By Megan Kilpatrick | Western Jurisdictional Conference Delegate
Friends in Christ,
There has been a lot said about what happened at our Jurisdictional Conference this last week. I wanted to provide some insight into the conference and the process, and how our delegation went about this important work.
Firstly, I want to say two things: there were many wonderfully talented candidates, and each would have made a great Bishop. That having been said, we did not elect Bishop Karen Oliveto just because she is lesbian.
The number of Bishops in our Jurisdiction is determined in part by the number of church members, not geographical space. We have five Episcopal Areas, several with multiple Annual Conferences. Our Greater Northwest Episcopal area includes the Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Annual Conferences, and the Alaska Conference. Needless to say, Bishop Grant has done quite a bit of traveling this last quadrennium!!
Bishops are elected to a lifetime appointment, but there is a mandatory retirement age for active service. At the point of their retirement, some choose to go back to leading churches, and some choose to remain involved with the church in other ways. This year the wonderful Bishop Warner Brown of the San Francisco Episcopal Area retired, and we held a special celebration of his awesome leadership and service.
In order to run for Bishop, a clergy person must be an elder in good standing and agree to their nomination. That’s it, and Bishop Karen met those requirements. Some candidates are endorsed by their Annual Conferences. Some are and were nominated from the floor, and the rules allow for nominations to occur at any point in the election process. The Pacific Northwest Annual Conference endorsed the grace-filled Rev. Dr. Lyda Pierce, currently serving as a missionary, and assigned to be the Coordinator of Hispanic Latino Ministries in our conference. I continue to be so proud of all that she brought to the election process and give thanks for her many spiritual gifts.
The election process itself is like a never-ending job interview. Candidates meet with individual delegations as well as different caucus groups. There was also ample time for informal “meet and greets” during our time together. As grueling as it was for our delegation, it was even more so for the candidates! Many of them had brought “support teams” of friends and family, who cared for them in spiritual and more practical ways (making sure they ate, helping them stay on schedule, etc).
We voted with handheld voting machines which helped to ensure the typical confidentiality of the vote. We saved a few trees this way too! We were led in prayer before each vote by one of the Bishops. After the votes were tallied, the results were shown on screen, along with the number of votes cast and the number needed for election. With 100 delegates, the math was pretty easy most of the time. We kept voting until we reached a 2/3 majority, which happened on the 17th ballot. (Apparently the South Central Jurisdiction needed 35 ballots to elect all of their bishops!)
Candidates are free to withdraw at any point in time during the process, most often because they recognize they lack the necessary support. Each candidate apart from Bishop Oliveto withdrew from the election. In turn, the conference thanked each withdrawing candidate with a standing ovation and lifted them in prayer. Each candidate that withdrew was graceful, kind, and truly thankful for the experience. Though in the end she was the lone candidate, it is important to note that Bishop Karen led the ballot from the very first round of voting. She won her election truly fair and square.
Where Bishops are placed to serve is determined by the Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee, comprised of two representatives of each Annual Conference. They take into consideration the unique characteristics of each Episcopal Area, individual Bishop preferences, and the gifts of each bishop including any newly elected. Also important to note, a new Bishop does not serve the area they were elected from unless approved by a 2/3 vote of the Episcopal Committee and the jurisdictional conference. Since they could not begin this work until after the election, the Committee had a very late night!
It also meant that the current Bishops find out their assignments with little advance to the rest of us. We are sad to lose Bishop Grant (click here to read his thoughts), even though we know this move will bring him closer to his home and family. We are so excited to welcome Bishop Elaine Stanovsky and her husband as this move brings them closer to family too!
Our PNW delegation has been meeting since our election at Annual Conference 2015. We continued to meet after General Conference, most often by conference call, although we did have some meetings in person. We took very seriously the responsibility we were given. Our goal was to elect the very best candidate, because the new Bishop could very well become our Bishop. We came up with four general questions to ask each candidate, so that we could best compare their responses. Our questions revolved around working with diverse communities, budget management, administrative style in different organizational cultures, and how they have used their leadership gifts to affect change. We also followed up with questions about how they dealt with less successful moments in their ministry, how they each handled stress, and how they would serve our unique Greater Northwest Area. None of these were easy questions! At the beginning of each candidate meeting, we stood to greet them, and at the end, we offered each a prayer of thanks. We met with every single candidate, and each brought something different to these conversations and stretched us to approach the work of God in new and different ways.
I don’t think that people voted to make history; I certainly didn’t. Even so, the conference also could have potentially made history by electing the first Tongan Bishop or the first active missionary to be elected Bishop. Our delegation set forth to elect the very best candidate, regardless of who they are partnered to. I feel that we accomplished this, guided by a lot of discernment and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Bishop Karen is passionate, deeply spiritual, and has fantastic leadership experience. She will do great work in the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area and I hope that she will be warmly welcomed.
So what happens next? It’s hard to say exactly as there is no precedent for Bishop Karen’s election. But, she is a Bishop, and according to our Book of Discipline she has been since her consecration. Though there may be complaint filed, Bishop Oliveto will not be the first Bishop to serve while undergoing a complaint resolution process. I also know that this is going to take some time, and there is still much work to be done, particularly with regards to the Special Commission to address LGBTQIA+ inclusion that is yet to be formed. Bishop Karen and her wife Robin will need our continued support and prayers, as will our fellow Christian siblings in the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone Annual Conferences. I celebrate now, but know that now the real work of being church to all begins.