Proposal would allow dioceses up to three bishops suffragan, as Texas Episcopalians cite need

By David Paulsen
Posted Jun 5, 2024

[Episcopal News Service] Few Episcopal dioceses have more than one bishop, though in some larger dioceses, several bishops serve in elected suffragan roles or appointed assistant roles. A proposal before the 81st General Convention would amend The Episcopal Church Constitution to increase the number of suffragan bishops allowed in each diocese from two to three.

The resolution, D049, was proposed by Katie Sherrod, a deputy from the Diocese of Texas. In her testimony June 5 before General Convention’s Constitution & Canons committees, Sherrod said the change would address a specific need in the Diocese of Texas. It is the only Episcopal diocese currently served by the maximum two bishops suffragan.

Katie Sherrod

Katie Sherrod, a deputy from the Diocese of Texas, testifies June 5 in an online hearing in favor of the resolution she proposed seeking to allow dioceses to elect up to three bishops suffragan.

Texas also is one of the largest Episcopal dioceses by membership, and it grew even larger in 2022 when it was reunified with the former Diocese of Fort Worth, of which Sherrod was a lay leader. Fort Worth became a region of the Diocese of Texas, but “after two years, we still do not have a regional bishop. It’s not for a lack of trying,” Sherrod said. The diocese has attempted to recruit an assistant bishop for the region, she said, but “the pool of candidates for bishop assistant is very small.”

The Episcopal Church Constitution specifies that a diocese, on the diocesan bishop’s request, may call and elect a priest to be consecrated as a bishop suffragan, to serve alongside the diocesan bishop. An assistant bishop, on the other hand, is not elected but rather is appointed by the diocesan bishop, with consent of the standing committee and authorization of the diocesan convention. The appointee must already be a bishop.

Resolution D049 could have an impact beyond the Diocese of Texas at a time when several dioceses are in the process of merging to form larger dioceses. That trend is noted in the resolution’s explanatory text. “The future is dioceses with larger geographical boundaries,” the explanation says, “sub-designated into regions ‘overseen’ by suffragan or assisting bishops.”

Sixteen deputies from several different dioceses have formally endorsed or supported Sherrod’s resolution, including the Rev. Jana Troutman-Miller of the Diocese of Milwaukee. She submitted written testimony in favor of the measure, referencing the pending reunion of her diocese with the dioceses of Fond du Lac and Eau Claire. The reunion will be voted on at the 81st General Convention, which convenes June 23-28 in Louisville, Kentucky.

The bishop suffragan resolution “not only will assist in meeting the needs of dioceses who would benefit from additional bishop suffragans, but it would also help to be an example for the church of the ability to continue to bring forward resolutions that would help make our Constitutions and Canons continue to serve the needs of today’s church,” Troutman-Miller wrote.

Bishops suffragan served several of the church’s larger dioceses, including Massachusetts, North Carolina and Virginia, until retiring in recent years without being replaced. The dioceses of Connecticut and Los Angeles each had two bishops suffragan until about a decade ago. Today, bishops suffragan still serve the dioceses of Connecticut and New York, but Texas is the only diocese with two.

The Houston-based Diocese of Texas counts more than 72,000 baptized members, second only to the Diocese of Haiti. Under Bishop Andrew Doyle, Texas is divided into three regions, with Bishop Suffragan Jeff Fisher serving the East Region and Bishop Suffragan Kai Ryan serving the West Region. Bishop Assistant Hector Monterroso is assigned to the South Region. The diocese’s website shows a bishop vacancy in the North Region based in Fort Worth.

The Diocese of Texas “has the need for a third bishop suffragan and the resources to afford it,” Sherrod said in her testimony. The proposed change “increases the flexibility and efficiency of the church.”

Episcopal News Service contacted the Diocese of Texas inviting comment for this story, which will be updated as any response is received.

General Convention divides its authority between the House of Bishops and House of Deputies. Each house assigns members to parallel committees on about two dozen topics that, while distinct, typically meet together for hearings and deliberation. The bishops’ and deputies’ committees on Constitution & Canons is expected to deliberate on Resolution D049 later and decide whether to recommend its adoption by the full houses at the 81st General Convention.

Because the proposal would change The Episcopal Church Constitution, it needs to be approved at two successive meetings of General Convention, meaning it would not take effect any sooner than 2027.

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service based in Wisconsin. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.


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