5 presiding bishop nominees participate in forum ahead of House of Bishops’ June 26 election

By David Paulsen
Posted Jun 21, 2024

Candidates for the 28th presiding bishop participated in a candidate forum on June 21 held at the Louisville Marriott Downtown. Following the forum, they posed for a photo. From left they are Northwestern Pennsylvania Bishop Sean Rowe, who also serves as bishop provisional of the Diocese of Western New York, Atlanta Bishop Robert Wright, Pennsylvania Bishop Daniel G.P. Gutiérrez, Central New York Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe and Nebraska Bishop J. Scott Barker. Photo: Randall A. Gornowich

[Episcopal News Service – Louisville, Kentucky] The five bishops seeking to become The Episcopal Church’s 28th presiding bishop shared the stage June 21 at a well-attended forum that showcased the nominees’ varying experiences, styles and stated visions for leading the church through the coming decade’s challenges.

The forum, held in a large ballroom at the Louisville Marriott Downtown, was hosted by the Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop. Alaska Bishop Mark Lattime, one of the committee’s co-chairs, thanked the nominees in his opening remarks.

“These people have already given us an extraordinary gift by offering themselves to this very vulnerable process,” Lattime said. “These five individuals do not see themselves as contestants in a political campaign. They see themselves as colleagues and partners continuing to walk together in discernment, listening and praying together to see what the Holy Spirit reveals to us in this process of election.”

Video of the forum can be found here.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s nine-year term concludes on Oct. 31, and choosing his successor is one of the top priorities of the 81st General Convention. The five nominees are Nebraska Bishop J. Scott Barker, Central New York Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe, Pennsylvania Bishop Daniel Gutiérrez, Atlanta Bishop Robert Wright and Northwestern Pennsylvania Bishop Sean Rowe, who also serves as bishop provisional of the Diocese of Western New York.

The 81st General Convention’s legislative sessions will convene June 23-28 at the Kentucky International Convention Center. On June 26, the House of Bishops will elect the new presiding bishop in a closed session at the nearby Christ Church Cathedral, after which the House of Deputies will be asked to confirm the bishops’ choice.

Get full, updating ENS coverage of the 81st General Convention here.

At the forum, the nominees introduced themselves in pre-recorded videos that played on large screens at the front of the ballroom as each took the stage. After introductions, Thomas Diaz, a Diocese of Los Angeles deputy and nominating committee member, moderated three rounds of questions, in which each nominee drew a prompt from a bowl and gave a brief response.

The five candidates for The Episcopal Church’s 28th Presiding Bishop are Northwestern Pennsylvania Bishop Sean Rowe, who also serves as bishop provisional of the Diocese of Western New York, Atlanta Bishop Robert Wright, Pennsylvania Bishop Daniel G.P. Gutiérrez, Central New York Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe and Nebraska Bishop J. Scott Barker. The election will be held on June 26. Photo: Randall A. Gornowich

“I love The Episcopal Church. It is the church in which I met Jesus. It’s the community that has formed me more deeply than any other,” Barker said in his introduction video, which he presented in the form of a letter to his grandson. “The church was there for me on both the hardest and most joyful days of my life.”

Barker, 60, has led the Omaha-based Diocese of Nebraska since 2011. The diocese’s 53 worshipping communities span the full state, where Barker was born and raised. A graduate of Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, Barker was ordained to the priesthood in 1992 and served for 10 years in Omaha and 10 more years in the Diocese of New York before returning to Nebraska as bishop.

“We stand in an extraordinary moment,” Barker said later in the forum, in response to a question about the vision the new presiding bishop will need to lead the church. Today’s Episcopalians “are the inheritors of this incredible treasure from the past,” he said, but the Holy Spirit is now leading that church to become something brand new.

Duncan-Probe, 61, has led the Syracuse-based Diocese of Central New York since 2016. The nearly 80 congregations in the diocese span from the Canadian border to the Pennsylvania state line. After a career in education and business, Duncan-Probe earned a Master of Divinity degree from The General Theological Seminary in New York and was ordained to the priesthood in 2004 in the Diocese of El Camino Real in central California.

“We have so much hope about how we might proclaim the love of Jesus to a deserving world,” Duncan-Probe said in her introduction, in which she quoted Timothy 2. The epistle “tells us that we’ve been called not because of anything we’ve done, but because of God’s grace. May we live in that grace and love and may we not only seek to serve but to love and to care.”

