Diocese of Ohio Standing Committee adopts new bishop search model

The Standing Committee of the Diocese of Ohio has adopted a new bishop search model. In a break from practice in the Episcopal Church, the Standing Committee drafted the Diocesan Profile. Heretofore the bishop search committee, in consultation with the members of the diocese, create the Diocesan Profile for the search process.

There are also questions about the current bishop’s involvement in the process.

The search is for a bishop coadjutor — that a bishop who becomes diocesan bishop upon the retirement of the current bishop. The election is planned for the diocesan convention of November 2022.

The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr. was elected in 2003 and consecrated in 2004. He has stated his intention to retire some time in 2023.

There are two documents on the diocesan website introducing the new model:

  1. A letter from the Bishop dated September 14, 2021
  2. Search Committee announcement including FAQ by the Standing Committee dated October 29, 2021

In his letter, Hollingsworth refers to a series of meetings he and the Standing Committee held with “the Rt. Rev. Todd Ousley, Bishop for the Presiding Bishop’s Office of Pastoral Development (that which provides, among other things, resources and guidance to dioceses and bishops regarding episcopal ministry).” And he states,

Later this week, Bishop Ousley will once again join the Standing Committee and me, along with Ms. Anne Schmidt, a Transition Consultant trained by the Office of Pastoral Development and contracted by the Standing Committee, to continue the work we have been doing over the last two years, focusing now on the election of the 12th Bishop of Ohio. The Committee, as directed by Canon I.3.1 of the Diocesan Constitution and Canons, will “establish a process for the nomination and election of such Bishop.”

On September 22, the Standing Committee President issued a call for search committee nominations. He also laid out the search process and timetable.

In its announcement of October 29, the Standing Committee introduced the Search Committee members. The Standing Committee also included an FAQ “about the current bishop transition process.” That FAQ is reproduced below:

Frequently Asked Questions about the current bishop transition process
What is the Standing Committee’s role in this process?
The Standing Committee’s primary role is to design the search process. There is no prescribed roadmap describing how a bishop search is done. At the encouragement of Bishop Todd Ousley from the Episcopal Church’s Office of Pastoral Development, we are intentionally using a new model. 
The Standing Committee has assembled a highly qualified search committee and, while communication liaisons will be appointed, no members of the Standing Committee will serve on the Search Committee to protect the autonomy of that committee’s work. 
In the coming months, the Standing Committee will assemble a transition committee that will coordinate “meet-and-greet” events with the final slate of nominees (virtually and in person) and help organize the logistics of the consecration of our new bishop. In late winter, nominations will be sought from across the diocese of those interested in serving on the Transition Committee.
Why did the Standing Committee put together the Diocesan Profile draft?
As recommended by the Presiding Bishop’s office, the Standing Committee is employing a new model for a bishop transition. A key difference in this model is that the Standing Committee initially drafted the Diocesan Profile which typically has been done by search committees. Feedback received throughout the church is that diocesan profiles consume an enormous amount of a search committee’s time and focus, while most end up sounding very similar.
The Standing Committee worked to produce an initial draft of the profile in order to give the Search Committee a strong starting point. The goal was for a high-level overview of our diocese unlike in previous bishop searches in our diocese (and elsewhere) that have produced extensive documents. The profile is meant to be one of several tools employed to aid in the process of mutual discernment. The opportunity for the Search Committee to hear from the diocese and to discern what we are looking for in a bishop has yet to come.
The Search Committee will now have the responsibility for reviewing diocesan feedback to the draft profile and finalizing the document as they deem appropriate.
Why hasn’t the diocese been given an opportunity to provide input beyond reactions to the profile?
Your opportunity is still coming! The Standing Committee has charged the Search Committee to hold listening sessions across the diocese in order to understand our concerns, needs, and hopes as well as our aspirations for our next bishop. This will afford the Search Committee a greater understanding of how the Spirit is moving in our diocese prior to reviewing candidates’ applications. 
Did the bishop search process really begin two years ago?
Knowing that Bishop Hollingsworth’s retirement was on the horizon, the Standing Committee intentionally set aside time at its meetings over the last two years for education in preparation for a transition. The committee sought to understand: What does a bishop do? What blessings, challenges, and ministries are particular to our diocese? How does a bishop transition work? What are other dioceses doing? These intentional opportunities for education led to the Standing Committee’s decision to adopt the new model for a bishop transition and, while not comprehensive, provided an understanding of many important facets of our diocese for the drafting of the profile. 
How involved is Bishop Hollingsworth?
In addition to sharing information about his experiences and role as bishop and a comprehensive assessment of the diocese from his perspective, Bishop Hollingsworth has been instrumental in connecting the Standing Committee to the Presiding Bishop’s Office of Pastoral Development and our outside consultants. Beyond that, the Bishop has graciously excused himself from discussions on the upcoming transition to protect the integrity of the process. 
What happens once the Search Committee presents a slate of nominees for Bishop?
The Standing Committee has tasked the Search Committee to present a slate of three to five nominees for bishop in August 2022. The Search Committee’s work will end at that time. A short petition period will follow, allowing the inclusion of additional nominees on the final slate. From there, the Transition Committee will arrange the “meet-and-greet” events with the nominees. While timelines must remain flexible to follow the leading of the Spirit, our goal is to elect our next bishop at Diocesan Convention in November 2022. 

What is a Bishop Coadjutor? Why elect a Bishop Coadjutor?
A bishop coadjutor is a bishop elected to succeed the current diocesan bishop following a period of joint service together. Allowing for the current diocesan bishop and the bishop coadjutor to serve together for a brief period will provide the new bishop and the diocese with both continuity and flexibility, and increases the promise of a smooth and stable transition.
Last year, the Standing Committee reviewed the bishop election options and it became clear early on that the election of a bishop coadjutor made the most sense for our diocese at this time. Anticipating significant turnover among the diocesan staff and the full retirement of our assisting bishops, the need for continuity of leadership became particularly evident.

What will be the role of the two bishops as they share responsibilities and how long will Bishop Hollingsworth and the Bishop Coadjutor serve together?
During the period of coadjutorship, delineation of responsibilities will depend upon the needs and wishes of the Bishop Coadjutor. The duration of that period will be at the direction of the Bishop Coadjutor, in consultation with the Standing Committee.

If I’m not on the Search or Standing Committees, how can I be involved? 
First, please continue to pray for this process. In the coming months, listening sessions will be held where you’ll have an opportunity to share your perspectives with the Search Committee. In the late winter months, nominations will be sought for the Transition Committee which will require an “all hands on deck” effort to manage upcoming logistics. Finally, we hope you will participate in future opportunities to meet the bishop nominees, ask questions, and prayerfully discern whom God is calling to lead us into the future.

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