Events for December 2022

Learnings from the listening sessions: An update from the Standing Committee

Learnings from the listening sessions: An update from the Standing Committee 1275 1650 Episcopalians in Connection

Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles
June 29, 2022

Dear friends in Christ,

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

As you know, the Standing Committee held listening sessions in late May and early June. The purpose of these sessions, held in person and online, was to help us understand whether we are ready as a diocese to move to the next stage of the bishop search process and to hear your concerns and hopes.

We are pleased to share the report and recommendations from New Realm Consulting. There were no surprises in the report, and this is good. Please do read the full report, and you may also want to review the results from a diocesan-wide survey we conducted in the spring.

In summary, there were five themes we heard from the listening sessions:

  • Desire for improved transparency from diocesan leaders
  • Desire to use “systems theory” to understand not only the issues around Bishop Breidenthal’s struggle with substance use, but also how we handle other problems and support our leaders
  • Clear preference to “proceed now” with the next step of our search for the next diocesan bishop
  • Lack of trust related to an identified Cincinnati/rural disconnect; a frustration with the collaboration between the Diocese of Southern Ohio and Christ Church Cathedral. (Note: this collaboration has now been ended.)
  • Hope that our next bishop will be pastoral, with an appreciation of Bishop Wayne Smith’s work

As we have said all along, the Standing Committee’s primary goal has been to set up our next bishop for a ministry that can thrive. To that end, we wanted to make sure we understood critical issues in our diocese and could address some of them prior to the election and ordination of our next bishop. Other issues must be named and clarified now, and our next bishop will need to be aware of them and lead us through a response.

We believe that the worst scenario would have been to proceed too quickly, having failed to identify and address long-term, systemic issues. Fortunately, we believe – and the survey and listening sessions have affirmed – that the Diocese is now ready to proceed with the next steps in our search.

We have identified areas of health in our diocese. And we have identified challenges that fall into three categories:

  • Some challenges should be addressed and resolved immediately, before the arrival of our next bishop.
  • Some challenges should be identified and clarified so that those discerning a call to be our bishop will be aware of them as part of their discernment process.
  • Some challenges should simply be named now, realizing that they cannot be “solved” in the short term.

Here are some immediate challenges we have addressed:

  • The Standing Committee has been endeavoring to lead with transparency and to encourage others to do the same.
  • We called for the election of Bishop Wayne Smith as our bishop provisional and charged him to help us address issues related to the systemic health of our diocese.
  • The collaboration between the Diocese and the Cathedral, a source of much concern, has been ended.
  • We are working with the Trustees to address the next bishop’s compensation. Already, when we called Bishop Smith, we lowered the compensation from its previous high of just over $330,000 to just over $200,000. We are working with the Trustees to develop a plan for “rationalizing” the next bishop’s compensation to make it comparable with other dioceses of our size and complexity.

We also understand there are longer-term issues, including:

  • Systemic racism in our diocese and its structures
  • An ongoing lack of trust and transparency
  • A desire for greater support of struggling congregations, both financially and pastorally 

We are sharing these concerns and the work to address them with you so that you’ll be aware of our ongoing concerns and focus. Now that we have a provisional bishop, the Standing Committee is no longer the ecclesiastical authority, and our task for many of these challenges is to offer counsel to our bishop. Our narrower focus has been to assure that we are on the optimal timeline for our search.

It is clear that we are ready to proceed with the next steps of the search for our next bishop.

Specifically, we are meeting all day today with our search consultant to map out a timeline and task list for the nomination, discernment, election, ordination, and transition of our next bishop. We will share this timeline as soon as we have a suitable draft. Over the summer, we will be preparing the position descriptions and process to name the search committee. We will continue to work with the Trustees on clarifying the compensation (and compensation policies) for our next bishop. We will work with the chancellor on any special rules of order or canonical changes that will need to be considered at our Diocesan Convention this fall.

Our expectation is that we will open nominations for the search committee later in the summer or in early autumn. We will look for a diverse group of people with the mix of skills we need from across the whole diocese. We’ll share more details soon.

The date of the ordination will depend on the Presiding Bishop’s schedule and on resolutions under consideration at this summer’s General Convention that could affect the timeline. As we said, stay tuned for a more detailed timeline as soon as it’s ready to share.

Some people have asked us what happens if we do not have our next bishop by August 2023, when Bishop Smith’s letter of agreement with us ends. He has told us that he is willing to stay on a little longer if needed. If for some reason that becomes impossible, we are developing alternate plans to continue the vibrant ministry of our diocese without interruption.

We will communicate again soon with a timeline for the process leading to the ordination of our next diocesan bishop. Meanwhile, if you have questions or concerns, please email us at StandingCommittee@DioSOhio.org.

We ask you to pray for the Diocese of Southern Ohio and for us. Today is the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles. The appointed collect is fitting:

Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified you by their martyrdom: Grant that your Church, instructed by their teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which is Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Blessings to you all.

Yours faithfully,

Dr. James Allsop, vice-president
Dr. Elizabeth Barker
The Rev. Dr. Ellen Cook
Mr. Barry Feist
The Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, president
The Rev. David Kendall-Sperry, secretary
The Standing Committee of the Diocese of Southern Ohio