Task Force Studies Bishops

Rebecca Wilson reports for House of Deputies News:

Like the insurance agent on television commercials who “knows a thing or two” because he’s “seen a thing two,” Lynn Schmissrauter, former deputy from the Diocese of East Tennessee, knows a few things about bishop elections. She’s been a consultant to bishop search committees for the past two decades.

Schmissrauter is ready to retire, but agreed to finish her church career by serving on the Task Force on the Episcopacy established by Resolution D004 of the 2015 General Convention. “What does the church in 2017 need in bishops?” Schmissrauter said. “We need to pay very, very careful attention to how we elect our leaders. As long as we have bishops, we need to make sure we’re electing the right people.”

The resolution, introduced by the legislative committee on Formation and Education for Ministry, was precipitated in part by the case of former bishop Heather Cook.

Cook, elected as bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Maryland in 2014, killed bicyclist Thomas Palermo while driving drunk later that year. In 2015, she was sentenced to seven years in prison. Although diocesan officials and the search committee knew that Cook had been arrested for drunk driving in 2010, they did not disclose the incident to the electing convention.

“There is a confluence of issues influencing our work,” says the Very Rev. Gary Hall, a retired dean of Washington National Cathedral who serves on the task force’s canonical issues sub-committee. “Heather Cook and the lack of disclosure to the electing body is one. Another is figuring out what we need to do to make sure that we don’t have a pattern of bishop elections with diverse slates, but not diverse results. And the third is clarifying to whom the bishop formation process is accountable.”

Bishop Ian Douglas of Connecticut, a four-time deputy before his election as bishop in 2009, chairs the task force. “Everyone who’s on this task force is committed to the Episcopal Church being episcopally led and synodically governed,” he says. “We’re asking how we can support bishops to be the best leaders they can be.”

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