On Saturday, December 3, members of our Peninsula Deanery met with members of the committee charged with shepherding the Diocese of California through the process of selecting our new bishop. The meeting at St. Paul’s in Burlingame included several people from the diocesan committee, many from St. Paul’s, individuals from a number of parishes/missions, and three representatives from St. Mark’s. The diocesan committee took notes on the conversation to incorporate into the Diocesan Profile to be published next April for potential bishops to peruse.
Below are some of the suggestions made to that committee.
Our new bishop should prioritize tending the diocesan flock at least as much as addressing global issues. We need a bishop who will care for the priests and lay leaders in our congregations, focusing the activities of diocesan staff toward parochial support at least as much as on Diocesan programming. Our new bishop should provide direct support to parish leadership bodies and clergy as they face post-pandemic attendance declines and resulting financial challenges. Both priests and lay leaders at the congregational level need to feel the pastoral presence and support of the bishop and diocesan staff as fully engaged partners. On occasion, our clergy require direct assistance from a bishop, and without this support, parishes and the whole diocese pay a very high price when a priest suffers emotional trauma, or engages in financial, managerial, or interpersonal error.
We need a bishop who reflects and represents the racial and cultural diversity of the Bay Area. The members of congregations in this diocese, especially those members in leadership roles, often do not reflect the racial, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity of the San Francisco Bay Area. Our leaders and most of our congregants are primarily white, English-speaking, well-off, and well-educated. We need a bishop who will lead us by example on a path of better integration with the diversity of our context and who will encourage us to foster and maintain diversity through collaborative rather than autocratic leadership. We need a bishop with multicultural orientation, including the ability to speak fluently at least one of the other languages prevalent in the Bay Area, such as Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Tagalog, or Tongan.
We need a bishop able to restructure our ordination processes to foster wider diversity. The new bishop should bring experience updating ordination processes to encourage rather than deter and delay the ordination of people from under-represented communities. The bishop might accomplish this in the ways other dioceses have done, by working with our leadership bodies toward their approval of shorter maximum terms for the members of the Commission on Ministry, and by ensuring that at least half of the lay and clergy Commission on Ministry members are elected at Diocesan Convention by the people of the Diocese. Out of the roughly 70 ordained priests in this diocese, only four speak Spanish fluently. Of those four, only two are in Spanish-speaking congregations. The future of the Episcopal Church is at stake.
We need a bishop who can address our key issue of real estate. The new bishop should have experience engaging expert consultants in land redevelopment and optimization, toward maximizing the utility of our land and buildings, and who will not leave congregations to manage unsupported the major real estate issues facing them, including deferred maintenance, site redevelopments, and dispositions. This attention should also identify the ways our congregations can use their facilities to contribute constructively to the shortage of affordable housing, including clergy housing. We need a bishop who is present and attentive to the precarious state of clergy searches because of the housing crisis in the Bay Area. It is unconscionable that priests should have to struggle to put a roof over their heads as a competing pressure in their ministries. We need a bishop who will put structures into place that initiate projects to build, rent, or buy clergy housing so that our diocese can attract and retain clergy. This includes administrative and pastoral care of clergy.
We need a bishop who addresses climate change with integrity. The bomb of climate change is coming at us very slowly, and we are already feeling its effects; having already killed more people than Adolf Hitler, it is only going to kill more while irreversibly reducing biodiversity. We need a bishop who can accept this reality fully and lead us through prayer and grief of our natural resources, help us to talk about the problem, and to act. If we can’t talk about it, we can’t do anything about it. We need to act collectively, and the new bishop should preach a message of collective action. Legislative engagement is not enough. Our new bishop needs the integrity to delegitimize the institutions that kill, not only by teaching people how to divest their personal finances and churches to divest their endowments, but by protesting in every way possible something that it antithetical to our whole being. We Episcopalians, with our education, professional experience, and pedigree need to use our whole brains and our whole hearts. The new bishop might join in acts of civil disobedience in the streets of our San Francisco financial district, but if not, then at least have the courage to preach on the macroeconomic aspect of climate change. Addressing the flow of money is a major weapon against this bomb, and we have a Christian duty to do so.
The above notes are my modification of a presentation by Rani Fischer, organist at St. Bede’s (Menlo Park) and member of St. Francis (San Francisco).
If you have suggestions for the bishop selection committee, please enter them into the soon-to-be-created section of the search web site, https://diocalbishopsearch.org/ or discuss with one of our Deanery representatives or clergy, who will be voting next year to select our next bishop.
A description of the search process is at https://diocalbishopsearch.org/2022/07/22/standing-committee-letter-to-the-diocese/.