View from the Pew
5 in running for Episcopal bishop
The Web page of the Episcopal Church in Hawaii will be getting more hits than a popular blogger next week.
The finalists in the running for Hawaii bishop will be announced within the week under a timetable that started ticking a year ago when Bishop Richard Chang announced his plan to retire.
The search committee has sorted out five prime candidates from a field of 26 people. It will recommend those nominees to the diocese standing committee, which will make the announcement.
Search Chairwoman Cecilia Fordham refused to answer questions that would even hint at the field of entries: Are there any local priests in the race? Is there any female candidate?
Fordham wouldn't even characterize the ones who have been sorted out after resumes, references and their narrative answers to specific questions were reviewed by the 15-member Search Committee.
It's an awe-inspiring thing that a group that big could keep a secret that interesting in the face of what Fordham calls "the rapid grapevine of the Episcopal Church."
Names are in the pocket for now, but, she said, the selection process has been "transparent" -- out in the open. The Web page episcopalhawaii.org has yards of information on what the search for a bishop involves in the national denomination, what the 8,500 island Episcopalians want in a bishop and what the committee has been doing since its first meeting Dec. 23.
Watching democracy under way in a church can be fascinating for outsiders, too, particularly those whose church founders remain in self-appointed status or whose leaders are named from afar with little or no local input.
A survey that only 1,041 church members completed identified the priorities in the Hawaii diocese and the attributes they sought in a new bishop.
Therein, among the highfalutin language about visionary planner, skillful manager and spirituality "formed by scripture and prayer" is a reference to the issue that has caused anguish and division in the Episcopal Church worldwide. It is described as a need to communicate with members "to recognize, share and feel the pain of individuals and congregations particularly regarding differing ideas about sexuality." It refers to the rift that developed after the 2003 General Convention of the American branch of the church approved the ordination of a gay bishop and set in motion studies to consider church blessing of gay unions.
Local Episcopalians want a team builder who can figure out how to involve youths and young adults in the church -- a desire they share with any other denomination. They want the new shepherd to evangelize beyond their membership and to be "willing to take a stand and engage in controversial dialogue while building from a theological center." They want someone who is "holy, down to earth, and comfortable with Hawaii's informal and diverse culture." And they hope for a bishop "who can maintain levity and who has a sense of humor." Whew, they want a lot in one person.
Finding a pastoral leader isn't your average executive recruitment process. "We used a discernment process," said Fordham, guided by a book, "Grounded in God: Listening Hearts Discernment for Group Deliberations," by Suzanne Farnham. Members were asked to consider whether they felt "involvement of the Spirit" in each candidate and in themselves as they reviewed each application.
The last phase of discernment is done in the crass reality of the times. Oxford Document Service, which does background checks for several national church organizations, does "a criminal check, a credit check and sends questionnaires to all previous employers," said the Rev. Liz Beasley, diocesan communications director. "It's really to make sure that churches are safe and to avoid anything that would come as a surprise from a nominee's background." All priests are similarly checked out when they change from one diocese to another.
At the beginning there were 104 names on the list, pulled up from the national Episcopal Church deployment office database of clergy around the world who might match the local profile.
Now, faced with the short list, "If we have done a good job, it will be difficult to determine who you would vote for," Fordham said. "They will all be so appropriate for what we put on our profile, there won't be a wide difference except in personal style and theology."
There's still an opportunity for a "favorite son" nomination to be made by a local church member. Aug. 31 is the deadline, and the candidates will be put through the same process, including a professional background check.
The tradition is for bishop candidates to come to a diocese for a "walk-about," speaking in each parish church. The Hawaii finalists will be here in the first week of October for a "fly-about," visiting all island congregations.
Delegates to the annual state convention will vote for bishop as the first order of business on Oct. 20, Beasley said. The choice requires confirmation by the national House of Bishops and the standing committees of other Episcopal Church dioceses.