In May short essays from each of the four nominees for Presiding Bishop were published and short videos posted of their response to questions from the Nominating Committee. What do they tell us about the nominees? Is there anything to be gleaned from the two contributions of each of the four?
I encourage anyone interested in the nominees to look carefully at the videos and read carefully the written statements. Taken as a whole they give some real readings on the differences among the nominees and something also about their similarities.
At some later point I hope to take up the broader impressions of these nominees, but here I want to do something much more particular.
This is a word study of their statements, looking at the use of particular words – mostly from the Profile that the Nominating Committee put forward.
The Nominating Committee provided a summary of sought after characteristics of a Presiding Bishop in their Profile, included in their report. That summary is as follows (bold mine):
“Our next Presiding Bishop will possess the following attributes or demonstrate strength in the areas of personal and professional gifts and practices:
· AN AUTHENTIC SPIRITUAL LIFE DEEPLY GROUNDED IN PRAYER
· AN EVANGELIST’S HEART, PROCLAIMING THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST THROUGH PREACHING AND TEACHING
· LOVE OF THE PEOPLE, WITH VIBRANT RELATIONAL SKILLS
· PERSONAL HEALTH AND SELF-AWARENESS
· COLLABORATIVE LEADERSHIP SKILLS
· KNOWLEDGE OF, AND EXPERIENCE IN, THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH
· ABILITY TO NURTURE DIOCESES AND CONGREGATIONS IN THEIR DEVELOPMENT
· ABILITY TO INSPIRE GROWTH AND LEAD THROUGH CHANGE
· ABILITY TO BALANCE ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES IN COMPLEX GOVERNANCE STRUCTURES”
I have done a word count of the words made bold in the Profile. I have searched the written and video statements made by the nominees. The word list is : Prayer, Evangelism/Evangelical, Gospel, Jesus, Christ, Love, Health, Leadership, Church, Nurture, Growth, Change, Structures. To them I have added four more “church” words having to do with vocation: Bishop, Priest /Clergy, Lay and baptism/baptized.
It is interesting to note that no mention is made of ecumenical, inter-faith, inter-Anglican or Anglican Communion roles. This profile is for domestic consumption only. (This needs to be addressed as a separate issue – is the Anglican Communion irrelevant as a reference point for leadership in The Episcopal Church?)
The four nominees for Presiding Bishop have written responses to a question posed by the Nominating Committee. The question is this:
“As a way of describing what you would contribute as Presiding Bishop, paint a picture of what the Episcopal Church might look like at the end of your tenure in that role. What steps you would take to bring that vision into being? (In 500 words or less).”
They also produced videos, the questions for the nominees were:
“What changes would you encourage in the Church to enable us to be the Church God is calling us to be?
In the Good News of Jesus, what do you feel most called to share with the Church in this moment?”
The statements and videos are linked on the following page: http://www.generalconvention.org/pbelect
Several things stand out in the search for the words on this list. Several of the nominees use a word – for example “church” – and then refer in sentences that follow to “it.” I did not mark down each use where a pronoun was used but only the actual word. I did use Church identified as “Episcopal Church” as well as all other references to “church.” “Christ” brought up longer words in which “Christ” appears, “Christians”. I did not count the longer words. I was able to count fairly close the references in the written texts, doing a search for specific words. In the videos I tried to catch every reference, but no doubt will have missed some. So the unscientific postscript is to say the study is inexact at best.
THE QUICK TAKE:
So here is my quick take on observations about word use:
Only one nominee used the word “growth” in the written text (Smith). No one used it in the videos.
Only two nominees used the word “change,” both instances being in the videos (Douglas,3, Smith, 2).
Only one used the word “health” – Smith, twice in the essay, four times on the video.
Only one used the work “nurture” – Curry in the essay.
Bishop Curry used the word “Jesus” more than all the others combined – 27 times. He did so in a cadenced sermon-like presentations.
Bishop Douglas used the words “baptism / baptized” more than all others combined – 14 times.
Bishop Smith used the word “bishop” more than all others combined - 8 times.
The use of the word “church” ranged from 14 to 23, but all together that word was used more than any other.
There is not a lot we can glean from this word study. Each nominee came across somewhat differently, but each with a degree of comfort before the camera.
It seemed to me that Bishops Briedenthal came across as a teacher, Bishop Douglas as a missioner, Bishop Curry as a preacher and Bishop Smith as a pastor. In their primary roles they all seemed very impressive. The question for me is how well they do at the whole of these together – teacher, missioner, preacher, and pastor?
The Nominating Committee expressed the hope that the right nominee would have the “ability to inspire growth and lead through change.” I find it significant that growth and change were not words given much priority in the used vocabulary of the whole group. In twenty-five minutes or so of recording and 2000 words, these words occurred only six times.
I can only hazard a guess why. I think none spoke of growth because to promise to “inspire growth,” however measured, is a hard thing to do when all the indications are that all denominations are (viewed as a whole) under the gun these days. There are places of real growth, but overall growth in TEC or any other denomination is not a promise on which there is easy delivery.
“Change” is a loaded word. On the one hand change is going to happen no matter who is Presiding Bishop, so why bring it up? On the other hand what changes are going to happen is always unclear, as is the potential for leadership through those changes, so too much attention to the specifics of change leads to possibilities for inaccurate prediction or promises bound to fail. Better to steer clear.
Were the nominees wise to avoid these words? Probably. But what this may also in indicate, indirectly, is that the nominees were chosen because they are careful people, not given to audacious claims or false hopes.
My sense is that all the nominees chart a relatively safe passage through the Profile ideas. None of them challenge the basic ideas of the Profile. None of them reach much beyond the Profile. No one challenges the domestic character of the Profile.
The vocational words – bishops, priests, lay / laity, and baptized got little use, except by Douglas, and while those words were not in the profile they do relate to one or the other “order” and how that vocation might be present at the end of this next period. And we might ask too why the Profile makes no reference to encouraging members of TEC in their ministries.
Bishops Curry and Douglas used particular words far more often than others – Curry “Jesus”, and Douglas “the baptized / baptism.” They were both working from visions – of the Gospel of Jesus or the baptism into Jesus – the visions of the preacher and missioner. Briedenthal and Smith were less given to notably extensive use of any of the words listed.
The essays and videos were mostly helpful in determining that all four present fairly well on video and write with clarity. But I felt I had to work at it to discover much about the ability of any of these bishops to lead.
And about the “ability to inspire growth and lead through change,” I learned very little at all. Hopefully the bishops as a “house” know all the nominees better as it applies to the matter of inspiring growth and leading through change.