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Electing a bishop

This weekend, the Episcopal Diocese of New York elected a Bishop Coadjutor (such a bishop has automatic right of succession to the current Diocesan Bishop, the Bishop Mark Sisk, when he retires). The discernment process was clear, clean, and public. A “Committee to Elect a Bishop” proposed five candidates, one of those withdrew, and two candidates were nominated “from the floor”. Statements from them, questions and answers, and videos of them were all in a similar format and of equal quality of production. You could follow the election live on twitter and on facebook. You could pray for all involved. I did.

New Zealand Anglicanism has, over recent years, elected six new bishops and is about to elect another one. The electoral processes and preparation have in each case been different. They have struggled to fit within the canon, and mostly have certainly tended to depart from the canon’s terminology. How is the electoral organising committee (a group not mentioned in the canon) chosen? Are candidates “nominated” prior to the constituting of the electoral college? Can members of the “organising committee” “nominate” or not (especially if they are setting the rules about “closing of nominations” – a concept certainly contrary to canon; meetings with candidates; etc)? Are profiles of “candidates” equally available to all voting? Are all such profiles and videos of equal “standard” in quality of production? Some, but not all, electoral colleges pass a motion of confidentiality… The list of questions and points goes on.

One might validly argue it was irresponsible of General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui not to have reviewed and updated the very nineteenth-century-feeling canon on electing a bishop prior to the spate of recent elections. Certainly if General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui meeting in 2012, after the seventh recent Episcopal election, does not set in motion a review of the process one could certainly argue church governance is in sleep-walking mode.

ps. Since most elections here appear to be estimating The Episcopal Church model for electing a bishop – in the redrafting of our canon, why not use the TEC system as a starting point for the revision of our own canon?

pps. The Rev. Canon Andrew Dietsche (one of the Floor Nominees) was elected. Prayers for him and for the diocese. The bishop coadjutor-elect must now receive the consent of a majority both of the other diocesan bishops of the Episcopal Church and of the standing committees of the Church’s dioceses, before being consecrated in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Saturday, March 10, 2012.

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10 thoughts on “Electing a bishop”

  1. I couldn’t agree more with what you say , Bosco. Indeed I have raised in particular the announcement of the appointment of the candidate. Currently we have to wait until all consents of the members of The General Synod. In the case of Tikanga Pasifika this is at least 5 weeks as they do not have email. I have suggested to Archbishop David Moxon that we do as America does and announce the appointment immediately which will be confirmed upon the necessary Consents being received. Following the last electoral college I was involved with , I became aware that the result wax texted out of the College despite the Commissary`s request to keep the result confidential until the appointment was announced. This is not acceptable and so announcing it immediately would avoid this.

    1. Thanks, Stuart. Confidentiality in our province has been unrealisable at the best of times, let alone in our age of instant communication. Canons etc. need to reflect our actual context. Blessings.

  2. Morning Bosco, I would note that there has been a review of Electoral College procedures that remains in progress but has so far produced several dozen guidelines which have been used in the last few elections.
    The reason for guidelines rather than strict canonical rules is to give episcopal units some flexibility to manage their own processes, something Pasifika took very seriously at it’s election last year.
    So, it is far from correct to suggest nothing has been done to review the system – if anything it has been reviewed ad nauseum after each election. All that said, personally I still prefer the Episcopal system.

    1. Thanks, Brian. Please could you provide a link or copy of the guidelines. Who knows about them? I, for one, have never heard of or about them, and there was no reference to them in the episcopal election I was part of. A copy or link to the review(s) would also be helpful. Links to any church publicity/information about this (eg. on the provincial website or Taonga) would also be helpful. Thanks and blessings.

  3. You should be able to get them from the General Synod Office. I’m also sure your arrangements committee will have had what was then up to date pre the Christchurch election. They have been updated since.
    Aa I said, these are guidelines and episcopal units are free to use them or not and, I presume, make them widely known or not.
    I would also note that, contrary to your assumption, there us no great desire to move towards a TEC style of elections. There is great discomfort among some with what us seen as a presidential style process that provides little or no privacy for those involved. As previously noted, I don’t share those concerns – something about heat and kitchens comes to mind!

    1. Thanks, Brian. I’m not sure how you know that “there us no great desire to move towards a TEC style of elections”. It was not an assumption I was making that that is the case – just that the collection and dissemination of profiles, videos, etc. and the publication (or not) of “candidates” appears not to reflect our canon, but reflect what appears to me much closer to the TEC practice. I would, then, be interested if the most-recent, Auckland election, with information of “candidates” on their website, is the sort of “presidential style process” that brings “great discomfort among some”? I am more discomforted, personally, to discover that there are “guidelines” that are not publicly known about, nor readily available, presumably produced by General Synod Standing Committee (?) whose minutes I suspect (yay! if I’m wrong) are also not readily publicly available? Blessings.

  4. Obviously most dioceses are making the pre-election process more open (although I have heard concerns raised about lobbying etc), but it is the suggestion that the electoral college and subsequent election be made public that is an issue for some.
    The review work was done by s group headed by +Philip for GSSC (which, appropriately, reports to General Synod) and to the best if my knowledge is not at all confidential. Anyone involved in arranging recent electoral colleges should be aware of it, as will all bishops and, I suspect, registrars.

    1. Thanks for the clarification, Brian. When you wrote “There is great discomfort among some with what us seen as a presidential style process that provides little or no privacy for those involved” you were referring to the making public of the name produced by the Electoral College. I can hardly see that as being “presidential style”. We both know: anyone who wants to know the name after an Electoral College can. If a name went from an Electoral College and was rejected in the confirming process – it would be impossible to keep that name confidential. So – this means there is no reason whatsoever for the confidentiality after the Electoral College. You’ve already described the “pre-election process” as being “more open”. Electioneering (or what you call “lobbying etc”) would certainly “backfire” – I have no fear of that. What is left in this discussion that prevents an updating of our canon? Blessings.

  5. As noted, I personally favour the totally open TEC system, but you will find some strong objections, including among bishops, so it’s unlikely we will see a full-on canonical rewrite soon. In particular the confidentiality of the college and result are unlikely to change (although hopefully the timelag prior to announcement will). Given that all but two dioceses in tikanga pakeha have had elections using relatively transparent pre-election processes without need of any canonical changes I’m not sure it’s at the top of the priority list.

    1. Please clarify your point, Brian. You write as if “the confidentiality of the college and result” are part of the current canon. And that this is what, “in particular” (your words), is holding back the “canonical rewrite”. Please correct me if I am wrong: but this is not the case. There is no requirement in our current canon for this confidentiality you refer to. If an Electoral College wants such confidentiality to apply it needs to move a motion to that effect. Having moved and passed such a motion, I have contended above, it has not been abided by. In the case of at least one Electoral College no such motion was even put – and the resulting information about that election process is no different to those in which that motion was put and passed. Blessings.

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