The priests' listerve of the Diocese of New York has been mildly abuzz with a discussion of our upcoming election of a Bishop Coadjutor. The Committee to Elect a Bishop presented a slate of five candidates, to which have been added two additional candidates by petition. However, the Committee has decided not to allow the candidates by petition to participate in the official "walkabouts" whereby candidates are able to appear before regional groups of the diocese, articulating their vision for the episcopate, and respond to questions. The bulk of online commendary is in favor of allowing all candidates to participate, a position I am writing to agree with and expound further in the hopes of changing the collective mind of the Committee.
In the interests of full disclosure, I am a individual who nominated one of the candidates who was selected for the final slate by the Committee; but I write today as a priest of the diocese who hopes to serve a bishop whose election is upheld by the whole diocese, and whose election is not tainted by feelings that the process was unfair.
The event of an Episcopal election is one where we affirm seeing the Holy Spirit at work. The Holy Spirit has given this diocese seven candidates (so far) for Bishop Coadjutor, and if the Holy Spirit makes the process a little more messy than we might like, then we need to respond with flexibility. One of the hallmarks of the Holy Spirit is that she draws us along paths that are unexpected and challenging.
The walkabouts are not a canonical requirement--they are a means through which the Committee decided to allow for face to face engagement between members of the diocese and the candidates for bishop. So it would be a change in policy, not a suspension of a canon, to allow all candidates to participate.
At first, allowing candidates who are nominated by petition to participate in the walkabouts appears to be an act of generosity on behalf of the Committee--they will potentially have greater exposure and a larger platform to share their vision for the diocese than they might have otherwise. I know and admire both candidates who have been nominated by petition, and I would like to be able to see them in the context of the other episcopal candidates so that I can better envision them not in their current roles but in the role of a potential bishop.
However, it is also holding them to a more rigorous standard than they might encounter encounter in a set of alternate walkabouts. Standing in front of the diverse members of this diocese for seven three-hour sessions spread over four days is a daunting task, and probably a very good initiation into the life of a bishop of this diocese.
Delegates--particularly lay delegates, but also clergy delegates--have many claims on their time, and it would be far more efficient to attend a single walkabout than two walkabouts. If delegates felt they only had time to attend a single walkabout, no matter which they chose, they would be missing the experience of a rich group of candidates, one of whom might ultimately be their bishop.
I pray that we may see the seven candidates not divided into "the committee's candidates" and "the petition candidates" but as a single group: they are the candidates for Bishop Coadjutor of the Diocese of New York, and one of them will be elected to serve neither the Committee nor just those who signed a particulat petition but as bishop of the whole diocese.
The official walkabouts are for the whole diocese, and as such are the best location for our future bishop to engage with his or her people so that the people can make an informed choice and hear the will of the Holy Spirit. For that to happen, all the candidates need to be present, so I pray that the Committee will reconsider their position.