The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church has made a statement regarding the election of a new Presiding Bishop and her discernment of her future work. It is a very fine statement. Read it HERE.
The careful reader will note that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori did not say she would not stand for re-election. The title of the ENS posting of her letter says that, but the letter says this:
"At the same time, I recognize that standing for election as Presiding
Bishop carries the implicit expectation that one is ready to serve a
full term. I do not at present believe I should serve and lead in this
ministry for another nine years."
The Presiding Bishop does not use words carelessly. She has said two things: (i) She "at present" does not believe she should serve and lead in this ministry for another nine years, and (ii) there is the implicit expectation that any candidate should be ready to serve a full term.
She also broadened her comments to say that " I believe I can best serve this Church by opening the door for other
bishops to more freely discern their own vocation to this ministry." So she really is making the process more clearly open to bishops who might otherwise stand back if she was willing to serve another nine years.
My sense is that the Presiding Bishop has BOTH closed the door (but not slammed it) on serving another nine years, and opened the door to the possibility of being elected with the understanding (contrary to the implicit expectation) that she would serve for a more limited period of time.
While the canons call for election for nine years, there is nothing to prevent the House of Bishops from making a side agreement with the elected bishop for a shorter term, agreed to by the House itself. Whether or not the House of Deputies would go along with an election in which there was a codicil agreeing to a shorter term is unclear. But the bishops could elect with such an agreement.
So, the Presiding Bishop has both closed doors and opened them: closed to a discerned willingness to serve for a full nine years and opened to a possibility of a shorter term.
Other candidates, willing to serve the full nine years, would of course be able to argue for their candidacy precisely on the grounds that it fulfills the expectations of the canons. Those supporting a shorter term for the Presiding Bishop can argue that these are extraordinary times in which an additional time with the same leadership would be very useful to the ongoing life of the Church.
The Presiding Bishop does state "I also believe that I can offer this Church stronger and clearer
leadership in the coming year as we move toward that election and a
whole-hearted engagement with necessary structural reforms. I will
continue to engage us in becoming a more fully diverse Church, spreading
the gospel among all sorts and conditions of people, and wholeheartedly
devoted to God’s vision of a healed and restored Creation."
She is exactly correct to note that her work is with the present engagement with structural reforms and continued movement into being a diverse and inclusive Church committed to the healing of the Creation. In doing so, she may also be seen clearly as the best we have to lead us for a few more years while this process plays out a bit.
So lets be clear: The Presiding Bishop has not ruled out reelection. She has changed the context in which she would be willing to be considered.
Can the House of Bishops act in ways related to, but not included in, the canons? Well, it already does.
I have argued that the process for electing the Presiding Bishop should include the clear nomination from the floor option that the canons assume. It has been pointed out to me that the House of Bishops, on its own and without any canonical underpinnings, has already made internal agreements that bishops would not vote for any candidate that had not announced candidacy early enough for background checks before the day of election (30 days?). So in the last election all those nominated from the floor were already cleared by declaration of intent and background checks prior to that day.
Meaning, dear friends, that the canonical assumption of nomination from the floor is unrelated to the realities of election. There is no simple nomination from the floor. I was wrong.
I would hope that in the future development of the canons to reflect the real structure of decision making in the Church that what is extra-canonical might become part of the canons. There is nothing to suggest the necessity of background checks or vetting for the candidates for Presiding Bishop. Further, that vetting can, if carried out as an unwritten addendum to the process, be a way not only of weeding out the crazy and the perverse, but the politically incorrect and ornery. This is not so good. The process needs to be open and clear.