Well, I thought this was a joke. An email from a Gmail account, purporting to be the account of a bishop search committee for the Episcopal Diocese of Western Kansas. So naturally, I didn’t respond. I mean, why would I? I’m a layman! I’m neither a deacon, nor a priest. Fast forward a few weeks from November 22 to December 5. It read as follows:
This is [to] inform you that your name has been submitted to be considered for the position of Bishop of the Diocese of Western Kansas. The search committee will contact you at the end of the open search process in mid December.
It turns out it wasn’t a joke. I received a telephone call from a woman on the bishop search committee asking how I want to pursue my candidacy. She didn’t tell me who nominated me, rather that they asked to remain anonymous. I told her that I required time to mull it over. I looked them up to double check, and they’re accepting nominations until December 15th as per THIS POST on their site.
I remain confused, as the Diocese of Western Kansas presently has a Bishop (and he’s a great one too!) who is only aged seventy years old, and thus isn’t required to retire for two more years! I didn’t even know that they were searching for a replacement. The diocese in whose borders I reside, however; has NO Bishop at this time, so I knew that there was a search going on in the Diocese of Kansas. I know… Kansas and Western Kansas. It’s confusing… And both looking for a Bishop?
I did some further research as to the election process, and as to my own eligibility. In the Episcopal church, representatives from the congregations of a diocese form a committee and elect a bishop. If he/she is not already a bishop, that person is consecrated by three existing bishops.
From what I can see of the canons, there’s nothing major that would preclude a layman bring elevated to bishop. There are obvious steps to precede, ordination as deacon then priest… But only the Romans stipulate you must be a priest for five years before eligibility to the Episcopate. Thus, it turns out, I really am eligible… Technically… Though Title III, Canon 11, Section 4 throws some doubt on the subject, unless time were written into the election to provide for ordination as Deacon and then as Priest:
…evidence of the Bishop-elect’s having been duly ordered Deacon and Priest as to the Bishop-elect’s medical, psychological and psychiatric examination required in Sec. 3(b) of this Canon…
I must point out, that the Episcopal Diocese of Western Kansas is particularly close to my heart, as when I was a youth, I was troubled. This resulted in my being in the care of the Saint Francis Boys homes in Salina, KS and in Ellsworth, KS, as well as my being in the foster care system through Saint Francis. The very first priest I ever met (of any denomination, despite having been baptized as an infant) was there – Father Thomas Campbell. It was through his loving kindness and support that I turned my life around, and I am greatly in his debt. It was also from his hands that I first tasted the Eucharist in any form.
I thought long and hard about what has happened in my life, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. I considered how odd it is for me, a layman, to be nominated to a diocese that I do not belong to, and which is two hours away from me. I recalled my history with that diocese, spanning back to my youth. I prayed, and I spoke with a spiritual director whose counsel I trust. Here’s how I finally responded… via email, of course (sans a few personal details):
To whom it may concern;
Greetings, in Christ. I apologize for not having responded sooner, as I believed this email to have been a prank. I realize after this afternoon’s telephone call, that it is not. I am not entirely certain how I feel about having been nominated… My first thought is to immediately say no, and to turn down this nomination. I am, by nature, quite bashful, and as is likely obvious, under-qualified. But upon further consideration and having spoken with my spiritual director, I can answer only – If it is God’s will, it will be, whether I reject it or not. And if it is not God’s will, no harm is done in going on the journey.
Before you continue further with any consideration, I should like to tell you more about myself. To that end, I’ve attached a copy of my resume, so that you can get to know me professionally. Also for your review is a link to the only published “religious” writing of mine: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1495299309. I hail originally from the [Eastern Christian] tradition. As such, my work was focused around the Eastern tradition of liturgy. I have studied the history and writings of the Christian Church for 13 years, even learning Hebrew and Aramaic to study the Old Testament directly, and Syriac to study the New Testament as well as a little of Greek and Latin to aid in that study.
[Paragraph about personal details and life history removed]
[Paragraph about personal income details and support of family removed]
If, as I suspect, nothing comes of the nomination, thank you for your time and for your consideration. I very much appreciate the opportunity to serve, regardless of what role I play. If however, I am selected for further interview, I very much look forward to speaking with you.
Warm regards, Theophilus
I really don’t expect anything to come of it, as they obviously have many, many more impressive and advanced candidates available to them. But at any rate, I wish them success in their selection of a shepherd to lead their church in humility and in love. I will pray for the Diocese of Western Kansas, and close this post with the prayer from the Diocese of Kansas (separate from the Diocese of Western Kansas) in whose borders I currently reside, edited as appropriate to the Western Diocese:
Gracious and loving God, thank you for the directing presence of your Holy Spirit upon those who have been set apart to discern your call of the 6th bishop of the Diocese of Western Kansas. Look graciously on your people as we lift up the search process in fervent prayer. Guide us to the faithful pastor who will nurture your people and cultivate the myriad gifts that abide in the people of this diocese. Empower this search with a spirit of joy and discernment as together we journey with Jesus the road ahead; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
And from the Book of Common Prayer (page 818):
Almighty God, giver of every good gift: Look graciously on your Church, and so guide the minds of those who shall choose a bishop for this Diocese, that we may receive a faithful pastor, who will care for your people and equip us for our ministries; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.