By Douglas LeBlanc
What began for Dorsey W.M. McConnell as a six-month visit as an assisting bishop has led to his appointment as acting bishop in the Scottish Episcopal Church’s Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney.
That initial stint was at the invitation of the Rt. Rev. Anne Dyer, Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney. “He and I have been discussing the possibility of a visit for a few years now, and finally the possibility has become a reality,” she wrote in a diocesan newsletter.
McConnell led the Diocese of Pittsburgh from 2012 to 2021, serving as its first bishop diocesan after Bishop Robert Duncan helped found the Anglican Church in North America and was deposed from ministry in the Episcopal Church.
Bishop Dyer and her diocese have been locked in a protracted conflict for most of her tenure since the College of Bishops elected her in 2017. Both sides accuse the other of bullying behavior. These conflicts led to two human-resources reviews — one commissioned by the the trustees of St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, in 2020, and the other by the province’s Primus, the Most Rev. Mark Strange, amid a dispute in 2021 with Dr. Isaac Poobalan, rector of the cathedral.
The Church Times reported that the reviewer, the Very Rev. Iain Torrance, pro-chancellor of the University of Aberdeen and a former moderator of Church of Scotland’s General Assembly, recommended that Dyer step back from her office immediately.
“I cannot recommend the continuation of a tenure in which I fear that more people will be made to feel diminished and discouraged,” Torrance wrote. “Consequently, I recommend that, for the good of the diocese, she be immediately granted a period of sabbatical leave and step back permanently from the diocese.”
Instead, the bishops chose a path of remediation.
Dr. John Armes, Bishop of Edinburgh, began serving as acting bishop while Dyer was briefly suspended from ministry in August 2022, and has remained in the role since then. McConnell will succeed Armes in those duties.
“The College of Bishops thanks both Bishop John for his commitment and dedication over the past year, and thanks Bishop Dorsey for being willing to take on this new role. Though he will not become a member of the College of Bishops or Episcopal Synod, Bishop Dorsey will be invited to meetings of the College,” an announcement said.
“The appointment of Bishop Dorsey is to provide cover for the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney during Bishop Anne’s continuing absence, and her return to work at any point will bring the arrangement to an end. This appointment is made in the best interests of the Diocese and makes no assumption about the outcome of the continuing Canon 54 process.”
Within the Diocese of Pittsburgh and beyond it, Bishop McConnell has often taught and practiced reconciliation among divided Christians.
In a sermon he preached on the Beatitudes, published on TLC’s The Living Word Plus subscription resource, McConnell described how repentance and forgiveness broke out when he led a clergy conference for the Diocese of Soroti, Uganda. The clergy were of the Teso tribe. They had “endured together the privations of 30 years of civil war and insurgency, had comforted the families whose children had been abducted to serve as child soldiers, and had in many instances buried those same children from the battlefield,” McConnell wrote.
“After a few hours of teaching and prayer, the bishop stood up and asked for their forgiveness for his own failings, and then he sat down, and I opened the floor to anyone who wished to speak from their heart. A tense silence filled the room. It lasted for five minutes, then ten. I looked at the faces before me and saw so much pain and fear. I was hugely tempted to stand up and say something, but God kept me quiet and in my chair. I just waited and prayed, and the clock ticked on,” he wrote.
Eventually a priest confessed his sin as well.
“At the end he began to weep, until he could not go on, and then he sat down. No one comforted him. All just looked at the floor. Then a man at the back began to sing an old song: “Ituritete ijo Yesu / Irai ijo okoku ka Edeke.
“It was an old salvation song from the days of the missionaries, a song about the Cross, a child’s song of trust in the utter mercy of God. And the whole room took up the rest of the verse. And then there was quiet again, until someone else stood up and confessed, and wept and sat, and the whole room sang again, and on it went for hours, until, by the middle of the afternoon, people were looking at each other and comforting one another, and laughing at their foolishness and their sin, until you could feel something had shifted for good in the lives of God’s Church, in the lives of the blessed. And as we went out, the bishop grabbed my hand and grinned and wept and said through his tears: ‘It is going to work! It is going to work!’ And, years later, it is still working in Teso.”