What can we learn from Eau Claire?…by Steve Pankey

According to ENS, the Diocese of Eau Claire announced four candidates for its sixth bishop today.  As I read the article, I was reminded of the struggles that Eau Claire and Fond du Lac faced in late 2011 as they discussed, and even voted on, the possibility of merging the two Dioceses.  As a firm believer that Diocesan structures will necessarily be a part of the work of the Task Force on Structure, I hope we will learn from 2011 and from the work beginning in the Church in Wales (see Episcopal Cafe).  But that’s not what I wanted to write about today.

Instead, I’d like to know what we can learn from the Diocese of Eau Claire as they stand today.  The four candidates announced this morning are vying to be the 20-hour a week bishop of a diocese with 21 congregations, 2,200 baptized members, and 15 active clergy.  Some will look at this with cynicism, noting that these four guys (they are all men, it is still Eau Claire, after all) are just in it for the purple shirt.  I don’t know these priests, personally, so I can’t say if that is a motivation or not, but based on the Diocesan Search Website, I’d say that if it is, they’ll be eliminated rather quickly.  Others, myself included, will look on the search process for the sixth bishop of Eau Claire and find hope for the future of The Episcopal Church.

What I’ve learned from Eau Clare is that they are not afraid of what the future holds.  They are not afraid to think outside the box.  They are not afraid to name their weaknesses.  They are not afraid.  In the eighth chapter of Acts, the early Church had every reason to be afraid, but they chose hope in the gospel over fear.

As we pray for our Church and her leadership.  As we dream about a new way to be.  I hope that one place we will look is to the margins, what some might call “the least” and see how they are living faithfully in the midst of difficult circumstances.

I’ll leave you with an excerpt from the Eau Claire Diocesan Profile and ask again, what can we learn from them?

Our Identity Narrative
The Diocese of Eau Claire is a faith community of twenty-one, interdependent, mostly small and rural congregations. We are experiencing a new sense of expectancy and commitment to model what it means to be a healthy and sustainable Diocese of the Episcopal Church.

We are a Diocese rich in faithful, committed doers who respect each other’s differences. We have a healthy sense of our catholic tradition. We are ready to invest this heritage in launching into an emerging, life-giving community of faith. We recognize our need for continuing formation and our need to continually discover new ways of offering ourselves in mission to the communities in which we live. We realize that this can only be done by yielding ourselves to the power of the Risen Christ.

Our Vision for the Next Bishop of Eau Claire
Our next bishop will inspire us to build up the unity that we have in Christ, so that the world and our local communities may see that we are one in Christ. This will be accomplished by building bridges between our congregations, other Christian and interfaith communities, and between the many and various other communities in which we live.

Our next bishop will help us grow in mission, and we will become more and more involved in the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth in our broken world. Together, and by God’s grace and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we will help to bring to fulfillment the prophetic proclamation that we are to “bring good news to the poor… proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Our next bishop will energize us and give us the confidence that God intends for us to have so that we may become the best that we can be. We envision a structure that will help us to focus on seeing possibilities rather than focusing on only what is problematic.

Our next bishop will give to us the opportunity to become a community that knows the Joy of our Lord’s Love and most generous Grace. We envision that our joy will be infectious and bring hope to all who share in our common life.