The Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina will elect its eighth bishop Saturday.
Six candidates include two priests in the diocese, two from Texas, one from Minnesota and one local priest, the Very Rev. John B. Burwell, rector of Church of the Holy Cross, which has sanctuaries on Sullivan's Island and Daniel Island, and soon will plant another church in the I'On neighborhood of Mount Pleasant.
The current bishop, the Rt. Rev. Dorsey F. Henderson Jr., will retire Dec. 31 after 14 years leading the upper diocese, which has jurisdiction over the northwestern half of the state.
The new bishop will be elected by clergy of the diocese and by lay delegates representing the diocese's 64 congregations. Voting will continue until a nominee receives a majority of both clergy and lay votes on the same ballot. Results will be posted in real time at www.edusc.org.
The election comes during a tense time in The Episcopal Church, which affirmed earlier this year that gays and lesbians in monogamous relationships are eligible for "any ordained ministry," and that same-sex unions can be blessed. In response, the Diocese of South Carolina called a special convention during which four of five resolutions were passed, including one that calls on the bishop and standing committee "to begin withdrawing from all bodies of The Episcopal Church that have assented to actions contrary to Holy Scripture, the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them." Burwell, citing allegiance to his bishop, said he voted in favor of this resolution, but that it was misunderstood by many observers.
"I voted for it because our bishop (Mark Lawrence) asked me to vote for it," Burwell said in a telephone interview. "It was a strategy, not theological."
His vote likely will affect his chances, he said. "Absolutely, absolutely. There's no question about it. I don't expect to win this thing by any stretch of the imagination." But after 22 years at Holy Cross, during which time the congregation grew from a divided 75 to a robust 1,800, Burwell said he is in a no-lose situation. "A quarter of my life I've given to the church, and I love them dearly, and they love me, too," he said of his parishioners. "I would hate to leave."
Though he said he believes his track record fits the job profile of the upper diocese, remaining the leader of a growing parish with work still to be done would be a welcomed proposition. "I get to stay at Holy Cross if I don't win," the South Carolina native said, "and if I do win, I get to build 60 churches."
The other candidates are: The Rev. Canon Dr. Neal O. Michell, canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of Dallas; the Rev. David F.O. Thompson, rector of St. Bartholomew's Church in North Augusta; Rev. W. Andrew Waldo, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Excelsior, Minn.; the Rev. Jerre Stockton Williams Jr., rector of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Kerrville, Texas; and the Very Rev. Dr. Philip C. Linder, dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Columbia. Linder is the only candidate nominated through the petition process.
"All five nominees (of the regular search process) support, without question, remaining in The Episcopal Church," wrote the co-chairs of the search committee. They also advocate adhering to the "Windsor process," meant to keep the Anglican Communion from fracturing, maintaining ties with the Anglican Communion and signing an Anglican covenant, which is a set of proposed guiding principles which all professed Anglican churches would be expected to uphold.
The new bishop will be consecrated on May 22.