Springfield Elects New Jersey Priest as Next Bishop

The Very Rev. Brian K. Burgess

By Kirk Petersen

The Diocese of Springfield has elected a New Jersey priest and former police officer to serve as the XII Bishop of Springfield.

The Very Rev. Brian K. Burgess has served since 2005 as rector of 164-year-old Christ Church in Woodbury, New Jersey, a couple of miles directly south of Philadelphia.  The “Very” in his title reflects that he is dean of the Woodbury Convocation of the Diocese of New Jersey, encompassing 14 congregations in three South Jersey counties.

“I am humbled and slightly overwhelmed when considering the trust that has been handed to me by a faithful, historic, and highly respected diocese of our church,” Burgess told TLC by telephone.

If a majority of diocesan bishops and standing committees consent to his election, he will succeed the Rt. Rev. Daniel Martins, who retired in June after serving for a decade. Martins is secretary of the Living Church Foundation, and a member of Communion Partners, an organization supporting the traditional teachings of the church on marriage and other matters. Martins was and is an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage.

Asked whether he favors or opposes same-sex marriage, Burgess said: “It’s not if I favor or oppose … it’s if I will follow the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the church. I have done that as a priest for over 20 years now, and I plan on continuing that as a bishop.” When asked if he had officiated at any same-sex marriages, he said he has never been asked to do so.

Burgess currently leads a parish that states on its website:  “Christ Church is orthodox in belief; traditional in worship, with rich ceremonial and liturgical music; and grounded to the Anglo Catholic tradition of the Church.” The church had a pre-pandemic average Sunday attendance of more than 200, making it one of the largest churches in the Diocese of New Jersey.

Springfield is one of two dioceses where theologically conservative bishops resigned or retired in 2021. The other is Albany. where a search is in progress for a successor to the Rt. Rev. William H. Love, who resigned effective March 1 in the face of disciplinary action. Love was the only diocesan bishop to defy Resolution B012, passed by the General Convention in 2018, which mandated that same-sex marriage rites be made available in every diocese where such marriages are legal.

This was also a year of transition in the Diocese of North Dakota, where another Communion Partners member and opponent of same-sex marriage, the Rt. Rev. Michael G. Smith, had retired in 2019.  In February 2021, the diocese elected a vocal same-sex marriage supporter, the Rt. Rev. Thomas Ely, to a three-year term as part-time bishop provisional. Ely retired as Bishop of Vermont in 2019.

Burgess was elected on the second ballot at a December 11 special synod, the term Springfield uses instead of convention. He started as one of nine nominees, an unusually large field that resulted from the diocese’s election process, which forgoes the typical search committee in favor of direct nominations. The field was narrowed to three at the annual synod on October 15-16.

The other two finalists were:

  • The Rev. Mary Ann Hill, rector of St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, since 2008; and
  • The Rev. Scott Allen Seefeldt, rector of Zion Episcopal Church in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, since 2016.

Assuming he is confirmed, Burgess will be consecrated on May 21, 2022. The Diocese of Springfield encompasses 50 congregations in the southern two-thirds of Illinois, and shares the state with the Diocese of Chicago.

The new bishop-elect graduated from Ball State University in Indiana, and received his master’s of divinity degree from Sewanee. Before starting in his current position, he served congregations in Florida and Louisiana. Prior to ordination, he served as a law enforcement officer for the Lee County (Florida) Port Authority Police Department and then as operations coordinator for the county’s emergency management program. He and his wife Denise Lee have two children. He is a ham radio operator, callsign KD4UTL.

Burgess would join a cadre of current and former bishops who previously were police officers, including José McLoughlin, Bishop of Western North Carolina; Edward Konieczny, who retired as Bishop of Oklahoma in 2020; and the late J. Jon Bruno, retired Bishop of Los Angeles, who passed away in April 2021.

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