First Impressions: Fr. John Bauerschmidt

Diocese of Tennessee shieldThe following are my first impressions of the slate of Bishop candidates based upon their answers submitted to the search committee of the diocese. I will add some reflections later based upon the outside materials they may have written which I could find. After I have written my first impressions I will also mention some of the questions I have about each
candidate as well as their positions and/or their theology.

Fr. John Bauerschmidt:

Upon a first cursory reading of the candidates responses, Fr. Bauerschmidt’s struck me in the most positive way–this may be because the early experience he describes, sans an Episcopalian background, is similar to my own. On the whole I felt like he was presenting a moderately conservative view of the ecclesial situation in the Anglican Communion. I appreciated the care his writing seemed to demonstrate as well as the deference he showed to the international church as a communion of faithful Christians of which
we are, and wish to remain, a part. Additionally, I thought his writing demonstrated a healthy theological perspective and seemed to convey the virtue of patience.

There were several particular sections of his response that stood out to me in a positive way, including his discussion of the shaping of his early faith through the reading of Mere Christianity, in particular his discussion of the appreciation of the Christian Tradition, which he terms “the whole world of classical
Christian conviction.” The resonance with the text as conveying “nothing manipulative, but instead a deep appreciation of the past, a reasonable appeal to the conscience, and a steady love of beauty and order that moved both heart and mind,” was one that mirrored my own experience, as was his return to the Episcopal Church as a teenager “a time when many..peers were ceasing to be active in the Church” (I became an Episcopalian at age 19, joining the church after being an effectively “unchurched” Baptist for many
years).

Bauerschmidt seems to see leadership primarily in terms of casting a vision–in his case a vision based on ideas–and in discerning the gifts of others while equipping them to do ministry. The leader, he says “makes sure that the procession remains a procession, purposeful and ordered and not a chaotic clash of individuals to every point of the compass, but the way to do this is to lead from the front.

What about the late unpleasantness?

Certainly one of the most interesting sections of any candidate’s response will be how they answer question number III, which states: “Given the tenor of the Episcopal Church today, the hope of reconciliation and healing is on the hearts and minds of many. What is your hope as it relates to a diocese and the wider Church? Fr. Bauerschmidt’s response in this area is in large part what makes me think he may be an acceptable Bishop for the orthodox. Bauerschmidt begins
by stating that his hope is that the Episcopal Church will “both find a way to stay together and to remain a part of the Anglican Communion,” and that he is willing to work for this. He states that he realizes this will be a difficult task requiring the Episcopal Church to “operate differently in a number of ways.” The difference seems to hinge upon our obligations as Christians who recite the creeds as a standard of faith. Indicating that we cannot walk away from our responsibilities in this regard, Bauerschmidt
seems to indicate where he places our international unity on the scale of importance. This recognition of the global nature of the Anglican Communion is again expressed in the statement that:

We can hardly argue for unity on the diocesan or national level while disregarding the unity of the Church throughout the world. In comparison with the unity of the world-wide Communion, other considerations pale in importance. Our mutual forbearance and love are called for, a powerful witness to the world..

Following this statement about the value of the worldwide communion, Bauerschmidt gives an honest assessment, stating that the “temptation to disintegration has its own power,” that is, there is a sort of inertia that is built up as disintegration (churches leaving left and right) begins… it naturally spreads. In order to prevent this from spreading throughout the Communion, Bauerschmidt maintains, Anglicanism “is not going to have the luxury of continuing with ‘business as usual’.” Recognizing that change
is difficult and will take time, Bauerschmidt is clear in his belief that the only way forward for the Communion is a process like the one outlined in the Windsor report.

In reflecting on the way that Bauerschmidt addressed the questions of the most important attributes of one who is called to be a Bishop I note that he places pastoral care in the context of formation: “The Christian pastor is a mentor to the community, helping people to grow spiritually and to become leaders themselves.” As part of this he mentions the desire to point people toward Scripture and to encourage them in their relationship with God. Additionally, in looking at the role of the Episcopacy, Bauerschmidt
indicated that he believes “above all, [a bishop should be] a person of prayer, a theologian, and teacher.” At this point in the life of the Episcopal Church, I could think of only one quality needed–not necessarily “more” but in addition to these… and that is clear leadership and vision–there’s no doubt AT ALL that we need theologians in the Episcopacy as what passes for theology in the House of Bishops is often a joke (and a bad one at that).

lastly for the section discussing his view of the episcopacy, Bauerschmidt says a few things that I find interesting, though (as with some other things) I would like more clarification: in explaining the statement that a Bishop must be missionary minded, Bauerschmidt states that “The bishop is going to have to re-deploy his or her own time away from maintenance and toward mission.” Additionally he states that “The days of episcopacy as a distant “hierarchy” insulated from the realities of the Church’s mission
have already passed away. Change is afoot, and so we need to get moving.” While I like this language and find myself agreeing with what I believe the premises are, I would like some clarification about what this actually means in more concrete terms.

In considering Bauerschmidt’s theological statement, I would say it was very solid and well-grounded. Beginning with the Parish as the heart of ministry, he focuses on several key areas that are foundational to his theology: first comes prayer–as he states the theologian is the one who prays. As with all prayer and worship there must be an object of prayer and devotion–in this case the Person of Jesus Christ whom Bauerschmidt highlights as central to his theology. Not only is Christ central, but he says that
“faith is rooted in relationship with Jesus Christ: God in flesh, a Person embodying both divine and human natures…” Continuing on to discuss the ways in which Love/relationship/the community of faith as well as the Scriptures and sacraments are central to his theology Bauerschmidt segues into a clear discussion of the cross, “the chief expression of both love and relationship…the cross is about sacrificial, redemptive love. Personally, I would like some discussion of the transformative nature
of the Christian faith as well as its redemptive character, but perhaps that will come out later.

I find Bauerschmidt’s writing style good and demonstrative of a range of knowledge. I appreciate many of the points he makes, though I would like more information or clarification on some. The questions that I have regarding him as Bishop would relate primarily to his leadership and his commitments, both theological and practical, i.e. is he solidly orthodox or is he willing to compromise on some things which should not be compromised on? Additionally I wonder if he’s able to lead, and if so if he would be able
to further the tradition of mission and church-planting which has been established and is one of the healthiest parts of the Diocese of Tennessee. That’s my first impression summary of Bauerschmidt.

More to come on the other candidates, as well as a consideration of other writings outside the search committee questionnaire.

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