Spellers Among Candidates for Bishop of Southern Ohio

From left: Whitney Rice, Stephanie Spellers, Elaine Ellis Thomas, Kristin Uffelman White

By Kirk Petersen

The diocesan Standing Committee has announced an all-female slate of four candidates to become the 10th Bishop of Southern Ohio — including a prominent woman making a bid to become the third member of the presiding bishop’s staff to be fitted for a pointy hat.

In alphabetical order, the candidates are:

  • The Rev. Canon Whitney Rice, canon for evangelism & discipleship development for the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri
  • The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, canon to the presiding bishop for evangelism, racial reconciliation, and creation care
  • The Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas, rector of All Saints, Hoboken, New Jersey (Diocese of Newark)
  • The Rev. Canon Kristin Uffelman White, canon to the ordinary for congregational development and leadership, Diocese of Indianapolis

Additional candidates may be nominated by petition until July 13, 2023. Meet and greets with the candidates will be conducted in September, in preparation for an electing convention on September 30 in Christ Church Cathedral, Cincinnati.

If Spellers is elected, she will follow a path blazed by Bishop of the Rio Grande Michael Buerkel Hunn, formerly the canon to the presiding bishop for ministry within the Episcopal Church, who was elected in 2018. Hunn’s successor, E. Mark Stevenson, was elected Bishop of Virginia in 2022.

Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry has three senior officers with the rank of canon to the presiding bishop. Spellers’s portfolio of evangelism, racial reconciliation, and creation care represents the three core missions Curry established after he was elected in 2015. The other two canons are for ministry within the Episcopal Church and ministry beyond the Episcopal Church.

The diocese’s transition period began in 2020, when the ninth Bishop of Southern Ohio retired abruptly for health reasons. Soon after, the Rt. Rev. Tom Breidenthal disclosed that one of the health issues was alcoholism, and that he had completed a month-long residential treatment program. He and his wife Margaret retired to Portland, Oregon, where they have family. In a letter to the diocese in February 2022, he said they had just purchased a downtown condo and were waiting for their furniture to arrive.

“We knew we needed to do some work to understand what effect his addiction had on our diocese as a family system – not by way of throwing [Bishop Breidenthal] under any sort of metaphorical bus – but as a way of honoring his transparency and living into our duty to care for the diocese as it actually is, and not just some idealized version of it,” the Standing Committee wrote in 2021. The Rt. Rev. Wayne Smith, who retired as Bishop of Missouri in 2020, was named provisional bishop.

Part of the diocese’s work had to do with rationalizing the bishop’s compensation. In his last year as bishop diocesan, Breidenthal’s salary was $322,000 — slightly more than Curry receives as presiding bishop for overseeing a budget seven times larger.

“Until Bishop Breidenthal’s time, the compensation of the Bishop of Southern Ohio was shrouded in secrecy,” the Standing Committee wrote. “Bishop Breidenthal pulled back the curtain so that the diocese could see the amount of money the bishop receives and know where that money comes from.”

Southern Ohio is a mid-size diocese with disproportionate resources, thanks to the family of William Cooper Procter, a grandson of the co-founder of Procter & Gamble. The grandson led the corporation for more than two decades a century ago, from 1907 to 1930, and died in 1934. He was a devoted church member and benefactor, and died just a week after attending a meeting of the Executive Council in New York City with his wife Jane.

Jane Procter survived for two more decades, and in her will she bequeathed 30,000 shares of P&G stock to the diocese in 1953 to establish the William Cooper Procter Memorial Fund, which today is worth about $68 million.

Most dioceses get the large majority of their income from assessments paid by the churches in the diocese, and a much smaller amount from investment income. But even at a frugal 3.75 percent draw, the WC Procter fund throws off more than $2.5 million each year, exceeding the $2.47 million income budgeted from assessments for 2023. The diocese also gets income from four much-smaller endowment funds, including the Charlotte Elizabeth Procter Trust, which pays the bishop’s salary.

Add in donations, rental income, and other sources, and the total diocesan budget for 2023 is $6.6 million. The diocese’s reported membership of about 17,000 for 2021 ranks it 35th in size among 112 domestic and international dioceses. The 34th-largest diocese, Central Gulf Coast, has a budget of about $1.4 million.

After examining other dioceses “similar to our size and complexity,” the Standing Committee set the next bishop’s budget at a still-healthy $220,000, plus $9,000 housing allowance.

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