Friday, December 9, 2005

The Next Bishop of California

The Episcopal Diocese of California is preparing to elect its eighth bishop on May 6, 2006. Our Episcopal Search Committee is gearing up for its final phase of interviewing nominees and will announce a slate of 4-6 final candidates in February. There are seven nominees remaining, and they will be interviewed in January. Needless to say, curiosity is rising.

Thus far, our Search Committee has done an exemplary job. I am confident that we will be blessed with an embarrassment of riches from which to choose. The difficulty is prayerfully discerning which choice is consistent with God's call. The wisdom of our polity is such that this discerment will be done communally and transparently. May 6 will be an exciting and Spirit filled day.

I trust it will be a diverse group of candidates: male and female, gay and straight, from a variety of backgrounds and geographic locations. I'm proud of our diocese's commitment to an open, non-discriminatory nomination and search process in accordance with the canons of our church. Much speculation has focused on whether we will elect a gay or lesbian candidate. I'm not worried about that one way or the other. My concern is that we elect the person whom God is calling to serve as our shepherd. Our only responsibility is to be obedient to the prompting of God the Holy Spirit in so far as we can discern it. It will be up to the rest of the church to decide whether or not to consent to our decision at the General Convention in June.

Among the qualities that I'm looking for in the next bishop of California, the chief one is a person of prayer. My hope is for a bishop whose ministry is grounded in Christian contemplative practice. I believe that authentic, compassionate, and prophetic leadership must be rooted in a personal commitment to attentive listening to God. Visionary and courageous action emerges from the still center, from a confident relaxing into the presence of God that allows for real discernment of God's will.

It is tempting to think that it takes a big ego to fill the office of bishop. I suspect that just the opposite is true. Perhaps I am naive, confusing bishops with saints; perhaps, but I dare to hope and pray for a saint. Whoever, that saint may be, she or he will have some real challenges to face in this diocese: 80 congregations, among which far too many are small and no longer financially viable; a context that is increasingly both multicultural and post-Christian; a complex, globally interconnected urban/suburban setting that is scandalously polarized between affluent and impoverished people, with a shrinking and frightened middle class.

Our diocese is good at building institutions; it needs to be better at creating vital, flourishing congregations. We are good at providing charity; we need to be better at practicing justice. We are good at welcoming educated, affluent people who readily assimilate to the literate culture of Anglican liturgy; we need to be better at worshipping as diversely as the people and cultures in our communities.

All of this is a tall order: far too much for one person, even a saint, to do alone. It will require someone able to flow from the center to the margins and all around the edges of the circle, rather than from the top, down. It will require someone self-differentiated enough to articulate a Gospel vision without being threatened by the gifts of others necessary to make the vision a reality. I'm not asking for "Jesus with an M.B.A." I am praying for a bishop whose own experience of God's love for him or her, for each and all, is so firmly rooted that she or he can delight in the challenges ahead.

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