Are Full Time Bishops for Small Dioceses on the Way Out?
david at virtueonline.org
david at virtueonline.org
Fri Jan 21 23:29:06 CST 2011
Are Full Time Bishops for Small Dioceses on the Way Out?
By David W. Virtue
January 17, 2011
The Bishop of North Dakota, Michael Smith has written a letter to members of the Gethsemane Cathedral Chapter and the North Dakota Diocesan Council telling them that the idea of a Bishop/Rector, or in this case a Bishop/Dean, model of ministry is the way forward for his financially strapped diocese. He suggests it might be the way forward for an increasing number of dioceses across The Episcopal Church as they face smaller congregations and diminishing income.
Smith, who is orthodox in faith and morals, wisely assesses the situation noting that such a move would actually be a return to the original practice of The Episcopal Church wherein all bishops served as rectors of congregations.
"There was even a discussion about such a possibility for North Dakota during the search which led to my election in 2004. This conversation, however, was cut short because it was understood by some that the national canons would not allow such an arrangement.
"Given the recent election and consents for the bishop-elect of the Diocese of Western Kansas, a diocese numerically similar to ours in size, the Bishop/Rector model has been given the blessing of The Episcopal Church," wrote Smith. The recently installed Rt. Rev. Michael Milliken the Bishop of Western Kansas will continue to serve as priest bishop at Grace Church in Hutchinson, Kansas.
It should be noted that Smith served as a part-time assisting bishop in the Diocese of Louisiana for two years and ran unsuccessfully as bishop of that diocese when Bishop Charles Jenkins stepped down.
It should also be noted that Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop, has no diocese. Her main function is to preside at general conventions although she has assumed more powers than initially intended for a Presiding Bishop. Originally, the Presiding Bishop was simply the senior diocesan bishop who presided over the House of Bishops. In 1919, the office was transformed into an elected one. In the 1940s, the decision was made that the Presiding Bishop should resign any other jurisdictions for which he might have pastoral responsibility. In this respect, the office is different from that of an archbishop found in other churches in the Anglican Communion which have diocesan responsibilities in addition to overseeing a national church. In the 1970s, the Presiding Bishop was given authority to enter dioceses for sacramental and preaching ministry, consulting with bishops, and related purposes. The Presiding Bishop was given the title of primate in 1982.
The emerging situation in smaller dioceses is now reaching a critical level. More and more dioceses have part time priests, retired priests and deacons performing sacramental duties because the package cost to a parish for a full time priest is in the vicinity of $100,000, taking into account salary, pension, medical and living costs.
Dioceses like Western Michigan and Western Louisiana, to name but a few, have only a handful of full time priests which raises the critical questions now being asked by Bishop Smith of North Dakota.
The Diocese of Newark also faces a crunch time with small dying parishes, decreasing income, and with fewer parishes being able to afford a full time priest. This begs the question as to what future graduates from liberal Episcopal seminaries will find when they hit the marketplace looking for a full position with benefits.
The strongest and most viable dioceses are all fairly conservative. They include Dallas, Texas, (but not West Texas), and Central Florida (but not Florida), to name a few.
Some liberal dioceses like Los Angeles, Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts can certainly absorb liberal clergy, at least for the foreseeable future.
What Bishop Smith proposes for his own diocese is this:
* The bishop serves on a 1/3-time basis for the Diocese as the episcopal minister and a 2/3-time basis as rector/dean of the Cathedral.
Serving with the bishop as part of a pastoral staff would be:
* a full-time Administrator, serving both the Diocese and the Cathedral;
* a full-time Secretary, serving both the Diocese and the Cathedral;
* a 1/4-time Minister or two 1/8-time Ministers for Pastoral Care serving the Cathedral;
* 1.875 (FTE) Ministers serving the Diocese as the Bishop's Diocesan Ministry Team (the three current Canon Missioners and the Bishop's Executive Assistant).
"If there is a will to move in this direction there is a way. The current budgets of both the Cathedral and the Diocese would allow for such adaptation. Therefore, to further this discernment, I will be presenting to the Chapter revised cathedral budget recommendations at its February meeting and revised diocesan budget recommendations to the Diocesan Council at its March meeting. Obviously, both bodies must agree if such a model is to become a reality."
Bishop Smith is facing the reality that other bishops will, in time, be forced to face. He is facing it with courage, fortitude and realism.
There is no doubt, too, the reality that North Dakota is not a field waiting to be tilled for new Episcopal converts. Such is not the case in the Diocese of Newark. The state of New Jersey has seen an overall population increase, with one of the highest population densities in the US, while the diocese has, and continues to see decreases in attendance and is imploding with the regular closure of small withering parishes.
Clearly, the pansexual agenda of the Diocese of Newark, aided and abetted by the likes of John Spong and assisted by people like Dr. Louie Crew and the (Rev.) Elizabeth Kaeton, a lesbian, has not stimulated church growth. The losses therefore cannot be based solely on demographics. Something else is in the air.
The bottom line is that small dioceses may finally have to come to terms with the fact that having a full time bishop is just too much of a financial drain on the remaining parishes. Closing up shop completely and merging, the official term is "juncturing", with a nearby larger diocese, as the Bishop of Kansas Dean E. Wolfe offered to to the Diocese of Western Kansas, may be the only viable way forward.
In August of 2010 Wolfe wrote a letter to the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Western Kansas calling for a reunion of the two dioceses.
"We have a unique opportunity, in this brief moment, to engage in a crucial conversation and it is an opportunity which may not present itself again for many years. I believe if our two great dioceses were to join forces it would create an atmosphere of holy excitement and renewed hope throughout our state." Both dioceses face serious financial shortfalls.
Bishop James Adams resigned in October 2009 and wrote that the expenses of a full time Diocesan Bishop and his office have led to the realization that Western Kansas needs to decide how best to continue Christ's ministry as The Episcopal Church in two thirds of the State of Kansas. "Unfortunately, for all the options to be considered, a sitting Diocesan Bishop would not be helpful, neither to the process nor to the ongoing fiscal responsibilities of the Diocese."
Western Kansas has an Average Sunday Attendance of less than 800. The Diocese of Kansas claims an Average Sunday Attendance of about 4,000.
Wolfe laid out a number of reasons for merging and concluded that there were so many reasons for the two dioceses to come together that the burden of proof should be with those who argue against the two dioceses remaining separated. Most church organizations are constantly looking for creative ways to reduce overhead and administrative costs while increasing effective mission and ministry, he said.
Can the rump dioceses of Quincy and San Joaquin remain viable as separate dioceses now that they have experienced serious splits? The faux diocese of North Texas (Ft. Worth) has been accused of inflating figures. The North Texas diocese, masquerading as the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth has been accused of hijacking membership numbers, continuing to use figures from congregations that have realigned with the Southern Cone and become ACNA parishes.
Even if they win their legal battles, and there is no guarantee of that, can they remain a viable diocese if all the orthodox in that diocese flee?
How long will it be before the economic struggles and ecclesiastical difficulties outlined by Bishop Stephen T. Lane in his letter to the Diocese of Maine continue without redress?
At the very least juncturing saves the cost of a salary and much more of a bishop even if the purple shirts of some bishops are ruffled by their own demise.
More information about the VirtueOnline