The Internet and the Springfield Episcopal Election

It’s a new era in the Springfield diocese.Yesterday I attended the ordination and consecration of Bishop Daniel Martins and it was a wonderful day. In the six and a half years I’ve been in this diocese, yesterday was the most joyful and hopeful I have ever witnessed.

Ordination and Consecration of Bishop Daniel Martins

Now seems like a good time to reflect on how we got here, over the process of the election that I participated in as a lay delegate. As a blogger naturally my interest gravitates toward use of the Internet. I’ll own up to being the submitter of the technology and blogging questions for the walk-abouts. I know some delegates thought that technology issues are trivial compared to some of the national issues, but the ability to communicate especially in ways that can reach the younger generations is important. It also hasn’t taken him long to answer my question about continuing to blog as bishop. I am glad that he has decided to continue.

I should add that I’ve never been part of the election of a bishop before so I don’t know how novel this process was. Springfield hasn’t had an election in 18 years so I know the internet changed the dynamics of this election. In 1992 the Internet was still in its infancy and google still wasn’t even a dream.

The vast majority of the lay delegates that I know took their responsibility very seriously. In both the nominating and electing synod every eligible lay delegate or their alternate was present and remained for the duration. All the lay delegates I know did pretty consistent research on all of the candidates all summer. Researching 14 candidates for the nominating synod was a lot of work.

Internet searches on the nominees became a primary research tool for the delegates. A lack of information online came to be a source of insecurity. This was a major source of anxiety over one of the final three nominees. For better or worse, a nominee with a blog at least gave the delegates a sense that they could get to know the person and their positions. Reading archives gave some sense that these opinions did not change when they became nominated. It is probably not a coincidence that election came down to two nominees who both maintain blogs and have numerous other writings online. The era of the blogging episcopal nominee may be upon us.

Reliance on the internet made me a little lazy about reaching out by phone or email to people who actually know the nominees. By the end I did make some of those contacts but I had to push myself to make them. Of course, without the internet finding contact information on the nominees and people around them would have been much more difficult.

Online endorsements by groups like Forward in Faith (FIF) were a double-edged sword. I’m sure the FIF endorsements gave comfort to some but made others very wary. Don’t think for a minute that people who don’t support FIF wouldn’t find everything they published about the election. Endorsements by FIF had to be balanced against what the nominees actually said in writing or at the walk-abouts. I have to say that among many of the laity in the diocese of Springfield and Quincy, FIF is equated almost exclusively with the rejection of women’s ordination and ministry. Both of those endorsed by FIF said that they would ordain and place women, but the endorsement by FIF still made many very nervous. It would helped a great deal if either of them had a reference by a woman!

The internet also made it possible for a unprecidented amount of information about the nominees to be put online for everyone in the diocese and indeed the whole church to view. Resumes and written answers to nine initial questions were available to everyone online. All delegates also received additional information: statements from those who nominated them, three written references from people of their choice, church deployment forms, and home-made videos of the candidate giving the answers to the same nine questions in the pdfs placed online. The home-made videos were okay; they were of very uneven technical quality and the answers were all practically identical to the written responses. I think it would have been more useful if the videos had covered different questions than the written responses. It had not been initially planned for the walk-abouts to be video taped. The Standing Committee responded to a request by a group of lay delegates to make videos and put them online. The fact that we settled for three nominees rather than the planned final group of four probably freed up the funds in the budget to pay for professional video taping. I did appreciate the walk-abouts being online. I was only able to attend one walk-about in person, but I watched the other two online.

Email also played a role in the election process. Delegates were able to share research on the nominees, very helpful for the nominating synod with so many candidates. Of course, rumors circulated by email and online as well. Sharing emails made it easier for rumors to spread but ironically at least the rumors were forwarded in the form that they started. Had these rumors been passing mouth to mouth no doubt they would have morphed in all sorts of directions. I did receive a couple emails vigorously refuting rumors I had not previously heard. Perhaps the most important influence of email was the ability to contact the candidates directly with detailed questions and, as they allowed their replies to be shared, spread those replies among the delegates. This helped address the limitations on questions heard by all during the walk-abouts. It also allowed some candidates to clarify or expand upon the answers they gave at the walk-about. I’m sure the candidates felt like they were running a marathon. I know they were answering emails less than 24 hours before the election (including one from me). I’m also sure they were hovering over their computer as much as the phone on election day.

When the standing committee announced the schedule it seemed rushed. I’m glad now that it is over. I don’t think that drawing it out longer would have changed the outcome. I think we got who we were meant to get and that is good. The Holy Spirit was moving through the cathedral that day. From everything I have heard I think that we are all united behind Bishop Martins to bring new life back to this diocese. The Holy Spirit has already started that process now it is up to us to cultivate it.