April 25, 2019

Rejected Episcopalian “Buddhist Bishop” Moving On

A priest once elected, and subsequently denied office, as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan is moving on from at least one church he leads, leaving behind a precipitously declining congregation with only a handful of attendees.

Buddhist Bishop

The Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester at the time of his election (left) and earlier as a Zen Buddhist lay ordinand. (Photo: Religion Dispatches)

The Rev. Kevin G. Thew Forrester’s 2009 election triggered opposition from across the church after it was revealed that he had received a Zen Buddhist ordination. Forrester had unilaterally edited the baptismal rite in church services he presided over in an effort to bypass doctrines he disagreed with, including original sin and the existence of Satan. The clergyman from Marquette, the largest city in Michigan’s geographically vast Upper Peninsula, also inserted a verse from the Koran into a church service as the Word of God.

However, Forrester was never consecrated. That’s because his election to oversee the Northern Michigan diocese did not receive consent from a sufficient number of diocesan bishops and standing committees, as required by Episcopal Church canon law. It was the first time a bishop-elect had been denied consent since the 1930s, and the first time since the 1870s that one had been rejected for theological reasons.

He remained in his position as “ministry developer,” overseeing three congregations: St. Paul’s, Marquette; St. John’s, Negaunee; and Trinity, Houghton.

Last month Trinity, a parish founded in 1860, published a ministry portfolio to call, as they call the incumbency, a “priest in partnership.”

At the same time, publicly available numbers reveal a significantly diminished congregation.

In 2007, when Forrester began his work as ministry developer, Trinity had an average Sunday attendance of 45. In 2017, the most recently reported year, attendance had dropped to 12, while membership dropped 75 percent from 120 members to 30.

Forrester’s other two parishes also declined over the same period. St. Paul’s dropped from a 2007 attendance of 75 to fewer than 50. At St. John’s attendance is down to 15 from 27.

Forrester’s website describes him as a “teacher of the soul’s journey,” an interfaith spiritual writer and an Episcopal priest. He is also a contributing essayist for the Progressing Spirit blog of self-described “non-theist” John Shelby Spong, an infamous former Episcopal bishop from New Jersey.

In one talk featured on his blog, Forrester uncritically states that “most scholars are pretty much in agreement; he [St. Mark] pretty much created that story [about demons and healing].”

Despite few members in its congregation, the job at Trinity Houghton lists a generous compensation of up to $60,000 and four weeks’ vacation time.

“With that kind of pay it’s the best job in the diocese,” assessed Dennis Lennox, a Michigan Episcopalian and religious affairs commentator familiar with the diocese. “It might even be the best job in the Episcopal Church, given the congregation is only around 12 souls.”

As for the diocese, statistics from the Episcopal Church’s Office of the General Convention show that it has continued to wither away, shuttering six congregations between 2007 and 2017 (from 27 to 21) and dropping 40 percent in average Sunday attendance from 690 to 411. In the most recent reporting year there were only four baptisms and zero confirmations in the entire diocese.

15 Responses to Rejected Episcopalian “Buddhist Bishop” Moving On

  1. diaphone64 says:

    Strange day when the EC is better at denying bishops then the UMC.

  2. Nick says:

    What I don’t understand is how he was allowed to stay a priest? If he wasn’t good enough to be a bishop — even by TEC’s admittedly low standards — then he should have been defrocked.

    • Reynolds says:

      This all the rage in liberal churches. You need to be more spiritual. The Cross is too limiting and offense to non believers. Those Easter Worshipers are not to be named in the modern world.

      • Nick says:

        Reynolds: I don’t know about that. I’m a mainstream conservative Anglican who attends an Episcopal parish. Our bishop is bad but our parish is still bad. I’ve been to lots of Episcopal parishes. You can normally tell from the parish website what kind of parish it is. Yes, the denomination nationally and most dioceses are liberal. But there are still a lot of parishes that are, at worst, centrist and believe in Jesus. I think the number of Episcopal parishes that reject Christ and are Unitarian in all but name is much, much smaller than you think. There is a huge difference between being a “liberal” on things like gay marriage and rejecting Christ and being a Buddhist.

        • Nick says:

          I meant to say, Our bishop is bad but our parish is still good.

          • Reynolds says:

            I was trying to be funny. I do agree that the people in the pews have a stronger faith than the people in the pulpit. I am not sure why this is. I always have attending a church with a preacher who was orthodox in their beliefs. I only read about the liberal theocracy on websites like this.

      • E. Morgan says:

        Seriously, that is not funny. Your comment about the cross being “limited” and “offensive to non-belevers” however are scriptural and too be considered ‘normal’ – for those going to hell. “They will tell themselves what their itching ears want to hear. rejectors of sound doctrine.. ” There will be those whose ‘offense’ at the living truth of Christ’s full and complete ( totally un-limited) salvation, will find themselves in dire need of that same cross at the resurrection. My sins are just as bad as anyone’s. My difference, is that I still call things “sin” ; the liberal church, and any adoption of doctrine outside Holy Scripture, is anathema to God, and is clearly stated as such throughout Scripture. Fools for believing the Christian gospel of love and tolerance? Does not mean tolerance of sinful behavior and adherance to man-made ideas, but rather it calls for a holy acceptance of ones total dependance on Christ’s mercy, not some grandios amalgemation of mans ideas, ideals, and ‘wisdom’. Without Christ there is no salvation – and that salvation is not free.

  3. Allen Fuller says:

    If there’s no evangelistic fervor, which requires a strong belief in the core truths of the faith, the church dies.

  4. Lee D. Cary says:

    The denial of the Reverend Bishop Rev. Kevin G. Thew Forrester to the respect and rights of the position to which he was duly elected is another illustration of no appreciation for the role of contextual differentiation.

    For example, his Zen Buddhist ordination is/was merely his acknowledgement of the value of religious inclusiveness as he strove to remove the differentiation between becoming a Bodhisattva and a follower of Jesus in order to bring believers in both into compatible alignment.

    If he inserts a “verse from the Koran into a church service as the Word of God,” is that not an effort to be inclusive of the beliefs of another major religion? As the words of the late Rodney King taught, “Can’t we just all get along?”

    And, if Forrester’s congregations are leaving their sanctuaries like members of the von Trapp leaving their stage in the movie version of their real life story, then perhaps the laity don’t understand that the complexity of modern life is gliding away from all species of absolutes – as nothing that is now will be tomorrow in this continuously-evolving, contextual, modernist world of ours.

    Where’s the love?

    • Lee D. Cary says:

      (sarc, BTW)

      • Dr. Todd says:

        OK, I’ll play. His congregants leaving is not a sign of any failings on his part. He is actually being very successful in helping them transition towards the next phase of their spiritual development.

        • Lee D. Cary says:

          Precisely, sir. Bishop Forrester is/was merely lovingly helping others on their way to their blissful, individual Nirvana-Jannah.

  5. Lynne says:

    Next stop: the altar of repentance. And may he come to the truth soon on his soul’s journey.

  6. Andrew Gentry says:

    The Episcopal church is like a lame duck president, no one pays it any attention, does nothing, yet keeps on making money! After all who else but they and their former self described “new sheriff in town” otherwise known as their presiding bishop, Miss Schori,would spend over 44 MILLION dollars to keep properties, investments, and other monies in the coffers of their national headquarters and away from the dissidents who owned them in the first place!

  7. The rejection de facto of the canonical scriptures as being “the authentic Word of God written” lies at the roots of all those both individuals and institutions who are apostate.

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