Kevin Thew Forrester elected bishop of Northern Michigan

The Diocese of Northern Michigan elected Kevin Thew Forrester as bishop on Saturday. He was the only candidate put forward by the diocesan process. Some objections have been raised in blogland about that fact. Critics from the crowd over at Stand Firm have been having a fine time charging that "Northern Michigan Make it Official, Elects Buddhist as Bishop"

The real story is that Norther Michigan elects bishop whose vocation is to be part of a Episcopal Ministry Support Team, not a prince bishop. I suppose the thought of a bishop whose commitment to new leadership styles is community based rather than hierarchical seems a bit enlightened and perhaps esoteric to those used to electing un petit roi and then madly bashing that person with charges of exercising princely powers. We ought to wish Northern Michican and the bishop-elect well.

I hope the confirmation process sheds light and moves quickly.

Here is the press release:

For Immediate Release

(Escanaba, MI) --The Diocese of Northern Michigan created an Episcopal Ministry Support Team and elected Kevin Thew Forrester as bishop at a Special Diocesan Convention on Saturday, February 21, 2009 at St.Stephen’s Church, Escanaba. Thew Forrester was elected on the first ballot and satisfying the Diocesan Constitution and canons, received 88% of the delegate votes and 91% of the congregational votes. Thew Forrester has been serving the diocese since 2001, first as MinistryDevelopment Coordinator and later in 2007 as Rector/Ministry Developerof St. Paul’s Church in Marquette and St. John’s Church in Negaunee.

Following the death of Bishop Jim Kelsey in an automobile accident inJune 2007, an extended time of reflection and discernment ensued. As result, and after 27 years of living into “baptismal ministry,” theDiocese decided to apply its extensive experience of developing local,shared leadership to the ministry of episcopal oversight. Bishop Kelsey’s initial experiment with a “Core Team” paved the way for the concept of an Episcopal Ministry Support Team (EMST), in which the bishop will focus on pastoral, relational and canonical tasks while serving as one of twelve members, which also includes compensated ministry developers, a diocesan staff person and regional representatives.

The Discernment Team, composed of twenty-one members (representing 70%of the congregations of the diocese) worked closely with Jo Gantzer(Diocese of Michigan) as its Companion and three Reflectors from the wider church: Bishops Bruce Caldwell (Wyoming) and Tom Ely (Vermont) and Fredrica Harris Thompsett, recently retired professor at the Episcopal Divinity School. They worked for nearly a year before presenting a single name for bishop as well as identifying EMST members who where affirmed during the Special Convention.

Prior to the naming of the EMST and bishop-nominee, the Discernment Team presented its work-to-date and its proposed process to the Annual Diocesan Convention last October. It received an overwhelming vote of confidence, with 94% of the delegates voting to affirm.

Upon the successful completion of the consent process, the Episcopal Ministry Support Team will be commissioned and the bishop ordained on October 17, 2009 in Marquette, Michigan.


  1. Nom de Plume23/2/09 10:10 AM

    It seems a natural development for Northern Michigan to develop a new model of episcopacy. This will be well worth watching.

    Interesting date for the consecration. October 17 is of course the feast of Ignatius of Antioch. May the new Bishop-elect Thew Forrester have a more congenial fate.

  2. The only problem I have with this "enlightened" process is the failure of the American Episcopal charism of the elected process.

    I agree with you, we have been electing prince bishops with a regularity over the past 15 years. I also admit that we have also fallen into the "Episcopal sport of bishop bashing". But something has happened over the past 15 years to the kind of training our bishops are getting. Somewhere in the mix, our bishops have gotten the idea that they are no longer accountable to the people who elected them. All too often our bishops hide behind their chancellors rather than procalim the love of Christ.

  3. If I were on the standing committee of my diocese, I would have a problem consenting to this election.

  4. So, we are to ignor the fact that they are trashing the Constitution and Cannons with this "team" system, undermining the Catholisity of the Church and the closed insestious system that put this into place just as certainly as the Network people are? Or am I supposed to be supportive since this is a "progressive" step?

