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.