March 19, 2012

Questions for Episcopal Candidates Announced

Beginning tomorrow and ending Friday, the candidates to become the next Bishop of Pittsburgh will be meeting the people of the diocese and answering questions. In each of four venues, the candidates will make a one-minute statement, after which they will answer three questions selected by the Transition Committee with input from members of the diocese and the recent Leadership Day. (See “Diocesan Leadership Day.”) The audience will then retire to five different rooms, where questions submitted by the people in that room will be asked of the candidates, one-by-one.

The procedures for these walkabouts are hardly ideal, but time is limited, and I’m not sure there is an ideal way of letting people get to know the candidates and ask them questions. There is some free time for socializing before the grilling of the candidates starts in earnest.

Here are the three questions that all the candidates will answer at each of the four walkabouts:
  1. There are numerous parishes in the diocese which would be described as Family Size, that is, places where the number of people attending a Sunday service is 25 or fewer. Several of these parishes are in older communities or communities in transition; many struggle with limited resources and part time clergy. What skill set do you bring that could assist small churches to grow and/or move to a renewed sense of mission?
  2. The issues of partnered gay clergy and same sex blessings have been controversial in this diocese and the broader Episcopal Church. Where do you find yourself now on these issues and how have you worked pastorally with people of differing views?
  3. How have you experienced the Triune God in your life? How has that experience formed your understanding of mission and ministry?
(The questions can be found here on the diocesan Web site. The page also includes the schedule for the walkabouts.) I’d like to say a few words about the questions.

The first question, about small parishes, is certainly a relevant one. Even before the split in the diocese in 2008, the diocese had a number of very small parishes, and the process of reconstituting some of the parishes that initially lost most or all of their congregation to Bob Duncan’s church has added to their number. The question, as stated, does not countenance the possibility of closing some of these churches, which is surely something that the next bishop is likely to have to face.

I had rather hoped that we might avoid the likes of question 2. In Pittsburgh, the “where do you find yourself” part of the questions presents a no-win situation to the hapless candidates. No answer will satisfy everyone, and virtually every answer will satisfy some and alienate others. I wish the candidates good luck on this one. The second part of the question, on dealing pastorally with people with different views, is where the smart candidates will spend most of their time. I expect them to have good answers to this part.

The phrasing of question 3 is seriously strange, a fact that may or may not be noticed by the candidates. Some conservatives in the diocese have concerns that the candidates (or some candidates, anyway) are wildly unorthodox. These are the folks who wanted to ask questions such as whether the candidates believe in the Trinity and what parts of the Nicene Creed they do not believe. It would be easy to overlook the hostile intent lurking behind question 3, but candidates would do well to go out of their way to invoke the Trinity in their answers.

I plan to attend the first walkabout at St. Brendan’s tomorrow night. I hope to post my impressions here tomorrow or Wednesday.


  1. I agree with you that question #3 is a strange tangle--and where all that "triune" langauge came from I wonder.

    A simpler thing would probably have been to ask nominees something like, "would you tell us a little bit about your faith journey, how you describe the faith that is in you?"

    I would imagine that folks wish to hear something like a personal testimony from the person who will settle with us, as the Presiding Bishop will say to the bishop as he or she is being ordained, as one who "is called to be one with the apostles in proclaiming Christ's resurrection and interpreting the Gospel, and to testify to Christ's sovereignty as Lord of lords and King of kings." (BCP 517).

    We would I think expect our bishops and other leaders of the church to communicate their Christian faith in a personal way that is meaningful and hopefully winsome.

    Bruce Robison

  2. I fully agree. I hope that the phrasing of the third question does not throw anyone completely off track.


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