Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Future Before Your Eyes

Or: The Birds of 1979 Come Home to Roost

This will be a long post. It did not start out that way, but as I gathered more and more material, I came to see that what is going on, and what has gone on, in the Diocese of Northern Michigan encapsulates for me, at any rate, much of what I view as the false directions and innovations that were introduced with the revisions to the Book of Common Prayer in 1979. So much has been written directly on that topic that it is helpful to see the matter anew, in the fresh light presented by a real-life situation on the ground, in an Episcopal Diocese. So please bear with me, and be patient 'til the end, far below.

One of the largest threads ever at StandFirm (337 comments) had to do with the nomination of a single "candidate" for the post of "Bishop/Ministry Developer" of the Diocese of Northern Michigan. Now that the candidate has been declared officially "elected", and the process of gathering the required consents from the diocesan standing committees and the bishops with jurisdiction has begun, we have the blogworld generally taking notice---and the results are, to say the least, fascinating. I cannot think of another single event that has united, on the same side of the issue, StandFirm, the Mad Priest, Christopher Johnson and David Virtue. Joining them as well are Dean Kevin Martin at Covenant, Father George Conger at Religious Intelligence, and James Kushiner at Touchstone.

It is both sad, and an illustration of the liberal world view, to see that the usual suspects are backing this "election process": Episcopal Life Online, Adrian Worsfold, and Father Mark Harris (to say nothing of a certain ultraliberal chancellor, to whose blog I take a certain mischievous satisfaction in linking, because he would never link to this one). Why Episcopal Life? Well, it turns out that the Presiding Bishop herself has been following it very closely and lending her support. It might also have something to do with the fact that the winning candidate, the Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester of St. Paul's in Marquette, is an alumnus of her own alma mater, Church Divinity School of the Pacific. (The Presiding Bishop received an M.Div. from CDSP in 1994 and was ordained a deacon in Oregon by Bishop Ladehoff on May 1 of that same year. The Rev. Forrester graduated a little earlier from CDSP, was ordained a deacon in Michigan in June 1993, became assistant to the rector of St. Michael And All Angels in Portland, Oregon later that same year, and then was ordained a priest by Bishop Ladehoff on May 26, 1994. Thus they had to have known each other while both served in Oregon.)

[UPDATE 02/28/2009: I am now informed by three separate sources that both Katharine Jefferts Schori and Kevin Lee Forrester (as he was known before he married and combined his wife's last name with his own) were members of the CDSP Class of '93, as were his wife and Anita Wingert (who served until recently as a missioner in the Eastern Region of the Diocese of Northern Michigan, and who assisted Father Forrester in several capacities). It seems that the Presiding Bishop obtained her M.Div. Degree from CDSP in 1994, after she had fulfilled all the requirements. Following her ordination in Oregon on May 1, 1994, she began assisting at the Church of the Good Samaritan in Corvallis, where she had attended Oregon State University while earning her master's and Ph.D. degrees in oceanography. She remained in Corvallis until her election as Bishop of Nevada in 2000. I am not certain of the year that Father Forrester moved to the Eastern Diocese of Oregon, though from what he writes below it had to have been by 1998. At any rate, there was a period of about four years when both Jefferts Schori and Forrester served under the same Bishop in Oregon, albeit in different cities.]

The ties appear to have continued after that. I have had only a short time to put some pieces together from searching the Web, and I hope that others more knowledgeable about the facts will be able to fill in the gaps.

Church Divinity School of the Pacific operates the Center for Anglican Learning and Leadership ("CALL"). This Center offers ongoing courses for people in the Church who need to fulfill Continuing Education Credits, or CEUs. Among the offerings for the Fall Semester 2008 was a course entitled "Baptism, Ministry and the Gospel: Including Everyone in Ministry and Mission." One of the required texts is a book written by none other than the successful bishop-elect, the Rev. Forrester: I Have Called You Friends: an Invitation to Ministry. The description of the course, from the CALL website, is as follows:
Throughout the Anglican Church, from New Zealand to North Dakota, congregations are transforming themselves into communities of mission and ministry without full-time ordained leadership. This phenomenon has intrigued many, offended some and mystified others. This course will introduce participants to new thoughts and actions based on the principles of the Baptismal Covenant, and to ways in which a congregation can take full responsibility for its own mission and ministry, including the gifts of all baptized persons, not just the ordained. Resources and tools for moving forward are included as part of the course.
All right, now stay with me a minute here. We have the bishop-elect of Northern Michigan, a CDSP graduate, who has written a book that is used in a continuing education course offered by his alma mater. Nothing wrong with that, certainly. But now follow me through a few years of the back issues of The Church in Hiawathaland, which is the newsletter for the Diocese of Northern Michigan. Let us begin with the aftermath, as we so often need to do, of the consecration of V. Gene Robinson in November 2003, and look at how that event played out in the Diocese of Northern Michigan. Here is an extract from the February 2004 issue of the newsletter:
The Diocesan Council and Leaders from around the diocese met November 14-15 in Marquette. They reviewed the year 2003 and began the process of developing a long-range strategic plan that would assist them in allocating time, talent and resources to support the gifts, needs and opportunities existing within their congregations. . . .
. . .
Some of the significant successes that the group named from the past year included the progress in creating LifeCycles; new Covenant Groups forming, and Ministry Support Team commissionings; . . . leadership nationally and internationally in mutual ministry and church reform; cohesiveness in the face of controversy at General Convention; and a good deal of outreach and justice work around the diocese; among many other things listed.

