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.