By Douglas LeBlanc
The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops’ Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight plan, which now makes provisions for individuals seeking ordination, represents two years of work by six bishops, both conservative and progressive.
The bishops made minimal changes to the expanded plan, which was presented by the Rt. Rev. Edward S. Little II, Bishop of Northern Indiana. The new document expanded on “Caring for All the Churches,” an agreement approved by the bishops in March 2004.
“We asked ourselves, How can we create a safe place for theological minorities? That question cuts in both directions.”
The document expanded on “Caring for All the Churches,” an agreement approved by the bishops in March 2004. “We realized in the end that creating a canonical solution was too complicated,” Little said.
The bishops said the agreement works from a foundation of greater theological heft, gives a clearer explanation of what DEPO entails and guarantees “ministerial reproduction.”
As with the 2004 version of the document, the revised version emphasizes that a congregation and bishop should strive for reconciliation before considering any DEPO arrangement.
The 2012 revision gives more responsibilities to a bishop exercising DEPO, so long as a diocese’s bishop and standing committee agree to it.
“The ministry of a bishop serving under the provisions of Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight” may now include “providing counsel to the rector, vestry, or canonically designated lay leadership” and, “in cooperation with the Bishop Diocesan, collaborating in search processes when the parish seeks a new rector.”
“Theological minorities often fear that they are tolerated and that when they die out there will be no one left to represent them,” Little said.
Regarding future priests: “The bishop providing delegated pastoral oversight may also, with the consent of the Bishop Diocesan and his or her own commission on ministry and standing committee, care for persons from the parish receiving delegated oversight in the ordination process,” the expanded statement says. “Thus the person testing his or her vocation seeks ordination through the discernment process of the diocese of the bishop providing delegated oversight, and his or her formation is under the direction of that diocese.”
Bishop Little said he and the Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr., Bishop of Ohio, worked together when Church of the Advent, Westlake, called its new rector. Bishop Little provides DEPO to that congregation and to three others across the country.
Bishop Little is hopeful that DEPO will fare better in the long term than the Port St. Lucie Statement of Conscience (1977), which addressed pastoral care for Episcopalians who opposed ordaining women to the priesthood.
“I think in the House of Bishops today there’s a real awareness that we did not handle that well,” he said. “We lost some very good people because they did not feel welcome.”
The full text of the expanded statement follows.
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