[The facilitator] then asked the participants to name the assumptions that we need to recognize as we plan our goals. They include aspects of our situation that we do not have control over, and some that we do. Those named included: the population decline in the Upper Peninsula; financial situation is under stress, within the church and in our communities; embracing strategic alliances to make better use of our gifts; general affirmation of mutual ministry across the diocese; effective leadership; aging congregations; and high visibility in the wider Episcopal Church as a result of the decisions of General Convention last summer. . . .

The participants then read through the current mission statement, felt it did not quite speak to what we are about, and came up with this Vision and Mission statement . . . :

We envision a world in which all people live together in peace and in harmony with all of creation, where all can contribute and the gifts of all are joyfully received, nurtured, and supported, where our diversity is celebrated in community, and every human being is recognized as having eternal significance. We commit ourselves to identify, nurture and support the baptismal ministry of every single member/person of this diocese. The baptismal covenant is our guide and inspiration.

These two statements guide the planning and living out of our goals and life together.

Next the participants listed our strengths, which included: diversity of gifts and experience; strong collaborative leadership; embracing the gifts of everyone; high level of communication; sharing our gifts beyond our borders; and appreciation of the geographical region and its environment; among other items listed. These strengths will support the goals that were chosen for the near future.
This Vision Statement appears centrally on the home Webpage of the Diocese of Northern Michigan. Long-time readers of the StandFirm site will recognize, in the words of the Vision Statement quoted above, the fine hand of the author of the Diocese's response to the Primates' Statement from Dar-es-Salaam in February 2007, which produced 124 comments all by itself. I want to make clear, however, that I am not judging or finding fault with the Vision Statement as a statement of values or principles; there is absolutely nothing wrong with setting a goal of living in peace and harmony with one's neighbors. The problem here is much larger than mere words, as we shall see.

I call your attention instead to the mention in the quote above of one of 2003's "significant successes", as identified by the Diocesan Council and leaders: "the progress in creating LifeCycles". Here is a fuller description of that program, taken from an earlier (May 2002) issue of the Diocesan newsletter:
LifeCycles, then, will be an ongoing, spiraling process of ministry formation. It is comprised of Units which flow from the foundational statement of LifeCycles:

We are a community,
gathered and sent forth by the Spirit
to encounter our story,
to be washed and renewed,
to be fed with thanksgiving,
and to celebrate and serve the reign of God.

Each Unit (such as, Encountering Our Story, or Gathered by the Spirit) is organized as Sessions spiraling about a major theme. The spine of the spiral is the Sessions themselves, which progressively consider the theme through the lenses of Experience, Creativity, Love, Liberty and Justice.
This also resonates with the Vision Statement, does it not? We learn from the same article of a further connection between the bishop-elect and the current Presiding Bishop:
This past summer the Curriculum Revision Group, after much discussion and reflection together, entered into a new partnership with the Dioceses of Wyoming and Nevada, along with Harvesters, a ministry development partnership of New England dioceses. The purpose of this partnership is a collaborative effort to thoroughly revise our curriculum. One of the first decisions we made, with Linda Grenz of LeaderResources working with us, was to describe our project as the creation of a “formation process” instead of a curriculum. The word formation is broader in scope than that of curriculum, and helps us to capture the vision we share of forming Christian communities of ministry – a formation process which is ongoing and inclusive of learning, prayer, spirituality, outreach, play, etc.
We are calling this ongoing process of Christian ministry formation “LifeCycles”. We hope to share LifeCycles with the wider Anglican Communion.
(Emphasis added.) Katharine Jefferts Schori, of course, had become the Bishop of Nevada in 2001. The article speaks of "this past summer" in May 2002, so it is clear that Father Forrester had been in contact with her after they both left Oregon. What I find most interesting, however, is that the partnership was between three of the most sparsely populated dioceses in the Church: Nevada, Wyoming, and Northern Michigan. There is more detail on the LifeCycles program here.

Father Forrester transferred to the Diocese of Northern Michigan in 2001, at the invitation of its Bishop, the Rt. Rev. James A. Kelsey, who had assumed the post after the retirement of Thomas K. Ray in 1999. Bishop Kelsey was known for his advocacy of "Total Ministry", or "Mutual Ministry", a form of sharing the gifts of ministry among "the priesthood of all believers", and which traces its origin to the epistles of St. Paul. Now go back and read the summary of the course offered by CALL quoted at the beginning of this post. Can you begin to see a circle closing here?

But the circle did not start with Bishop Kelsey, whose life was tragically cut short by an automobile accident on June 3, 2007. For his predecessor, Bishop Ray, was just as taken with the ideas of "Mutual Ministry". The Diocesan Website has a page that explains the concept, and the LifeCycles page linked to earlier says that it has been under development in the Diocese for the past twenty years. We learn from the December 2002 issue of The Church in Hiawathaland that Bishop Kelsey and Bishop Ray were both longtime personal friends of Louis Weil, the professor of liturgics at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, who is described in the article as follows:
Weil is not only a scholar committed to the ministry of all baptized people, but also dedicated to inviting the laity to claim their own baptismal role and serve alongside the ordained, as ministers and celebrants of the liturgy. He has been very active ecumenically, and challenges us in a time of increasing multiculturalism to engage in new forms of culture, music, liturgical prayers and dance in our worship.
In yet another local newsletter we learn facts that allow us finally to close this circle. It tells us that Professor Weil
has a long-standing, important connection with Northern Michigan as a liturgical consultant, for Jim Kelsey's consecration and the new commissioning liturgy, to mention just a couple, and taught Kevin and Rise Thew Forrester [the latter is Father Forrester's wife, and since 2002 the editor of The Church in Hiawathaland] and Anita Wingert as students at CDSP, and Rayford Ray [Bishop Ray's son] at Nashotah House.
The next sentence, however, supplies the coup de grace:
Louis was a significant contributor to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, particularly the sections on Baptism, and continues to be a major leader in liturgical development on a national and international level.
(Emphasis added.) I could rest my case at this point, but there is still much more to the full picture. For what we have occurring now in the Diocese of Northern Michigan is not just the 1979 revisions to the BCP (particularly to the much-cited baptismal vow) coming home to roost, but also the highly flammable mixture of the worldview behind those revisions with the worldview of Buddhism. (Please note that I have not mentioned one word of this before now, yet it is the main topic of controversy on all the blogs.) You see, Father Forrester came to Northern Michigan having already encountered the way of the Buddha, while he was in the Diocese of Eastern Oregon (read the article "Bridging the Gap" on Page C):

