Comment on the (sometimes contradictory) Wisdom of Bishops

Comment on The (Sometimes Contradictory) Wisdom of Bishops

The Search Committee is in the exacting position of  having to learn all the time. For example, every one of the reference conversations with a bishop has provided the Committee with something new to consider, at the least, and at least some of the time, a somewhat uncomfortable perspective needing careful thought.

Take the first set of statements drawn from Bishops’ Wisdom Part I, in which we heard a particular bishop’s view that the diocese was only looking for an interim, whether the people at large, and the Search Committee in particular, knew this or not.  For the committee, the particular point raised had been addressed back in April by the Standing Committee, but that bishop’s opinion about our process made us look hard–as you in the diocese should also–at the serious question of how an elected leader might become an inadvertent interim.

This miscarriage of search and election happens all the time in parish searches, in searches for university presidents, hospital CEOs, new rabbis, new high school librarians, and for program directors in any setting you might name.  Two factors are most important in search-and-election failures of this sort.

Primary cause of such failure is the unwillingness of the institution–read:  the failure of our diocese–to do the necessary work of transition–no matter how long or short that transition period is.  Coupled to that problem is the failure of the institution’s leadership–read: the failure of our diocesan leadership at all levels–to set in place the means of long-term support for any healthy changes that ARE made during transition.

The second most important reason that people in institutions choose someone who will not last out the expected time of leadership is ill-fit between the person chosen and the character and nature of the institution.

So the Search Committee asked itself– What’s been happening in the diocese since Bishop Gepert gave us the list of major concerns he had, when he took on the work of being Bishop Provisional?  A discussion of those concerns can be found in this report under “The Consultants’ View of the Pause Idea”.

We invited Bishop Gepert to come to our most recent full committee meeting on October 25th, and asked him to tell us where he and the diocesan leadership find themselves now, after six months of work on those issues.  He reported that diocesan finances are gradually clarifying themselves, and as the relevant documents are ready, they will all be posted on the diocesan website.  The same information is being given to everyone who attends convocation.  He reported that the diocese has a fine bishop’s staff, which has become strong under strong leadership and direction.  He reported growing health in the relationships between the bishop, the bishop’s office, and clergy, and improvement in communications throughout the diocese.  All of these issues were raised as great concerns during the Listening Events (see the section, Challenges and Opportunities).

For the Search Committee, most important in Bishop Gepert’s report is the high quality of the work he, his staff and the Standing Committee are doing, and the evidence that with his leadership, our diocese is hard at becoming accountable, transparent and being renewed by the disciplines of worship, prayer, study and self-management, even now.   Across the diocese, the desire to change is strong.  The hope in letting go of crippling old habits, the longing to grow into renewal and new vision, is already in us.

Not that doing it is a snap.  But the real point is, inadvertent interim leaders are formed when a body such as our diocese, refuses to take responsibility for its own changes.  True fit in leaders is evident to the diocesan electing body when all are doing honest reflection in mutual self-disciplines of prayer, study, common worship and mindful stewardship.

Ill-fitted candidates usually rise out of a reactionary feeling in the institution.  If you had a poor preacher the last time, say, the knee-jerk discernment will want a firecracker preacher to wipe out the memory.  If you had a hospital administrator who had no interest in issues facing the Emergency Room personnel, you’d be looking for someone who was big on ER experience.  But this is a bad way to look and discern for leadership.

You might imagine the method of ‘name what went wrong before and get a leader who will not do that the next time’ is reflection with the future in mind.  Not so.  That’s looking only for candidates who can fix what we feel went wrong or was out of true, last time.  In other words, ‘get somebody who will fix them’ or ‘that’ or ‘us.’  A fixer will not fit us or our needs.  Nor will a fixer-candidate lead and equip us for our true calling.

We need to look forward, to want more, to be hoping for God’s gifts of newness and transformation.  When the search process is concluded and the slate is announced by the Standing Committee (in December), we will publish the criteria we used in the process of discernment, so you can see through the lenses we used to look forward in hope, on your behalf.

The (sometimes contradictory) Wisdom of Bishops Part II

During the reference portion of the search committee’s work, the chair is given the task of calling the bishop of every candidate for a reference conversation.  Each of the 22 bishops with whom I spoke had interesting and helpful insights into the work and nature of the episcopacy.  The search committee has learned from these, and we hope you too will take time to reflect on what the bishops have to say.

