When General Convention meets in Salt Lake City next year, it may encounter the unusual choice of electing Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to serve another term. In 1996, the final year of Edmond Browning’s tenure as the Episcopal Church’s 24th presiding bishop, General Convention elected Frank T. Griswold III to a term shortened by three years. Anyone who has watched how the office affects its occupants should see humane and merciful logic informing this term limit. Nine years is plenty of time to make one’s mark on the Episcopal Church. The President of the United States is entrusted with deeper governing responsibilities, and serves eight years, if re-elected.
Episcopalians who enjoy church politics have speculated about a second term for Bishop Jefferts Schori at least since the Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop began its work in late 2012. Now, courtesy of a reflective post by Rev. Canon Mark Harris at Preludium, the topic is being discussed more widely.
The discussion ought not be treated as a referendum on Bishop Jefferts Schori’s years of service. There are as many opinions about those years as there are Episcopalians who follow the life of their church. Rather, the idea should remain theoretical unless sufficient bishops choose to nominate Bishop Jefferts Schori by petition.
Asking the presiding bishop to stand for re-election before then:
- Mistreats other bishops who are willing to stand for election.
- Neglects the noble tradition of an Episcopal bishop keeping a respectful distance after resigning or retiring from office, unless invited to do otherwise by a successor.
- Disregards Canon 1, Section 2, which says the presiding bishop’s term office “shall be nine years,” unless the bishop reaches age 72 before completing the term. It says nothing of a younger age permitting multiple terms.
Let the joint nominating committee fulfill its charge. If bishops then nominate Bishop Jefferts Schori for re-election, they will give it due consideration. If the House of Bishops re-elects the presiding bishop, so be it. But let’s have no attempts to disrupt the field before a slate appears.