The Rev. Kevin G. Thew Forrester’s “theologically inadequate” baptismal covenant troubled Bishop of Tennessee John C. Bauerschmidt. “If there is a moment for liturgical and theological clarity, Holy Baptism is it,” Bauerschmidt said.
The Rt. Rev. John C. Bauerschmidt: Statement on the Consent Process in the Episcopal Election in the Diocese of Northern Michigan
The process of consent to an episcopal election does not always generate a great deal of interest in the Episcopal Church, but it has done so in the case of the Rev’d Kevin Thew Forrester, bishop-elect in the Diocese of Northern Michigan. The process for election of a bishop in this case requires consents from a majority of bishops and Standing Committees in the various dioceses of the Episcopal Church before a bishop is consecrated. This is one of the many ways in which we are reminded that our obligations to each other go beyond the local Church.
I voted against consent to his election. Hesitations have been expressed in many quarters on a number of grounds. Decisive for me has been the fact that the Rev’d Thew Forrester has used liturgies not authorized for use in the Episcopal Church, on a regular and ongoing basis. The permission of one’s bishop is beside the point. No bishop of the Episcopal Church is able to authorize liturgies for use in our Church, as alternatives to the regularly appointed services, that have not been approved by the General Convention as supplements to our Prayer Book liturgies. Certainly no individual priest or vestry is able to do so. The clergy of the Episcopal Church are not free to use in church other Anglican liturgical formularies, including those authorized in other provinces of the Communion, or liturgical resources from other traditions, except within the limits set forth in our own Prayer Book. These limits have not been observed by Thew Forrester.
This discipline of the Church may be thought too narrow or unsuitable to our own age. Yet it is the order we have. The theologically inadequate baptismal rite used at St Paul’s Church, Marquette, under the aegis of Thew Forrester, is a reminder of why individuals are not allowed to write their own liturgies. Liturgies which are formulated around idiosyncratic statements of what we are renouncing and exactly what we are embracing beg the question of what community we are being initiated into, and whose disciples we have become. If there is a moment for liturgical and theological clarity, Holy Baptism is it.
Priests are called to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Church, and bishops in particular promise to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church. Liturgy is a crucial articulation of this nexus of Christian faith and Christian community. I do not withhold consent to this election lightly or without knowledge of the difficulties that may be caused by failure to confirm the candidate. But those who are supposed to hold others accountable must have a creditable history of being accountable themselves.
- The Rt Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee