The Holy Spirit was very busy last weekend! By now, I’m sure you are all aware of the results of the Special Convention for the Election of the Eleventh Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan. After 5 ballots, the clergy and lay deputies elected the Rev. Dr. Bonnie A. Perry as bishop-elect. Before going in to convention, all the delegates were aware that we were making history since we knew that our next bishop would be a woman. And we did!! I’d like to share just a little of this experience as my blog post for this week because this was my first experience with an election for the episcopate and, to be very honest, I am a bit tired and distracted to research resolutions this afternoon (Sunday).
Right from the arrival at the diocesan center, I could feel the excitement in the air! I heard many happy voices as friends from different congregations greeted each other – some exclaiming that they hadn’t “seen each other in ages.” There were hugs and smiles and a happy electricity all around. It was a great way to start the day! For me, it was the same; living in Hillsdale so far from many diocesan friends, I was delighted to reconnect with some of the special people in my life. This very tangible joy certainly set a perfect atmosphere for the work that lay ahead.
Right away, I experienced this gathering as the Body of Christ – one body united by the Spirit for a common purpose. I was sure we had come with different ideas of who might be the best candidate for our diocese but I also knew that many voices had been raised in prayer during this whole process, we had gifted people on the Search and Nomination Committee, and the Holy Spirit would be capable of bringing our decisions together for the very best outcome.
We began our morning with a beautiful service of Holy Eucharist providing us the opportunity to center our thoughts and prayers on the work of the Spirit and to give her access to our often-stubborn human wills. Bishop Gibbs gave a moving sermon reminding us that being open to the Holy Spirit is both a gift and a spiritual discipline. He told us that while it may sound easy and trite to say “Let go and let God,” our desire to take care of ourselves makes this rather difficult – yet always worth the effort. He challenged us to put aside our egos and open ourselves to the working of the Spirit. Bishop Gibbs’ words were highlighted by his beautiful solo of a song he sang often during his time in a monastery many years ago and which clearly continues to mean a lot to him:
Come Holy Spirit
take hold of my life,
sign me with your holy love.
Give me your gifts,
Confirm me in faith.
This set the tone for our reliance on the Holy Spirit during our work together and was a great foundation for moving into the official business time of our Convention.
Before each ballot we sang Veni Sancte Spiritus (Come Holy Spirit) and joined in prayer for the Spirit’s leading in our decisions. Throughout the balloting and some of the time spent waiting for results, we raised our voices in song and prayer. Indeed, all of the day’s events were well-bathed in prayer which truly fostered a contemplative mood during a meeting that could have been merely business-like and long.
I know that the vote was not unanimous and there were many who may have held onto their favorite candidates throughout the day yet, when the election was announced by Bishop Gibbs after the fifth ballot, all stood together and joyously sang the doxology “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…” followed by a heartening round of applause. Bishop Gibbs then led us in a time of prayer closing with “I Sing the Mighty Power of God.” The applause was enthusiastically repeated when Bishop Gibbs was able to put our new bishop-elect on the phone to speak to all of us:
I am in awe of the trust you have placed in me, and I will, with God’s help, do all I can to live up to this trust and this honor. I am so excited about the ministry we are going to do together. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
It was a day I will never forget!
This morning (Sunday) I was touched by how our gospel affirmed my experience of Saturday’s events. Jesus prayed in his “High Priestly Prayer:”
The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (John 17:22, 23).
We are one in the Spirit and, after being present on Saturday, I am convinced that we can all work together with the Spirit’s leading for the good of the Diocese. Let each of us continue in prayer during this time of transition for Bishop-elect Bonnie and for our diocesan family.
Let us pray –
O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come: You have journeyed with your people Israel and we pray you, journey with us now, in this time of episcopal transition and change. Walk beside us on the road that is ahead, calm our fears, awaken our hope, and open our hearts, as together we seek your guidance. Inspire us to continue to discern your will for the Diocese of Michigan. May we put our whole trust in you as we look to Christ, the great shepherd of our souls; who together with the Holy Spirit is alive and reigns now and forever. Amen.
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council