The five candidates seeking to become the eighth Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California spent last week traveling throughout the diocese.
On Tuesday, Jan. 22, they stopped at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Calistoga for lunch (wrapped sandwiches from CalMart) on their way from Santa Rosa to Chico.
The five candidates, who are from throughout the United States, spoke at five evening events, called “walkabouts,” in churches in Santa Rosa, Chico, Eureka, Davis and ended at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Sacramento. They are: the Rev. Matthew Cowden, from South Bend, Indiana; the Rev. Christopher Brooke Craun, Portland, Oregon.; the Rev. Canon Andrea McMillin, Sacramento; the Rev. Canon Megan Traquair, Phoenix; and the Rev. Randall Warren, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Both McMillin and Traquair are Canons to the Ordinary, that is they work with their bishops in the diocese — McMillin in the Northern California diocese, Traquair in the diocese of Arizona. The other three are rectors of churches.
At St. Luke’s, the five were tight on time and answered a single question: “What are the challenges of the Episcopal Church?”
Cowden said, “The greatest challenges I see is unifying all the congregations” in the diocese and helping them “to feel like family, to feel like they are all connected.” He added, “The profile for the diocese says the bishop is to be a bridge to multiple congregations across a wide area.”
For the past 10 years, Cowden has served as Rector of Saint Michael and All Angels in South Bend, Indiana and during that time the church has gone from “surviving to thriving.” Cowden also served as a member of the Executive Council for the national Episcopal Church.
Traquair said, “I think one of the challenges we have here is empowering all of the smaller congregations in smaller communities that are so much of the parish life around here.” She said St. Luke’s is a great example, with its Hearts and Hands Preschool. “To me, this is exactly what could be happening in all of our parishes.”
If selected as bishop, Traquair added, “Finding a way to build capacity in our lay leaders and all those who serve would be a fun challenge in the next go around.” Ordained in 1992, she has led congregations in Tucson and towns near South Bend and Indianapolis and Los Angeles. As part of the bishop’s staff, she runs all aspects of clergy deployment, coaches clergy and congregations on conflict resolution and leads strategic planning.
Craun grew up in Oakland and now serves at St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church in Portland. She said, “I would start by saying that a challenge is a special opportunity.” She said the preschool offers opportunities for the St. Luke’s community to “connect with the Latina community and how we might build that relationship, so we are providing a church and faith experience for that community.” Craun added the challenge will be articulating and building who we are as a church and “building those lights across this beautiful area.”
As Rector of St. Michael, Craun “has demonstrated the capacity to lead both steadily and strategically, gathering and connecting people,” according to her biography.
Warren currently is Rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Kalamazoo, a parish “that had suffered a failed pastorate,” according to his application to become bishop. After becoming Priest-in-Charge in 2011, he led the congregation in “vision discernment,” which included healing, refocusing on ministry, fully integrating children into Sunday worship and working on financial processes and staff recruitment.
When asked about the church’s challenges, he said, “Every Episcopal congregation gathers around a table every Sunday. What we need to show the world is that diverse people of different kinds of opinions and attitudes can gather around the one table of the Lord. That is something that is sadly missing in our culture and the Episcopal Church is in a unique position to show the world.”
In the past four years, McMillin has used her skills in organizational development, conflict management at churches throughout the diocese and has managed the clergy call processes and followup in two-thirds of the churches in the diocese. “She recruited a vibrant new generation of priests to serve the church and led an increase in the inclusion of deacons in clergy formation programs,” according to her biography.
At St. Luke’s she said, “One of the most exciting opportunities that we have here in the next decade is to enrich our worship and our outreach and all of our formation programs, to empower our laity, raise up new deacons and empower our deacons and clergy for service out in the world.” She added, “I relish that challenge and look forward to connecting with our laity, deacons and priests.”
McMillin wants to “connect the rich resource and beauty that is the Episcopal Church with our civic communities and serve those who are in greatest need.”
Search for new bishop
The diocese’s search for a new bishop began in September 2017, when the Rt. Rev. Barry Beisner announced his intention to retire. He had served as the seventh bishop of the diocese since 2007, having served as canon the ordinary under the previous bishop, Jerry Lamb, from 2002 to 2006.
Following his announcement, the diocese’s governing body, the Standing Committee, created a search committee, which included 18 people from throughout the diocese. The committee, which included Erika Mueller from St. Helena’s Grace Episcopal Church, met for a year and presented a slate of candidates to the Standing Committee.
Mueller said the search for a new bishop included creating a profile of the diocese, holding listening events throughout the diocese, and once a number of applicants were received, thoroughly vetting them. That included background checks and interviews with their references. The committee also interviewed the candidates and after the group was narrowed down, the candidates came to Northern California for a weekend.
Mueller said it was a hard process and a lot of work, but also was enjoyable. “It was important work and I was happy to represent our whole diocese,” she said.
Each of the diocese’s 68 parishes will send their clergy and lay delegates to a Special Electing Convention to be held Feb. 9 at Faith Episcopal Church in Cameron Park. The clergy and delegates will gather together and share the Eucharist, then they will begin a series of ballots to elect a new bishop.