Our search for the 11th bishop of this diocese is not happening TO you–it is something we all are doing together, some more, some less.  The degree to which those who are not on the search committee itself take an active interest in the process–by thinking about our Profile, by thinking about your parish in the context of the whole church, by imagining the future with hope, by reading the updates here, and by developing a strong habit of praying for the committee, praying for the candidates, praying for the people already at work on the Transition, praying for our Provisional bishop and staff, for our Standing Committee–  the degree to which these and similar intentions are taken up, is somewhat indicative of the degree to which we will form the new bishop, and by which we ourselves will be shaped in the new relationship.  Care and attention are worth the effort. Below are some statements both relevant and of interest.


Part II of Wisdom from Bishops

Must a Candidate have been a rector?

–Limited parish leadership is no indication of limits on grasp of skills and purpose of the episcopacy.  I never led more than an interim parish before being elected.  Empathy for and sympathy with priests is not given just to those who have been priests.  Respect for and understanding of the episcopacy is not exclusively based on lived experience of prior rectorships.

Running a parish isn’t even close to the same thing as running a diocese.  Not even close.  There is no correlation between experience as rector in size of church and a successful episcopate.

Being bishop is not being a rector writ large.


–Rectors make and take responsibility for mistakes.  This leads to the insight of having made and learned from the mistake, openly admitted, in contrast to those who have always worked on staff in a bishop’s office–a canon to the ordinary or a canon for placement,  for example–in whom we do not know the potential for making mistakes and their responses to having done so.  It is not necessarily an advantage to choose someone who has never made a mistake you know about.

You people should ask candidates who have limited or no rector experience, about that.  They can’t exactly stand with other rectors and say, ‘yes, that’s right,’ when they talk, speaking from experience.  And they’ll know that.  They’ve only stood beside rectors.  They’ve stood well with them, but they’ve never been one of them.  When they get abstract and intellectual, it can sometimes be hard to bear.

Our Presiding Bishop had not been a rector before being elected bishop.  She is not the only one.  There is precedent providing good example of the ‘rector first’ assumption not necessarily being correct.

How the Episcopacy Has Changed Over the Past Decade or So

–I counted becoming a bishop as a career change, as a vocational change.  I don’t think I was aware of anything of that nature about myself while I was in the search process.  I don’t think anybody knows if one is called until the moment of the laying on of hands in Consecration.  Till then, it’s a matter of saying one’s prayers and following the process. 

–The vocation of a bishop now takes much energetic, creative thinking about the future.   A bishop is looking at the future and where the church is going, committed to what’s beyond what we see.  It doesn’t help much to have to exercise patience for ‘woe is me’.  It will help if the new bishop has worked in congregational development for vitality and sustainability in small parishes.  And the future will need a revised ordination process to make it more relevant.  Health and vitality of the church naturally presses against the choice of spending down and closing up churches. You might not be comfortable with the idea, but a bishop looking toward the future will be committed to some kind of process that shows worshiping communities that we are not churches that used to be.  A bishop looking forward sees the picture changing and understands youth ministry in a new way.  That’s changing too.  You can live without more money and still have more ministry.  Whoever comes to the episcopacy now will have seen it and done that.  More facilitation, but not rescue.  That bishop will remind people they have strength and capability.  The episcopacy is about building up.

 –Watch for an approach to leader development that is exercised with equal emphasis.  The whole church at large has been weak on that.  Not much time has been spent on that because we’ve been spending so much time on crisis work.  The future will demand that we be less defined by our past experiences and more defined by our hope in our mutual calling, expressed in ways that are practical, strategic and well-planned.

The (Sometimes Contradictory) Wisdom of Bishops, Part III, will be published in a week or so.


The (Sometimes Contradictory) Wisdom of Bishops, Part I

And now comes the time that tempts to speculation.  Who are the candidates?  Who will be on the slate?  Who are the likely and who are the unlikely?  How can we show ourselves ‘in the know’?   Who can we guess?  Who can we gossip about? Names fly.

Speculation is useless, of course, but hard to resist.  In fact, speculation is worse than useless–it trains the heart and mind to expect the least or the worst that the mind can imagine.  In place of training one’s expectation to figments of imagination or imagining in the pride of one’s heart, we offer an opening for hope.  Here is the choice to think on the words of the 22 bishops who were consulted during the period of the Search Committee’s reference checks.

Not only do the bishops offer helpful and enlightening observations about the work of the episcopacy, their words are sharp comments on being a diocese, on calling, on being in relationship, on seeing ourselves honestly so we can discern our choices and our purposes as we sort out the differences of our own wants and desires from God’s leading and God’s calling for us here and now.  Take time as you read their remarks, to think about our diocese and measure your own leadership experiences in the light of the bishop’s insights.

