Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Bishop Speaks of A Blessing Indeed

The Bishop Speaks of A Blessing Indeed

They called it the “Dog and Pony Show” in the olden days. Those would be my days. It was the time when the final candidates, the persons in consideration for selection for the office of bishop, would gather and go around the diocese to be interviewed/examined by the clergy and lay persons who would be voting in the election convention.

The formats tended to vary a bit with each place, but the action was pretty much the same. Sometimes the candidates would be put into a waiting area and then examined one at a time. Sometimes there could be several rooms provided and all of the candidates would move from room to room. The clergy and the laity of the diocese were always separated. Of course, there were other ways to do it.

The outcome was always the same. The candidates would leave exhausted thinking the whole thing would probably be like a turkey shoot. We sometimes blame the outcome on the Holy Spirit. I was always a little light on that idea because there were some pretty nasty things which could go on in this process and some very narrow thinking.

My belief was/is that God will take whomever is elected and try to put a blessing on that person with the hope that it would do some good and further the kingdom. Some people do not seem to take that blessing and end up making some gross mistakes.

Now things have been cleaned up a bit and we have something called a “Walk About”. It has pretty much the same type of people making the decisions and they still ask the same old questions, but it seems a little more organized.

So, I have a friend who is now involved in such a process and I am seeking a way to be helpful.

Lo and behold, I found a 20 year old VHS tape of the “Dog and Pony Show” made when I was being considered by the diocese where I eventually was elected and served for 13 years before my retirement. It showed each of the candidates being interviewed (questioned) by both clergy and laity. Each person had 30 minutes with the clergy and 30 minutes with the laity. I wondered if this would be helpful to my friend. I had never watched it so I did and it took me a little over two hours. I decided to share some of this with my friend.

One of the things which surprised me was that the candidates were not all asked the same questions. I kind of wanted to check in with the Holy Spirit on that one, but I did not know what to ask.

There were always a few questions on youth ministry, church growth, deacons, your spiritual life, and such. There were other questions which were always asked by the same persons, but not every one was asked these questions.

Then there were the rest of the questions. They were always there and always asked by the same persons and asked of each candidate. This was 20 years ago, but I have a hunch you might be able guess these topics.

Always at the top was “Would you, as the bishop, ordain a practicing homosexual?” Followed by “Would you allow same sex marriage in this diocese?”

In my process two of the candidates said “No!”. The others were a little more open to change, but recognized the church was not yet of one mind in these matters. No one mentioned we have been doing that ordination thing for a long time without making a lot of publicity about it.

In any case, the person asking these questions was pretty sure the correct answer was “No”.

I came away from my video screening and I just sat down and said, “Oh, dear. We have come a long way in the last 20 years”.

Now, for the rest of the story. The next day, which is today, my wife and I joined several hundred others at our church (where we have no status except as parishioners) to attend “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant”.

This was a remarkable and wonderful service. It was very dignified with beautiful music, and a great sermon. The couple has been together 20 years. They have longed for the Church's blessing on their lifelong covenant. There was a powerful sense that what we were doing was living out our commission to “respect the dignity of every human being”.

I have long believed the church should not be in the marrying business. That is a matter of the state. It is a matter of establishing order to the action of inheritance. It is the creation of a contract. It is the business of business, but it is not our business. I know many will hate these words and probably me for saying them. Go for it. I believe this is the truth.

The church is in the blessing business. That is what we do and we do it well. We, the church, must be the place for people who particularly desire to receive the blessing of their relationship. This is not about a contract, it is life. It is beautiful and it is open to everyone.

I saw hundreds of people blessed this day. The couple did not make a contract, they made a promise and we made it with them. We will love one another.

A Blessing Indeed


  1. Bob, you bring up the paradox of Episcopal and Rector Elections. Some suggest that the process is to discern the person God has already selected; others hope that God will bless the winner. In either case, most of the good people who are electors expect an open process. Unfortunately this is not always true. In one instance a nominee shared well before the election that the current Bishop had promised him the position and would manipulate things to see it accomplished – and it was. In another instance 51% of the clergy decided well before the election that they would vote as a block; either their candidate would win or there would be a hung election, and they prevailed. As you point out, the Church is in the blessing business but are the people blessed when bishops and clergy manipulate the process?

  2. Thanks for your article Bob. I recall that last Episcopal election in Kansas when one of the candidates on the "walk about" answered a question with incredible honesty. As a result, he lost the election. The Q & A sessions seemed to me to be pretty phony and I believe that when the candidate tells the audience what they think they want to hear, they get a better chance of getting elected. The whole thing is a rather useless process it seems to me.

  3. I've wondered for a long time if the Holy Spirit actually works through the democracy of the bishop selection process. Sometimes it seems so, but lately it seems tribal. Not as dysfunctional as the monarchical system they have in Africa perhaps, but still steeped in our own prejudices.

    Seems that the ability to self-promote is more important to winning in this selection process than any action of HS. Your focus was on the questioners, but mine is on the dogs we often get for bishops. I participated in one bishop selection committee and the result was a self-promoting jerk, who looked great in the brief moments he was interviewed, but who could not administer, could not self-transcend, could not lead. He busied himself with dismantling the wonderful gains of his predecessor--who was flawed but approachable.

    Jim Kelsey in Northern MI was until his death,the best bishop I have worked with. Theirs is a journeyman system for elevating bishops in Northern Michigan. I'm sure Rayford Ray is doing well as the latest elevation, as would have Kevin Thew-Forester had he been allowed to be bishop--were it not for a poor Diocesan PR response the wider church and the cowardice of the House of Bishops.

    There are better models for elevating bishops, but the richer dioceses are not interested. Reviewing VCR's is not going change much.

    Russ Murphy

  4. We still call it the "dog and pony show" in these parts. AND... I am most certainly with you about marrying. The church is about blessing and the state should be about marrying. I would rather do a funeral today than a wedding. Most are just to hokey and artificial. I would rather bless the couple in the context of a Sunday Eucharist in front of the community of the faithful that will journey with them.

  5. Bob, as you say, we are in the blessing business. The quality of this business is measured then by its productive management to make profit or, that is to say, the multitude of blessings the Church could and should reap. Those who are called to manage and represent the enterprise should themselves be a blessing to the Church and world. Our vocational processes to discern, qualify, produce candidates should optimize this joyful blessing activity which the rules and routines do not seem to do very well. Apparently on this particular joyous occasion of union between two persons who love one another, a full blessing occurred,perhaps in spite of the whole juridical/liturgical structure that itself hardly works to qualify and produce blessed events. That such a joy and blessing occurred, as you report, seems to give us cause for hope that the Holy Spirit can on occasion overcome our attempts to control,subdue and manage God's wish to love us by penetrating our guarded and sacred defenses.

  6. Why do we assume that the Holy Spirit is big on backing permanent appointments. Perhaps the Lutherns have it right, the Holy Spirit works better with temporary bishops.

  7. Why not tell the English about the wonders of Disestablishment? They still seem to think it's a great idea.