[Episcopal News Service – Indianapolis] (Updated at 8:30 p.m.) Following public testimony at times both passionate and poignant, the Committee on the Consecration of Bishops of the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church on July 4 approved the upcoming consecrations of eight bishops-elect.
After morning hearings the committee adopted and sent to the House of Deputies for consideration resolutions consenting to the elections of Bishops-elect:
- Susan E. Goff, suffragan, Diocese of Virginia (C066);
- Dorsey McConnell, Diocese of Pittsburgh (C091);
- A. Robert Hirschfeld, Diocese of New Hampshire (C098);
- W. Nicholas Knisely, Diocese of Rhode Island, (C102).
The Rt. Rev. Neil Alexander, a committee co-chair, said he had been informed that the resolutions have been placed on the House of Deputies agenda and could be acted upon as early as July 6. Once the elections are approved by deputies, the House of Bishops will take up the measures.
Retiring Bishop of New Hampshire Gene Robinson was among those who had testified on behalf of Hirschfeld.
“I want to apologize to the Bishop-elect that this hearing won’t go for hours and be telecast worldwide,” Robinson said amid laughter, recalling his own controversial appearance in 2003 before the committee.
Robinson said he is delighted with Hirschfeld’s selection “and the process which led to it,” adding that Hirschfeld, 51, was elected on the first ballot.
“I could not be happier with this choice,” he added. “While it is a heartbreaking and grievous thing to contemplate leaving, I am leaving it (the diocese) with somebody I have already grown to love.”
In presenting Bishop-elect Dorsey McConnell of Pittsburgh to the committee, the Very Rev. George Werner, former president of the House of Deputies and president of the diocesan standing committee, said the diocese is still in the process of healing after a 2008 split.
But he said that McConnell’s election has been unifying, adding that “concern is being rightfully asked by this committee about property issues, about doctrine, discipline and worship and the bishop-elect is a leader already in the diocese and is definitely going to have no problems” adhering to church doctrine.
Werner was referring to a request from bishops and deputies in the Diocese of Fort Worth, joined by the dioceses of San Joaquin and Quincy, “that none of these bishops-elect harbors the views expressed in the amicus brief recently filed against Fort Worth by seven bishops and three priests of this church … specifically whether he or she contends that dioceses have the unilateral and autonomous authority to leave the Church and take church property with them; and those views be published or otherwise communicated to both houses.”
The request, published on the House of Bishops and Deputies talk list and confirmed by Fort Worth communications officer Katie Sherrod, was signed by the entire Fort Worth deputation.
The committee, during early morning discussions, decided to generally ask the prospective bishops how they deal with differences. “The purpose of this committee is to check the process, the paper work and the canonical propriety for an election process,” co-chair Lynn Schmissrauter, a deputy from East Tennessee.
“This is not an examining committee, this is a checking of the process. We want to be clear about that,” Schmissrauter said.
In afternoon hearings, the committee also approved the consecrations of:
- Jeff Wright Fisher, suffragan, Diocese of Texas (C113)
- Douglas John Fisher, Diocese of Western Massachusetts (C103);
- Robert C. Wright, Diocese of Atlanta (C107);
- Jacob Wayne Owensby, Diocese of Western Louisiana (C072).
At least four of the eight candidates were elected in dioceses in which they already served.
Wright is the first African American to be elected bishop of Atlanta, and supporters testifying for him said that St. Paul’s Church in Atlanta had tripled in size since he became rector ten years ago, growing from 200 to 600 members.
During his address to committee members Owensby said he had been born with a cleft palate that wasn’t corrected until he was in his twenties, which “gave me a heart for those who are left out.”
Because the elections occurred within 120 days of the start of the 77th meeting of General Convention in Indianapolis July 4-12, Episcopal Church canons provide in Canon III.11.3 for the required consents to be sought from the bishops and deputies at convention.
— The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a member of the Episcopal News Service team at General Convention.