About six years ago, while living in Eastern Oregon, I realized the need to do some of my own soul-work. Perhaps having a child on the way had something to do with it. Perhaps turning 40 played a role. Perhaps having spent the last 20 years of my life struggling to change the church and recover baptismal ministry had left me a tad exhausted. The reasons are many, and they all led me to pay attention to my own heart and soul. Where was the Spirit? Where was life? Why did I tend to repeat the same mistakes in life and create the same hurts in those I loved?
My soul-work entered a new stage on Pentecost, at Fortune Lake Lutheran Camp, when I, as a Christian, received Buddhist “lay ordination” and a new name, to go along with my Christian name: Genpo (Japanese, for “way of universal wisdom”). I now walk the path of Christianity and Zen Buddhism. What on earth would possess me to do something like this?
Now my object here is not to criticize the man. All of us have been through crises of the sort that he describes, and many of us did no doubt much worse things than become lay Buddhists. What I am focusing on is the result for the Diocese of Northern Michigan. One could say that once given the truly unfortunate accident that took the life of Bishop Kelsey, the result we are seeing could not have been any other. For the goals of Mutual Ministry and Father Forrester's Zen Buddhism were first put to the test with the sudden vacancy created by that tragedy, and the result was a potent combination for a Diocese like Northern Michigan.

It is a sparsely populated and widely scattered Diocese, which in 2007 was (and now still is) served by just five ministers who had seminary training, including Father Forrester and his wife, who is also an ordained priest. A significant proportion of its parishioners are 60 or over. They lose their vibrant and much-loved leader. What to do? Obviously a new bishop has to be chosen, so there has to be an election.

But this will not be just another election, like those that other Dioceses conduct. No, a new thing is happening in Northern Michigan. The "election" will be one designed by a practicing Zen Buddhist. The first thing to do is to agree on the process; here is the timeline announced at the annual convention of 2007, as developed by the Standing Committee:
The timeline began with conversations at Convention and around the diocese, continues with a Discernment Committee forming in February 2008, and the Election Convention to be held January 10, 2009. [The President, Linda Piper] noted that while decisions have not been made about the makeup of the Discernment Committee, it will be representative of the diocese, with membership from all four regions, as well as key leadership groups.
Now please follow the ensuing process. The "Episcopal Ministry Discernment Team" (EMDT) did take shape in February 2008; its 21 members were announced in an article on page 2B of the April 2008 issue of The Church in Hiawathaland, drawn from the four regions of the Diocese, with additional members appointed both by the Standing Committee and by the "Core Team" (which included Father Forrester and other names we shall encounter, including the President of the Standing Committee).

It was given a "Companion", Jo Gantzer, described here as "the Canon for Lifelong Learning of the Diocese of Michigan, [where] her responsibilities include formation for all ages and for Mutual Ministry. She is Co-Chair of Living Stones, the international organization for dioceses and communities seeking to further collaborative baptismal ministry."

Did I forget to mention Living Stones? You may read about it here---notice who is on the "New Leadership Team" with Jo Gantzer. And her role as "Companion"? That is taken right out of LifeCycles, where such a person "is one who walks with the group, offering feedback and insight to the participants." As EMDT's Companion, Canon Gantzer was expected to:
• be the chaplain for the EMDT, helping with prayers when she is present;
• serve as another set of eyes and ears for the EMDT, asking the question, “what have you heard?”;
• work with the EMDT on group dynamics, using tools such as the Enneagram and Myers-Briggs;
• encourage all members of the EMDT to participate;
• help the EMDT identify what it is tending to avoid;
• invite the EMDT both to enlarge its vision and sharpen its focus;
• help the EMDT to see where members are getting stuck.
In addition to their "Companion", the EMDT also acquired three "Reflectors", persons off whom they could also bounce their ideas and candidates for ministry: these were Bishop Ely of Vermont, Bishop Caldwell of Wyoming, and Dr. Frederica Harris Thompsett, Mary Wolfe Professor of Historical Theology and former Academic Dean at Episcopal Divinity School. You may remember that Bishop Caldwell was one of the partners with Father Forrester in developing and trying out the LifeCycles program, as mentioned earlier. But he also works with Father Forrester as "an original member of the Ministry Developers Collaborative, an organization dedicated to working in support of persons working for baptismal ministry development." (More about the Ministry Developers Collaborative later.) And he has long-standing ties with the Diocese, having presided at the funeral service for Bishop Kelsey in June 2007.

