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Chicago's Bishop Persell announces plans to leave office

By David Skidmore
ENS 032806-1

The Diocese of Chicago’s Bishop William D. Persell.  

[Diocese of Chicago]  The Diocese of Chicago’s Bishop William D. Persell has announced his plans to resign as diocesan bishop in fall 2007 on the consecration of the next bishop of Chicago.

Persell's decision, reached in counsel with Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold and the diocesan Standing Committee, is motivated by his age, his more than three decades of ordained ministry, and health considerations, he said in the letter mailed March 27 and sent by email broadcast March 28 to the clergy and congregations.

“I will turn 64 in 2007 and will have journeyed nearly nine years with you in ministry and served over 38 years as an ordained minister,” Persell wrote in his letter. “While my mind and heart are very much committed to helping advance the church’s mission here, my stamina is not what it was when you welcomed me into your life in 1998.”

Persell's letter reiterates the priority he places on healthy ministry, both his own and that of the diocese. In his first address to diocesan clergy shortly after his consecration in March 1999, Persell underscored the need for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, one of 16 items in his “expectations for ministry” list. “I believe it important that I model this more intentionally in my own life,” he said in his letter to the diocese.

Persell said with the Standing Committee’s consent he would be calling for a special convention for the election of the 12th bishop of Chicago in spring 2007 and for the bishop-elect’s consecration the following fall, most likely in October, which would allow sufficient time for the bishops and the diocesan standing committees to issue their consent. By national church canons, the bishops and standing committees have 120 days from their receipt of the certificate of election to issue or withhold consent.

His leaving office in 2007 also comes at a transition point in the life of the diocese. The five-year strategic plan will be in its final year, the reorganization of the mission under six major commissions will be in full stride, the Lily Endowment funded clergy mentoring program will be starting its fifth cycle of curates, and the Come and Grow evangelism initiative will be active in all 11 deaneries of the diocese.

Persell also cited the renewal of the companion relationships with the Dioceses of Renk, Sudan and Southeast Mexico as a sign of the diocese’s health and serious mission orientation. There will be some projects, notably the redevelopment of the Episcopal Church Center property and discernment of the method for funding diocesan mission, that will be shepherded to completion by the new bishop.

Persell informed the Standing Committee of his intention on March 14 and the following weekend he shared his decision with Presiding Bishop Griswold and Bishop Clay Matthews, bishop of pastoral development for the church, during the House of Bishops spring meeting at the Kanuga Conference Center in North Carolina. Both affirmed his decision and the timetable.

On his return from Kanuga, Persell met with the deans of the diocese and notified the Bishop and Trustees and Diocesan Council by email of his decision. A general meeting of diocesan and cathedral staff, and staff of Episcopal Charities and Community Services was held March 28 to address questions and concerns on the transition. Bishop Matthews will meet with the Standing Committee April 18 to review the transition process.

According to church canons, his leaving office is a resignation and not a retirement, Persell said, as he will still be eight years from the mandatory retirement age of 72. And though he is resigning as bishop of Chicago, he will still be a bishop of the church with seat, voice and vote in the House of Bishops.

Persell said he and his wife, Nancy, plan to move back to the Diocese of Ohio where they will have more opportunities to spend time with their children and grandchildren. Ohio is also where he served as dean of Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland prior to his election as bishop of Chicago in November 1998. 

Members of the Diocese of Chicago are like family to him and to Nancy, Persell wrote in his letter. “Our lives have been enriched by your faith, your enthusiasm for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and your love,” he said.

The people of the diocese have had a profound effect on his understanding of ministry and what it means to live out the Gospel, he said, and his hope is that he has helped the clergy and lay people “claim and exercise your gifts of discipleship.” He trusts that the people will handle the transition with “grace, charity and confidence” in the church’s mission, and welcome their new bishop with “open minds and eager hearts.”

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Biography of Bishop William D. Persell

William Dailey Persell was elected the 11th Bishop of Chicago on November 14, 1998, and was ordained and consecrated bishop on March 13, 1999. 

Bishop Persell is former dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Cleveland.  The son of former bishop suffragan of Albany, Charles B. Persell, Jr., Bishop Persell was born in Rochester, New York, and grew up in Massena, a small town in northern New York on the St. Lawrence Seaway.  As an undergraduate at Hobart College in Geneva, New York, in the early 1960’s, he laid the foundations for his long commitment to multicultural relations when he joined a fraternity of mainly Jewish and African American members.

Following graduation from Hobart, Bishop Persell was a Teaching Fellow at the International College in Beirut, Lebanon for a year and then entered seminary at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where his commitment to interfaith relations and civil rights continued. 

Following ordination in 1969, he served as assistant, then associate at St. Paul’s Church in Tustin, California.  In 1972 he was called as associate to St. John’s in Los Angeles, and a year later became rector of this multi-ethnic parish.  During his 10 years at St. John’s, he was an advocate for Asian and Hispanic ministries and served as vice president of the black clergy association of Los Angeles.

In 1982 Bishop Persell moved to Brooklyn, N.Y. where he served as rector of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity for nine years.  During his tenure the church grew in members, expanded the Sunday School and opened the St. Ann Center for Restoration and the Arts.  In 1991 he was called as dean of Trinity Cathedral.  During his tenure there, attendance and ministries more than doubled, and the cathedral became a leading voice on community issues and ecumenical cooperation.

Bishop Persell and his wife, Nancy Pollard Persell, live in the Lakeview neighborhood on Chicago's north side.  They have six grown children and eleven grandchildren.

Bishop Persell serves as co-convener of Bishops for a Just Society, and as a member of the Boards of Trustees of Rush University Medical Center, Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, the Christian Century Foundation; Episcopal Relief and Development and a variety of boards of social service agencies.  He is past  President of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago.