From the Book of Acts:
Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait at tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.” What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Acts 6:1-6 (NRSV) – August 13, 2014)
My wife refuses to use the word “coincidence.” She claims there are no such things. The concurrence in time of apparently unrelated but complementary and mutually reinforcing events, she asserts, is the intentional activity of the Holy Spirit. Nothing, “coincidental” (in the popular understanding of the word) about it.
Well, today one of these God-incidents, as she calls them, has occurred. When we are given this passage of scripture to read, we are also treated to the announcement of the Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop (JNCPB) that it has issued a Call for Discernment and Profile for the election of the 27th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. (Notice all the “this is terribly important” capital letters in that announcement!) The “Call and Profile” can be found here: it is TWENTY pages long! The coincidence (Sorry, dear!) of this reading and this announcement seems instructive.
Luke (the author of Acts) doesn’t tell us how the apostles and the early Christian community actually called, profiled, [s]elected, and chose the first seven deacons, but I somehow doubt that they spent several months producing a twenty page document detailing the perceived needs, duties, qualifications, objectives, potential ministries, goals, and whatever-else-corporate-America-is-currently-buzzwording-for-CEOs of the job. Granted deacons are not presiding bishops. (Truth be told, I think deacons are more important than presiding bishops.) But diakonia is diakonia at whatever hierarchical level it may be performed.
I think the church has gotten lost. I hate to say that, but I think the church has truly gotten lost in the dark woods of corporate leadership process. We have followed the guidebook of the Harvard MBA and seem no longer to hear (or heed) the promptings of the Holy Spirit. As much as I value the democratic processes that make the Episcopal Church unique among Anglicans and the other branches of the Christian faith which preserve the Catholic Tradition, those processes do not and should not be permitted to make us a religious reflection of a for-profit corporation. What works (assuming it does work) for shareholders, directors, and managers of Wall-Street-traded business entities may not (probably does not) work for the church, but we seem to have adopted those processes and methods lock, stock, and barrel.
We use these methods now to select rectors of parishes, bishops of dioceses, and (now) the Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church. I ask, in all sincerity, have they worked? And my answer would be, “Sometimes.” Sometimes I believe the Holy Spirit uses our business methods and processes to do her work and help us select the best person. And sometimes I think our business processes and methods get in the way, and that the Holy Spirit just shrugs her shoulders, sits back, and waits for next time . . . .
When the Episcopal Cafe made note of the “Call and Profile” and posted that article on Facebook, I made this comment:
Put the names of all canonically eligible bishops in a large chalice then have my yet-to-be-born grandchild (who will be 9 months old and in attendance with his/her deputy parents) – or some other available innocent child – draw one name slip from the chalice. Make that person PB. Trust the Holy Spirit and stop all this corporate-America profiling-and-politicking nonsense.
This is a riff on the method the Coptic Orthodox Church uses to select its popes (as reported by NBC News). I believe it would work for us as well as, if not better than, all the profiling, job describing, nominating, and electing we go through; it is just as likely to be used and guided by the Holy Spirit, and maybe even more so. It was, basically, the method the apostles used to select a successor for Judas (Acts 1:15-26) and, in all honesty, I don’t think we’ve improved on it in nearly 2,000 years of adopting, changing, and monkeying with other methods.
My son is a clergy deputy to the upcoming General Convention (and his wife is a lay deputy). I asked if he thought Jr. Funston would be up to the task of selecting a name from a chalice. He replied, “Most definitely.”
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.