By Mark Michael
The Rt. Rev. Whayne M. Hoagland, diocesan bishop of Western Michigan, was elected bishop provisional of the Diocese of Eastern Michigan on October 19 in Bay City. The action is intended to begin a “3-5 year period of conversation around relationship and sharing of resources.”
In a letter to both dioceses, Hoagland noted that Eastern Michigan’s decision had come after two and a half years of ongoing conversation between the two neighboring church bodies. The process began when Todd Ousley, Eastern Michigan’s last diocesan bishop, resigned his position to begin work at Episcopal Church headquarters. Retired Indianapolis bishop Catherine Waynick has been serving as Eastern Michigan’s provisional bishop since 2017.
At their last diocesan convention in the fall of 2018, Eastern Michigan had voted to invite Hoagland to assume this role, with the consent of the Diocese of Western Michigan. After a series of regional meetings across Western Michigan in the spring of 2019, that diocese’s standing committee and diocesan council voted unanimously to approve the cooperative relationship.
In the meantime, the two dioceses have been sharing staff and resources in various ways. Canon Katie Forsyth, who began her work as director of communications and engagement for the Diocese of Eastern Michigan, has been employed by both dioceses as canon for networking and evangelism since March, 2018. The dioceses also jointly publish a newsletter, The Feast. An article by Episcopal News Service’s David Paulsen notes further collaboration in congregational development, youth ministry, clergy discipline and mission work in the Dominican Republic.
The model the two dioceses have chosen to employ is closely based on the relationship begun between the Dioceses of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York in 2018, who have been affected by similar rust-belt demographic changes. Bishop Sean Rowe, who was recently interviewed by TLC’s Kirk Petersen, met with leaders from the Diocese of Eastern Michigan early in the process. Rowe, the diocesan bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania, is currently beginning his second year of a five-year term as provisional bishop of Western New York. As in Rowe’s dioceses, there is no immediate plan for merger between the two Michigan dioceses.
The Diocese of Eastern Michigan is a relatively young diocese, having been carved out of the Detroit-based Diocese of Michigan in 1994. With 43 parishes and 3,917 communicants, it is significantly smaller than Western Michigan, which has 56 parishes and 7,621 communicants. Flint, the largest city in the Diocese of Eastern Michigan, has also suffered significant population loss and a nationally-publicized water crisis. This was an important factor in the steep decline of baptized members in Eastern Michigan, which fell about 40% between 2007 and 2017.
Western Michigan, which includes the larger cities of Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, has been somewhat more stable demographically. However, it has suffered from serious financial challenges, and was forced to close its cathedral in Portage, near Kalamazoo, in 2007. Western Michigan recently relocated its diocesan headquarters to Wyoming, a suburb of Grand Rapids, a more central location for travel across the two regions.
Hoagland said of the new partnership, “I am excited to be building on our work of being proactive, innovative, and relational by entering into this next phase of life for our two dioceses. We don’t know what’s at the other end of this thing, but by placing our trust in the Spirit, we will be at the forefront of dioceses considering this exploration in the Episcopal Church. And that’s exciting stuff.”
Bishop W. Michie Klusmyer, the VII Bishop of West Virginia called for the election of a bishop coadjutor in 2020 at the diocesan convention at Saint Matthew’s Church in Wheeling on October 19. He announced that after a search committee has been convened, an election is expected in late, 2020. The coadjutor bishop would succeed Klusmyer after his retirement, which will be at an unspecified future date, up to three years after the coadjutor’s consecration.
Klusmyer, 64, was consecrated in 2001, and is the longest-serving bishop of a domestic diocese in the Episcopal Church (only Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Bishop Francisco Duque of Columbia have served longer). He is the chair of the board of directors for Bexley Hall Seabury Western Theological Seminary and serves on the board of trustees of Virginia Theological Seminary and of General Seminary, his alma mater. Before he was elected as bishop, Klusmyer served as a rector and campus minister in Illinois.
In a video on the Diocese of West Virginia’s Facebook page, Klusmyer thanked his fellow leaders for their support across many years of common ministry. He said, “This has been a blessing to me. You have brought joy and grace to my life. I love you. Marsha loves you. We love being here in West Virginia. There’s nothing finer than being here in West Virginia.”