As for Bishop Ely of Vermont, the Diocesan newsletter of March 2008 informs us that "he is committed to collaborative ministry, nurturing a shared episcopate, ministry in small churches, encouraging cooperation among regional groupings of churches and the development of local ministry support teams in congregations." Sounds like a very compatible member of the team. Oh, and I forgot to mention: the Diocese of Vermont was also a partner with Father Forrester in developing the LifeCycles program.

The third Reflector was Professor Thompsett of EDS, also well known to the Diocese. She was Chaplain for its convention in 2005, and was a speaker at its Baptismal Conference in January 2008, just before her appointment. Oh, yes, and EDS is "also a LifeCycles partner."

Together with Bishop Caldwell and Father Forrester, Professor Thompsett works with the Ministry Developers Collaborative, and serves on its Steering Committee. You may see a list of those members on this page of the group's website, where you may read a lot more about their objectives and methods. Notice that another member of the Steering Committee is---Jo Gantzer! Is it all coming clear now?

The EMDT was commissioned in March, and began meeting in April. For its first two meetings it was guided by a so-called "Process Team" of four people, which included the Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester. Its first status report to the Diocese described the process in this way:
The discernment process is moving along on schedule. Our first few sessions were led by Marcia Franz, Kevin Thew Forrester, Fran Gardner and Hazel Satterly. Formation and team building were on the agenda for the first few meetings. Kevin led us through a brief oversight of the Enneagram showing us how our personality traits impact group process, how we receive and give information and how we make decisions. Later, using Steven Charleston’s reflection on Episcopal Ministry and spending time in discussion centered around the Congregational responses to questions 1, 2 and 3 the group has begun to get a clear direction of the expectations and hopes of the people in this diocese. This information will be refined and provided to each community for review.
The EMDT then went through the process of distilling input from the parishes of the Diocese, and here is part of what it came up with:
Our vision of episcopal ministry
We have a vision of a shared episcopate modeled upon Mutual Ministry in which the Bishop’s primary focus is pastoral, relational and canonical in full partnership with an Episcopal Ministry Support Team.

To make our vision happen
• We will continue to build on the organizational structures that are in place to support the life and ministry of the diocese.
• We will identify an Episcopal Ministry Support Team that includes the Bishop.
• We will make greater use of technology to facilitate communication.
• We will strive to increase an understanding of Mutual Ministry throughout the diocese.
• We will be realistic and responsible about our finances.
• We will determine what an Episcopal Ministry Support Team may do.
The next report, dated June 8, 2008, is equally illuminating about how the process worked:
Today, Saturday June 7, we spent significant time with one of our EMDT "reflectors", Fredrica Thompsett, and our "Companion", Jo Gantzer. It was helpful to the group to hear their reflections, impressions, questions and suggestions.

We continue to work on what our vision of the shared episcopate looks like.

We continue to learn about and wrestle with the finances involved in our vision as it emerges.

There are no names that have been raised, let alone considered, at this point.

There will be a more detailed report in the form of a bulletin insert in late July or early August.

Our next meeting is scheduled for June 21.

Marion Luckey
for the EMDT
The mid-summer report begins with a recap of how they have proceeded to date:
The work of the Episcopal Ministry Discernment Team (EMDT) continues. Meeting-by-meeting we are reaching a greater clarity about our work and direction. As a result, we feel the time has come for another update to you, the people of the Diocese of Northern Michigan.

From the beginning we’ve been modeling this process on the discovery (discernment) process used in most congregations throughout the diocese to form a covenant group. We now have twenty-plus years of experience in this process and think it has served us well. Making this adaptation has been our charge from the Standing Committee. We’ve discovered a great number of parallels but also some differences (for example, in a local discernment process there is no limit to the number discerned for a particular ministry role, but we are only calling one bishop).

Since one of the key discernment principles used in our congregations requires that we know the people we discern “well to very well,” we’ve tried to use our creativity and imaginations to bring a similar knowledge to this process. We have decided to draw upon the knowledge and insights of some trusted “contacts” around the Episcopal/Anglican Church who have a grasp of what we are about. We will rely on their input for names rather than on a general invitation to “submit nominations.” We also realize that the required background checks must precede the announcement of any candidate, putting our projected calendar under stress.
But they have made some decisions:
• We have embraced the concept of an Episcopal Ministry Support Team (EMST) which was widely supported by the congregational conversations. This will provide the setting for a broadly collaborative approach to supporting apostolic ministry in the diocese.

• As we envision it, the support team will replace the Core Team and will be made-up of ten to twelve people, including the ministry developers (and bishop), the diocesan operations coordinator, regional representatives and at large members. There will be an attempt to balance the number of compensated and non-compensated members. We also see an ongoing evaluation of the team leading to a “second generation” in three to five years.

• The Bishop will also serve as a ministry developer (missioner), a decision driven by financial realities as well as the emerging vision we’ve been exploring.

• While the Bishop will carry out the roles designated by the Constitution and Canons such as ordination, confirmation, and attendance at the House of Bishops, other “episcopal/ apostolic/ oversight” roles will be fulfilled by members of the Episcopal Ministry Support Team (EMST).

• We will present a single name for bishop to the Special Diocesan Convention based on the results of our discernment process.

• We will present names for the Episcopal Ministry Support Team (EMST) to the Special Diocesan Convention based on the results of our discernment process.

