By Zachary Guiliano
General Convention’s walkabout for presiding-bishop nominees was marked by humor, earnestness, and frequent tweeting.
Nominees had been asked to prepare short video presentations, self-produced on a mobile phone or iPad. These videos appeared first, before nominees were welcomed to the main stage. Each then had the time for an opening statement. A long period of Q&A followed, in which the candidates answered a single round of questions written by the nominating committee and five rounds of questions submitted by Episcopalians. Finally, each made a short closing statement.
There was almost palpable excitement each time Bishop Michael Curry addressed the joint session of the two houses. As the Rev. Tim Schenck of Lent Madness put it on Twitter, “For PB we need an Inspirer in Chief who speaks boldly & passionately about the transforming power of Jesus.”
Curry showed that he is not unaware of the dazzling effect of his speaking, despite some remaining questions about his abilities as a bishop. In response, he cited a variety of measurable accomplishments from his diocese. “Can a preacher be an administrator? Can an orator be an organizer? Ask the Diocese of North Carolina.”
Significant differences became evident in the nominees’ aptitudes, and their visions for the church’s future. Neva Rae Fox highlighted this point in a brief address to the Episcopal Youth deputation shortly after the walkabout. “They are all truly men of God,” she said, noting also her gratitude for knowing all the candidates. “But they all have very different gifts.”
The questions asked of the candidates were quite different. Candidates were asked to draw small pieces of paper out of a glass bowl, and each piece of paper was color-coded to a different topic.
A recurring theme was how each nominee has managed theological diversity on same-sex marriage and how he might do so as presiding bishop. The repeated questions on the topic drew critical response on Twitter. The Rev. Scott Gunn of Forward Movement tweeted, “Maybe we could hear questions about another topic? These answers were good, but there’s other stuff to talk about!”
The Bishop of Vermont, Thomas Ely, felt moved to name a few of those: “Racism? Gun Violence? Province IX? Small Churches? Global Conflicts? Persecution of Christians? Women? Youth?”
Each of the nominees signaled their commitment to work through theological diversity in the Episcopal Church, especially on same-sex marriage. In a similar vein, when asked about what is distinctive about Anglican faith, Bishop Ian Douglas of Connecticut emphasized three main factors: Trinitarian faith, a sense of Anglican provisionality, and a commitment to comprehensiveness. “I need those who are so different from me.”
Laughter broke out whenever a nominee took a softball question. Bishop Dabney Smith was palpably relieved and said “Thank God!” when asked about his faith in the resurrection.