Back before the earth cooled, I served as a seminarian at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Capitol Hill. Verna Dozier was a member of my lay advisory committee and became my mentor. When it was almost time for my ordination to the diaconate, Verna said to me, “Someday someone is going to ask you if they can submit your name for a bishop search. I want you to promise me that when that happens, you will not say ‘No.'”
I was a bit taken aback, and I said to her, “But Verna, you know I don’t want to be a bishop. I have no desire to wear the funny hat and, more importantly, I don’t want the power.”
But she was insistant. “Ken,” she said, “that’s exactly why you can’t say, ‘No.’ One of the biggest problems we have with the leadership of the church is that too many people who are elected bishops really want to be bishops.” Then, as only Verna could do, she instructed me: reading to me the “Examination” question from the ordination services for deacons, priests, and bishops, and asked, “Did you notice the difference? Candidates for Deacon and Priest are asked if they believe they are ‘called‘ to the ministry of the diaconate or the priesthood. Candidates for Bishop are asked if they are ‘persuaded.’ There’s a reason for that: You aren’t supposed to want to be a bishop. You are supposed to be persuaded.”
Vera’s comments have stuck with me. As a result, over the years I have allowed my name to be submitted in three different Episcopal searches. And my ambivalence toward the office gifted me with an odd kind of freedom: the ability to speak the truth without fear of losing something that I badly wanted. I’d like to think this freedom to speak the truth without fear was a gift to those conducting the search as well, even though it may have resulted in them hearing some things they did not want to hear.
This is why I believe resolution D004 – Create a Task Force to Study Episcopal Elections and Appointments of Bishops is so timely. We need to find a way to extend our reach beyond the usual suspects: people whom we all knew, as far back as seminary, already had their sights already set on the Episcopacy. We need to find a way to identify those servant leaders who are ambivalent about the trappings of the office and persuade them to at least allow themselves to be considered, as was the case with this one, who was so ambivalent the people had to resort to a little subtrafuge to persuade him…
Now I’m not saying that some of those folks who really want to be bishops can’t become good bishops. As another mentor of mine, who spent many decades on staff at 815, once said, “Quite a few of them turn out to be trainable.” It’s been my privilege to know a fair number of those whom God had trained…and also a few more who could answer that final question of the Examination with the words, “I am so persuaded.”
There’s an epilogue to the story above. Several years after my ordination to the Priesthood and not long after the we planted the church I now lead, our former bishop was visiting our mission congregation. After the reading of the Gospel, he sat down on the chancel steps to have a little Q&A-style sermon with the children.
After they had gathered around his feet, he asked them, “Do any of you know what a bishop does?”
Most of them shrugged their shoulders and gave him quizzical looks. But one, already nerdy at the age of seven, started bouncing up and down, waving his hand in the air, and saying, “I do! I do!”
“Yes, Jeffrey,” bishop Haynes asked, “What does a bishop do?”
Jeffrey, who could already beat most of the congregation at chess, fairly beamed at bishop Haynes and said, “A bishop moves diagonally!”
“There’s truth to those words,” our bishop said, in a wistful aside to the congregation, “More truth than you know…”
I urge you to support this resolution.
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