    Bad is bad.
    Rotten is rotten.
    Poorly thought out is poorly thought out.

  5. Muthah+ Right..."something has happened over the past 15 years to the kind of training our bishops are getting." I agree. And there needs to be a careful review of the new bishops training around both accountability and being bishop in community.

    And if you were on the standing committee (and I wish you were) you would be right to raise questions. My hope is that the questions would not wander off into the thicket of diocesan canons and the idea of a single candidate. As to Forrester being a buddhist, it might open up some interesting areas of conversation to engage the question.

    Friar John: You are not "supposed to be supportive since this is a "progressive" step. Asking just what Norther Michigan is doing and why is the thing to do. I don't believe they are "trashing the Constitution and Canons" or "undermining the Catholicity of the Church" or that they are a "closed insestious system" by this election. But I could be wrong. So ask away. Ask Northern Michigan. Perhaps it would be of some value to ask in a more positive way: does their process conform to the C&C? does it support the Cathoicity of the Church? Was the process open to allowing nominations from the floor or by other means?

    I think the work of standing committees and bishops in giving consent is important work and you are right to ask the questions.

    I don't think as you do, but there it is. I'm not one of those whose consent is needed either.

  6. From Vince+ (SWF)
    It is my sincere hope that we are drawing a close to the end of prince bishops. Hats off (maybe miters off as well) to Northern Michigan and the Bishop-Elect.
    The idea of a servant leader is not new in our Episcopal Church. +Wes Fresendorf (Nevada) & +Bennett Sims (Atlanta) were both visionaries of this. As we are transformed as a church may this vision take hold.

  7. Unless there was no opportunity for other nominations, I can see no serious problem with the election. The percentages of votes cast in favor of the election - 88% of delegate votes and 91% of the congregational votes - are impressive. I do expect that there will be questions from Bishops and Standing Committees about the process, but that is as it should be. Knowing some of those who were consulted in the process, I expect that the answers from Northern Michigan will be satisfactory.

  8. "The percentages of votes cast in favor of the election - 88% of delegate votes and 91% of the congregational votes - are impressive." Right. Shades of the percentages garnered by the Soviet single party votes. Also similar to the votes for the single candidate for interim bishop for the remnant diocese of Fort Worth.

    Of the last eleven domestic bishops, 9 of them came from the same diocese (+Mark Lawrence and +Prince Singh were the exceptions). It does have the smell of nepotism.

    David Trimble has a thoughtful essay on why Buddhism and Christianity are not compatible. One of the people that influenced me when I was growing up was Thomas Merton who was a "student of Buddhism." I have to admit that I did not read his works pertaining to this, however.

    Someone at StandFirm asked the question whether this is a violation of B033 - not to consecrate who "presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion." It would be interesting to get input from our brother Anglicans in the far east.

  9. Some seriously out of touch in my view, people cf. Friar John, seem incapable of separating the word 'cathlicity' from 'Roman Catholic. And therin the problem. Apparently, bishop elect Forrester and the people of Nothern Michigan are attempting a somewhat different way of looking at the bishop's role.

    I don't know if it will work. Neither does Friar John. What we do know is that it is a step away from the House of Lords and the Curia. So, as the frier needs a Curia to impose his ideas of holiness, and seeks order instead of love if his posts are any indication: he can do something intellectually honest folk cannot. He can judge the N. Mich. model in advance.

    I suppose he does have one point: Benny16 wont like it. How exactly that is supposed to inform TEC or any Anglican body's judgement in the context of our history is something about which we can only guess.


  10. Were I resident in Northern Michigan, I would find robroy's reference to Soviet elections deeply offensive. Wait! I'm not resident there and I still find it offensive.
    Nepotsim is properly understood as the hiring or appointment of a relative. However, if I accept this flawed analogy, electing anyone within the church is electing a relative, i.e., a brother or sister in Christ. What is wrong with electing someone you know, someone whose character and gifts you've seen close up and not just on a resume or in a series of Q&A sessions? One of the best Bishops that I know, Andrew Wissemann, had served for a very longtime in the diocese that elected him (WMass).

