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Toward Columbus: Study urged on Presiding Bishop election process

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
[Episcopal News Service]  While the 75th General Convention will elect the Episcopal Church's next Presiding Bishop, it will also be asked to study the way the election process works.

The request could well come from a number of directions including from the Executive Council and from the Standing Commission on the Structure of the Church.

The church needs to reconsider the way it chooses its Presiding Bishop because the current method is costly and doesn't reflect the church's polity or mission, the Very Rev. George Werner, president of the House of Deputies, told the Executive Council during the opening session of its March meeting in Philadelphia.

Werner said that the church ought to do away with the nominating-committee process and allow for open nominations.

He also advocated having both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies choose the Presiding Bishop. "It is the ministry of the baptized that we're talking about," he said.

He highlighted the system used by the Anglican Church of Canada in which, he said, its bishops nominate candidates, both houses cast votes and the leader is installed at the end of the same meeting.

The current Episcopal Church process begins with a nominating committee of bishops and deputies elected at the previous convention. The committee meets a number of times over the triennium to issue a call for nominations and vet potential nominees. The committee announces the slate of people it intends to nominate at convention. Then a period of time is set during which bishops and deputies may petition to add additional nominees. Those nominees undergo the same vetting process by the committee.

The names are put in nomination during a joint session of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies (that session at this convention is set for June 17). The following day the House of Bishops meets to choose the Presiding Bishop. That person is presented to the House of Deputies for its concurrence later that day.

The newly elected Presiding Bishop is installed during a liturgy at Washington National Cathedral a few months after his or her election. The investiture of the 26th Presiding Bishop will take place on November 4.

Werner told the council he thinks the process is costly. The nomination committee spent some $200,000 to do its work, he said. The typical installation service is "grand and glorious" but, he said, the money it costs would be better spent on the mission of the church. He urged the council to have the church "put our money where our creedal mouth has always been."

At its Philadelphia meeting, the council passed a resolution endorsing "a study during the next triennium of the process for the election of a Presiding Bishop in light of our polity which recognizes the shared governance responsibility of laity, clergy, and bishops." The council urged its members to co-sponsor a General Convention resolution calling for this study. It envisions the study being done by the Standing Commission on Structure of the Church.

In its Blue Book report to Convention, the Standing Commission on Structure has proposed a resolution (A112) that asks the Convention to charge it to "review, study, and recommend to a future meeting of the General Convention resolutions concerning changes to the process by which the Presiding Bishop would be elected by both Houses of General Convention." Such a study, the resolution's explanation says, would begin considering an election process that would be "more inclusive of both Houses."

"As we elect a new Presiding Bishop, now is the time to examine the current process and make recommendations for the next election, nine years hence," the Standing Commission said.