We will be posting the wisdom of bishops in several different segments.  This is Part I of III.


What is the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania looking for?

–You know, you are asking your next bishop to be an interim.  Well, maybe you don’t think you are, but you will be essentially electing an interim, given all your problems, issues, and the much too short provisional time you’ve given yourselves. So you may not know it, but you’ll be having an interim.

What the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania should be looking for

–I’d suggest you do some research into the criteria of leaders who are capable of adaptive leadership.  You’ll want some basis for knowing whether the candidates are likely to burn out.  Most search committees–no, in my experience and research–all search committees proceed on the basis of useless and unnecessary information…..    The electorate is even less informed about what is really needed in candidates who will succeed.

–Anyone who is called into the process can be competent as bishop for a while.  The bottom line is, you can only trade on your competencies for a while.

–Ask your candidates how they care for themselves physically.  How they answer you is important.

–Look for candidates willing to reinforce their work in self-care.  No one else will do this for them.  



What Anyone Considering Candidacy for Bishop Needs to Know

–Everyone going into the episcopacy has, or should have, a growing edge.  She–or he–should know this place of growth, and should be open to the Holy Spirit presenting places and reasons to become more than one is, or had imagined ever being.  The request and demand of the Holy Spirit is a defining experience of the episcopacy.  Candidates ought to be aware of themselves enough to know the challenge is not a point of separation, but a point of growing–which isn’t a matter of the comfortable or the known.

–Being Bishop is frustratingly hard work for a leader to do.  The leader is best at it if that leader can articulate her–or his–own position and let others respond to it, without letting their reactions change his–or her–position.  This requires being able to articulate one’s own position with integrity and stay connected at the same time.  Any idiot can do one or the other.  The one you want is the one who can do both at the same time.

–Now we’re post-Christendom, it’s more important than ever to have the vision to be a new church in a new century.  It is much more important in a bishop to have vision than to have sympathy and attentive care for priests experiencing sorrows of lost past.  Your bishop should provide vision,  not get into the weeds.

You’ll want to listen for the sense that a leader can give of having a different narrative than the one the church is used to hearing, and telling.

–The goal of the episcopacy is not to keep churches in business but to help the faithful in God to participate in the mission of God.


Who is called to the episcopacy?

-Theoretically, any member of the bishop’s staff.  The office of the episcopacy belongs to the whole.  The staff is part and parcel of the bishop:  their vocation, their working at the diocesan level, is exercising the episcopate.

There are two kinds who become bishops:  either rectors and deans, or canons to the ordinary.  For the former, the growing edge is trying to transfer the skills of the parish into the breadth of the diocese.  For the latter, the growing edge is a little harder to see, I suspect:  they have a hundred ideas all ready to try.

Call?  I have a low view of call as it’s normally interpreted.  I don’t over-spiritualize it.  I view call as the lifelong vocation of any of us, and the number of tasks we do in service to that call are what we accept when we are asked to enter that work by others in the church, with discernment.  God’s call is not to be bishop, but to be a proclaimer of the Gospel.  The church decides how that service will be used.


Note:  Part II of The (sometimes contradictory) Wisdom of Bishops will be posted next week.



Finalist Candidates Discerned, Invited

We are pleased and excited to report that the 2014 Bishop Search Committee has, after a period of intensive discernment, unanimously found ten candidates to be of close fit with our understanding of the criteria for the needs and life of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania.  The Search Committee has invited these candidates to a finalist retreat, to be held later this fall, during which the committee and the candidates will have many opportunities for close conversation and questions on a variety of subjects.

Your search committee and the candidates continue to depend on your participation in this work by prayer.  The Prayer page of this website offers a litany we hope you will use in your parishes and in committees throughout the diocese.

If, over the summer,  your parish could not make use of the opportunity to discuss the findings and questions raised by the Listening Event report and the Parish Profile, we suggest parish leaders might spend some time looking at the links on the Resource Page and on the Home Page. Those materials offer many facets of diocesan common life and ministry which will help parish members to focus on the changes required of us in the transition ahead.



