May 15, 2011

The Bishop Search Comes to St. Paul’s

After the 10:30 service today, representatives from the diocesan Nomination Committee held a meeting in the undercroft of St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon, to solicit views of parishioners to help the committee develop a profile of what the diocese is seeking in a new bishop. The meeting was run by Dana Phillips, the committee’s chair and someone known to many at St. Paul’s. She was assisted by committee member Frank Yesko.

I had spent some time thinking about what I wanted to say to the committee, but I had no idea what the format of the meeting would be. In fact, the committee had developed a series of questions, and participants were asked to pair off and interview one another, recording responses to the questions on a form provided. The relevance of some of the questions was not immediately apparent to me, but I was pleased that the questions were general enough that I could say all that I wanted to say to the committee.

After participants were given about half an hour to complete their interviews, the forms were collected, and the floor was opened to questions and comments. Since people had already said much of what they wanted to say, the question period was brief, though several matters of interest were raised:
  1. Several people expressed the view that no candidates should come from our own diocese. Dana made it clear that the committee intended to consider all potential candidates on the basis of their qualifications, showing no preference as to sex, race, canonical residence, etc. (Personally, I think the committee should have a strong, if not absolute, prejudice against local candidates, who would necessarily elicit strong reactions, both pro and con, when their candidacy is announced.)
  2. I suggested that candidates should not be too young. (Dana noted that objections have been raised in other parishes both to very young and to very old candidates.)
  3. It was suggested that candidates should be “moderates.” (I, on the other hand, want to see candidates as liberal as we can get away with. I am tired of our diocese being on the fringes of The Episcopal Church. I want a bishop in the Episcopal Church mainstream, not the Pittsburgh mainstream—i.e., 20 years behind the times.)
  4. Concern was raised about the dangers of nominations from the floor. (Bob Duncan was nominated from the floor.) Dana assured the group that such nominations would not be allowed.
  5. The committee was warned to avoid candidates that seem too eager to be bishop.
For parishioners who could not attend the meeting, forms were left with the rector, so that those people could have their voices heard. Dana also indicated that the committee would post an on-line form on the diocesan Web site at some later time.

I found the program reassuring. The Nomination Committee seemed sincere in its soliciting the views of the people of the diocese. It will be interesting to see what kind of profile emerges from the data the committee is collecting. If the committee is truly committed to transparency, it will also release its raw data.

9 comments:

  1. We have an excellent Nominating Committee and it is reassuring that so much input is being solicited from the people of the diocese. I continue to be concerned that Ms. Phillips stated regarding nominations from the floor, that she “…assured the group that such nominations would not be allowed.”

    The latest revision of the constitution and Canons state in the “Rules of Order Section D.4.d “…Opportunity shall be given to any member of convention to make a nomination from the floor, providing all requirements of 4b of these rules have been met...” How is it that nominations from the floor can be prevented? Is there a plan to revise this clause before the election?

    Geoff Hurd

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  2. Geoff,

    Yes, there is such a plan, which will be presented at the 2011 convention. I have encountered no one who has advocated allowing nominations from the floor.

    Dana was not just blowing smoke.

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  3. Thanks for this, Lionel. I'm glad you all had a good meeting with the Committee at St. Paul's. I do wonder about your concern, on one had, about local nominees who might cause a polarization in the diocese, and then your expressed desire, at the same time, for an "as liberal as possible" bishop, on the other hand. I suppose I might wish, on the other hand, to have a bishop "as conservative as possible." Of course, either your scenario or mine would lead to polarization. I do think we have a solid nominations committee reflecting a broad spectrum of background and perspective and I hope in the end we'll all look for a new bishop who will be able to be a force for healing rather than injury.

    Geoff--note that the rules of order for convention presently on the books are those that were adopted for the last election in 2005. The Standing Committee directed the Committee on Constitution and Canons to present to the 2011 Annual Convention rules for the April, 2012 election, which are to be consonant with the Call for Election passed at our 2010 Annual Convention. That Call prescribed a process including the work of a Nominations Committee and a period of Nomination by Petition, but specifically did not include any provision for nomination from the floor.

    Blessings,

    Bruce Robison

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  4. I said "last election in 2005." I meant, of course, "1995." Time flies . . . .

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  5. Bruce,

    It was with some trepidation that I made my “as liberal as possible” remark. I think Bishop Price is a good model. He is more liberal than the diocese as a whole (however one measures that), but he is respectful of his flock and generally is good at what a bishop is called to do.

    Southwestern Pennsylvania, by nature, is a very conservative place, and its people need to be challenged occasionally, lest the area become a caricature of itself.

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  6. Bruce,

    Permit me a further clarification, since I fear I may have been misunderstood.

    What I actually said was that I wanted “to see candidates as liberal as we can get away with.” I did not mean “as liberal as possible” in an absolute sense. (Nominating a Jack Spong would not be a good idea.) I meant that I wanted to see candidates as liberal as possible who were nonetheless electable in this diocese.

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  7. Thanks, Lionel. I understand what you mean, and probably would say the same thing from the other side of the aisle. I can imagine a great bishop who would be somewhat liberal, but who would understand the character of our congregations and region and intend a ministry that was deeply respectful of more conservative views. And vice versa. I actually think the major concerns that we have are mostly unrelated to the kinds of issues that would lead to that kind of labeling. We have a diocese of 29 congregations where only 15 clergy are serving in full-time ministry positions, and one-third of them in two parishes. Most of our congregations beyond the metro core, East End, and near suburbs are small, poor, and aging. We are going to need a bishop with deep experience in small/midsized congregations in small/midsized communities, with a good feel for Appalachian/Western Pennsylvania culture, compelling pastoral skills, spiritual depth, and emotional steadiness. If our nominations committee can find a few folks like that, locally or in the wider church, we will be very fortunate indeed. Blessed. I am of course and I suppose like everybody else hoping that our next bishop will agree with my take on the substance of Christian faith and life and on all the significant issues of the day. But in the end the success or failure of the next episcopate and the long-term picture of possible health for the ministry of our church in this region will have way, way more to do with who the bishop is pastorally and in terms of mission than with how he or she votes on hot-button issues.

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  8. Nice job Lionel and Bruce. Amen to another Ken Price!

    Lee Hicks

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  9. Liberal as possible or conservative as possible will indeed get us into trouble. That is code. The pastoral component is what will determine how we move forward. However, we should not presume to sweep the past under the carpet. The cat is out of the bag. What I see is that the L and C labels are a not-very-subtle code for position: will a person's (God-given) orientation be signaled out as a defining issue? Let's face it, this is the single issue that has excited emotions, torn us apart, and until we get beyond this, ministry in any real fashion will be diluted. Could we please take this off of the menu? Maybe in practical terms that means no L and C label?

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