Thursday, 2 June 2011

How Americans choose a bishop

Jim Naughton has written a piece for Ruth Gledhill’s blog about this (original behind Times paywall).

A copy of the article also appears at the Daily Episcopalian. See Courting the Holy Spirit by practicing retail politics.

Last week, while the Church of England was dealing with embarrassing revelations about how badly the Archbishops of Canterbury and York had behaved while selecting the current Bishop of Southwark, I was observing the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D. C. as it prepared to choose the successor of Bishop John Bryson Chane, who retires in November.

The process that I witnessed was so different than the one described by the late Dean Colin Slee in his now-famous memo, that it seems almost unfair to draw comparisons. In filling the vacancy in Southwark, the English method of appointing bishops was clearly at its worst. Or so one hopes. A story of subterfuge leavened with a dash of Python-like absurdity, it featured a media leak meant to scuttle two candidacies, clumsy attempts to blame the leak on an innocent party, an investigation into the leak whose findings have been kept secret, and a delicious moment in which the Archbishop of York lobbied for votes while leading a group outing to the toilet. Little wonder that members of the Crown Nominating Committee were reduced to tears during the proceedings.

The process in Washington, on the other hand, has run relatively smoothly so far, although the election will not be held until June 18…

What Jim describes is, I think, what we here would call a “hustings”.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 2 June 2011 at 5:26pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: ECUSA

Yes, there is quite a contrast.

Sir Robert Peel's reform of the Church of England has already been mentioned by contributors to these pages. I wonder if the present Prime Minister might not want to imitate his great Conservative predecessor? If something is not done to reform the appointments process, disestablishment will be the inevitable result, and no good Tory wants to see that.

On the other hand, once you clean up the appointment of bishops, you'll be able to screen out the majority of the hotheads, drama queens, and unreliables who have plagued your Church for the last generation. It will take time, but the worst of them are already retiring out, and there is a chance for a generational change.

Posted by: Charlotte on Thursday, 2 June 2011 at 6:52pm BST

Jim left out a couple steps. When a diocese wishes to conduct an election of a new diocesan bishop, it must first request and obtain the consent of a majority of the diocesan standing committees before it may conduct its election.

After the diocese has conducted its election and a candidate has been elected according to the national and diocesan canons, the diocese must seek and obtain the consent of a majority of sitting diocesan bishops, and the consent of a majority of the diocesan standing committees before the candidate elected may be consecrated as a bishop for the diocese.

Posted by: Richard Zevnik on Thursday, 2 June 2011 at 9:03pm BST

1. Anyone care to give a summary of what Sir Robert Peel's reforms were? (Surely there is some joke to be made comparing the CofE to Sir Robert's other great accomplishment, the Metropolitan Police.)

2. In the American case, has a diocese ever been denied consent to proceed with an election? Why might such consent be denied? And am I correct in presuming that there is a time frame for that consent process, as there is for consent to an election?

Posted by: Malcolm French+ on Thursday, 2 June 2011 at 9:54pm BST

@Malcolm French+ -- Happy to oblige:

as a start.

Posted by: Charlotte on Thursday, 2 June 2011 at 11:39pm BST

Malcolm, I'm not aware of any instance when consent to hold an election was denied. I'm not saying never, but I can't recall one. On the other hand, consents to the consecration of the bishop-elect have been denied after the election. It has been uncommon, but it has happened. Most recently, it happened several years ago after election in the diocese of Northern Michigan (where they have held a subsequent election, and that bishop-elect has been confirmed). Confirmation requires a simple majority of bishops with jurisdiction, and a simple majority of diocesan Standing Committees, and that election did not receive a majority of confirmations, for a variety of reasons. Being the noisy folks we Americans are, the reasons were well known. Some felt the process, which put forward only one candidate, had been flawed. Some felt the candidate's published liturgies and/or published writings were theologically questionable. It was only a few years ago, and if you were interested enough to do a search at the web site Episcopal Cafe, you'd see a lot written about it.

