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Sean W. Rowe Elected as 28th Presiding Bishop


Promising change and reorganization, Bishop Sean W. Rowe of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York was elected the 28th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church by the House of Bishops on the first ballot.

“Let us be courageous. Let us follow Jesus into this unknown future,” he said.

After the overwhelming confirmation by the House of Deputies, raucous applause greeted Rowe as he was introduced. “I’m grateful to all of you who have participated in this long discernment process,” he said. “I thank Julia Ayala Harris and the House of Deputies for the confirmation. I am most grateful to [other nominees] DeDe, Scott, Daniel, and Rob for their companionship and counsel along the way.”

His address was peppered with acclamation and cheers.

“Our ministry together in the next nine years comes at a critical time,” he said, claiming we are facing an “existential crisis. The world around us has changed; it continues to change. God is calling us deeply into the unknown.

“I’m from the Rust Belt,” he said. “I’ve been around to see things that I loved go away.” But, he said, “People in our region are resilient.” He has experienced this attitude with the cooperating Northwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York dioceses “in what we call an experiment in the name of the gospel.”

“We need to bring this Episcopal Church into the future which God is calling us,” he said. “We cannot continue to be the Episcopal Church in the same way.”

Rowe called for reorienting staff, directing budgets to support dioceses and local ministries, and reforming the church’s structure and governance. “We need to support and embrace innovative works.”

“The world needs us to address this more strategically and more effectively.”

“Reorienting our structures, our budgets, and our relationships will only matter if we do it for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of Jesus Christ,” he said.

“I ask you to think of this time as a relational jubilee. Let go of the anger and grudges that have weakened our church leadership.”

He admitted that there is much work to address “before we leave Louisville. Let us be courageous. Let us follow Jesus into this unknown future.”

Rowe continued these themes in a press conference that followed. “We are at a pivot point in this country and around the world — structures, governance, budgets, strategies.”

In nine years, which will mark the end of his term, Rowe thinks the church will be “leaner in structure and budget,” and more strategic in evangelism and racial reconciliation.

While this work has started, “We need to do more, which will require us to go more deeply.”

In an anxious world, “God’s got this,” he said. “Love is the way. We trust in Jesus Christ and that’s where it is — that’s where our peace is, that’s where the hope is.”

He believes there is a lot to learn from overseas dioceses. “Many of our dioceses outside the church in the continental 48 have a lot of teach us. The reality is, what we are facing was has been faced long before by them. We have a lot to learn. They have a lot to teach us about how to be in the world.”

Pointing out that he and Ayala Harris are both in their 40s, he promised to listen to everyone. “We need a broad range of ages in appointments, and in the voices that we ask to speak.”

Rowe, 49, has been bishop since 2007 of Northwestern Pennsylvania and bishop provisional of Western New York since 2019. He was bishop provisional of Bethlehem from 2014 to 2018. He holds degrees from Grove City College, Virginia Theological Seminary, and Gannon University. He was ordained in 2000. He is the parliamentarian of the House of Bishops.

Rowe is married to Carly, a Christian educator, and they have a daughter.

For the June 26 election, the bishops were sequestered in Christ Church Cathedral.

Bishops cast 158 ballots, and 82 would elect the next Presiding Bishop. Rowe won easily:

  • Barker, 24
  • Duncan-Probe, 9
  • Gutiérrez, 17
  • Rowe, 89
  • Wright, 19

The House of Deputies confirmed the election 778 to 43.

This marks the second consecutive time that the Presiding Bishop was elected on the first ballot. In 2015, North Carolina Bishop Michael Curry was elected as the 27th Presiding Bishop. The new Presiding Bishop’s nine-year term begins on November 1.


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