• As we seek to discern the team (including the Bishop), we will rely on the following “generally desirable characteristics”:
• Works well with others
• Has good written and oral communication skills
• Has expertise in their area(s)
• Is flexible and willing to work as a team player
• Seriously accepts responsibilities
• Has a clear understanding of Mutual Ministry as it is lived out in this diocese
• Takes time for self-care
• Is comfortable with and willing to share leadership responsibilities
• Is willing to be a reflector for the team
• Is able to recognize the need for confidentiality and to honor those
situations were confidentiality is of utmost importance
• Effectively and respectfully deals with conflict
That was the last "report to the Diocese" published on the EMDT website. From here, we can take up the process as described by people who were on the ground and experiencing it firsthand. As you noticed from the previous reports, the slate of "candidates" reviewed was kept confidential, while only numbers were announced as the winnowing went on:
No applications for the position were accepted, select individuals in the greater church gave the team names to consider - the final choice of names was never revealed to the diocese at large - only numbers - we have 36 names, we have it down to 10 names…
The same commenter gives more background about the process in this post:
The leadership of the diocese in the absence of a bishop after Jim Kelsey’s tragic death formed (with Kevin Forrester’s leadership) an alternative to the traditional manner in which bishops are elected in this church. With lots of fancy language they explained how we would form a discernment team to look at the process rather than a selection committee - this team would have to meet in Marquette twice a month for almost a year and they asked each congregation to send representatives. This diocese is almost 400 miles from east to west and ASA is less than 700 - many if not most of the congregations have regular members of less than 2 dozen. The result being that members of the team were often self appointed because of the taxing amount of time necessary to drive as much as 200 miles one way twice a month to attend an all day meeting. So the “volunteers” gathered. Also understand that as a diocese run by mutual ministry - there are only a handful of seminary trained missioners (less than 5) present in the diocese so there is a gaping hole in the knowledge of liturgy, church history, canon law etc. So these volunteers are not familiar and easily swayed by a good presentation. Once the team was assembled - congregations were asked to hold meetings to discern “who we were” as a diocese - at my church this discussion essentially lead the people by the nose to come up with the “right responses” - very leading questions etc. and surprise surprise - the diocese said exactly what Kevin Forrester wanted them to say. Then the next big surprise leaked out last summer - there would be no election. The discernment team (not a true representative group where the politics are all on the table out in the open) would choose the bishop themselves and name the other members of the episcopal ministry support team - all that would occur at the special convention would be a thumbs up or thumbs down vote for the whole team.
The EMDT gave a report to the annual Diocesan Convention in October 2008. It still refused to disclose any of the names that were under consideration. In response to a question, it described what it was following, Zen-like, as "an open process":
6. Is it a “closed” process? In other words, have we seriously considered input from outside of this diocese?
This has been an open process. We have asked for and received names from our contacts within the diocese, from outside of the diocese, and outside of the Continental United States. In addition to asking for recommendations from established contacts, we have also invited members of each congregation within the diocese to submit names of persons who they have discerned to meet the requirements, in accordance with the published guidelines.
They also announced that they had decided on an unusual compensation package to go along with the unusual team structure of the future diocesan ministry:
8. How did you arrive at the figure for the compensation package?
We truly want our ministry to reflect the equality and the vision of shared mutual ministry. Therefore, all of our Ministry Developers (including the Bishop/Ministry Developer) will be compensated equally rather then in a traditional hierarchical model.
The most interesting answer they gave to a question, though, was this:
12. How was it decided to present one name for Bishop/Ministry Developer?
In the traditional search process anyone can throw his or her hat into the ring. Someone decides that they want to be a bishop. It is self-selection. We chose to use the discernment process that has served us well in the local congregations for the past twenty plus years. At the congregational level there is often more than one person discerned for the same ministry. The team after much discussion and struggle came to the conclusion that we would try to focus or stay true to what the congregational conversations had revealed. Because there is only one bishop/ministry developer we would try and discern one person that best fit the criteria outlined by the people of this diocese, the person who would most fully encompass these gifts. This person would be able to function as part of a team and truly be able to share the Episcopal leadership in this diocese.

In a traditional election model three or four names are presented for the vote. Usually one person will stand out as a better fit and the others would be “ok.” People don’t know the candidates well when they come to convention. Our intention is to present one name based on prayerful consideration that is the very best fit for the ministry in this unique diocese. It is our hope that because of the careful, prayerful discernment of the team, one person will become the obvious choice. This one person will be presented to the diocese as the team’s best recommendation.

It is in this one answer that we see all of the "new age" elements of the process beginning to coalesce. It begins with a small circle of those "in the know", who bring in trusted colleagues from the "outside" to lend a sheen of objectivity, and to help bring others into the middle of the circle. By meeting together in confidence twice a month for six months, the circle gains both unanimity and a conviction that it is on the right path. What the circle loses, however, is any sense of accountability to those outside of it. This attitude may be seen in the next paragraph of its answer to Question #12 above:
It is our plan that the person who is discerned to be Bishop/Ministry developer will be revealed to the diocese as soon as the discernment process is completed. The people of this diocese will then have the opportunity to meet and/or get to know this person and the rest of the Episcopal Ministry Support Team prior to the Special Convention. It is the team’s hope that the people of this diocese will also discern and agree that this person is truly the best fit to share the ministry here in this diocese. At the election a yes vote would affirm the election of the new Bishop/ Ministry developer and ministry support team. A no vote would stop that process and we would have to go back to discerning once again. Because of this “yes/no” possibility the team goes forward with some apprehension trusting that God is working in and through us on behalf of the diocese.
Here we have the flaw in the Zen process. By the time the inner circle has done its work, it will have come so far along the path of consensus that it will be miles ahead of the rest of the parishioners in the Diocese. Yet it will give them just a few short weeks to catch up. (The selections were announced on January 17, just one month prior to the "Special Convention" called to ratify them.)

