1. What is our current status regarding our bishop and ecclesiastical authority?
As was announced on June 15th, the Presiding Bishop has placed our diocesan and provisional bishop, the Rt. Rev. Whayne Hougland, on a one-year suspension following the processes set forth by the Canons of the Episcopal Church.
Following our canonical duties, the ecclesiastical authority of each diocese was transferred to the appropriate Standing Committee. This means the elected body of the Standing Committee is responsible for the administration of the diocese during this time of bishop suspension.
2. What is a Standing Committee and who serves on it?
The Standing Committee is one of the elected bodies responsible for the governance of a diocese. It is described as the council of advice to the bishop and assumes the ecclesastical authority of a diocese when there is a bishop vacancy. Standing Committees play an integral role in property matters, the ordination process, and our relationship with the wider Episcopal Church. Each Standing Committee elects officers from amongst their members, including a President, Vice President, and Secretary.
The Standing Committee of Eastern Michigan is composed of three clergy members and three lay members, who also serve on the Diocesan Council. Those members are Janet Huff-Worvie (President; St. John’s, Otter Lake), the Rev. Brian Chace (Vice-President; Retired), the Rev. Dan Scheid (St. Paul’s, Flint), Gary Grinn (Secretary; St. Paul’s, Gladwin), Barb Ilkka (St. John’s, Saginaw), and the Rev. Lydia Speller (Grace, Port Huron).
The Standing Committee of Western Michigan is composed of four clergy members and four lay members. Those members are Dave Croal (St. Mark’s, Coldwater), Anne Davidson (St. Mark’s, Coldwater), Carole Redwine (St. Philip’s, Grand Rapids), the Rev. BJ Heyboer (Vice-President; St. Mark’s, Newaygo), the Rev. Jodi Baron (St. Philip’s, Beulah; Holy Trinity, Manistee), the Rev. Diane Pike (Southwest Michigan Episcopal Covenant – Dowagiac, Niles, St. Joseph); Martha Bartlett (Secretary; St. James, Pentwater); and the Rev. Dr. Randall Warren (President; St. Luke’s, Kalamazoo).
3. What are the Standing Committees doing right now?
Currently, the Standing Committees of Eastern and Western Michigan are meeting as a joint body on a bi-weekly basis via Zoom including members of the diocesan canon-level staff. As needed, each Standing Committee meets separately to consider issues specific to their diocese. In between meetings, our members are connected and communicating through electronic means.
Here are some of the things we’re up to:
- Ensuring the day to day mission and ministry of the dioceses continues and reflects the mission, vision, and cultures of our dioceses. To stay up to date on these, make sure you’re connected to our diocesan communications to hear of updates and invitations (Click here to sign up).
- Identifying and investing in new opportunities for collaboration with our partner diocese
- Personnel decisions
- Receiving and responding to general inquiries from members of the diocese
- Decision making around the Re-Entry directives and receiving and responding to related inquiries from members of the diocese
- The regular duties and responsibilities of a Standing Committee, such as property matters, consents to bishop elections in other dioceses, and our role within the ordination process
The secretaries of our Standing Committees, Gary Grinn and Martha Bartlett, are posting executive summaries of the regular joint meetings on a weekly basis to our diocesan websites for any members of the diocese to review. Click here for Eastern Michigan’s website, or click here for Western Michigan’s website.
4. What is “Ecclesiastical Authority?”
In simplest terms, “Ecclesiastical Authority” is another way of referring to the authority inherent in the office of the bishop. Authority for certain actions and decisions are assigned to bishops by the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, the local diocese, the Book of Common Prayer, and the traditions of the Christian church. Sacramental actions and certain disciplinary actions may only be performed by individuals who have been ordained to the episcopate, but other responsibilities and oversight can be exercised or delegated by a Standing Committee.
5. Will we learn more about the situation that caused the suspension?
We are carefully balancing our value of transparency with our need to protect the privacy of the Hougland family and the other family involved. Here’s what we can share: Whayne and another woman participated in a consensual, adult relationship. The other person involved is not Episcopalian, not a member of any of our churches, and is not a member of the staff of either diocese. No state or federal laws have been broken. Our understanding is that this was the first and only extramarital relationship. The report was filed according to the process set by the Episcopal Church. We don’t anticipate being able to share more details about this specific incident.
According to the Episcopal Church’s Office of Pastoral Development, which oversees disciplinary matters like this, Whayne has been cooperative and demonstrably remorseful throughout this process and is following all expectations and guidelines that have been set by the accord.
6. What is an accord and what’s included in this one?
An accord is a written resolution to the disciplinary process that is negotiated and agreed to by both parties involved – in this case, the parties are the Presiding Bishop and Whayne. The accord places the suspension for one year, with certain requirements continuing after Whayne would return, if that is the mutual agreement.
This accord sets the following requirements:
- Whayne is prohibited from portraying himself as a member of the clergy
- Whayne is prohibited from participating in the matters and work of the dioceses
- Whayne is prohibited from having contact with members of the dioceses about matters of the dioceses
- Whayne must participate in regular and rigorous mental health counseling and spiritual direction
- Whayne must have regular contact with a bishop-mentor assigned by the Presiding Bishop
7. Were there other incidents of Title IV behavior from Whayne?
We have not been made aware of any other incidents by Whayne, by the church-wide staff, or through any other means. We, with the rest of the Episcopal Church, take this matter very seriously. If there are incidents that have not been reported, reports should be filed with the designated intake officer for matters involving a bishop, the Rt. Rev. Todd Ousley, Bishop for Pastoral Development, firstname.lastname@example.org.
