Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Walkabout for Episcopal Diocese of Washington Bishop Candidates -- St. Mary's

For any readers of this blog who are not familiar with my commitment to the Episcopal Church, let me begin with a few comments. I am what is called a "cradle Episcopalian." My family has been Episcopalian or Anglican for centuries. Culturally the church has influenced me all my life and has helped make me a better person. It also provides a place where I can turn for all kinds of interactions, advice, etc. I truly appreciate the fact that we limit authority in democratic ways -- especially in the United States. That is very important to me because for the past few decades we've seen an assault on democratic freedoms in the United States that troubles me greatly. In the Episcopal Church we do have some rather intense controversies at present -- but even antagonists seem to get along better in the church than antagonists do in the larger world.

I attended the walkabout session for the new Episcopal Diocese of Washington at St. Mary's on Monday evening. All five candidates were there along with enough people to fill St. Mary's nave. I arrived around 6:30 PM, in time to catch the end of the reception in another room. The session began with the five candidates addressing one question. The question was "How might you seek to improve the life of the diocese?"

Marianne Budde was the first to respond. She expressed the thoughts that:

  • The World and God need us to be as strong as possible.
  • Health and vitality of churches is important so that other things can be done.
  • Clergy and lay wellness is important. Some have left leadership positions because of health.
  • Vision is important. The episcopate must nurture it.
  • We must share and expand joy.

Samuel Candler was the next to speak. He also spoke about health. Among his thoughts were:

  • We should pay attention to healthy congregations.
  • We should use healthy churches as models we can learn from.
  • Communication is important.
  • Healthy dioceses need healthy parishes, leaders and communities.
  • One thing he has seen help is weekly Bible study.

The next speaker was Ronald Abrams. His first main point was that we have sometimes lost people because of issues with various relationships. He favors clergy luncheons, among other things, to build relationships.

John Harmon was the next to speak. He currently serves in this diocese. One important point he made was that we need to work out in the community to make the community healthier. He also notes that Washington has all that is needed for healthy communities

The final speaker was Jane Gould. She is currently a chaplain at MIT. I will try to not let that influence my views too much. In that role she has brought together Episcopalian faculty, staff and students to help them work and live together better. She has also reached out to members of other faiths as well.

After these necessarily brief introductory speeches, we broke up into several groups. I was lucky enough to be assigned to a breakout room with a small number of people. In our room it was easy to ask questions of the candidates. Some members of our group made a point of asking one identical question of each of the candidates. I, as you might expect, varied my question from one candidate to another.

The first candidate in my room was Jane Gould. Among the points I managed to note were:

  • It is necessary to see what relationships are life giving.
  • When queried about politics, she observed:

    • She respected politicians.
    • She understood how politics worked.
    • She has stories about real people to help others understand politics.

  • Magic is necessary to construct strong communities. People need to sacrifice at times.
  • It is necessary for dioceses to have multiple income streams.
  • For work with youth at risk, secular funding is available.
  • She briefly mentioned the Technology Forum. She noted that:

    • The people there engaged in talk about people.
    • The tech crowd that she knew was more thoughtful and had a deeper faith commitment.

  • The Walker School was important.

The second candidate to come to our room was Samuel Candler. Among his points were:

  • He has worked with politicians in South Carolina and Georgia where he now is.
  • Views in the Episcopal Church are more comprehensive than any one position.
  • Our identity as a church must go beyond any one position.
  • We need to keep young people involved. Open weekly sessions would help this.
  • We need to give. People give to places where they have had a transformative experience.
  • The church should speak up for the working class.
  • Priests need to build on community.
  • Bishops need to understand parishes and priests.

The third candidate was Mariann Budde. Among her points were:

  • She is involved in politics.
  • Lay leaders should be built up.
  • Minnesota has money problems. It is necessary to meet that challenge.
  • The church needs to reach out to young people on their own terms.
  • People should be proud of their churches.

The fourth candidate was Ron Abrams. Among his points were:

  • The primary responsibility of the bishop is to be pastor to the clergy and laity.
  • He sees the need to strengthen parishes.
  • A "Theology Pub" is one way he reached out to people.
  • We need to engage the youth in ministry.
  • We need to get people to coniser a vocation in church.

The fifth and final candidate was John Harmon of our diocese. Among his points were:

  • Clergy must called to the position.
  • There are no incompetent clergy -- just mismatched clergy and churches.
  • It is important to know what people bring to their churches.
  • Among other things, he is chaplain to the National Science Foundation
  • He will invite political leaders to support the mission of the church.
  • He has worked with the City Council on education.
  • Congregations should be mission minded.
  • Churches need to be actively involved in their communities.
  • Democratic style leadership is important.
  • Social media is important, but we must be faithful.
    It is more important to be faithful than right.

That pretty much concludes what I heard Monday evening. I may follow up with some reactions of my own in a later post. I am writing these blog items to let people know what was discussed at the walkabout meetings. Generally, I will say I am glad these people are involved in the Episcopal Church. I hope even those who disagree with some of their positions as well as the fact that two of them are women will still see the candidates more positively than not. I will note that, when I was growing up in New Jersey, women were welcomed into church leadership, just not as clergy.

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