The most interesting answer they gave to a question, though, was this:
12. How was it decided to present one name for Bishop/Ministry Developer?
In the traditional search process anyone can throw his or her hat into the ring. Someone decides that they want to be a bishop. It is self-selection. We chose to use the discernment process that has served us well in the local congregations for the past twenty plus years. At the congregational level there is often more than one person discerned for the same ministry. The team after much discussion and struggle came to the conclusion that we would try to focus or stay true to what the congregational conversations had revealed. Because there is only one bishop/ministry developer we would try and discern one person that best fit the criteria outlined by the people of this diocese, the person who would most fully encompass these gifts. This person would be able to function as part of a team and truly be able to share the Episcopal leadership in this diocese.
In a traditional election model three or four names are presented for the vote. Usually one person will stand out as a better fit and the others would be “ok.” People don’t know the candidates well when they come to convention. Our intention is to present one name based on prayerful consideration that is the very best fit for the ministry in this unique diocese. It is our hope that because of the careful, prayerful discernment of the team, one person will become the obvious choice. This one person will be presented to the diocese as the team’s best recommendation.
It is in this one answer that we see all of the “new age” elements of the process beginning to coalesce. It begins with a small circle of those “in the know”, who bring in trusted colleagues from the “outside” to lend a sheen of objectivity, and to help bring others into the middle of the circle. By meeting together in confidence twice a month for six months, the circle gains both unanimity and a conviction that it is on the right path. What the circle loses, however, is any sense of accountability to those outside of it….
Anyone who has troubled to read this far should appreciate the magnitude of the uphill battle that lies ahead. It should be obvious from all the connections spelled out earlier that a number of bishops, beginning with the Presiding Bishop, will want to see this election confirmed—not for the benefit, necessarily, of the parishioners in Northern Michigan, but for its precedential value as a method to control the selection of bishops in other dioceses.
Take a look around the Church. The movement for “Mutual Ministry” is already flourishing in many other dioceses (albeit the more sparsely populated ones)—Eastern Tennessee, for example, parts of New England, and even the Church of England. As finances become critical with declining membership, the model of the “Bishop/Ministry Developer” pioneered in Northern Michigan will become attractive to more dioceses. Because Mutual Ministry is virtually content-free (it has to be in order to be all-inclusive), it combines well with any other set of spiritual beliefs, not the least of which is Buddhism.
This is where the changes of 1979 have brought us. The future of our Church lies before us as we watch what is happening in the Diocese of Northern Michigan.