This post is a continuation of my “first impressions” post relating to Fr. John Bauerschmidt. As I mentioned there, I will attempt to go through the state of candidates and write up my “first impressions” from the notes that I took as I read their responses to the search committee questions.

Fr. James L. Burns:
This first thing I notice about Fr. Burns’ response to the Episcopate committee questions is the length: he wrote three pages (really more like two and a paragraph) where the other two remaining candidates wrote 7 and 10–as a result I felt there to be much less detail and depth in his response as compared to Frs. Bauerschmidt and Paden and in all honesty, he came out the worse for it.
Fr. Burns begins by discussing his experience of call in terms of his early “determined flight from it” during which time he sought to serve people, as he believed his vocation to be, just not in the context of ministry in the Church. Of his decision to enter the discernment process, and the subsequent sense that his calling was affirmed by those both within and without the Church, he quotes Frederic Buechner’s definition of vocation as “the place where one’s deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
In reflecting upon his relationship with Jesus Christ, Fr. Burns states that his relationship with the Lord has grown over his 24 years of ordained ministry. As admirable as this is, I’m left with some questions regarding what he says next, that his relationship has grown:

not so much in my certainty about what His will is for all things, but in my trust in Him and my dependence on His love and guidance in my life. I find that I sometimes understand Him less while wanting to know Him more. When I attend to my relationship with Jesus and offer myself in His service then occasions for that service arise along with a better understanding of what He would have me do.

I’m simply curious as to how this reflection plays out in his life. I think I know what he means, but I’m unsure, as it almost sounds contradictory. I wonder if this statement is a fertile soil for relativity, i.e. I know what Jesus says for me, but I have no clue what his message is for you. While there definitely needs to be a great deal of humility when talking about God’s will in order to avoid acting out of hubris and self-righteousness, yet I would prefer more clarity of speech. Additionally,
Fr. Burns neglects to even mention the Windsor Report in his responses, and he doesn’t seem to show real familiarity to the current conflicts within the Episcopal Church, let alone the Anglican Communion.

Considering the Late Unpleasantness:

His answer to question III seems to be the least informative and leaves a great deal unsaid and many questions lingering. While the focus on covenant and the comparison of the relations within the Church to a marriage relationship, is helpful, Burns misses the opportunity to explain what exactly he believes this covenant to consist of, i.e. what is its purpose and goal. It seems as though Burns is saying that one is to continue in “covenant” for the sake of the covenant if for the sake of nothing else. While
there is certainly some truth in this, it lacks the depth of conviction–one could say this simply for the sake of the institution and for nothing else. It would be helpful to hear some clarification about what exactly Fr. Burns feels goes into covenant, and where the marriage covenant is similar to our calling as Christians. While I certainly have my own opinions about why the analogy itself is a good one, I’m not certain he and I would come at this from the same direction and one would’ve appreciated
more depth in this section of the response given the wide variety of feelings on the subjects involved. A large portion of the question also related to the hopes the respondent has for the Church and the Diocese. Again, Burns misses the opportunity to provide more clarity for those reading and explain what his hopes entail and instead finds it sufficient to say “My hope for the Church is that it can actually be a witness to the power of covenant.” which I for one found to be very
unhelpful–perhaps it would have meant more if he had clarified beforehand what his understanding of covenant is, and how it specifically applies not only to the Church at all times, put in particular in our time.
Reflection on the Office of Bishop
Again, there’s not a lot of information here, in a part of the questionnaire which one would hope to see a great deal more reflection upon what it actually means to be called to the office of Bishop. What follows is the entirety of Fr. Burns’ response to the question: “What are the most important attributes in one who is called to be a bishop and why?”
I believe that the most important attributes for one called to the office of bishop are: Proclamation – one who can articulate and proclaim the Good News of God in Christ in the context of the world in which we are now living. Pastor – one who cares for those in his or her charge, especially the clergy and lay leadership of the Diocese. Presence – one who is willing to be the face and voice of the Church in his or her community.
First things first: Burns doesn’t fully answer the question–if this were a graded exam he’d start out in a hole on this question regardless of anything else he said. But he does say a few things…but leaves many more unanswered questions. For instance, one appreciates where he begins, i.e. in saying that the most important attribute of the Bishop is to “articulate and proclaim the Good News of God in Christ in the context of the world in which we are now living.” It would have
been more helpful if Fr. Burns had taken his own advice and taken the time to articulate what that Good News is, or to offer any elaboration on how this might be achieved in our context. Again, I understand that it is very hard to provide any specifics about what one might do as a new Bishop in a Diocese with which one is largely unfamiliar (granted Fr. Burns came out of the Diocese of TN, but it has been many years since he has been here), but some elaboration would seem necessary…from
what I’ve heard there hasn’t been a whole lot, though I will say that after meeting Fr. Burns last Wednesday, he is a very nice man who does indeed seem to be pastoral and a people person. I will also say that I appreciated his understanding that a Bishop (as to an extent is any priest, and indeed, any Christian) is the recognizable face and voice of the Church in a given community.
So there you have it…my first impressions… my notes on Fr. Paden are coming right up…

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