Posted by: Marshall Scott on Friday, 3 June 2011 at 2:34am BST

"In the American case, has a diocese ever been denied consent to proceed with an election? Why might such consent be denied? And am I correct in presuming that there is a time frame for that consent process, as there is for consent to an election?"

Absolutely! Northern Michigan and South Carolina have been denied consents, just in the past few years. Reasons for the denial don't have to be given (Northern Michigan was more for bishop-elect's theology, South Carolina for bishop-elect's schismatic ways, JMO). I'm fairly certain there is a time frame for the consents to be received (insufficient is ruled denial-of-consent).

Posted by: JCF on Friday, 3 June 2011 at 3:54am BST

I agree with our North American cousins. The system of appointing Bishops in the Church of England - because of the State-Church relationship - seems archaic to most of us Anglican in other Provinces of the Communion, where democracy rules. It does rather have the connotation of political rather than spiritual expediency.

I'm sure the Prime minister, Mr. Cameron, would be quite glad not to have the responsibility of being expected to 'approve' of one candidate over another - except, of course, it were politically expedient for him to do so.

Certainly in the present culture of Church versus State on issues of gender and sexuality, it might be down-right embarrassing for a P.M. to be left with the only option of approving the appointment of an openly misogynistic or homophobic bishop - if that's the only choice left to him by the Primates.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 3 June 2011 at 4:37am BST

Actually, JCF, South Carolina and Northern Michigan received consents to conduct their elections. What those dioceses did not receive was consent to the consecration of the candidate elected. And, in the case of South Carolina, the diocese held another election, elected the same person as bishop, and on the second go-around, he received a scant majority of the necessary consents of the Standing Committees, and was consecrated.

Also, the same process applies when a diocese seeks to elect a suffragan bishop.

Posted by: Richard Zevnik on Friday, 3 June 2011 at 4:56pm BST

I was aware that recent elections in South Carolina and Northern Michigan had not received the necessary consents. My question had to do with consents to proceed with an election, and I am satisfied with Marchall's answer that so far as he can remember) that consent has not been denied. Am I correct in presuming that there is a similar time fram in which those consents or witholding of consents must be submitted as is the case with consents to election?

Posted by: Malcolm French+ on Saturday, 4 June 2011 at 7:00am BST

Before we get too carried away with our process, as good as it is, let's not forget that the likes of Wantland, Duncan, Schofield, and Lawrence became bishops under this system, so it's not perfect.

Posted by: JPM on Sunday, 5 June 2011 at 2:05am BST

In ireland ( approved women bishops in 1991)and Scotland electing bishops has proved it virtually impossible for women to be chosen as bishops.

In New Zealand it is also very difficult for women..two in the past twenty years.

Posted by: robert ian williams on Sunday, 5 June 2011 at 8:56am BST


Which may say a great deal about the attitude toward women leadership in those societies as whole, as much as it says about the attitudes within the respective churches.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Sunday, 5 June 2011 at 11:01pm BST

FYI, in 2009, my diocese (TEC Georgia) elected a new bishop. A lay-clergy committee spent ~2 years vetting applicants. The Standing Committee approved 6, posting their resumes and videos on the diocesan website for all to review. Candidates spent 2 weeks on "walkabout" appearing at open meetings of clergy and laity in each convocation. The week before the election, open parish meetings discussed the candidates to give their electors a sense of their preferences and concerns. Rev. Scott Benhase, frank in his support for women and full inclusion of GLBT people, was elected on the second ballot. We had no trouble with consents. Of 2 candidates from the diocese, one is now Canon to the Ordinary, and the other is helping lead the way in our outreach to the poor. Our diocese seems more than pleased with Bishop Benhase's leadership. As far as the Anglican Communion is concerned, this form of election is not to everyone's taste, but then, it suggests why it is unlikely that TEC will ever "repent."

Posted by: Susan on Monday, 6 June 2011 at 1:51pm BST
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