Doubtless most of the parishioners were already familiar with the candidate eventually named, the Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester. After all, he had been a part of the life of the Diocese for the past eight years, so he was not an unknown quantity. Nevertheless, as the local parishioners who commented at StandFirm and Titus 1:9 have stated, they felt left out of the process, and so could hardly be happy about being presented with just one choice.

This is a recipe for tension and strife, not peace and harmony. And the key question (from my point of view, at least) was buried. The diocesan chancellor, Patricia Micklow, was asked:
5. Is the process we are using in accordance with the Canons?
Canon III.11.1 provides:
“Discernment of vocation to be a Bishop occurs through a process of election in accordance with the rules prescribed by the Convention of the Diocese and pursuant to the provisions of the Constitution and Canons of this church.”
After review, I find no other specific requirements as to the election of a Bishop by the diocese (regarding either the number of nominees or the nominating procedure) within either Constitution or Canons. Patricia Micklow, Chancellor
It is futile to point out that the word "election" comes from a Latin root meaning "to choose out", "to choose from among", and that there can be no election in the proper sense of the word when there is only one choice. Not only does the process violate the Diocesan Constitution and Canons, but it violates the very language of Canon III.11.1 just quoted. The national Canons also provide an alternative for going through the House of Bishops or through the Province, but neither of those fit the model here, and so they were not used. The delegates to the "Special Convention" were specially chosen, and presented with a fait accompli to ratify, or else to face accusations for blowing up the process. The outcome was, under the circumstances, foreordained. 

Truly, it was an election designed by a Zen Buddhist. The choice was to vote for one: you may (a) choose the Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester and the team of Ministry Developers, or (b) choose the team of Ministry Developers, including the Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester. Such a choice is the electoral equivalent of the sound of one hand clapping.

In other answers to questions, the EMDT disclosed that it felt the second convention of the Diocese of South Carolina, held after the initial consents to the election of Bishop Mark Lawrence were not obtained, was a precedent for what it was doing. At that second convention, Mark Lawrence was the only name submitted for election. Needless to say, however, that was a second, not a first, election to fill the vacant post of bishop. It is again typical of the entire process that it would isolate that event and call it a precedent for the procedure it claims to be following.

Many of the other blogs have gone into the theological incompatibilities between Buddhism and Christianity; I shall not rehash those debates here. For me, it is sufficient to note from all the facts I have set out above that the driving force behind this latest "election" is neither Buddhism nor Christianity as such, but the spirit of the 1970s that gave us a new Prayer Book, a new Baptismal Covenant (thanks, Professor Weil---I do not know your contributions to the new ordinal vows, but you might also want to read this post), and a whole new set of liturgies. The leaders of this movement have ever since sought validation for what they did, and they seek it by trying to envelop both the laity and the clergy in its friendly atmosphere of inclusiveness, designed not to scare anyone away with hocus-pocus, mumbo-jumbo or negative statements.

(An aside: I have recently been teaching a confirmation class, and even my students noticed what the 1979 revision to the Catechism had done to the Ten Commandments. They are all restated in the positive, with not a single "Thou shalt not . . ." to be seen or heard or uttered. Check out pages 847 to 848 of the BCP.)

Again, there is nothing wrong with friendliness or inclusiveness as goals, but they have to take second place to the content of the faith itself. When that content is subordinated to the ministry, so that the ministry can envelop everyone regardless of the level of their faith or understanding, and regardless of whether they hold contradictory views such as Buddhism, or Islam, or Wiccan or even Druid sentiments, the content gets lost in the All---or is it the shunyata

Anyone who has troubled to read this far should appreciate the magnitude of the uphill battle that lies ahead. It should be obvious from all the connections spelled out earlier that a number of bishops, beginning with the Presiding Bishop, will want to see this election confirmed---not for the benefit, necessarily, of the parishioners in Northern Michigan, but for its precedential value as a method to control the selection of bishops in other dioceses. 

Take a look around the Church. The movement for "Mutual Ministry" is already flourishing in many other dioceses (albeit the more sparsely populated ones)---Eastern Tennessee, for example, parts of New England, and even the Church of England. As finances become critical with declining membership, the model of the "Bishop/Ministry Developer" pioneered in Northern Michigan will become attractive to more dioceses. Because Mutual Ministry is virtually content-free (it has to be in order to be all-inclusive), it combines well with any other set of spiritual beliefs, not the least of which is Buddhism. 

This is where the changes of 1979 have brought us. The future of our Church lies before us as we watch what is happening in the Diocese of Northern Michigan.


  1. I appreciate your efforts in dissecting this the latest case of T.E.C. vs the people.

    To prove to you that I read the whole thing, one word jumped out and focused my enlightened consciousness when I read,

    "the vision we share of forming Christian communities of ministry – a formation process which is ongoing and inclusive of learning, prayer, spirituality, outreach, play, etc."

    "Play," I have heard that one from the pulpit of our church. "We need to play together more..."

    How come I am never picked to play on the winning team? What kind of game is the P.B. and the Rev. Forrester playing?

    Send your letters to your standing committees and Bishops folks! Remember "it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you place the blame."

    Don't blame yourself.

  2. Thanks, Pewster. A good reminder for us.

    I don't want to leave the impression that this is all that could be said about this particular candidate. Some of the comments I read at the blogs I've referenced indicated much more serious problems with how Fr. Forrester handles liturgy, such as dropping the Nicene Creed. I simply haven't had time to research all those aspects, and wherever possible I would like to link to actual writings, rather than just hearsay.

