Does finding a new bishop really have to be so complicated? Does the process have to take so long? Why can’t we just do a simple search, and let the chips fall where they may?
In a more predictable world, a simple search process—unencumbered by elaborate schedules, multi-layered guidelines, and months of burdensome meetings—might achieve a perfect outcome . . . but then again, it might not. So where does that leave us as people of faith? We trust that God will lead us to a good outcome, to a good choice of bishop, but in spite of that we still have the nervous feeling that prayerful trust may be merely the starting point—an excellent starting point, I might add—in our collective quest for identifying the next bishop of San Diego.
To begin with, it needs to be acknowledged that last time around the nominating committee encountered significant challenges. The guidelines for our current nominating process have taken into account the painful lessons we learned from 2004. That in itself is a precious gift from prior experience. And it was our prayerfully conceived process—guided by the Holy Spirit and assisted by the standing committee—that ultimately enabled us to move forward to the election of our fourth bishop.
What is it, then, that a good episcopal nomination process should do? First of all, an agreed-to process provides a plan for how to proceed—a plan that includes, among other things: appointment and establishment of a nominating committee; development of a timeline and target dates; scheduling of committee meetings, on-site interviews, candidate forums, travel arrangements, etc. Because there’s so much to accomplish, a good plan can go far to lower the blood pressures and calm the hearts of all participants.
Secondly, a good nominating process sets clear guidelines and boundaries for appropriate behavior within the process. We Episcopalians tend to take pride in our penchant for civility, but we’re just as human as anyone else, and we all benefit from reminders about behavioral standards. Mandatory confidentiality is non-negotiable, but so is providing a safe spiritual, emotional and physical environment to all whom the process touches—whether they be church officials, committee participants, nominee hopefuls, members of forum audiences, or the general public. Also, every aspect of the process should be welcoming and inclusive. It is unfortunate that we sometimes hear people say, “I’m sick and tired of political correctness!” Such comments overlook the fact that political correctness is not the same thing as showing true respect for all God’s people. Political correctness essentially seeks a self-serving end—to win approval or votes, for instance—while respect selflessly honors the image of God present in everyone. As a sign of our unconditional welcome, we must recruit persons from diverse demographic backgrounds to serve on the nominating committee. Their wise and informed input will be invaluable to the process. In 2004, our nominating committee included three Latinos/as and one African-American. I sincerely hope that our current process results in numerical increase and demographic broadening of minority participation on the nominating committee.
Thirdly, a good process will always keep the doors open for self-correction and self-improvement, should the need arise. The standing committee will surely be helpful for ensuring that. Additionally, all participants should feel sufficiently enabled to call proper attention to undesirable occurrences or inappropriate behaviors that may arise. Hopefully, and by the grace of God, that will not need to happen.
I am delighted by how well our episcopal nomination process has been developing, and I truly believe that we can all look forward with faith and confidence to the election of our next bishop. Let us support both process and participants with our actions and prayers, trusting that the Holy Spirit will bring us a good bishop who will lead us in proclaiming Christ’s good news to all. +
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