Duncan-Probe responded later to a question about churchwide administration and operations. She said good church governance starts by building relationships at all levels. “Our relationships are broken,” she said, and they cannot be repaired simply by passing resolutions. “Together we are the church. … God has called us together to do this work.”

Gutiérrez, in his introduction, said he wants to lead “that great messy church”; one that isn’t afraid to get into the community and get out of its comfort zone. “Let’s be different – that holy, radical revolutionary presence in the world,” he said. “Someone like Jesus.”

Gutiérrez, 59, has led the Philadelphia-based Diocese of Pennsylvania since 2016. A native of New Mexico, Gutiérrez earned a diocesan certificate in Anglican Studies through the Trinity School for Ministry and has a master’s degree in theological studies from St. Norbert College. He was ordained to the priesthood in 2008 in the Albuquerque-based Diocese of the Rio Grande and served there as canon to the ordinary, chief operating officer and chief of staff before he was elected bishop of Pennsylvania.

He later responded to a question about outreach to marginalized communities, saying The Episcopal Church needs to “get over ourselves,” not cling to institutional structures over people. “We keep saying the church is inclusive, but we have a lot of work to do,” he said, “a lot of listening to do.”

Rowe, 49, has led the Erie-based Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania since 2007, and he also serves as bishop provisional of the Diocese of Western New York through a partnership the dioceses established in 2019. He previously served as bishop provisional of the Diocese of Bethlehem from 2014 to 2018. Originally from western Pennsylvania, Rowe is a Virginia Theological Seminary graduate and was ordained to the priesthood in 2000 in Northwestern Pennsylvania. He currently serves as parliamentarian of the House of Bishops and Executive Council.

“Everyone wants a revolution, but nobody wants to do the dishes,” Rowe said in his introduction, quoting a saying that was popularized by Dorthy Day. “Our vision of God’s reign and our commitment to Beloved Community are strong, but in the last half a century, our institutional structures haven’t been working well enough to get us there.”

The next presiding bishop can’t change the course of the church alone, Rowe said, but as the church’s chief executive, the presiding bishop must lead that change. “Together we can be more faithful, more passionate and more sustainable as the body of Christ in a world that badly needs our witness.”

Wright, in his introduction, invoked biblical imagery as metaphors for the church, saying that all Episcopalians should “look for signs of those things that are green and growing by the Holy Spirit” while letting go of other aspects of the church that are not bearing fruit.

“We are the clay, and God is the potter,” he said. “My hope is that we would remember that.”

Wright, 60, has led the Diocese of Atlanta since 2012. The diocese, based in Georgia’s capital city, has 120 worshipping communities across the northern half of the state. A Navy veteran and graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary, Wright was ordained to the priesthood in 1999 in the Diocese of New York. At the time of his election as bishop, he had served the previous 10 years as rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta. Since 2020, he also has hosted the popular podcast “For People” on faith and life.

Later in the forum, Wright shared some of his practices for maintaining his own spiritual health and well-being. As one example, he said he and his wife have a daily routine of long, prayerful walks before sunrise. Staying spiritually centered is ever more important at a time when all clergy feel the stress of leading congregations in today’s changing world.

“The velocity and complexity of this work is just going to amplify,” Wright said.

The 28th presiding bishop is scheduled to take office on Nov. 1, and an installation is scheduled for Nov. 2 at Washington National Cathedral, the traditional seat of the presiding bishop. When the nominating committee released its presiding bishop profile in March 2023, it identified via survey several qualities needed in “a presiding bishop for our time.” Among the most important characteristics identified are strong leadership, a love of communicating, and faithfulness.

There are few canonical requirements for presiding bishop candidates. They must be members of the House of Bishops and cannot yet have reached the church’s mandatory retirement age of 72.

The presiding bishop has a range of responsibilities, as outlined by The Episcopal Church Constitution and Canons. Those include presiding over the House of Bishops, chairing Executive Council, visiting every Episcopal diocese, participating in the ordination and consecration of bishops, receiving and responding to disciplinary complaints against bishops, making appointments to the church’s interim bodies, and “developing policies and strategies for the church and speaking for the church on the policies, strategies and programs of General Convention.”

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