  11. I don’t know, JimB, I may be wrong, but I think Friar John generally lines up with you on things theological. I don’t think he ought to be getting the same rhetorical treatment you might heap on a conservative.

    I didn’t see Friar John say a thing about Roman Catholicism, a House of Lords or a Curia. The fact remains, whether you like it or not, that the Apostolic Episcopate means something particular. Part of that meaning is a body that’s passing on and teaching the Faith as it has received it. Part of that meaning is not a body whose responsibility is limited to shuffling paper until such time as the triennial mob summons it to play its role as the Senate of the social club. You can come from this direction without harboring a deep-seated need to kiss B16’s ring.

    The “Episcopal” Church ought to at least take its own name more seriously than this. Deconstruction is not the answer to all of life’s ills.

  12. Ok, I've got a question about the whole Buddhist thing. What exactly did Forrester say about that? Was it, "I am a Buddhist." Or was it more like expressing appreciation of certain Buddhist ideas or even engaging in some Buddhist practices? The latter, of course, would depend on what kind of practices. Simple meditation or listening to dharma talks is one thing; a Tibetan-type practice involving depictions of deities and such would be something else entirely.

  13. Father Weir, I knowingly chose the somewhat incorrect term of nepotism over the much more pejorative term cronyism.

    I looked back at Louie Crew's data from 90-91 (just picked those years at random) and determined the number of bishops that came out of the diocesan ranks or not (domestic bishops only).

    What I found was that 1 came out of the diocese, 12 were picked from other dioceses and one wasn't specified.

    Does this phenomenon explain why we are in the mess we are in? I personally can't imagine having a lower opinion of this spineless group of "leaders."

  14. Jim,

    Wow, way to project your disdain onto me. My theology is probably closer to yours than most who object to this sham, but that doesn't matter. All that matters is that we continue to forge ahead into the brave new world with nary a pause for reflection.

    As Phil put it, the Episcopate has an objective theological meaning. To blithely deconstruct it, with little to no real study or work and undermine it by replacing a (theoretical) Prince Bishop" with a "gang of 12" who exact role is left vague and side tracks the the actual processes and life of the Church for some nebulous "servant" model. Authority is not bad, no matter what is cried out in Boomer laden jargon.

    I also remember the cries of "foul" over the election in NC. They were right then, but not now? Am I alone in finding this closed system that, lo and behold, chose one of its architects to lead it troublesome?

  15. Friar John: I believe that is SC, not NC, and some of us in progressive land did not think his being the sole candidate the second round was grounds for discounting the election.

    As for your first paragraphs, you wrongly assume that there was no pause for reflection and that this stuff is all made up from boomer jargon. Authority is not bad, you are right, but where authority rests is another matter. Oh, and watch out about the "gang of 12," it may come 'round and bite you.

  16. Ok, wrong state. I was referring to the issues that were discussed about the first time around. There were questions about +Salmon's role.

    I was tossing back equal heat to what I got. Jim was in the throws of some fairly wild prose and I returned the favor. His comment about the Pope irritated me enough to point out the other extreme, hence the "gang of 12" reference. The entire Mutual Ministry model is a Boomer thing. The generational distrust of Authority and disdain for Tradition is written all over it. The fact that it has allowed us to side step real issues of power, resource allocation and mission that don't upset the Urban and Suburban middle class is a matter for another post.

    While I realize where authority is vested an important question. the Church catholic vests considerable authority in the hands of the Bishop. In the Episcopal Church we have systems which balance much of that. Sometimes it is not the system, per se, that is at fault, but with the people who use it. An evaluation of how the real system is supposed to work and how to be vigilant within it may serve better than inventing a new thing to simply smooth the ruffled feathers of a group that has spent so long rebelling that it now sometimes forgets that it is now in power.

