Toward Columbus: Consent sought to election of six bishops

May 18, 2006

Six dioceses will ask the 75th General Convention, meeting June 13-21 in Columbus, Ohio, for consent to the election of new bishops.

A diocese must solicit consent to the ordination of its bishop-elect from the wider church and that consent is obtained in one of two ways.

Either a majority of all diocesan bishops and standing committees agrees and the consecration is ordered by the Presiding Bishop's Office, or, if the election takes place less than three months before the start of a General Convention, approval must come during convention.

In the latter procedure, the question initially comes before the House of Deputies. If deputies vote to approve the election, it moves to the House of Bishops, where only diocesan bishops -- those with jurisdiction -- are allowed to vote. Diocesan bishops can submit an absentee ballot if they do not attend General Convention.

If either house fails to approve a diocese's choice for bishop, the Presiding Bishop must declare the election null and void and another election must be held.

This year, six dioceses -- Albany, West Texas, Texas, California, Northern California and Eastern Michigan -- held successful elections inside the three-month window.

The six bishops-elect are:

Diocese of Albany: The Very Rev. Canon William H. Love, 48, the rector of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Lake Luzerne, New York, was elected on the fourth ballot on March 25. Love will eventually succeed Bishop Daniel Herzog.

Diocese of West Texas: The Rev. David Mitchell Reed, 49, rector of St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Harlingen, Texas, was elected as suffragan bishop on March 25. Reed was elected on the third ballot. He will work with Bishop Gary Lillibridge, 49, who was consecrated as the ninth bishop of West Texas on February 23.

Diocese of Texas: The Venerable Dena Harrison, 59, archdeacon and canon for ministry in the diocese, was elected as suffragan bishop on the third ballot April 29. As the 13th woman elected as a bishop of the Episcopal Church, she will serve with diocesan Bishop Don A. Wimberly, Bishop Suffragan Rayford B. High Jr. and Assistant Bishop John C. Buchanan.

Diocese of California: The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus, bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Alabama, was elected May 6 to be the eighth bishop of the Diocese of California. Andrus, 49, was elected on the third ballot to replace the Rt. Rev. William Swing, who will retire this year.

Diocese of Northern California: The Rev. Canon Barry Beisner, canon to the ordinary in the diocese, was elected May 6 as bishop coadjutor of his diocese. Beisner, 54, who was chosen on the fourth ballot, will succeed Bishop Jerry Lamb, who called in late 2004 for a coadjutor to succeed him when he retires January 1, 2007.

Diocese of Eastern Michigan: The Rev. Steven Todd Ousley, missioner for congregational development and clergy deployment for the diocese, was elected as its bishop coadjutor May 6. Ousley, 44, was elected on the fifth ballot. He will succeed the Rt. Rev. Edwin M. Leidel Jr., the first bishop of the diocese, who retires at the end of this year.

The Diocese of Tennessee had also expected to present a bishop coadjutor-elect to convention. But after 36 ballots spanning three Saturdays (March 18, March 25 and May 6), no candidate received the necessary two-thirds majority in the lay and clergy order on the same ballot. The election convention was adjourned and the diocese will likely start the search process over again. Bishop Bertram Herlong had intended to retire at the end of this year.

Each of the six bishops-elect will have a hearing before the 23-member Legislative Committee on the Consecration of Bishops, which will offer a recommendation on each consent request it forwards to the House of Deputies.

Rule changes suggested

General Convention's role in election consents is usually noncontroversial, with a notable exception in 2003 when bishops and deputies made international headlines after approving the Diocese of New Hampshire's election of Gene Robinson as the church's first bishop who was openly gay at the time of his election.

Several resolutions being offered this June would end General Convention's involvement in election consents altogether.

Resolution A085, from the Standing Commission on Ministry Development, would amend the church constitution (Article II, section 2), by simply deleting the rules that require General Convention to deal with consents.

Resolutions A028, A029 and A030, from the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons, would similarly amend the several places in the canons that require General Convention to act, leaving diocesan bishops and standing committees with sole responsibility for consent of elections, regardless of when an election takes place.

Since A085 is a proposed constitutional change, it would require the approval of two consecutive conventions and could not take effect until after it was ratified on second reading at the 2009 General Convention.

Bishop Keith Whitmore of Eau Claire, who helped draft A085, said the suggested changes are part of the process of revamping the Title III canons on ministry. "It naturally came up in discussion," he said, explaining that the commission was charged in 2000 with revising Title III. The canons were revised by the 2003 General Convention and changes begin proposed to June's convention continue those revisions.

"It's a question that's been around for some time for a lot of us, including me," Whitmore said, "about whether this is the most efficient way to spend our time at General Convention when, in fact, the normal process of standing committees and all that could go on and we could use this time at General Convention for something else -- or for shortening General Convention."

If these resolutions do not pass, two other resolutions have been proposed to clear up current discrepancies between the constitution and canons on the subject.

One (A018) is the second reading of a proposed constitutional change in Article II, Section 2, clarifying that the consent by General Convention is required of any bishop election within 120 days of the start of convention. The current version refers to the time period as "within three months of the next meeting of General Convention..."

"At the 2003 General Convention, the body decided to amend the rules to require consents by convention to any bishop election within 120 days of convention," said Duncan Bayne, chair of the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons. "This was to be done two ways: amending Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution to specify 120 days rather than the previously specified three months, and to change the several canons which touched on the subject."

Those amendments to the canons were actually approved in 2003, since unlike a change in the constitution, they do not require approval at two consecutive conventions. The fact that the constitution and canons don't agree is irrelevant, said Bayne.

"Until the constitutional change is effected, the canonical changes are essentially not effective, as the canons must follow the constitution," he said.

However, in 2003, the committee apparently missed one canonical reference (Canon III.16.3(a)) to the 120-day requirement, and so an additional resolution (A027) has been submitted this year to correct the omission.

And even more changes to the process will likely be considered in the near future. Whitmore suggested the church use technology to shorten the consent process. "We haven't looked into electronic consents because there's never been the urgency," he said. "We should do consents electronically, I think, with codes and things to ensure security. We could probably do two-week consents if we had to."