Today is a wonderful day in the life of the Episcopal Church. Four new bishops were elected today across our church. In the Diocese of Rhode Island, the Very Rev. Nick Knisely, in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, the Rev. Douglas Fisher, in the Diocese of Texas, the Rev. Jeff Fisher (a classmate of mine at VTS), and in our own diocese, the Very Rev. Rob Wright were all elected to the episcopacy. I cannot express how excited I am that Rob was elected, and the good news that is for our parish, our diocese, and our wider church. As a member of the Nominating Committee, I couldn’t be prouder of our slate of nominees, and our electors in listening to the Holy Spirit in their decisions to elect Rob.
Bishop elections are fascinating. Today’s was only my second election, and the first one at which I have gotten to vote. On one hand, there is a certain amount of dread when an election comes. Change is always hard. People get anxious. Some dread the election as it can be over-politicized. We are used to elections in our government, which rarely, if ever, have a tinge of the Spirit in them. But I can say in the two elections I have attended, that negative spirit of election blew away and the true Spirit of God enveloped the hearts of all present.
Today we began, as all elections should, with worship. We sang, and sang, and sang some more with hymns like #534, God is working his purpose out, and #512, Come, gracious Spirit, heavenly Dove. Bishop Alexander preached a thoughtful and impassioned sermon on the role of bishop being one that has been given accolades as the pinnacle of church ministry, but in reality is a role that is so specific and limiting to the ones called to it. Instead, he said, the hallmark of ministry is in the waters of baptism, as we are all called to the mission of Jesus Christ. While bishops are important, we shouldn’t lose sight of the responsibility we all have to share the Gospel.
After Eucharist, we cleared the nave of the cathedral, so they could set up for the election. After some good conversation and hugs from friends and colleagues from around the diocese, we came back and got down to business. Each elector was given a “scorecard” to keep track of the announcements of votes. In order for someone to be elected, they had to receive a majority (51%) of the votes in the lay order and the clergy order. Ten ballots were given in our packets, if the election went that long. Before each ballot, we had an extended period of silence and prayer, and after each ballot, Bishop Alexander led us in more hymn-singing. The Spirit was palpable as the faithful people of God gathered.
It only took 3 ballots, appropriate for a Trinity Sunday weekend. Rob ended up getting 63% of the lay votes, and 52% of the clergy votes. Bishop Alexander announced, “Diocese of Atlanta, greet your Bishop-elect!” Rob came forward and was greeted by Bishop Alexander, and then in the best moment of the whole day, Rob’s wife Beth-Sarah came and gave him a long, warm embrace as the people of the diocese stood clapping and hollering. There was nothing more you could do. Rob responded to the election by saying to us, “My Bible tells me to give account of the hope in me. My hope is Jesus Christ.” He concluded with, “If my leadership will be anything, it will be shared…as we learn to do this together.”
I am excited about where the Spirit will lead us through Rob’s ministry. I feel like Rob will push us in ways we need to be pushed, and care for us in ways which we desire to be cared. You may not know this, but Rob is somewhat responsible for the fact we have such good music at St. Nicholas. Back when I first came to the Diocese of Atlanta, at a clergy conference, Rob greeted me out-of-the-blue. He asked me about myself and St. Nicholas and I shared how excited I was about my new call. He said, “The first thing you have to do is find out how to make them sing.” I heeded those words and invited Rob’s own director of music, Trey Clegg, to come and lead us in a music workshop. From there, St. Nicholas got inspiration for a vision for our music, and ended up hiring Sam Roney to lead us. Even back then, Rob’s gifts of encouragement and wisdom reached St. Nicholas.
It may be a while before Rob makes his visit to St. Nicholas. Our next visitation will be from Bishop Alexander on October 7 in his last episcopal visitation in the diocese before Rob is ordained on October 13. We’re lucky to have that honor. But I encourage you all to begin to pray for Bishop-elect Wright, Bishop Alexander, their families, the diocesan staff, and all who will be directly involved in the transition.
Bishop elections have every pitfall of any election, but I’m glad when the Spirit guides our feet so, like today, we don’t fall into them.