Today we take a closer look at the four nominees for presiding bishop: Thomas Breidenthal, bishop of Southern Ohio; Michael Curry, bishop of North Carolina; Ian Douglas, bishop of Connecticut; and Dabney Smith, bishop of Southwest Florida.
All three of the Diocese of Virginia’s bishops say that the Episcopal Church would be well-served by any of the four nominees for presiding bishop. Each candidate offers particular strengths and experience. The General Convention, beginning with the House of Bishops, will discern who is best to lead the Church through its next chapter. The nominees will be presented to General Convention on Wednesday, June 24 at 1:30 p.m. The election will be Saturday, June 27 at 11:00 a.m. For a live stream, visit the General Convention Media Hub.
What we know about the nominees:
They were ordained between 1978 and 1987, beginning their ministry during major changes in the Episcopal Church: women’s ordination, prayer book revision, and the de-institutionalizing of mainline denominations. In the next nine years, the Church will struggle with same-sex marriage, prayer book revisions and what it means to be outside of the institution.
None of them could serve out two full nine-year terms, which are allowed by canon before the mandatory retirement age of 72. Breidenthal would be eligible to serve for eight years before retirement, but his age doesn’t preclude him from standing for election. Douglas would be 65 at the time of re-election. However, age is just one of many factors General Convention will consider in discerning the Church’s next chief pastor.
There are no female nominees. Women bishops were asked to stand but dropped out of the nomination process of their own accord. Some in the Church express concern that, with so few women bishops, it’s less likely that one would be in a position to stand for election. Center Aisle will take a more in-depth look at women in the episcopate in a later article.
They see common needs in the Church: Institutional change at the national level; better formed Episcopalians; and relationships and resource sharing among isolated churches, regions and dioceses.
Thomas Breidenthal, Bishop of Southern Ohio
“Ancient witness, open mind: where these intersect, our tradition comes into its own.”
Bishop Since: 2007
Education: Oxford University, England (doctorate); Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Calif. (seminary); University of Victoria, BC, Canada (M.A.); Portland State University, Ore. (undergrad).
Before elected bishop, Breidenthal spent most of his ministry in academia, serving most recently as the dean of religious life at Princeton (2002-2007). Before Princeton, he served as ethics professor at General Theological Seminary (1992-2001). However, Breidenthal is not without parish experience. He served from 1988 to 1992 as rector of Trinity, Ashland, Ore., and as curate of St. Michael’s and All Angels, Portland, from 1981 to 1983.
Vision: Breidenthal’s vision is truly via media. He believes the Episcopal Church is at its best when it finds balance between opposing forces: ancient witness and open minds; devotion to Jesus, while respecting and engaging other religions; remaining true to Episcopal tradition, while being open to let go of the “inessential elements.” He preaches abundance: “We have or can obtain every resource we need…to support…the margins of the traditional church.” While Breidenthal believes in the institution as a means to support poor dioceses, he believes there’s more to be done to “build collaboration across parish lines.”
Michael Curry, Bishop of North Carolina
“I pray and dream of an Episcopal Church focused on following the way of Jesus of Nazareth, courageously committed to being a part of the 21st-century Jesus movement in the world.”
Bishop since: 2000
Education: Yale (seminary); Hobart and William Smith College (undergrad).
Before elected bishop, Curry spent most of his ministry as a parish priest, most recently as rector of St. James’, Baltimore (1988-2000). From 1982 to 1988, he served as chaplain of the Bethany School, Cincinnati.
Vision: In his profile, Curry prefaces his vision for the Church with a spiritual and concludes with a hymnal verse, symbols of his desire to connect the marginalized with the Church’s traditions. Sticking out from Curry’s Episcopal Church-related board memberships is his involvement in Moral Mondays, a grass-roots movement focused on social justice through civil disobedience. Curry imagines a Church focused squarely on discipleship, which he believes would necessitate institutional change, rather than institutional change preceding discipleship. He sees the role of presiding bishop as “chief evangelism officer,” with a reconfigured type of evangelism that “listens as well as shares.”
Ian Douglas, Bishop of Connecticut
“By 2024 I can imagine every Episcopalian enthusiastically living out our baptismal vows as our commission (co- mission) in God’s mission to restore all people to the unity with God and each other in Christ.”
Bishop since: 2010
Education: Boston University (doctorate); Harvard Divinity School (seminary); Harvard University (master of education); Middlebury College, Vt. (undergraduate).
Before elected bishop, Douglas spent most of his ministry in world mission. He served as a volunteer for mission for the Episcopal Church of Haiti (Douglas speaks Creole), worked at the Episcopal Church Center in overseas leadership development, and consulted for Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold. Among the four nominees, Douglas has the most experience working with and for the presiding bishop’s office. Douglas taught mission and world Christianity at Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Mass. from 1991 to 2010, before being elected bishop of Connecticut. From 1988 to 2010, Douglas was priest associate at St. James’s, Cambridge, Mass.
Vision: Possibly stemming from his years of experience at the Episcopal Church Center, Douglas’ vision provides the most detail about how the Church and General Convention might restructure “to become more of a movement in and for God’s mission…and less of an ecclesial institution focused on our needs and ends,” including supporting over 1,000 missionaries across the United States and the Anglican Communion, and reorganizing Church gatherings to focus on sharing stories to improve local mission. He sees the Church as being on the margins of society rather than central to it, and professes that’s a good place to be, though the Church must adapt to this change.
Dabney Smith, Bishop of Southwest Florida
“I want the Episcopal Church to be growing in numbers, faith communities, young ordinands, spiritual depth, and joy.”
Bishop since: 2007
Education: Seabury Western, Chicago, now known as Bexley Seabury (doctor of ministry); Nashotah House, Wis. (seminary); Harvard (master of education); University of South Florida (undergraduate).
Before elected bishop, Smith spent all of his ministry as a parish priest, most recently serving Trinity, New Orleans, for two years prior to his election as bishop. Before Trinity, Smith served as rector of Holy Trinity, Melbourne, Fla., for 17 years (1998-2005) and as rector of St. Michael & All Angels, South Bend, Ind., for nine years (1989-1998). He began his priesthood as associate at Grace, Port Orange, Fla. Smith’s D.Min. from Seabury is in congregational development.
Vision: Much more so than the other nominees, Smith presents a vision of a presiding bishop who would work within the existing structures, seeking guidance and trust from the Church’s national governing bodies. Smith’s episcopate would “spend more time in the Episcopal Church [rather than abroad]” in order to “rekindle trust among the people in our congregations.” As a logical extension to his congregational development work, Smith hopes to focus the presiding bishop and his staff on creating resources for dioceses, and recruitment, and on development of leadership.
Correction: Douglas was consecrated bishop in 2010; Smith was consecrated bishop in 2007. This article originally published that they were consecrated in 2000. Center Aisle regrets these errors.
More on the presiding bishop election:
- View the website of the Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop, including videos of each nominee.
- View the Joint Nominating Committee’s profiles of the nominees, referenced above.
- “Four chosen as nominees for 27th presiding bishop,” The Episcopal News Service
- The General Convention Media Hub, including a live stream of the presentation and election.