On November 19th, The Rev. Canon Andy Dietsche was elected the Bishop coadjutor of New York. As a priest in the diocese, I believe that the Holy Spirit, through the procedures of the church, its clergy and laity, have spoken.
Mr. Dietsche is a wonderful preacher, a hard worker, a conscientious pastor, and a wise priest. I do not doubt that he will be an attentive and popular bishop. He may be the bishop that New York needs at this time.
The Canon was the only priest known by the entirety of the diocese. When a priest was sick, he was there. If there was a conflict, he was there. When I was having trouble with my deacon, he was there. When there was an installation, he preached and taught. He was doing what many priests want bishops to do. He gathered the loyalty and affection of many priests in the diocese, especially those who had felt far from its center.
The other candidates were at a severe disadvantage. There was no reason for the other clergy, in any serious block, to trust them. There was little time to massage the consciences of the talented but reticent, so perhaps only the ambitious seemed to apply. And so the clergy made judgments based on the best impressions they could have made.
However, the impressions which I heard, I believe, were just that: impressions. They illustrated the limits of our current system of selection. One friend argued that the Rev. Canon Tracy Lind, who I preferred, had answers that were “too perfect.” But when has perfection been a problem? Harmon was considered “too young.” Really? Might we not need a young, energetic priest? Eaton was “too polished.” Will not that be helpful with the media or participating in the councils of the church? Others asked if Dietsche was “more of the same.” Which same? Can’t a staff member learn what not to do? Even clergy don’t know what they want in a bishop, or have a clear idea about what a good bishop would look like or their responsibilities. Perhaps tall and handsome would be enough for some, theologically sophisticated for others, a social justice prophet for a few, but with the administrative skills of a top executive.
This may be a problem.
The skills, nay virtues, that we need in a bishop are listed in scripture: but these are variations of the same as what anyone would want in a philosopher-king: good judgment, a conviction about Christ, a vision. Many priests are aware that when priests or laity seem to want the ill-defined qualia of charisma, they make a mistake. And so we went with the familiar.
We are in an age where many priests do not know one another, except through seminary, shared retreats, or simply long tenures. We do not casually ask new priests out to lunch. We do not attend each other’s gatherings. We are less likely to go to one another’s social events. Most of the clubs that were for priests have dissolved. For this reason, I think, we selected a talented priest who will be a good bishop because, we think we know who he will be with a mitre. But the pool of candidates who we know as a body is small. And we never know how the office will change someone until they fill the office.
I cannot presume that the Holy Spirit had my intuitions at heart, nor do I think that the Holy Spirit has any necessary interest in the growth of the Episcopal Church. I do not expect that the Holy Spirit desires that our lives be particularly easy, or that its reasons will be clear or obvious. That said, Andrew is a trustworthy person who is sensitive, good humored and attentive. We could have done much worse. It reminds me when Bishop Robinson was elected. I don’t think he was the person who really filled the diocese of New Hampshire’s needs, but perhaps the nation and world needed him in a different way.
I remain perplexed as to what we want or need from our spiritual leaders. I remain unsure if any person could fit the bill if we drafted a list of qualities or talents. I suspect that even our Lord wouldn’t. And so I wish the Canon Godspeed in the next stage of his ministry. The episcopacy remains a role I wouldn’t wish upon my closest friends. Although they do get an awesome pad in Manhattan.
God Bless the Diocese of New York. Lord have mercy upon Canon Dietsche.