Note: this is another in an ongoing series discussing the governance of The Episcopal Church. Also, this contains Episcopal Church lingo and terms. Check the websites listed at the end for full explanations.
When is a bishop a bishop? At his/her election?
If you answered “yes” to that question, then it’s time to brush up on the canons of The Episcopal Church. And, considering this is “election season” – with eight bishop elections slated for Fall 2009 – it’s a good time to look at the process.
While bishops in The Episcopal Church are elected on the local level, they are not approved to serve as bishops until after the completion of a consent process by the leaders of rest of the Church, followed by ordination.
Generally, the process for electing bishops in the dioceses of The Episcopal Church is the same, whether the election calls for a diocesan, a co-adjutor or a suffragan bishop.
After a process of discernment within the diocese, in which usually a selection of candidates is presented to the diocese, an election is conducted on an appointed date. Upon election, the successful candidate is a Bishop-Elect.
Following some procedural matters including examinations, formal notices are then sent to bishops with jurisdiction (diocesan bishops only) with separate notices to the standing committees of each of the dioceses in The Episcopal Church. These notices require their own actions and signatures.
It’s at this point that time starts ticking.
In order for a Bishop-Elect to become a bishop, Canon III.11.4 (a) of The Episcopal Church mandates that a majority of diocesan bishops AND a majority of diocesan standing committees must consent to the Bishop-Elect’s ordination as bishop. These actions – done separately - must be completed within 120 days from the day after notice of the election was sent to the proper parties.
If the Bishop-Elect receives a majority (at least 50% plus 1) of consents from the diocesan bishops as well as a majority from the standing committees, the Bishop-Elect is one step closer. Following a successful consent process, ordination and celebration are in order.
It is at this point, often more than four months after local election, that a Bishop-Elect is a Bishop.
However, if the majority of the diocesan bishops do not consent, and/or the majority of the standing committees do not consent, the Presiding Bishop, in accordance with Canon III.11.5, is required to declare the election null and void. In those cases, a person elected by the diocese will not be ordained. Hence, the bishop is not a bishop, and the process must start anew.
(Note: The consent process differs when the election is within 90 days of a General Convention, and the next General Convention is July 2012.)