    Nevertheless, I hope this will provide enough of a foundation for others to build on. As you say, this is going to be a matter of getting the word out to the people who make the decision.

  3. You know, it looks like a cult to me. I am a cult survivor.

    This isn't about progressive or orthodox, liberal or conservative - this looks like a cult.


  4. The changes actually began before 1979. The first major revision of the American Prayer Book in 1928 embodied a marked shift away from biblical Anglicanism and reflected the influence of Anglo-Catholicism and Broad Church liberalism in the then Protestant Episcopal Church. The penitential language of the American Prayer Book was diluted and references to God's anger or wrath were dropped or muted. Prayers for the dead were introduced into the American Prayer Book for the first time. The Lord's Prayer and the Prayer of Humble Access were placed in a position that reflected a completely different understanding of the Eucharistic presence than that of the two previous American Prayer Books. They had been removed from this position in the 1552 Prayer Book because they were suggestive of the doctrine of Transubstantiation, a view of the Eucharist that the English Church rejected at the Reformation. These were not the only changes that the 1928 revision introduced that represented a significant departure from biblical Anglicanism. The 1928 revision also set precedent for the 1979 revision, paving the way for the changes in that Prayer Book.

  5. I find it odd that some people who believe that an Episcopal Diocese can secede do not believe that an Episcopal Diocese can elect a Bishop in an unconventional way.

  6. Thank you for illustrating the difference between us so well, Father Weir---that is why I am glad you feel free to post here.

    The "oddity" you find comes down to this:

    There is a rule about electing Bishops---in this case, the procedures are spelled out in the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese of Northern Michigan. They were not followed; they were ignored (I understand that retired Bishop Tom Ray expressed reservations about the proposed procedure at the convention, but was outvoted).

    There is no rule that a Diocese may not amend its Constitution to remove the accession clause by which it was granted admission to General Convention. (Check Article XIV of the Constitution just linked.) The diocesan Constitution in that form was approved by General Convention when it admitted Northern Michigan as a Diocese in 1895. The Constitution was amended several times since admission using the authority in Article XIV, and not once did General Convention ask to approve the amendments made, either in advance or afterwards. Nor did it do so in San Joaquin.

    But after San Joaquin finally used its power of amendment to eliminate the accession clause, then and only then did the folk at 815 move in and say: "Well, you can't make that change."

    Only under the fuzzy rules of logic applied by liberals does that kind of reasoning make sense.

    Please understand, Father Weir---I am not denigrating your logic, any more than I am disparaging those who agree with you. I am simply noting that under the rules of logic you and others follow, the two instances you cite---deviating from the written rules to elect a bishop in Northern Michigan, and not being able to deviate from the unwritten and implied rule you say exists that a Diocese cannot leave the Church---are perfectly in balance; there is no disconnect in your minds. I appreciate that, I really do. (In fact, I am going to put up a post about it.)

    However, much of the current exasperation expressed by the different camps with each other stems from the fact that they are applying different systems of logic. Maybe it will be through adventuresome souls as yourself, who are willing to come over and try to have a dialogue, that we will eventually be able to bridge that gap---who knows. (But in the process of doing so, the lawsuits will have to come to an end as well. Perhaps financial exhaustion will help.)

  7. Our host assserts that the procedures mandated by the Constituion and Canons of the Diocese of Morthern Michigan were not followed but failed to provide evidence to suport that assertion. I would appreciate something more than the assertion.

  8. The question of the accession clause is an important one and our host and I disagree about its standing. I believe that there are amendments to Diocesan Constutions and Canons that are not allowed. One of these is the repeal of the accession clause. If a Diocese repeals that clause, it is my opinion that it ceases to be an Episcopal Diocese and surrenders any claim to the property of the Episcopal Diocese.

  9. Father Weir, Article XI of the Constitution I linked to above says simply: "The election of a Bishop of this Diocese shall be made in an annual Convention or in a special Convention called for that purpose."

    There was no "election" of a Bishop at the Special Convention; there was a ratification of the previous election of a single candidate that had been made by the 21 members of the EMDT.

  10. Father Weir, we are straying off topic. I will just note that I have already responded to your view that there is an unwritten rule that limits a Diocese's unrestricted, written power of amendment---that is fuzzy logic, which is not the logic used by legal systems, for obvious reasons (see my upcoming post).

    I do agree with you that once a Diocese exercises that power, it is no longer a diocese of the Episcopal Church. As for who succeeds to the property, please note that the Dennis Canon applies only to the property held by individual parishes, and not to the property of a diocese.

  11. Mr. Haley,
    Thank you for the clarification of your assertion. I would disagree that the presentation of a single nominee to a Special Convention and that nominee's subsequent election by the members of the Convention is a violation of Article XI. Applying your logic across the board to elections in parishes would invalidate most - if not all - the elections of rectors and many elections of Vestry members. Whether it was wise for the members of the Convention to elect the only nominee is another question, but I don't see how Article XI has been violated.

  12. It is not "my" logic, Father Weir; it is what Article XI of the Diocesan Constitution and Article II of the ECUSA Constitution say: bishops are elected by the convention of the Diocese, not ratified; once elected by the convention, that election is then ratified by the Standing Committees and the active bishops in ECUSA, or by General Convention if appropriate. You have to be using a different vocabulary when you call an up-or-down vote on a single candidate, with no nominations allowed from the floor, an "election". Even the EMDT conceded as much, when it noted that the Special Convention would be asked to "affirm" its choice.