New Phase of Search Brings a New Prayer

The Search Committee asks you to take up a new prayer as we enter into our second phase of discernment.  Now we are at work screening in the ten candidates whom we will invite to the interview-retreat scheduled in early November.  It is from these last ten that the Search Committee will seek the five whom we will name to the slate for the election of the 11th Bishop of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania.  (Please see the Search Schedule for more:

As you use this litany, you join us and the members of the Transition Committee in our work of discernment and hospitality.  The Rev. Nancy Rementer and her small working group provide the Search Committee with worship when we meet.  Her thoughts on the importance of the parishes and people of this diocese praying throughout our search process, are below. You’ll find the new litany here and again here  and also below, at the end of this blog posting.

The Search Committee’s needs of spiritual direction and context are given voice and focus by our members working on the Spiritual Context, led by The Rev. Nancy Rementer. She writes, “There is a profound spiritual dynamic to this process that some may not realize or understand.  This search process calls EACH OF US to pray as much as it calls the whole people of this diocese to pray.  It is really in prayer that we may embrace the challenges and changes that will bring transformation and renewal to our mission and life in the diocese.”

Please look again at our profile, and consider what all the members of this diocese said we need to be and become.

Our challenges require our attention and growth in prayer.  In prayer and work, the Search committee is keeping our Profile in mind as we look more closely at our semi-finalists.  We are reading and rereading “The Bishop We Seek:  in our own words” as well as the report from our data consultants, Bob Gallagher and Michelle Heyne, which you can read here:

We rely on your prayers and we believe that as you pray with us, you will be drawn more deeply into what is our search, not merely the Committee’s search for a bishop to guide and pastor our renewal, newness, health and faithfulness in the Body.

“Prayer is essential…now and always…if we are to have any hope that this process will be successful.”  The Rev. Nancy Rementer


A Prayer for the Search Committee, Transition Committee and Candidates

Gracious God of steadfast love and hope, we ask your blessing on each member of the Search Committee, the Transition Committee and on every candidate who has entered this search process.

Guide their hearts and minds in right paths.  Keep us faithful in our prayers for them.

In this season of discernment for our next bishop, send your grace upon [name] the members of the search committee as they work to find the best candidates who may serve as our new bishop.   Give them courage and confidence and grant them graces of strength, imagination, endurance, and deepen the gift of companionship in their service as they seek to embrace the challenges that bring renewal.  [Veronica, Steve, Rob, Richard, Paul, Nancy, Linda, Keith, Janis, Elaine, Churchill, Chris, Charlotte, Bob, Betsy, Becky]  

Guide their hearts and minds in right paths.  Keep us faithful in our prayers for them.

In this season of discernment, send your grace upon the persons who are candidates in this process.  Grant them discerning hearts and sustain them with courage, strength and wisdom for self-awareness and understanding in leadership and service.

Guide their hearts and minds in right paths.  Keep us faithful in our prayers for them.

In this season of transition, send your grace upon [name] members of the transition committee who are extending the gift of your hospitality in their planning of the election and the welcome of our new bishop.  Grant them strength, perseverance, and joy as they offer their gifts in your service. [David, Jan, Joan, Joan, John, Judy, Martin, Mary, Mike, Robin, Sandy, Walter]

Guide their hearts and minds in right paths.  Keep us faithful in our prayers for them.

We pray in thanksgiving for this journey and your hand that leads us on.  Amen.


Search Committee Summer Progress

The Search Committee is delighted by the high caliber of the applicants we received to the position of the 11th bishop of the Diocese.  We received 42 applications.  In our July discernment meeting, we identified a smaller but significantly sized group to interview.  At the end of the month, we interviewed each person in that number by virtual meeting technology, and now, in August, the committee is conducting reference checks on each candidate.

The full calendar of our work has been given new details, and we refer you to to the Search Schedule Page





Opportunities for All to Discern & Reflect

Now and in the coming months, the Search Committee is doing its own share of discernment.  We’ve begun diligently reading all applications, praying for insight into the primary task of bishop and diocese, and deepening our understanding of the qualities and characteristics presented to us by the candidates.

As we are at work, we hope you also will do work of discernment throughout the summer and into the fall, keeping pace alongside us.   We all can be preparing ourselves for the changes already beginning to take root in this diocese, with Bishop Robert Gepert’s leadership.  For its part, the Search Committee, with Standing Committee’s help, is staying alert and aware of these changes for health and faithfulness.

We will present the Standing Committee with candidates whose qualities and characteristics best match those criteria we’ve developed, using our understanding of the primary task of a diocese and a bishop (see ).  In a later post, we’ll be lifting up the criteria we’re using, so you can think about them too.

