Episcopal Diocese chooses bishop
The Rev. Dorsey McConnell, seen here in a screen shot from the diocesan web site, was elected the eighth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh today.
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The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh has elected a Yale-educated former agnostic and one-time horse wrangler as its next bishop, choosing a theological conservative known for building relationships with those on the other side of divisive theological issues.
Bishop-elect Dorsey M.W. McConnell, 58, rector of a parish in Chestnut Hill, Mass., said he was overjoyed, and spoke of reconciliation in a diocese wounded from a bitter split in 2008.
"Pittsburgh is the city of bridges and the gospel is about the bridge that God has made to us in Christ," he said. "In the city of bridges, of all places, we ought to be able to heal the divisions not only in our church but within the city itself. I look forward to finding out how God is going to use us in the midst of that."
Pittsburgh is the first of four split dioceses to elect a new bishop. Bishop Kenneth Price Jr. has served as an interim. The 11-county diocese has nearly 9,000 members in 33 parishes.
Bishop-elect McConnell won on the sixth ballot at Trinity Cathedral, Downtown, but was the choice of a majority of clergy from the second ballot. On the first five ballots the laity favored the Rev. R. Stanley Runnels of Kansas City, Mo., who has a record of support for gay ordination and gay marriages. Of the three other nominees, the Rev. Ruth Woodliff-Stanley of Denver, Colo., and the Rev. Scott Quinn from the Church of the Nativity, Crafton, withdrew after three ballots. The Rev. Michael Ambler, a centrist, remained in despite zero votes on four ballots.
Winning required 43 of the 85 laity and 22 of 42 clergy. Bishop-elect McConnell won with 47 lay votes and 31 clergy votes. The election must be confirmed by the Episcopal Church at its national convention in July. His consecration is set for Oct. 20 in Calvary Church, Shadyside.
There was no apparent rancor despite early worries about deadlock. That was seen as a good sign for the diocese, which lost a majority of its people and parishes to the more conservative Anglican Church in North America over theological issues including gay ordination and marriage.
But many conservatives stayed in the Episcopal diocese. The new bishop must work with clergy and laity on opposite sides of divisive issues and lead the diocese through painful property negotiations with parishes that left. All five candidates had strong experience in mediation and reconciliation in dioceses or parishes.
The Bishop-elect grew up in a military family and was exposed to many streams of the Episcopal Church, from Anglo-Catholic to extreme liberal. He became an agnostic, attended Yale, received a Fulbright scholarship to France and then spent some years as a polo groom, wrangler, actor and news editor in places ranging from Argentina to California.
He returned to the Christian faith through a charismatic parish in Manhattan, attended General Theological Seminary in New York and was ordained in 1983. He has served in New York, Seattle and Massachusetts, all liberal dioceses where he worked for reconciliation between theological conservatives and liberals. A decade ago, in an attempt to prevent the schism, he was instrumental in founding and leading two national groups of theologically diverse bishops, clergy and laity that met for prayer, Bible study and conversation.
He teaches a course on Christianity and law at Harvard Law School. His wife, Betsy, is a clinical social worker, and they have a son, Evan, in college.
During a visit to Pittsburgh he spoke of a parishioner who was at odds with him asking why he continued to give her Communion. "I told her, 'I'm not the Lord's doorkeeper. I don't decide who gets in. I'm here to wash the feet of those the Lord calls to his house, including you,' " he said.
On that visit he didn't give his views on gay ordination and marriage, saying that could prejudice a much-needed diocesan discussion about sexuality, scripture and Christian unity. The bishop shouldn't determine the outcome of the conversation, he said.
The Rev. Harold Lewis of Calvary Church, standard-bearer for the more liberal wing of the diocese, welcomed the election. Rev. Lewis was on the nominating committee, and had said he could work with any of its nominees.
"I stood with that to the very end," he said. "Dorsey is deeply spiritual, extremely bright, grounded in faith and very sensitive to the issues facing the church. I think he will be fine. I think he has widespread support across the ideological lines."
The Rev. Daniel Hall, an Episcopal priest serving at First Lutheran Church, Downtown, had Bishop-elect McConnell as his chaplain at Yale University.
"He's a wonderful man, with a fantastic sense of humor, a really sharp mind and a heart that just overflows with love for the people he is interacting with," he said.
The Rev. Jay Geisler, rector of St. Peter's, Brentwood, described the bishop-elect as "someone with traditional values, yet is going to be live-and-let live about some of our more divisive issues."
The Rev. James Simons of St. Michael of the Valley in Ligonier, a theological conservative who had a key role in reorganizing the diocese after the split, called Bishop-elect McConnell, "the right person for the job. He has a reconciling spirit. He will listen to who we are and lead us in the direction that God is calling us."
First Published April 22, 2012 7:36 am