    This thing that we are being asked to swallow whole is as novel as Papal Infallibility and may very well serve to be as damaging. It, and not +VGR, redefines the episcopacy just as much as Infallibility. This is also complicated by the questions surrounding his orthodoxy and other issues of suitability.

  17. Although mutual ministry as a term may be a boomer thing, the theology that underlies an emphasis on the ministry of all the baptized is not a boomer thing. One of the best works on the subject was by Hendrik Kraemer (1888-1965), clearly not a boomer. One can find the seeds of this in Paul's writings.
    How all the baptized share in the ministry which is Christ's is not a simple matter, but dismissing mutual ministry as a boomer thing does not help.

  18. robroy raised the question of elections of candidates within dioceses vs. those outside. I had a different thought on that. For much of my career clergy, especially congregational clergy, were so competitive and so anxious that they didn't trust one another. Relations among clergy, between diocesan clergy and the bishop, and between both and the laity, were often tense, suspicious, and even hostile - if always polite and formal. Perhaps, then, elections from within dioceses suggest that trust within dioceses, both among clergy and between clergy and laity, is higher, that communication is better, and that folks are now better able to work, pray, and give for the spread of the Kingdom together.

  19. Good Golly Miss Molly, how folks go off the deep end the moment that something appears to be "not the way we do things!"

    If there is a question to the bishop elect's "Christian" formation then go seek what his Buddhist involvement entails and do not make uninformed judgements.

    From the diocesan website;
    Christian formation and the practice of meditation
    One of the primary sources of wisdom, which we have drawn upon for personal and community transformation,
    is the centering prayer tradition of Thomas Merton and Thomas Keating. It is quite fascinating that both of these
    persons are fundamentally enriched through their interfaith dialogue and practice, particularly with Zen Bud-
    Kevin Thew Forrester, our Ministry Development Coordinator from 2001 through 2007, was himself drawn
    into the Christian Zen Buddhist dialogue through centering prayer and his desire to assist persons in their own
    transformation in Christ. He has practiced Zen meditation for almost a decade, and the Buddhist community
    welcomed him as an Episcopal priest in his commitment to a meditation practice—a process known by some
    Buddhists as "lay ordination."

    Literally thousands of Christians have been drawn to Zen Buddhism in particular because, distinct from western
    religions, it embodies a pragmatic philosophy and a focus on human suffering rather than a unique theology of
    God. "Lay ordination" has a different meaning in Buddhist practice than in the Christian tradition. The essence
    of this welcoming ceremony, which includes no oaths, is the resolve to use the practice of meditation as a path
    to awakening to the truth of the reality of human suffering.

    Thew Forrester says he resonates deeply with the wisdom learned by Thomas Merton through his own inter-
    faith dialogue with Buddhism and meditative practice; through the grace of meditation we are able to be been
    drawn ever deeper into the Trinitarian contemplative Christian tradition. Thew Forrester has been able to bring
    the practice of meditation/contemplation to the wider diocese through the gifts discovery process and through
    his founding of the Healing Arts Center at St. Paul's in Marquette. The Center is devoted to assisting people in
    their own spiritual journey, which includes the practice of meditation within the sanctuary and the exploration of
    Christian contemplatives and mystics.

    The man is a Christian priest in dialog with Buddhists, not a practicing Buddhist!

    If you have questions about the discernment process, read this;
    Discernment Process: Frequently Asked Questions

    From everything I read on the diocesan website, these folks understan that in addition to being the eccesiastical authority of the diocese, bishops are expected to be administrators, personall directors, economists, etc. A skillset that it is unreasonable to expect a single person holds. So they are gathering a team around their new bishop to augment his skillset, and that will free him to concentrate more on developing the ecclesial ministry to the diocese. He is not "sharing" or "dividing" his ecclesial faculties.

