Soon: A Bishop For Chicago

Coverage of the events leading up to the election of the next bishop of Chicago is starting to pick up,

The next Episcopal bishop… —

Next week, the eight finalists for bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago meet their potential flock at a series of gatherings throughout the region:

St. Mark’s in Glen Ellyn on Tuesday;
Church of the Redeemer in Elgin on Wednesday;
Church of the Holy Spirit in Lake Forest on Thursday;
Church of the Transfiguration in Palos Park on Oct. 26;
St. Edmund’s in Chicago on Oct. 27, and
St. Luke’s in Dixon on Oct. 28.

The slate of nominees reflects the changing face of the nation’s Episcopal church, with three women and two Africans among those running. Before this election, no woman had been nominated for Episcopal bishop of Chicago.

Tribune religion reporters Margaret Ramirez and Manya A. Brachear compiled information on the eight nominees from personal statements and interviews with Episcopal scholars. The election will be held Nov. 10 at the diocese’s annual convention in Wheeling. The new bishop will succeed Bishop William Persell, who has led the diocese since 1999.

Here is a picture of +William Persell when he visited the former Holy Innocents mission parish a couple of years ago. He is a great leader, and will be missed.


After this meeting, +Bill and his lovely wife Nancy went to lunch with the Holy Innocents Bishop’s Committee at a nearby restaurant with an aircraft theme near Schaumburg Field, a suburban airport. It was a pleasant time and we all enjoyed the discussions, but I also remember he deplored the actions of conservative bishops, who refused table fellowship with him, and with other Episcopal bishops who had voted in favor of +Gene Robinson’s election as bishop of New Hampshire. He warned against exclusivity and urged inclusivity in the church. He remains on cordial terms with some local priests who have chosen to leave the Episcopal church and align with Anglican bishops from other countries, because that’s the kind of guy he is.

I heard a story today that reminded me how engaged he has been in clergy care – it’s kind of personal and there’s a lot of private detail – but he’s definitely “there” for his clergy, and for those hoping to become Episcopal priests.

The Tribune story goes on to add some interesting details about each of the candidates. I’ll excerpt them below, as much of the biographical detail is repeated from the diocesan search site. The interesting part is the reporters for the Trib asked each candidate what they think the critical issues are that we face in the Episcopal church, and also added some sporty-sounding “odds” commentary. Speaking only for myself and not for St Nick’s, I’d say their odds are kind of odd, but for what it’s worth, here are the candidates’ takes on the critical issues, and the Trib’s assessment of their chances.

Alvin C. Johnson, current rector of St Michael’s in Barrington

Critical issues facing the church: “The critical issue facing our Church is this: We are becoming less effective at reaching people who are spiritually hungry. … In facing this challenge, we are to embrace the critical role of the parish church in deepening the faith of people. The most important place for the abundance of our resources is the front lines of parish life where Jesus meets the people.”

Odds: Observers read the late nomination of this “hometown favorite son” as a sign some in the diocese don’t want an outsider.

Rev. Tracey Lind

Critical issues facing the church: “In my life and ministry, I do everything in my power to find unity within diversity. However, when we grapple with complex issues — race, class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religious pluralism, multiculturalism, the environment, globalism, and all the other challenges that face the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion, and the rest of the world — I know that unity is not always possible.”

Odds: Lind has credentials, pedigree and a Midwestern advantage that matters. But because of her same-sex partner, her election would not be approved by the wider church.

Rev. Timothy B. Safford

Critical issues facing the church: “As important as the issues consuming all of the attention in The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion [are], it is taking too much time and attention away from building our parishes and missions. We may disappear before the Anglican Communion settles on whether we belong.”

“The Episcopal Church is right to be dedicated to the ‘One’ campaign and the Millennium Development Goals … but we need to understand [development goals] locally applied to the city of Chicago, to the struggles of the suburbs, and the crises in the rural areas.”

Odds: Genuine, energetic and visionary, Safford is considered to be among the front-runners. But he’s not a warm and fuzzy kind of guy. Clergy might prefer a more nurturing boss.

Rev. Canon Robert K. Koomson

Critical issues facing the church: “The critical issue facing our church today is the issue of human sexuality and its resultant outrage, which has brought about the split within the church.” He suggests exercising restraint, studying the Bible, and fasting and abstinence.

Odds: If evangelism is a priority in Chicago, his vocation could play to two key constituencies — those who see evangelism as a way to move forward and those who see it as a way to get more people in the pews.

Rev. Petero A.N. Sabune

Critical issues facing the church: “When love fails, then we become ‘Balkanized’ into separate little groupings of race, orientation, economic class. But when we come to the altar to receive, there is no altar rail for different groups. We all are part of the same body of Christ. … It will be the task of the bishop to continue the tradition of action, while at the same time, admit those places where we have failed, including growing our congregations.”

Odds: A charismatic leader, Sabune emits a joyful energy. But his commitment to the margins of the church and full inclusion might be viewed as too progressive for Chicago.

Rev. Margaret R. Rose

Critical issues facing the church: “The critical issue facing our church today is our fear of institutional annihilation and the focus on survival at any cost. Too often in the well-meaning desire for church growth, we lose sight of why it is we want to grow. … The question to ask ourselves in parishes is not how to survive, but rather, how can we be better disciples?”

Odds: Rose grasps the need to conquer racism and sexism in the church. But her feminist take on Scripture is controversial. A Southern transplant to the Northeast, she also risks being labeled “just another East Coast elitist.”

Rev. Jeffrey D. Lee

Critical issues facing the church: “Among the important issues facing the Episcopal Church of course, none is more polarizing than the current debates around sexuality, and like many of us I’ve had to practice my own discernment about what it means to lead a church in which there are strongly held, sometimes radically divergent views about those debates. The first task for a leader, as I’ve said, is to listen. … Listening isn’t all there is to leadership though. Central to the task of good leadership is self-definition. I try to make my own position around controversial issues as clear as I can and to do so as un-anxiously as possible. I make it clear that I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but as a leader I have a duty to articulate my own understanding of what God may be calling the church to do.”

Odds: Viewed as a front-runner from the start, Lee’s education, career track and northern Indiana roots best fit the Chicago model, which makes observers wonder whether Johnson’s late entry will split votes. Lee is also considered a caretaker of clergy.

Rev. Jane S. Gould

Critical issues facing the church: “As the 21st Century breaks, our church faces declining membership, aging people and properties, and divisions over the interpretation of scripture. To address these and a multitude of other issues, we need to re-imagine church. … Christ calls us always to ‘do a new thing’; he invites us into transformation because always, when we truly encounter ‘the other,’ we are changed, and God’s glory is revealed.”

Odds: With Stanford schooling and ministry in Massachusetts, Gould could lose Chicago points. But her engagement of Kenyan priests in the U.S. has impressed many.

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