Bishops nominated for election to be the Episcopal Church’s top official were presented the day before the denomination’s triennial General Convention in a session that highlighted their personalities, leadership styles and plans for the future.
The four candidates, Dabney Smith of Southwest Florida, Ian Douglas of Connecticut, Michael Curry of North Carolina and Tom Breidenthal of Southern Ohio took questions in a three hour presentation on the afternoon of June 24. Questions were sorted into eight categories ranging from divestment and LGBTQ matters to reconciliation, corresponding to colored slips of paper that nominees selected from a glass fishbowl.
Election to the position of Presiding Bishop will take place Saturday, June 27 in a meeting of the church’s House of Bishops, but the session gave clergy and lay deputies the opportunity to hear from nominees. Whomever is selected will replaced Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who is concluding her term after nine years leading the 1.8 million-member church.
Nominees touted administrative experience, evangelistic zeal and work as “bridge builders” between disparate groups in their dioceses, in addition to slipping in references to their favorite coffee shop, devotion to CrossFit and urban gardening practices.
Nominees repeatedly named Jesus, with Bishop Curry doing so more than 20 times while also quoting evangelist Billy Sunday and his own belief in the literal death and bodily resurrection of Christ. The statements are in contrast to those made by Jefferts Schori, who regularly avoids direct mention of Jesus in even her Advent, Lenten and Easter greetings to the church, and makes oblique references to “resurrection”. Nominees emphasized Christian distinctiveness, insisting that the church had something unique to offer the world through proclaiming the Gospel.
The message stood in some contrast with the following day’s sermon by Katharine Jefferts Schori, in which she proclaimed in the opening Eucharist “Our job is to make the road straight for all of God’s people, that includes Baptists, Episcopalians, Jews, Hindus and ‘nones.'”
Asked about his position on divestment of church finances from companies that do business with Israel, Breidenthal stated that he was informed by Jewish-Christian dialogue, weighing both “a history that produced the nation of Israel” and “oppression of Palestinian people”.
“I do not believe the way forward as brokers of a two-state solution is to divest from Israel,” Breidenthal declared.
Douglas also responded to a question on divestment from energy companies that produce fossil fuels, announcing his belief that climate change is the greatest threat to the world.
Bishops were asked several questions about reconciliation, both between traditionalists and progressives within the Episcopal Church and with other provinces in the worldwide Anglican Communion that have distanced themselves from the U.S.-based church.
“The Anglican Communion is still in the process of becoming a communion,” assessed Douglas, describing the global body as an “Anglo-American Hegemony” until the latter half of the 20th Century. “We’re called to be our full selves, and at the same time celebrate how others are incarnated in their context.”
Douglas cheered that “it’s never been a better time for the Anglican Communion,” even as the global family of churches has provinces in broken or impaired communion with the U.S.-based church. The decennial Lambeth conference has also been indefinitely postponed, with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby indicating that he will not convene the gathering of worldwide Anglican bishops if a large number will not attend.
Breidenthal asserted the Episcopalians’ “capacity for relationship is our good word” to share with the world, and that Episcopalians have “embrace of connection” with neighborhoods and people around them.
“After emerging from a difficult period, this is what we can offer to others,” Breidenthal suggested.
Smith emphasized his work as a “trust builder” in his Tampa, Florida-based diocese.
“We have a rich legacy and also a hopeful future,” Smith assessed, naming congregational vitality, sanctification of souls and personal transformation as things to work towards.
“Together, we are a compelling witness for God,” Smith stated.