  20. "'Lay ordination' has a different meaning in Buddhist practice than in the Christian tradition. The essence
    of this welcoming ceremony, which includes no oaths, is the resolve to use the practice of meditation as a path to awakening to the truth of the reality of human suffering"

    This is odd because as I understand "lay ordination" in Zen, it involves taking the sixteen bodhisattva precepts:
    The Three Treasures (Refuges)
    1. Refuge in the Buddha
    2. Refuge in the Dharma
    3. Refuge in the Sangha
    The Three Pure Precepts
    1. Not doing evil
    2. Doing good
    3. Actualizing good in others
    The 10 Grave Precepts
    1. Non-killing
    2. Non-stealing
    3. Not misusing sex
    4. Not telling lies
    5. Not deluding the mind [essentially, no intoxicants]
    6. Not talking about others' errors or faults
    7. Not elevating oneself and blaming others
    8. Not being stingy
    9. Not being angry
    10. Not speaking ill of the Three Treasures

    The last two groups are no problem. The problem, though, lies in the Refuges. Can one honestly take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, when one has already essentially taken refuge in Christ, the Gospel, and the Church?

  21. I'm recalling that at Lambeth a Bishop of Sri Lanka prayed in Sinhalese of "taking refuge" in Christ, in the Church, in the Gospel; but because it was in Sinhalese, and because the reference to "refuge" was recognized, folks assumed he had called Lambeth away from the Gospel.

    It does seem clear that "lay ordination" means different things in different Buddhist contexts. For that matter, so does "God." That shouldn't be so surprising to us. After all, deacon, elder and local minister are all terms that have different meaning in different Christian contexts. Pertinent to this and Mark's later post on this topic, the important thing is to ask, not to jump to conclusions.

  22. The Episcopal Ministry Discernment Team of the Diocese of Northern Michigan documented each step of the nearly year long discernment process. Information can be found at the Diocesan website: www.upepiscopal.org for anyone who wishes to take some time to become informed on the subject.

  23. To the Editor:

    The claim of "election" of Mr.Thew-Forrester as Bishop is inaccurate. The team that brought his name to the floor allowed no other person to be nominated for Bishop nor did they allow any other nomination for the Support Team. Thus the "Convention" was nothing more than a meeting to ram through approval of their singular beliefs and impose them upon all Episcopalians in the Diocese. In summary, the meeting was nothing more but a trampling upon people’s right to a voice in such matters, plus violations of the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese, to say nothing of Robert’s Rules of Order.

    Mr. Piper has stated that the process “has been good for the Diocese”. He speaks only for himself or as a member of the group now partly responsible for the direction the Diocese will travel. Mr.Thew-Forrester's remark that his Zen-Buddhist beliefs are well known through the Diocese may come as a surprise to many Episcopalians and others for that matter. How he will integrate those beliefs into his priesthood is something yet to be determined or accepted by people of the Diocese.

    There is but one parish based priest left in a Diocese that lists 27 churches on its web site. Prior to the advent of Mutual Ministry there were eighteen parish based priests. To cure lost and declining membership and financial deficits the Diocese decided in the early ‘90’s that the concept of Mutual Ministry would solve the problems faced. Mr. Piper also claims there is wide support for this concept, if so he should be able to explain why membership continues to decline, why congregations are facing continued financial deficits, why trust funds are being depleted, why churches have closed and why many believe Mutual Ministry is an unworkable solution to the multitude of problems the Diocese faces.

    Mutual Ministry is a tool designed for use within a congregation, not something to come as a dictate from the Diocesan level. Statistics can often be telling so the Diocese should be required to publish a no less than monthly summary of total church attendance, baptisms, confirmations, marriages and financial status of congregations as well as Diocesan finances. Any church closure within the Diocese and reason for closure should also be made known. Such factual information will offer a far more objective analysis of Mutual Ministry’s success than is now being presented.

  24. To Mr. Covell -

    The economy and population of Northern Michigan in general has been declining for some time -


    Meaning, there are other factors at play for church membership and financial situation.

    Working within those parameters, mutual ministry is an option for keeping small churches open when it would otherwise be fiscally impossible to do so. The geography is such that if the Episcopal Church in town closes, there may be no option for hours so there are reasons to keep small churches open.

