Goodbye on the Installment Plan

This is not yet my final  regular contribution to the Springfield Current, but the end of January will mark an important milestone in the diocese’s transition from its eleventh to its twelfth bishop, as I begin a “modified sabbatical.”

This is not how I would have ever imagined the conclusion of my ministry among you would look. When I announced my retirement plans to the diocesan synod in October 2019, I envisioned remaining in office and at the helm until I handed Bishop Seymour’s historic crozier to my successor–a seamless transition–on June 12, 2021, a date that had already been agreed upon with the Presiding Bishop’s office.

Three unanticipated developments–three “black swans”–appeared to throw those carefully-laid plans into disarray.

First, some ten months ago, the world was engulfed in a viral pandemic that has reached down and touched, directly or indirectly, every congregation in this diocese. It has disrupted our lives on multiple levels, including that which is most fundamental to our common life as the people of God–our ability to assemble on the Lord’s Day and celebrate the Eucharist together. We all lost Holy Week and Easter completely. Most of us regathered for a time, in very straitened circumstances, during the summer and fall, but only some of our communities were able to have a public celebration of Christmas, and even those at a very “dialed down” level. The coronavirus has also delayed our plans for an episcopal election, as we figure out how to proceed in an environment when we can’t have large meetings. So this is one of the reasons there will be a gap between the conclusion of my ministry and the beginning of my successor’s. Of course, it also means that there will probably not be a single public occasion at which Brenda and I can take our leave of you face-to-face, and this fills me with sadness.

Second, after two-plus years of plateau, Brenda’s cognitive health began a steady downward slide about six months ago. We knew this would happen eventually, but I had hoped it might delay its arrival until after I’m retired. Absent this issue, the result of the pandemic would have been that I simply delay my retirement until we get the all-clear, as I thought I might be able to do as recently as last spring, thus preserving the goal of a seamless transition. But Brenda cannot be left alone at all now, so every trip I make into the diocese is only made possible by the generosity of my children and daughter-in-law with whom we share a building. They are, in effect, “tapped out.” While I expect to be in the diocese on some occasions after the end of the month, the every-weekend pace is not sustainable. This also greatly saddens me, as there is nothing in my life that I love more than being with the people of the diocese on Sundays.

Finally, the conclusion of my ministry is happening under a cloud of conflict with the Standing Committee. This saddens me more than anything else, since the Standing Committee includes people with whom I have worked closely and considered colleagues and companions in service of the gospel. To have been set at odds with them is traumatic. I must confess that I am completely at sea about why they chose to pursue the aim of creating a gap, an interregnum, between the eleventh and twelfth bishops of the diocese, a period of time in which they themselves will be collectively “in charge” as the Ecclesiastical Authority. It is proven bad policy for Standing Committees to be in charge of dioceses. I could have chosen to resist their efforts under the canons of the Episcopal Church, and am fully confident I would have prevailed in the end. Yet, that would have focused public attention on the diocese in a negative way over a period of several months, which would not have well-served the project of electing the next bishop. So I agreed to a mediated settlement, and the sabbatical that will begin February 1 is part of that agreement.

During my sabbatical, the Standing Committee will oversee the routine administrative and financial duties that I would ordinarily handle. I will retain authority over the ordination process (and expect to ordain some transitional deacons), clergy discipline, and clergy deployment (we have more parishes in transition now than at any other time on my watch!). I am at liberty to accept invitations to preside and preach on Sundays, but there are only a handful of specific dates for which I will be able to accept such invitations, because of Brenda’s situation. I have already arranged with the Dean of St Paul’s Cathdral that I will preside at the Mass and preach on Sunday, June 27. That will be my liturgical “swan song.” My full retirement and resignation become effective three days later.

I hold the diocese–specific individuals and communities–in my prayers daily. I humbly ask your continuing prayers for me.


{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Rev Lee Johnson January 24, 2021, 8:40 am

    Prayers continue for Brenda, for you and for the Diocese of Springfield. You have been a shining light in so many lives and so faithful in serving the Lord!

  • Celinda Scott January 25, 2021, 10:17 pm

    I am so very sorry that Brenda is not well, and for other sadnesses in your letter. I am extremely grateful to you for stepping in to join the US Council of the AFP, for your teaching on intercessory prayer on the website, and for your comments and guidance. I hope you will continue to stay on the Council as long as possible. Praying for Brenda, for you, for the diocese, for healing. May God bless you and your family.

  • Arnold+ and Sharon H January 26, 2021, 7:12 am

    We will continue to pray for you and Brenda every day. We are saddened and weeping, and we send much love in Christ.
    Arnold+ and Sharon

  • Bill Gossett January 26, 2021, 11:18 am

    One feller’s opinion! The “difficulty ” of this situation should have been prevented. Our Bishop has served the Diocese of Springfield well, my thought- his retirement should have been handled with empathy as well as sincere appreciation. My guess- there are some negative thoughts about the manner in which this situation was handled.

  • Diane Martin January 29, 2021, 5:37 pm

    I wish that I knew some comment to make. After the terrible June 23 fire at St. PAUL’S, ALTOn, there was a blackened, singed bulletin board. Almost everything on it had burned to a crisp. Hanging smokey and singed in the middle of the debris was a poster with a butterfly and flower. The words on it were hard to make out but the message was a very clear message to us ….a quote from the Revelation to St.John…”Behold! I make all things new.” Was that a MESSAGE or not? We’ve kept it for our mantra. I hope that this somehow helps you, and Brenda, and our Diocese and our world. Thank you for the things you’ve done for me. …for your kindness to all. I hope this helps somehow. Keeping you and Brenda and family in my prayers.

  • Fr. Dale Coleman January 30, 2021, 12:10 pm

    For a Catholic Diocese which honors their Bishop as the successor of the Apostles, stretching back to our Lord Himself, to have a group of folks grasping for the authority of that Bishop, is such hypocrisy, particularly in the way they set up this coup, entirely stealthily in the dark, bodes ill for the months ahead. I believe God’s judgment will be upon them, which will affect all of the Diocese, because this is Christ’s Church. Anyone who believes in our Lord, and his humility, sees this as a naked power grab. “Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God as something to be exploited or grasped, but emptied Himself taking the form of a slave… (Phil. 2: 5-7a) Read every Palm Sunday. You know this, Bishop, and have made it part of your life. This contemptible few have grasped.

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