House of Bishops gathers in Texas for fellowship, ‘future of the church’ discussions

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted Mar 4, 2024

Women Episcopal bishops pose for a photo at the House of Bishops’ March 2024 retreat at Camp Allen in Navasota, Texas. Photo: Frank Logue

[Episcopal News Service — Navasota, Texas] The House of Bishops is gathering Feb. 28 – March 4 here at Camp Allen in Navasota, Texas, for its spring retreat centered on the theme “Grounded in Worship and Work,” particularly as it relates to fellowship with one another and within the church. 

For Taiwan Bishop Lennon Chang, reconnecting with fellow bishops in person presents a “great learning opportunity.” 

“I focus on unity, and I think that’s the most important thing for bishops, to get together as one body,” he told Episcopal News Service as interpreted from Mandarin by the Rev. Fennie Chang, vicar of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Hacienda Heights, California, and the Rev. Katherine Feng, an Episcopal priest based in the Diocese of Los Angeles, who served as his interpreters. “It’s good to learn more about formation and discipleship training, because it’s important to help build up more followers of Jesus.”

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who turns 71 this March, is in the final year of his nine-year term as presiding bishop. He was unable to attend the retreat because he has spent much of the past year facing a series of health crises and treatments. On March 1, surgeons successfully implanted a pacemaker to treat an irregular heartbeat. Former Michigan Bishop Wendell Gibbs chaired the meeting instead.

Curry’s absence hasn’t gone unnoticed during the gathering. However, it also hasn’t dampened the bishops’ “sense of collegiality that he created,” according to Georgia Bishop Frank Logue.

“[Curry’s] absence is felt, and the feeling within the House of Bishops isn’t the same as if he were here,” Logue told ENS. “We miss our chief pastor, but the feeling of being siblings as well as colleagues remains as we continue supporting each other.”

The gathering of some 125 bishops comes at a time when some bishops joined other church leaders in calling for greater oversight and transparency in disciplinary cases involving bishops. In February, The Episcopal Church, under the presiding bishop’s direction, updated its website to launch a series of informational resources, including chronologies of active cases involving bishops under the church’s Title IV disciplinary canons and making it easier for the public to file complaints and navigate the church’s inquiry process.

“I think, in some ways, we acknowledge that in any body — in any gathering — there’s going to be fracture,” Missouri Bishop Deon Johnson told ENS. “I think that we acknowledge the hurt and the fracture, while at the same time are trying to figure out how best to live into a place of reconciliation and trying really hard to respond and not react.”

Before the gathering, the bishops were given two questions to consider for daily discussions: What support do you need from your bishop colleagues now? And, What are the marks for a healthy culture for the House of Bishops? The discussions have focused on concerns and hopes for the future of the House of Bishops and for The Episcopal Church.

The bishops also reviewed plans for the 81st General Convention planned for June 23-28 in Louisville, Kentucky. A new presiding bishop will be elected during the 2024 convention.

The bishops also discussed how to respond to the church’s long-term membership decline. The  number of baptized members dropped just below 1.6 million in 2022, down 21% from 2013, according to the latest parochial reports. The church recorded an even sharper drop in average Sunday attendance in the past decade, down 43% to 373,000 in 2022, though that one-year total was up by 19% from the pandemic-driven low of 313,000 in 2021.

Johnson said discussing membership decline with fellow bishops made him visualize Jesus on his walk to Emmaus in Luke 24. In that chapter, Jesus, unrecognized by his disciples, says little as he listens to them talking while they walk.

“I think this is the Emmaus Road of The Episcopal Church, or of Christianity,” Johnson said. “In this moment, we are living that Emmaus Road — that what we’ve known in the past is being let go and we’re walking towards a resurrected future that we don’t know, but we know that we’re not the ones who are curating it. All we can do is be companions to one another like the disciples.”

The bishops also spent time talking about racial reconciliation and inclusivity as a house and a church during open discussions and in small group table conversations. 

Some bishops noted that everyone should be mindful of the fact that racism and misogyny can be subtle. For example, the first Japanese American woman to become an Episcopal priest, Oregon Bishop Diana Akiyama, shared with the house her experiences with microaggressions as a bishop within her diocese, such as having a lay person compare her to a “china doll” after a Christmas worship service at Trinity Cathedral in Portland. Women bishops and male bishops of color nodded in response.

Montana Bishop Martha Stebbins told ENS that even though she’s not had to “deal with” microaggressions as much as bishops of color and LGBTQ+ bishops, she hasn’t been immune to scrutiny as a woman in a position of authority.

“I’ve have people say, ‘Yes, Bishop,’ in a sarcastic tone of voice,” she said. “The House of Bishops, even though most of us have collegial relationships with our priests and our deacons, [being bishop] is also a supervisory role. So, this is where we can have a relationship with others who have similar roles, and we can close the doors and put down our frustrations and our hopes and dreams.”

On March 1, Minnesota Bishop Craig Loya, Indianapolis Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows and Northwest Texas Bishop Scott Mayer participated in a panel discussion reflecting on what they’ve experienced during their episcopates. Texas Bishop C. Andrew Doyle served as the moderator.

Loya shared his experience of being consecrated less than two weeks after George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis, which launched global protests against police brutality, especially toward Black people. Baskerville-Burrows said she’s mentally preparing for the possibility of the dioceses of Indianapolis and Northern Indiana combining into one diocese as discussions continue. Mayer, 68, said he’s beginning to think about what happens after retirement. The mandatory retirement age for bishops and all clergy is 72. 

The bishops observed an all-day Sabbath March 2 and were scheduled to renew their ordination vows today. They have also been engaging in worship services every day. The Very Rev. Miguelina Howell, dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford, Connecticut, and the Rev. Ricardo Bailey, rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, are serving as chaplains. Johnson and Logue both told ENS that worship is the most important activity bishops do when they assemble in person.

“Bishops need to be discipled, too,” Johnson told ENS. “If studying the Bible is not continuing education for bishops, then something is very wrong because this is fundamental. We must keep going back again and again to those stories of Jesus.”

Chang said he feels optimistic for the future of the House of Bishops and for The Episcopal Church.

“The Holy Spirit will guide everybody,” he said. “I’m praying for it.”

-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service based in northern Indiana. She can be reached at