SALT LAKE CITY — The Episcopal Diocese of Utah is searching for a new bishop to replace the 11th and current bishop, Rev. Scott B. Hayashi.
The nomination, search and selection of the new bishop is a lengthy, multistep process that allows for an immense amount of community feedback to ensure that the new leader fully reflects the values and needs of the diocese. Potential candidates who feel they are called to lead can apply by email now through Wednesday, Aug. 18 at 7 p.m. Candidates can also be nominated by others.
"For Episcopalians, the bishop is the symbol of sacramental unity connecting the past with the present and ensuring unity within the church," wrote nomination/search committee member Mary McEntire on the church's website.
The bishop oversees six parishes and 16 missions, including one in northern Arizona, and guides members in interpretation of the gospel through the Holy Spirit, scripture, tradition and reason. The leader also upholds the rules, or canons, that members agree on democratically.
The Episcopal Church was formally started in Utah by Bishop Daniel S. Tuttle on July 2, 1867, and it has become known for its social justice ministry in the state. Under Bishop Hayashi's leadership over the 22 congregations in Utah and neighboring states, the church has focused on more progressive issues such as immigration reform, LGBTQ rights, Medicaid expansion, gun violence prevention, poverty elimination and antiracism.
The church announced Bishop Hayashi's retirement in early 2020 and began the search for the new bishop in February 2020 only to have to take a forced hiatus because of the complications of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We had intended to sell our home and move from Utah in the autumn of 2021," Bishop Hayashi wrote in a letter to church members on Aug. 1, 2020. "Life happens regardless of what plan we make. Therefore, I have made the decision that our timeline will shift to coincide with the timeline of our diocese. Honestly, this is not a hardship or disappointment for me. That is because I am so privileged to be your bishop that staying with you for a little longer is a blessing for me."
"The skills and talents needed for your next bishop have to be reconsidered in the light of a changed world. This will take time as the contours of what our world will be are rapidly evolving," he added.
The hiatus allowed members of the church to reflect on what they want in a new leader — like an emphasis on diversity in a state that is predominantly white. The Episcopal Diocese of Utah can boast some of the most diverse church leadership in Utah. The 10th bishop was the late Rev. Carolyn Tanner Irish, the first woman to lead a major denomination in Utah. Of the 27 current clergy in Utah, more than half are women, 11% are Black or Latino and 11% identify as LGBTQ.
The church elects a nominating/search committee of six lay persons and four clergy to guide the selection process. The committee contracted with Holy Cow Consulting to conduct a survey offering feedback on the current bishop's leadership and evaluating the characteristics and values that members want in the next bishop.
"The survey demonstrated that during his tenure we've moved from a place of reinvention and recovery into a time of transformation, an impressive period of institutional growth," Rev. Michael Carney, chairman of the nomination/search committee, wrote in an article on the church's website.
However, he added, there has been a struggle in bringing in young people to the church in Utah. "Our membership was already declining and aging before the pandemic, which has disrupted everything we thought we knew about the church," he said.
After the applications and nominations are in, the nomination/search committee will take a few weeks to go through them and select candidates to interview through Zoom in September and October of this year. Then semi-finalists will be invited to a discernment retreat, a prayerful, in-person retreat with the members of the committee in January 2022.
Finally, three other bishops will lay their hands on the new bishop to consecrate him or her to serve the diocese on Sept. 17, 2022.
This is the fifth time the diocese of Utah has gone through the election process for a new bishop because Utah was a missionary district until 1971, meaning that their bishops were selected for them.
The nomination/search committee will help the new bishop-elect and family to move and get settled. A committee dedicated to the transition will also organize celebrations to honor Bishop Hayashi and his family. Then they will work with the presiding bishop's office to help plan the ordination and consecration.
Members of the church hope this new leadership will focus on things like antiracism and managing finances, according to their website.