Soon the Electoral Synod of the Diocese of New Westminster will convene to elect a Bishop Coadjutor. We will do so in a context unlike any other in the history of our diocese. Because of this unique context, I want to share some history and information with you on behalf of the Episcopal Election Committee.
Charting a New Course
In April 2013, Bishop Michael Ingham announced his intention to retire on August 31. His announcement cast a new light on the existing canon and regulations regarding the election of a bishop in the diocese of New Westminster. They had not been reviewed or revised in more than two decades. Diocesan Council learned that we were not permitted to take any formal actions until after Bishop Michael actually retired and created what is known as ‘a vacancy in see’.
As a result, the period between the September 1 and November 30 the date of the episcopal election, was an intense one. Those responsible for the electoral process were required to provide the Members of the Electoral Synod with information about the candidates at least two weeks before the election. Procedures for the interviewing of candidates and the written materials they were to produce in support of their candidacy had to be developed and implemented in short order.
Following the election and consecration of then bishop, now archbishop, Melissa Skelton, Diocesan Council conducted a review of the canonical and regulatory procedures for the election of bishops in the diocese, whether diocesan, coadjutor or suffragan. Those who had been candidates in the 2013 election were interviewed as were the members of the various committees responsible for the electoral process. This process identified a number of areas for change.
Soon a Diocesan Profile was prepared, arising out of a diocese-wide consultative process. The Constitution and Canons Committee of the Diocese, usually most active in the lead-up to a Synod, was charged with the review and revision of the existing canons and regulations.
In October 2018, a special Diocesan Synod approved, in one sitting, Canon 2 ‘Election of the Diocesan Bishop’ and Canon 3 ‘Coadjutor, Suffragan and Assistant Bishops’. Later in the following year Diocesan Council approved a new regulation entitled ‘Episcopal Election Process’. With this legislation in place, the course for the election of Archbishop Skelton’s successor was charted.
The Joys of an Episcopal Election in a Pandemic
On April 21, 2020, Archbishop Skelton announced her retirement effective the February 28, 2021, and called for the election of a coadjutor bishop. A coadjutor bishop is elected to be the successor of the diocesan bishop. The term 'coadjutor' means that there is a period of time when both bishops are active in the diocese. When the diocesan bishop retires or resigns, the coadjutor immediately becomes the diocesan bishop.
Electing a bishop, whether a diocesan, coadjutor or suffragan, is a challenge for any diocese at any time. But Archbishop Skelton’s announcement presented several challenges.
To meet these challenges Diocesan Council, following the provisions of Canon 2, appointed an eleven-person Episcopal Election Committee in May 2020. The Committee reflects the diversity of the diocese in terms of gender identity, age, ethnic and cultural identity and theological perspectives. Its membership is drawn from all the regional archdeaconries of the Diocese. Its members are:
Canon 2 directs the Episcopal Election Committee to conduct an electoral process that is transparent, fair, accountable, committed to discernment and guided by pastoral concern for the nominees. In addition, the Committee is charged with determining how electronic and social technology is used in the electoral process.
Electing a Bishop While Maintaining Physical Distance
One of the first tasks of the Episcopal Election Committee undertook was the revision of the Diocesan Profile. Since the first version of the Profile was posted to the diocesan website in 2018, changes have been made in the boundaries of Regional Deaneries and Archdeaconries. Our diocese in partnership with the other dioceses of the Ecclesiastical Province of British Columbia and Yukon hosted the General Synod of 2019, and subsequently undertook a number of new initiatives following the General Synod in the areas of reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and other ministries associated with our baptismal covenant.
With the completion of the revision of the Profile, the Committee explored how to fulfill our obligation to conduct third-party professional reviews of the credentials of the nominees. We chose to engage Oxford Document Management, a US-based firm that has conducted similar credential reviews of nominees for episcopal elections in the Episcopal Church as well as ministry professionals in other churches.
We also discussed how best to ensure that Members of Synod had the information they needed to make their decisions. We have asked the nominees to respond in writing to questions related to the Diocesan Profile. We are developing an interview process that will make use of Zoom as well as provide written transcripts as required by the Regulation.
But the real question has always been this: Can we hold an in-person Electoral Synod? Our neighbours to the west in the Diocese of British Columbia had already decided that an in-person Electoral Synod was not possible. After considering a number of options, the Committee advised the Archbishop and Diocesan Council that our Electoral Synod will be conducted virtually using all the tools of electronic and social technology at our disposal.
Many of us are already familiar with the use of online technology as a means of nurturing community and conducting business during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. While we all value the advantages of an in-person Electoral Synod, this is simply not possible under existing health restrictions and respecting personal concerns. With the guidance of the Diocesan Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor and the concurrence of Diocesan Council, the Committee has identified how this Episcopal Election can be conducted in a transparent, fair and accountable manner. Working with colleagues in the diocese of British Columbia, the Returning Officer and Deputy Returning Officer and with additional professional advice, we are creating an environment in which Members of Synod will be able to act as the Spirit gives guidance and wisdom.
We are currently working with Simply Voting, a Montréal-based firm that has provided on-line voting resources that have been used by a significant number of non-profit and for-profit organizations in North America successfully. On the day of the Electoral Synod, Saturday, October 3, 2020, we envision using Zoom or similar conferencing technology for the opening eucharist and the business portions of the Electoral Synod that follow.
A Prayer for the Electoral Synod
As the day of the Episcopal Election approaches, we invite all the people of the diocese to pray:
“Triune God, Three-in-One and One-in-Three, you created the Church to embody your mission in the world. We thank you for the gift of your presence so that we may be still and know your will for us. We thank you for Jesus who taught us that strength and growth come through acts of humble service. We thank you for the Holy Spirit sent to lead us into all truth. Bless the Synod of the Diocese of New Westminster as we prepare to elect a Bishop Coadjutor. Keep us steadfast in faith, united in love and courageous in action, so that we may manifest your love for this world. This we ask through Jesus Christ, our Friend and Helper. Amen.”
More details about the Electoral Synod including candidate information, bios and videos will be circulated through diocesan communications vehicles (website, email, subscription emails and social media accounts) as they become available and posted on the SEEKING OUR NEXT BISHOP section of the diocesan website.
UPDATE: At 4pm, on Friday, August 28, the Episcopal Election Committee will release the names of the Nominees for Bishop Coadjutor. This information will be available on the 'Candidate Information' section of 'Seeking Our Next Bishop'. We will provide a brief autobiography for each Nominee, the Nominee's nomination form and the Nominee's Response to the Diocesan Profile.
This article was written by the Venerable Richard Leggett in early August of 2020 for publication in the September/October issue of Topic, the print publication of the Diocese of New Westminster available online as a .PDF August 30 and delivered in hard copy to subscribers and parishes in early September. - Editor