Episcopalians’ input sought in search for next presiding bishop as committee prepares for 2024

By David Paulsen
Posted Oct 18, 2022

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has become a beloved figure across The Episcopal Church, and beyond, since his election in 2015. Best known for his rousing sermons, including at the 2018 royal wedding, Curry also has led efforts to confront racial and social injustices in the church and society, and he has pressed The Episcopal Church to spread Jesus’ message of love as it engages with the secular world.

Curry is approaching the end of his nine-year tenure as The Episcopal Church’s denominational leader, one of two Episcopal presiding officers along with the president of the House of Deputies. The 81st General Convention will elect Curry’s successor when it meets summer 2024 in Louisville, Kentucky, and the new presiding bishop will be installed later that year on Nov. 1.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preaches by video to both houses of the 80th General Convention during the opening Eucharist on July 8.

The search for a new presiding bishop is underway, and this month, Episcopalians are encouraged to complete an online survey to identify priorities for the church in the coming decade and the qualities the church will need in its top leader. The survey, drafted by the Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop, can be completed in English, French or Spanish.

Nearly 2,400 people had completed the survey as of last week, the committee said. The deadline is Oct. 31.

“We want to hear from Episcopalians throughout the church because their input will help guide us in our nominating work,” committee member Deborah Harmon Hines, who chairs the search profile subcommittee, said in a news release. “The survey is designed to help us all discern some of the characteristics we hope to see in the person we will elect as the next presiding bishop.”

The Episcopal Church Canons specify that the presiding bishop’s duties include chairing the House of Bishops and Executive Council, representing the church in public matters and managing the staff of the Domestic Foreign Missionary Society, or DFMS, the church’s corporate entity. The canons also dictate the makeup and mandate of the committee that considers and selects nominees for the next presiding bishop.

“Since we began meeting last October, we have been getting to know each other, organizing ourselves into a discerning community, learning about our charge, and laying out our process and timeline,” Alaska Bishop Mark Lattime, co-chair of the nominating committee, told Episcopal News Service in a written statement.

The committee’s membership, according to Episcopal Church Canons, is five bishops, five priests or deacons, five laypersons and five additional members selected by the House of Deputies president and the incumbent presiding bishop. The current roster can be found online.

“The members are faithful, hopeful and good-spirited Episcopalians,” Lattime said. “Our diversity and our common love of The Episcopal Church will continue to be the foundation of our work. We are listening for the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we prepare to nominate bishops to stand for election at General Convention in 2024.”

The online survey has three parts. The first asks respondents to rate a dozen areas of experience on the degree of their importance in the next presiding bishop, such as vision, social justice work, administrative oversight, preaching, church planting and command of theology.

The second part is optional and asks three open-ended questions:

  • What are the three major issues facing The Episcopal Church in the next 10 years?
  • What are the three major global issues in the next 10 years?
  • What are the three foremost gifts or skills the next presiding bishop will need to lead the Episcopal Church?

For the survey’s final part, respondents can provide information anonymously about their personal backgrounds.

The input collected with the survey will be analyzed and presented to the committee for it to reference as it begins drafting the official presiding bishop search profile, or job description. The process mirrors the ones followed in dioceses’ bishop searches and parishes’ rector searches. The presiding bishop committee expects to release its profile and a call for nominations in spring 2023.

“The presiding bishop nominating committee is unique among the General Convention’s other interim bodies in that we must operate confidentially,” co-chair Steven Nishibayashi, a former Executive Council member from the Diocese of Los Angeles, told ENS in a written statement. “We will be as open and transparent as possible within the necessary boundaries of that confidentiality. And we pledge to keep the church updated about our progress. The committee members hope that the church will keep them in prayer as we go forward.”

Greetings to the 80th General Convention

The process for nominating and selecting the presiding bishop is outlined in Canon 1.2. The 79th General Convention revised that canon in 2018 to encourage a more diverse nominating committee, which now includes at least two members ages 16 to 21, chosen by the House of Deputies president. The church’s two presiding officers must select three additional members to ensure the committee represents “the cultural and geographic diversity of the church.” The rest of the committee’s members are elected by the House of Bishops and House of Deputies.

The nominating committee then develops “a process for soliciting and identifying qualified nominees.” The only canonical requirement is that nominees be members of the House of Bishops. There is no age limit, though church’s mandatory retirement age for clergy is 72. That could become a consideration if a potential nominee would reach mandatory retirement before the end of the presiding bishop’s term, which is nine years. It also is possible, though uncommon, for a presiding bishop to serve only part of the nine-year term.

After receiving nominations from across the church, the committee must select three or more bishops for its slate of nominees. Additional nominees may be added later through a petition process.

The committee will present its final slate at a joint session of the House of Bishops and House of Deputies at the 81st General Convention. The House of Bishops then will meet separately to elect a presiding bishop from one of those nominees, and that election must be confirmed by the House of Deputies.

Canon 1.2.4 details the primary duties of the presiding bishop in the role of “chief pastor and primate of the church.” They include visiting and celebrating Holy Eucharist in every diocese, supporting dioceses that are conducting bishop searches, consecrating new bishops and “initiating and developing the policy and strategy in the church.”

Curry, formerly bishop of North Carolina, is the church’s 27th presiding bishop and the first African American in that role. He was elected in 2015 at the 78th General Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, out of a slate of four nominees, and succeeded then-Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the church’s first female presiding bishop.

Katharine Jefferts Schori

Former Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori introduces herself during an organizational meeting of the Social Justice and International Policy Committee at the 79th General Convention in 2018. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Jefferts Schori was bishop of Nevada in 2006 when she was elected the 26th presiding bishop. Nine years later, she was 61 when she handed the reins to Curry, and with more than a decade before facing mandatory retire age, she has remained active in the church. Jefferts Schori served as assisting bishop in the Diocese of San Diego from 2017 to 2019.  She now serves as a visiting bishop in the Diocese of Los Angeles.

Curry will be 71 and months away from mandatory retirement age when his successor, the 28th presiding bishop, is installed in November 2024. He was born on March 13, 1953.

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.


Tags