6/15/2015

The Profile for the Presiding Bishop looks like the profile for a parish priest.

Here is what the Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop considers a summary of its Profile for that office:

"Our next Presiding Bishop will possess the following attributes or demonstrate strength in the areas of personal and professional gifts and practices:
  1. AN AUTHENTIC SPIRITUAL LIFE DEEPLY GROUNDED IN PRAYER
  2. AN EVANGELIST’S HEART, PROCLAIMING THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST THROUGH PREACHING AND TEACHING
  3. LOVE OF THE PEOPLE, WITH VIBRANT RELATIONAL SKILLS
  4. PERSONAL HEALTH AND SELF-AWARENESS
  5. COLLABORATIVE LEADERSHIP SKILLS
  6. KNOWLEDGE OF, AND EXPERIENCE IN, THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH
  7. ABILITY TO NURTURE DIOCESES AND CONGREGATIONS IN THEIR DEVELOPMENT
  8. ABILITY TO INSPIRE GROWTH AND LEAD THROUGH CHANGE
  9. ABILITY TO BALANCE ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES IN COMPLEX GOVERNANCE STRUCTURES"

Item 1-6 are classic hopes for a parish priest, item 7 would be, re congregations, an expectation, item 8 would certainly be of value in a parish that is undergoing changes, and item 9 would be highly desired where depending on the size of the parish, governance structures can get fairly complex.

The only time a specific reference is made to abilities related to church organization (as opposed to the parish) is in items 6 and 7. Given that all possible nominees must be bishops in The Episcopal Church, item 6 is a throw-away. Item 7 then is the only item that speaks to an ability related to something beyond parish life, namely "the ability to nurture dioceses  and congregations in their development."  But of course you don't have to be a bishop to do that work.

So, looking over the whole range of items in the summary - and recognizing that this is a summary of a larger and deeper profile - it is striking that the profile is essentially that we would expect for a search for a rector of a large parish.  With the exception of one part of item 7, no virtue or ability hoped for is different from what one would hope for from a parish priest.

Most delegates, and I suspect many bishops, will dig no deeper than the summary profile in the final report. On the basis of that set of expectations they will then look at the materials presented by the several nominees.  It will take considerable effort not to slide into thinking that the characteristics we need in a Presiding Bishop are deeply parallel to what we need in a parish rector. We can hope otherwise. Perhaps the bishops will ignore the profile and know better what is needed.

We should not want the Presiding Bishop to think of the work of that office as that of parish priest writ large. We ought not go to the organizational extreme either. George Clifford, writing for the Lead over at Episcopal Cafe, makes the point that we ought to consider not electing the Presiding Bishop for TEC as an organization either, but rather elect the PB as a motivator, cheerleader, for mission beyond the organizational structures of the church.  His article is HERE.

If the PB is a parish priest writ large, that is The Episcopal Church is his or her parish, then we ought to pack it in, unless we have a sense that The Episcopal Church through and through will be a missional church - a church primarily seeking ways to be truly in the world as an incarnation of the spirit, will and person of Jesus Christ. 

The profile seems too safe and to parochial for that. 

And unless the electing bishops are up for working beyond the expectations of the profile they will echo that safety. 

An argument can be made that we precisely need a parish priest writ large in these days when churches are loosing members and members getting older.  But if we elect a Presiding Bishop to rescue us from parochial problems we are electing at the wrong level.  Let's elect good parish priests, and even bishops. And let the bishops elect a presiding bishop who is capable of doing a job that is nothing like a parish priest's job, save that both finally rely upon the mercy and grace of God for any good that is done.

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