By Mark Michael
Bishop Daniel Martins, 68, announced to the synod of the Diocese of Springfield that he plans to retire, and called for the election of his successor, who would be consecrated in June 2021. Martins has served since 2011 as the eleventh Bishop of Springfield.
According to a diocesan press release, Martins’ ministry as bishop has focused on “re-imagining the way the church operates in an increasingly secular age.” Each of the diocese’s 33 churches have been encouraged to claim responsibility for developing mission work in their local area and each is required to develop an annual mission strategy plan.
Bishop Anthony Clavier, who preached at Martins’ 2011 consecration and now serves as vicar of two churches in the diocese said, “His most significant achievement is that he restored the morale of clergy and people. Bishop Daniel achieved this by dint of his shy kindness and pastoral care. It wasn’t a strategy. It happened because of who he is.”
In 2011, Martins’ election as bishop had been challenged by the provisional bishop and Standing Committee of the Diocese of San Joaquin, where he had previously served, because they feared that he would attempt to lead the diocese out of the Episcopal Church. In 2007, the then-Bishop of San Joaquin, John-David Schofield, had led many of the congregations of that diocese out of the Episcopal Church.
According to Episcopal News Service, Christopher Ashmore, then chair of the Diocese of Springfield’s Standing Committee said then “I asked him point blank; do you have any intentions of trying to exit the Episcopal Church? And he said no, it’s not my agenda.”
Bishop Martins is one of nine Episcopal Church Communion Partner bishops (six are diocesan bishops in domestic dioceses). The group is committed to traditional faith and practice with respect to marriage and to unity with the wider Anglican Communion. After the passage of Resolution B012 at the 2018 General Convention, like most of his fellow Communion Partner bishops, Martins decided to permit same sex marriages within the Diocese of Springfield for parishes who accepted alternative episcopal oversight.
Martins announced to the diocese October 2 that one congregation, the Chapel of St. John the Divine in Champaign, had opted for the arrangement. Bishop Matt Gunter of the Diocese of Fond du Lac has accepted oversight of the chapel for this purpose. Martins noted in his letter, “The Chapel wishes to host celebrations of marriage between persons of the same sex, which my ordination vows prevent me from permitting. Nonetheless, the Episcopal Church’s General Convention in 2018 restricted the historic prerogative of diocesan bishops to regulate the administration of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony, and since I am unable to provide oversight of such celebrations myself, I am obligated to make other arrangements.”
Earlier this month, Bishop Martins issued a pastoral teaching document entitled Ourselves, Our Souls and Bodies. The document reaffirmed traditional teaching on the controverted matters, and concludes with an appeal to God’s sustaining grace for those who accept the challenges of the traditional Christian sexual ethic: “One of the spiritual mysteries that has been impressed deeply upon me during the course of my life is the ubiquity of God’s grace. God’s grace, his favorable disposition towards us, is everywhere. … God is not above exploiting any tool at his disposal for the accomplishment of his redemptive purposes, even those occasions when, in our words and actions, we seem to reject him. God wants us to put our whole selves — all that we are and all that we have — at his disposal. This includes our sexuality. It’s an imposing challenge. God’s ubiquitous grace is more imposing still.
In his address to the diocese, Martins urged his fellow clergy and lay leaders to stay focused on the work of evangelism even as the they begin the process of discernment that will lead to the election of a new bishop. “Let’s not forget that we have a mission to pursue,” Martins said, “a gospel to proclaim, souls to lead to Christ, and baptisms to perform. We are and remain one church, organized for mission into geographic parishes, manifested in eucharistic communities and communities-in-formation, with a goal of being concretely incarnate in all of the 60 counties of central and southern Illinois. Thank-you for the indescribable joy of sharing this ministry with you.”
Bishop Martins is secretary of the board of The Living Church Foundation.