret said...

hmmmm --I have participated in the election of three bishops in the last six years. (Yah--I'm on my sixth bishop in as many years!) In those elections, I was very glad for "choice."

But, perhaps there is another layer of "stuff" going on in this process in this diocese--and that has to do with the backdrop of grief and the chaos in the communion at large. --perhaps at this time, they have done the best they could in putting together a unified selection process--that contention and election were more than what was necessary and more than they could do at this time.

However, this type process probably should not be recommended at large--choice does help us define direction and leadership....

Brother David said...

God may be calling one specific person to ministry in that diocese--but a bishop is called to ministry in the whole of the Church. I do hope that N. MI is chosing a bishop for the whole of the church, not just N. MI.

Muthah+, that is the identical Orthodite argument against a choice such as +Gene!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Heavens no, Doug. I left Rome for Canterbury and I'm not getting back in the Tiber again.

I don't know how this all gets worked out. I just know that the process needs to be flexible enough to embrace the diversity we say we cherish.

Matthew said...

I come from Nevada which also has a tradition of Total Ministry. In each of our last several Episcopal elections, we have always haad a candidate that was a locally trained priest (non seminary trained) in the running (including when we elected Katharine). But, we have always had a slate and for whatever reason the insiders and locally trained have never been elected. Nevertheless, I am open to the idea that this is of the holy spirit. If its not, I imagine there could be a floor nomination process and people would vote against the one chosen by committee. I don't yet hear a hue and cry coming from the laity of N. Michigan so I am open to this being a good thing. In addition, one of our most legendary and well-loved Bishops (Wesley Frensdorff) while he had gone to seminary, had served a small rural parish in rural Nevada (Winnemucca) and really advanced the Total Ministry idea. For more information about that concept, please read: Reshaping Ministry: Essays in Memory of Wesley Frensdorff. You can buy it used from amazon.

Thomas J M Davis said...


If you will entertain a voice from the other side of the aisle, I am in the diocese of N. Michigan and indeed do object both the process and the outcome of the "episcopal ministry discernment." I would ask the moderator to publish this in its entirety (it will be a bit long) or not at all. So that we are clear, I wrote to the discernment team a year ago, with my concerns- so what I have to say here should not take them by surprise. I have been given to know that my letter was discussed, however, I never received a response from the diocese or the discernment team, although I did receive a response from one of the local clergy. I am telling you this so you will understand I am not "blindsiding" anyone.
It is fairly clear that you and other posters here hold a substantially more progressive theology than I do. It is not my intent to engage in an argument over what I believe, nor to throw a verbal hand grenade. Certainly, I do not intend any remark I make to be interpreted as a personal attack against the Rev. Forrester, the late +Jim Kelsey, or anyone else in the diocese. I do, however, think it necessary to pose questions on whether the current leadership of the diocese is acting in the best interests of the Church, whether its theology is consistent with the requirements of clergy to adhere to the doctrine and worship of the Episcopal Church, and whether the process and its outcome are indeed "episcopal."
I do find it intriguing that you are approaching this from the perspective of diversity. I am not sure of your own background in science or statistics, but I would thing that if one were to ask Dr. Jefferts Schori for her opinion as a scientist, she would react much like I would- most closed systems, whether biological, ecological or sociological will tend to have less diversity over time than open systems. Especially in cases where the original population or sample is small. The population is more likely to be diverse if occasional individuals are introduced from the outside. What we currently see in N. Michigan is that anyone with an ecclesiology outside the model that has been adopted has been excluded from consideration.
In the process itself, with a number of the members of the "discernment team" selected due to their non-elective positions, it is arguable that the team was not as representative of the diocese as it should have been. Certainly, one theological and ecclesial philosophy dominated from the beginning. It is also useful to remember that the discernment team was not only a "search committee" but indeed took it upon itself to redefine the meaning and structure of the episcopate, invent a governing committee outside the usual Episcopal Church bishop-standing committee model, which also inherently redefines the role of the standing committee. To date, if any canon has been adopted by the diocese to support these changes, it has not been published on the website or otherwise been made generally available.
Now, from my own position, and I will here confess to some of your readers that I am an old fashioned Anglo Catholic, son of a priest, and you can argue until you are blue in the face and the probability that you will change my mind on issues of sacramental theology is virtually nil. My own basic argument with the diocesan leadership in general and Rev. Forrester in particular, are over the denials of basic Nicene and Trinitarian positions as held by the Church catholic for the last 1700 years, over such sacramental innovations as communion of non-baptized persons, and over the violations of the rubrics of the BCP, both in dropping the Nicene Creed from the liturgy and the practice of non-authorized Eucharist liturgies. If you go to the diocesan website ( ) you will find examples of what I am talking about in the statements on Dar es Salaam and the St. Andrews draft of the Covenant, as well as in past issues of the diocesan newsletter. You may accuse me of being an old fogey if you want to, but statements that each of us is "an only begotten child of God", "incarnation of God", "incarnation of the Trinity", or "God is our redeemer....Do we believe this literally, of course not." are not acceptable within the doctrine even of most progressives I know. The Rev. Forrester is a signatory to, and a principal author of, each of those statements.
As stated earlier, in addition to nominating a candidate, the episcopal ministry discernment team redefined the office of bishop to that of an "episcopal ministry team". Which is to say that the office of bishop will actually be administered by a group of people. Since there is no real precedent for this in the Episcopal Church (that I am aware of), this is not so much a question of whether this is a good idea if one were building a church from scratch, but whether this is consistent with the polity of TEC. How does this change the role of the Standing Committee (which, canons of TEC aside, has NOT been the functional authority in the diocese since +Jim Kelsey's death, that role having been assumed by Rev. Forrester and the non-canonical "Core Team"), and is the change of the role of the standing committee consistent with the canons of TEC?
Prudence would seem to indicate that the GC might want to weigh in on these matters before the confirmation of a bishop elected under these circumstances, and have the opportunity for deputies and bishops to debate the finer points of this. Much of the reaction I have seen so far has unfortunately been along the lines of "if the candidate is progressive, I will support this" (or not) versus "this method is consistent with Canon X, Y and Z." (or not) The next diocese to adopt such a process might be completely different, and then you are stuck with a precedent allowing perpetuation of a particular theological position to become the "bar" by which all candidates will be judged, and only internal candidates considered. And, indeed, where dioceses will risk becoming "inbred."
I believe I have been sufficiently long winded. I would encourage any bishop or standing committee to thoroughly investigate the methods and circumstances of this election before giving consent to the candidate. And to ask themselves whether the theology and ecclesiology of both the nominee and the "episcopal ministry team" are indeed consistent with the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Church, and whether an "episcopal ministry team" can indeed serve as a "bishop of the whole Church."
May the Lord be with you all,
Thomas J M Davis

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Tom, I appreciate your willingness to be so generous with your honesty here in this space. At this point, however, I don't know how much longer this particular post will continue to attract readers. I am happy to post this in its entirety on HOB/D, if you wish. Or, I am happy to give it its own post as a "Dissenting Voice from Northern Michigan".

Just let me know.

Thomas J M Davis said...


If you think that my comment above will further the discussion on either your blog or the HoBD listserve, please feel free to use it at your discretion, with the proviso that it be printed in full. I would ask one favor if you decide to do either of the above- there is a typo in the third paragraph ("I do find it intriguing...) which currently reads "but I would thing that if one were to ask...". "Thing" should of course read "think". If you would make that correction before passing it on I would appreciate it.
Tom D.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Done, Tom. Thank you.