Today I had my first experience of an election of a bishop. The Diocese of Georgia, the diocese that brought me up in the Church, elected their 10th bishop, the Rev. Scott Benhase, currently the rector of St. Alban’s in Washington, D.C.
I was 16 years old when the current bishop, Henry Loutitt, was elected and ordained to the episcopacy and did not take part in that process. Before my move here, Bishop Louttit has been my only experience of a bishop. He has served very faithfully, in the midst of difficult times in the church, and I was honored to serve as one of his priests.
Since this election didn’t affect me, but my dear friends and family on the other side of the state, and since I had never experienced an episcopal election, I decided to attend in Dublin, which isn’t too far from Harris County. It was wonderful to revisit those dear people, to feel their hugs, to hear their kind words, and to explain to them the wonderful parish, county, and diocese I now serve.
Three dear friends and fantastic priests were also candidates in the election, so I went to support them in prayer and presence. I worked for Dean Taylor in Dalton as his youth director for a year when I was at Berry. Frank Logue and I also worked with youth at St. Peter’s in Rome as lay people, and later became great friends as priests in the Diocese of Georgia. William Willoughby is the dean of the Savannah Convocation, and so I got to know him as his three children participated in convocational and diocesan youth events. All three are amazing, and would have been great choices as well. I pray for them now as they continue to discern God’s will for their ministry as they go forward.
I went expecting a couple of things: 1. to be merely a spectator and 2. to be there a while. Neither of these things ended up happening. They were short a few pages to pass out ballots, so I was drafted to help out with that. This was an honor and such a fun experience because I got to see a little more of the inside process that I wouldn’t have seen if I just sat in the crowd. I got to be there when the tellers finalized the count and I got to be there to witness the president of the Standing Committee make the phone call to Fr. Benhase. Also, in a true election rarity, Benhase was elected on the 2nd ballot. This shows a real sense of consensus and unity in the diocese as they discerned the leadership of their diocese. (The last election in the Diocese of Georgia took 14 ballots!) So we were out of there by noon! Amazing!
But I also went with the expectation that the Holy Spirit would be fully present and fully inspiring as this body of people prayed, shared Eucharist, and discerned and that certainly did happen. As grace would have it, I was inspired by the Diocese of Georgia’s sense of unity, hopefulness, and excitement. The efficiency with which the process was carried out was phenomenal, and truly highlighted the gifts of the people on the committees (many of which are dear friends). Conventions haven’t always felt that way in the last few years with issues that highlight the many differences over issues of sexuality and the like. While certainly not everyone was as excited as I was by Benhase’s election, the mood felt hopeful and grateful. It is a new day for the Diocese of Georgia, and as they prepare for the transition, may God continue to inspire them with new ideas for the furthering of the Gospel.