  25. Thew Forrester is already in a position of mission leadership in that declining diocese. Do people really think that "same leader, different title" will make a difference?

    Contemplatives enrich the church because they have some of the personal freedom to seek insights, which are then shared with the wider church for discernment. If Merton had been saddled with a diocesan budget, institutional boards, pastoral care and deployment of a few hundred clergy, etc. etc., he would not have given us the insights he did because he would not have had the experiences he had.

    So I think that Thew Forrester's gifts are a bad match for No. Mich. and for the episcopacy in general.

    And let me say this: with all the declining, struggling dioceses around, we can't find a see for a proven church developer (at both the congregational and diocesan level) like Neal Michel of Dallas? Don't tell me we're inclusive. Don't tell me we're a "thinking persons church."

    We need some folks to look at their own blind spots, for the good of the whole church instead of a few insiders.

    Timothy Fountain
    Sioux Falls, South Dakota

  26. Kevin Montgomery is correct that lay ordination in Zen Buddhism does involve the "vows". I am not sure what David is quoting that claims that Thew+ has Zen Buddhist lay ordination but did not take "oaths".

    Are they making a distinction between "oaths" and "vows"?
    A vow is a solemn promise while an oath is a solemn promise which calls on God as a witness. Lay ordination in Zen Buddhisms requires solemn promises, but God is not invoked as a witness.

  27. Check out the following website:

    Excerpts include:
    "Buddhism has become the fastest growing religion among Americans. "
    "...How do I become a Buddhist?

    Join a Buddhist sangha (a temple, church or group), support them, be supported by them and continue to learn more about the Buddha's teachings. Read about the teachings, apply them in your life, attend services and retreats, open your heart and mind to the working of Great Compassion. Then, when you are ready, you can formally become a Buddhist by undertaking the Affirmation or Ordination Ceremony. "

    It sounds like to me that makes you a member of another religious organization.

  28. I have been a member of or served in five dioceses. Three were distinctly "low church," and they had absolutely NO "prince bishops." One was the diocese of SC, and the relationship of clergy to each other and to the bishop was thoroughly enjoyable. Two were "high church," and they tended to have bishops who oversaw things much more closely. One (NJ) elected a bishop in the 90's who turned out to be a disaster and had to be very expensively bought out.

    I am all in favor of bishops being servant leaders, who are aware of their responsibilities to help and who do not take their rights and authority as the main focus of their ministry. I am fortunate to serve with a bishop at the current time who is the captain of the team and not the Lord of the Manor.

    The process used by Northern Michigan may have an excellent process for the diocese in its current state. Fr Forrester may be the very best person to lead them, in terms of style of leadership, gifts for leadership, etc. BUT: was the process canonical? It does not seem to have followed what the canons say should be done. Perhaps it is fine to wink at that variation from what the canons say - although knowingly departing from the requirements of the canons places one ever closer to the rule of persons and personalities rather than the rule of law.

    The election is to my eye flawed, but the process is far from the major reason I hope that Fr Forrester's election is not confirmed. His use of Buddhism is not one that a priest, let alone a bishop, should be involved in. It might be one thing to adapt some practices from Buddhism - although I do not see why a Christian would do so, as the Christian faith has a rich tradition of meditational practices that could be employed.

    But it is quite another to knowingly participate in a ceremony that is roughly analogous to confirmation, taking "refuge" in anything other than the Trinity. If Jesus is the Son of God who was incarnate in human flesh, suffered to redeem us, and was raised from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of the Father, then he is sufficient for all our needs.

    Of course, if Fr Forrester does not know the Jesus of the Creeds, but instead regards Jesus as one guru among several possibilities, perhaps he feels free to take refuge in Buddha. But if he does not know or follow the Jesus of the Creeds, he is not a Christian. He may respect Jesus, but he has not submitted to him, and he has not done what Jesus asks of us in this coming Sunday's Gospel reading.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with comment moderation but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.