Now we know what that plan will look like. News stories report that eight bishops have agreed to serve as “episcopal visitors” on her behalf. According to Episcopal Life Online,
Jefferts Schori's invitation to the eight bishops seeks to delegate the first of three primary canonical duties of the Presiding Bishop, that of visiting each of the Episcopal Church's 110 dioceses during each Presiding Bishop's nine-year term. The Presiding Bishop's other two principal canonical roles are to "take order" for ordaining and consecrating bishops, and to oversee certain disciplinary actions as needed.
Presumably, the other two “primary canonical duties” could be delegated on a case by case basis.
These are the bishops who have agreed to this role:
The eight are active diocesan bishops Frank Brookhart of Montana, Dorsey Henderson of Upper South Carolina (based in Columbia, S.C.), John Howe of Central Florida (based in Orlando), Gary Lillibridge of West Texas (based in San Antonio), Michael Smith of North Dakota, James Stanton of Dallas, and Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island, together with retired Connecticut Bishop Clarence Coleridge.
There will, I’m sure, be intense discussion about these bishops. Two names stand out to me. The first is Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island. She has participated in the meetings of the “Windsor Bishops” in Texas, and so would have credentials for some. At the same time, some of those bishops most vocal about a need for alternative oversight are also those who do not believe a woman ought to be ordained in any order.
Second, and perhaps more surprising, is the name of Bishop Stanton of Dallas. He has been a Network bishops from the beginning. At the same time, he has not moved in lockstep with other Network actions. Most critically, he has distanced himself from the requests for “alternative pastoral oversight.” Rather, he requested a “direct pastoral relationship” with Canterbury. In his address to the 2006 diocesan convention, he said,
“"Separation is not a strategy.... Those who are thinking about departing from the church are fulfilling, not Christ's call, but the world's expectations about the church — that we really cannot get along, even with each other."
His agreement to serve as an “episcopal visitor” would seem to bear that out in concrete terms.
Finally, we can note that this is in line with Designated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO). DEPO has been approved by the House in the past, and has been recognized – arguably, endorsed – in the Windsor Report. So far it appears to have worked where both parties were willing to accept it. Providing a more formal structure for that might make it more attractive to those with some lingering concerns.
There will be a lot to talk about over the next few days, some things newsworthy, and some not. This is an interesting note on which to start.