Next PB to Face Challenge of ‘Adapting to Our Current Reality’

Background: the 2022 General Convention

By Kirk Petersen

The newly released “Profile for the Election of the 28th Presiding Bishop” says the Episcopal Church needs a chief executive with “an aptitude for leadership through systemic change,” who will face “a challenge of adapting to our current reality” because of “the significant decline in church attendance and membership.”

Elected in 2015

The next presiding bishop will be elected at the General Convention in June 2024 and will take office on November 1 of that year, at the conclusion of the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry’s term. Presiding bishops are elected for nine years and are not eligible for reelection.

A 20-member Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop has been working since the members were elected in 2021, and unveiled its profile on May 15, 2023. The 17-page document says the church needs a leader who is an evangelist and a teacher, capable of nurturing the faith of individuals.

“We have discerned that the environmental crisis is one of the most pressing issues facing our world today, and that it must be an absolute priority over the next 10 years,” the profile declares, describing the first of three global issues facing the world in which the 28th presiding bishop will operate. The second major issue is “violence, conflict, and war,” from the war in Ukraine to “relentless racial violence, and ongoing gun violence.”

The third major global issue is inequality and division, “fueled by systemic discriminations of all kinds: racism, nationalism, xenophobia, heterosexism, homophobia, transphobia, ageism, ableism, classism, and unfortunately, many others. And indeed, The Episcopal Church itself is plagued by such inequalities and divisions in its own particular way.” The profile does not elaborate on the inequality and division perceived within the church.

The next presiding bishop may oversee significant changes to the governance of the church. Attendance and membership have been declining for decades, and the pandemic accelerated the trend. The church reported about 1.7 million members in 2021 — down from more than 3 million in the 1960s. But there has been little change to the governance structure, which was created for a much larger church.

In stating the need to adapt to current reality, the profile says: “This is not an act of defeatism; after all, Christ’s commission to go, baptize, and teach is always before us. Rather, it is a process of reordering ourselves and our priorities to meet the needs of our day. We see glimpses of creative adaptation: neighboring dioceses discerning how best to share their resources; the General Convention reevaluating its procedures; our seminaries engaging in new partnerships; and so on. Such work will be crucial for The Episcopal Church over the next 10 years.”

Anyone can nominate a bishop for the committee’s consideration through a online form available in EnglishSpanish, and French. Nominations are open until July 15. The committee will invite all bishops nominated to participate in the process by submitting an application, and undergoing background and reference checks.

The committee will announce at least three candidates in the spring of 2024, and additional nominations by petition will be permitted. The only formal requirement for the position is that the person must already be a member of the House of Bishops.

But the church’s mandatory retirement age of 72 will be a factor. A bishop in his or her late 60s could theoretically be elected, but it’s hard to imagine that a candidate who could only serve a partial term would prevail. The next presiding bishop term will extend until October 31, 2033 — meaning that to serve a full term before turning 72, a bishop would need to have been born after October 31, 1961.

At the General Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, the nominees will be presented to a joint session of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, “and there may be discussion of all nominees,” according to Canon I.2, which governs the process. The House of Bishops will elect a presiding bishop, who will face an up-or-down confirmation vote in the House of Deputies.


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