    There is no parallel to the many local elections you cite, because even if there ends up being only one candidate for a given post, the nomination process is still open, and anyone who wants to throw his or her hat in the ring can appear on the ballot. That was definitely not the process followed in Northern Michigan, where no names were announced in advance, where the EMDT controlled the "nomination" process from start to finish, and where there were no nominations from the floor.

    But given the different logical systems to which we apparently adhere, I think we have exhausted this subject. To me, a canon lawyer, "elect" means "to choose from among", and in that sense the electing here was all done by the EMDT, and not by the Convention as the Constitution requires. To you, a parish priest, "elect" means the same as "ratify or affirm someone else's choice", and not choose something yourself. I cite you the Constitution, and you read it differently than I do, because you define the word "elect" other than the dictionary does. So long as you are reading words to mean something else than their definition (just as you similarly read the word "amend" to have an unwritten limitation imposed on it), we are not talking the same language, and so there can be no agreement between us.

    But that is what you already noted, so let us go from this topic in peace.

  13. I have to agree with BabyBlue on this one. As I read through this "process", I see the formation of a cult. My thought was "This looks like the cult control of a group like Scientology". Yes, I've seen this process before ... there's nothing new here. There is a wicked spirit behind it.

  14. Dear A.C.,
    Thank you for the detailed unpacking of this history. I think you go to far to apply Zen or "cult" to the situation, however. To me it looks like good old fashioned insider dealing and manipulation. Perhaps the new-agey-thingies were thrown in to distract the unwary from what was really going on, but the process appears to me to be a massive conflict of interest.

    I take your point on "election" but I think it a hard case to prove. There is, after all, a tradition of election by acclamation, well established in church history. (Usually due to the agency of doves landing on people unexpectedly, but that gets a bit new-agey very quickly) ;-)

    However, I have grave concerns about this process, as does at least one other member of the standing committee on which I serve, and we are bringing these concerns to the committee.

    Thank you, as always, for your willingness to engage an issue at length. Even if I disagree with some of your conclusions, I think you are in the main on to an important issue in this case.

  15. Thank you very much for that comment, Father Haller. I am not sure we disagree that much; "cult" was a term used in some of the comments above, but not in my post. I am not in any position to judge what the specially appointed delegates to the Special Convention thought their task was when they assembled, but like you, I am very concerned with the integrity of the process that brought them there, and that presented them with only one choice, with no other nominations allowed.

    Elections by acclamation are, as you say, a venerable tradition in the Church, and we also have St. Augustine's own account of how he was chosen as a bishop. Such elections are, however, more the result of the spontaneous inspiration of a single moment (with or without a dove descending), rather than the carefully guided outcome of a one-year process. And again, I would not even have a problem with that if the process had not been conducted in secret for eleven of the twelve months.

    I even agree with Father Harris at this point (how about that!): what we all could use right now is plenty of openness from the new candidate and the EMDT about what took so long to winnow the field down to someone who was there from the outset, after all the months of deliberations in secret. What were some of the other candidates, and did any of them come to visit with the EMDT and discuss their views, or was it all a long-distance screening? And if the outcome was dictated mostly by finances (i.e., they needed to find a bishop who would agree to take the same salary as the clergy), then why can't they be open about that, too? They could explain, "there was no one else willing to meet the conditions imposed by the constraints we are under."

    Father Stephen Noll also believes I overstated the case against the 1979 BCP changes somewhat, although he, too, is troubled by the "machinations" that occurred in this case. I will have to devote a separate post to making my full argument clear, but essentially, all I am saying is that the same spirit of innovation on the side of "striving for justice and peace" that characterizes the 1979 Baptismal Covenant is the spirit that I see behind the manipulations in Michigan: it's a feeling that we can freely tamper with the traditions of the Church (such as the selection and ministry of bishops) so long as one has pure motives of "doing the right thing".

    The same process that "did the right thing" by singling out the Rev. Thew Forrester (I guess we're going to have to get used to double-barreled bishops' names, too, as in Jefferts Schori) was the process that left 95% of the Northern Michiganders in the dark for eleven months. If that becomes the norm for future episcopal elections, and if people think that such a process is fine and dandy under the canons, then I think we will all be worse off than before.

    This is too long of a comment already, but as usual, you really got me thinking. And for that I am grateful to you.

  16. fwiw, I agree with Noll that the object of concern is not the Baptismal Covenant, but with what happens when good things fall into the hands of those who misuse them. Recalling that heresy often involves an overemphasis on something in itself true, my sense is that the principles of the B.C., for example, are perfectly sound, but capable of being misapplied, or distorted in their application.

    For instance, I've noticed in the liberal fringe (of which I do not consider myself a part) movement to stress the B.C. by some of the same folks pushing for communion of those not yet baptized. They've so emphasized the egalitarian elements of the B.C. that they've ignored the big B at the beginning! That's the kind of inanity I think is rightly noted as, shall we say, dissonant?

    Thus I continue to be watchful of those who trumpet democracy but set up their private fiefdoms all the while. Democracy is, I think, a good thing -- but in certain hands it becomes a tool for domination. Ideals make excellent building material for labor camps -- and the charmer who can lord it over people while making them think they are acting freely has achieved a great work of smoke and mirrors.

    But, as I say, this does not, for me, undercut the real value of the Baptismal Covenant. I find in my baptismal instructions that people in my church -- most of whom are immigrants or first or second generation folks of West Indian and West African descent -- relate very clearly to the notion that respecting others and doing well by them is a way to bring peace and civility to a society, and that these are values that Christ urges us towards when he says we should treat others as we would ourselves be treated.

    All the best, and thanks as always for the thoughtful reflections.