One practical way you can work alongside us in reflection and discernment of diocesan needs and character,  is to focus parish discussion on the Profile.

We suggest you pass this information on to the person in your parish who has charge of Christian formation and Christian Education, for use in Sunday forums or small groups, or perhaps at a summer’s lemonade-and-cookies gathering after the service.

The Profile is located under the Profile tab ( ) You can read it either online or as a PDF download.  Using a laptop, you could even bring up the report and project it on a screen, and scroll through the pages online while everybody sees the material together.  After you’ve reviewed the Profile together, you might open a discussion of what people have seen.

Below are a few questions that could be helpful to a group discussing the Profile.

1. Given this report, what do you like about our diocese?

2. What surprises you?

3. What gives you concern?

4. What gives you hope?

If your discussion group is keeping track of people’s answers (in their own words; using newsprint is always helpful for that!), perhaps the group will be willing to prioritize their answers to the last two questions, and then pick one or two priorities that might have application in your own parish in the near future.   In a follow-up session, you might think out loud about what such changes or growth in your health and faithfulness might look like.




Search Committee Enters Radio Silence

Radio silence, in its original use, refers to the setting in which all radio and mobile transmitters in a given area are asked to go silent for safety and security reasons.

The Search Committee has entered radio silence to preserve the boundary between us and everyone–everyone– to protect confidentiality through the remainder of our search process.   That is, from June 6 through the beginning of December.

Specifically, our members have committed to the following:

  • None of us will  talk with each other about any applicant or candidate unless we are all in the same room together.
  • None of us will talk with each other about the Search Committee, should we encounter each other outside of our own meetings.
  • None of us will  talk with anyone else about the Search Committee, anywhere, or in any way.  We hope you’ll not ask.  But if you do, while we appreciate your sympathy, we will say “Radio silence in effect,” and we ask you to respect that.   The work will be hard and we will stick to it until we’re done.  So we wouldn’t have a different answer for you if you asked “How are things?” at any point.  If you’d like to stay tuned to our schedule, please check here:

We hope you will keep silence with us.   Our silence in this time is a self-discipline—and even a prayer of– respect and care for the dignity of every person who enters our applicant pool, and  for all those whose lives are bound with theirs.

While we will not share our progress, we will continue to talk about the search process here on the website.   We’ll continue to offer resources for parish use that should help you know your involvement and keep step with us.  And we continue to rely on your prayers for  us.

Application Process Now Open

The Search Committee and the Standing Committee are pleased to invite applications for the position of 11th Bishop of this Diocese. The mechanism for application is found here:

We will be receiving applications starting June 6. Applications will close at midnight, Pacific Time, on the 20th.

Anyone who would like to nominate a priest may do so by sending an email to mailto:  with your nominee’s name, current position, and contact information, specifically an email address.  Your nominee will receive an email from the Search Committee, with an invitation to look at our website, to read our Profile, and to consider entering the process. The sooner you act on your nomination, the longer the person has to discern entering the process.

We are committed to confidentiality in this time of discernment, and to praying for all those who will be entering their names for our consideration. We welcome you.

All Together Now, Going into Discernment

The Search Committee hopes you and members of your parish will share the experience of transition and discernment ahead of us all.

First, pray with us.

Then, join us in paying attention to ourselves in the mirror of the Diocesan Profile.

The Profile will be up on the website, under its own tab, on June 2.  A PDF of the Profile will be available to download or to print.

We are committed to learning everything about ourselves that our Profile subcommittee has put together as a picture of us in worship, in mission, and in community.  We hope you too will commit yourselves to reading and learning from the Profile.   We suggest giving yourselves, in your parish settings, time to talk about your lives of faith and the mission of this diocese, using the Profile in a structured way.

The data from the Listening events and the Profile both have given the Search Committee good opportunity to consider who we are, who we are to become, and what we are to  be about, in the near future.  We are discerning our diocesan calling, in fact.   There’s nothing confidential about this work.  Nothing about this form of discernment is limited to the Search Committee.  In fact, paraphrasing Joni Mitchell, we need you to help us, doing your part.  Don’t let us go there by ourselves–that’s such a lonely thing to do.

We suggest using the Profile as a starting point for discussion in your parishes, thinking about yourselves and our mutual life together in the diocese.  After the Profile has been posted, look for a separate posting giving you resources for using the Profile in discussion in Sunday Forums or Adult Ed classes.  Then, in the coming months, take on the rewarding challenge of open discernment as we take on the confidential aspects of our search for the 11th bishop of this diocese.