This past weekend, our Diocese elected its next bishop. Having never served in a diocese that was electing a bishop, I was not entirely sure what to expect. I had heard stories of clergy politicking for particular candidates, trying to sway their colleagues to vote a particular way. I knew we have a diversity of perspectives in our Diocese and coming to consensus may be difficult. And although I had spoken to many clergy colleagues about their discernment for the best bishop, I did not know nearly as many laity and what their discernment had been like. By the time we gathered for the election, I felt anxious, hoping we could be civil, but dreading what might be a contentious process.
Instead, I found something quite different. Some of the difference may have been the result of careful crafting. We were seated in an auditorium, with a long center row. Try as one might, getting up and down to talk to others between votes was not exactly easy. Instead, many of us were left to pray on our own or consult the limited people around us. Likewise, once the polling was closed, we were required to wait for the candidates to be notified of the results before we were; once the results were announced though, the leadership immediately had us vote again. We had little ability to process the results of one ballot with others before voting again. Further, before each vote, our chaplain read a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. And finally, there was absolutely no internet or WiFi in the room, forcing us away from technology and into a real sense of presence in the room.
Perhaps it was the rigid structure that guided our behavior, making the election different than I expected. But I also suspect those gathered last weekend consciously chose a different path. Instead of dividing into camps behind one of the six candidates, our laity and clergy seemed to embrace the election as a matter of prayerful discernment, not premeditated politicking. Limited by the confines of the room, you could sense the powerful prayers emanating from each delegate – desperately trying to discern the Holy Spirit’s will. The pacing of the ballots did two things. One, there was ample time to prayerfully consider the name one just submitted electronically, before knowing what everyone else had just done; and two, there was a mandate to keep moving, to keep faithfully and rapidly calling on God for answers. Even our chaplain seemed to root us in tradition. By using the BCP instead of extemporaneous prayer, she minimized her and our influence on one another – instead, calling us back to the book the is such a marker of our identity.
You may already know about the dramatic turn of events toward the end of our election. I suspect the prayerful process of discernment in which we were engaged in that space was also shared among the candidates, helping them to faithfully discern what they should do too. Having walked through that experience so prayerfully, I wonder if there is not something for us all to learn from about the hard decisions of everyday life. Perhaps we too could stand to: root ourselves in prayer, trust those around us to be praying too, create environments around our discernment where are weakness are less able to thrive, return again and again to the beautiful words of prayer book, make space for silence when you do not know all there is to know, and, perhaps most importantly, trust the Holy Spirit to do great things in spite of us. If you are in discernment about something in your life, know that you have my prayers. I would love to hear your stories of how the Spirit is moving in your life too!