*As part of this process, there was an investigation that included reviewing files and discussion with leaders from previous dioceses and parishes that the bishop had served prior to his election in Western Michigan. The investigation produced no new information.
A comprehensive overview of Title IV procedures in the Episcopal Church is available at www.titleiv.org.
8. Did the stress of the added responsibilities for Eastern Michigan cause Whayne to stray from his marriage vows?
Whayne has been clear about this with the Presiding Bishop and with the Presidents of our Standing Committees – he made serious mistakes and they were his alone. In his letter to the dioceses that went out with the original announcement, he says “…I have not honored the faith and trust you set in me. I have much personal work to do to be healthier and rebuild my relationships.”
As part of his agreement with the Presiding Bishop and with his family, one of Whayne’s primary focuses this year is to participate in therapy individually and with his family, to confront his decision to break his covenant and to examine what needs to be done to bring about reconciliation and healing. We are committed to allowing time for that to happen and to participate in that healing, should anything be necessitated on our end.
In light of this particular question, we consider our friends in other dioceses taking on similar explorations of relationship and shared resources. They have not encountered the challenge that we are experiencing, despite being structured in similar shared relationships. Western New York and Northwest Pennsylvania, Fort Worth and Northwest Texas, Eau Claire and Fond du Lac, and multiple other dioceses are exploring collaborative relationships. These are situations with varying degrees of both differences and similarities to ours (including the number of parishes and culture). Beyond the dioceses in a shared bishop relationship, we know that the majority of dioceses in the Episcopal Church have similar statistics of our two dioceses combined, including the number of parishes, communicants, geographic spread, and culture and values.
This reinforces to us the importance of allowing Whayne time for profound reflection and prayerful discernment before reaching a conclusion about the important exploration we are committed to engage in as a body for 3-5 years.
9. Can we be in contact with Whayne during this suspension?
In order to give the Houglands space to live into the realities and requirements of this suspension, we are asked to not be in direct contact with either Whayne or Dana. However, any notes from members of either diocese may be forwarded to them through Canon Bill Spaid, email@example.com, or may be mailed to Bill’s attention at the Western Michigan diocesan office.
10. Are we continuing to pay Whayne during his suspension?
Following the recommendations of the Presiding Bishop’s Office, we have an administrative leave agreement with Whayne, which includes a 40% reduction in compensation. We continue to pay health benefits for him and his dependents. He is not allowed access to diocesan property, including his diocesan vehicle, office equipment, or communications tools, like his email.
In addition to what was recommended, the Standing Committees also designated some funds specifically for Dana to be used for any new and additional expenses she might incur, including fees for access to medical and mental health resources, living expenses, and more.
11. What are our options at the end of the suspension? How will it be decided?
Near the end of the suspension, the Standing Committees will resume contact with Whayne and, with the support and resources of the wider Episcopal Church, will enter into a conversation about what progress and reconciliation may have transpired over the last year. This begins with a written report, which Whayne must submit to the Presiding Bishop and Standing Committees.
Canonically, the decision of whether to reinstate Whayne as bishop diocesan of Western Michigan and bishop provisional of Eastern Michigan rests with Whayne and the Standing Committees of the respective dioceses.
Whayne must indicate whether he is willing to return to both, either, or neither diocese. Each diocese must also discern whether they would reinstate him or not. We anticipate that decision being made in conversation with both Standing Committees but voting separately.
We also anticipate undergoing a process similar to what took place in preparation for the decision around shared relationship between our dioceses – a conversation with the wider body to discern and offer feedback to the Standing Committee before we are charged with making the decision. We don’t know yet whether this wider conversation will take place in person or online. We do expect it to take place next Spring whether as one big gathering or a series of smaller gatherings.
12. Why don’t we just decide now whether Whayne can return or not?
We are following a process set by the Canons of the Episcopal Church that reflect who we say we are as a people of faith. Those canons state:
The Church and each diocese shall support their members in their life in Christ and seek to resolve conflicts by promoting healing, repentance, forgiveness, restitution, justice, amendment of life and reconciliation among all involved or affected. – Canon IV.1
In our tradition, it is our practice to focus on reconciliation and healing and to give each other time to work through those goals. After the time set by the accord, we will consider how the time was spent and how we might move forward together or apart from Whayne.
13. If Whayne comes back to one diocese, but not the other, would our 3-5 year period of partnership effectively end?
Not necessarily, but it would present a challenge to do the intentional relationship work we’ve committed to with separate Episcopal oversight. However, our shared ministries can continue and should be shared if they continue to bear fruit for the Kingdom. We would need to reimagine the shape of our relationship should that possibility come into being, something we’ve done before and can do again, led by the Holy Spirit.
14. Are we able to call a provisional bishop to serve temporarily during the suspension?
We’re in an interesting status where we have a sitting diocesan and provisional bishop, even though he is not currently exercising his authority. According to the canons of the Episcopal Church, we are not able to contract with a provisional bishop while Whayne still holds his positions.
It is possible to call an “Assisting Bishop”, usually a retired or nearby bishop, who is contracted by the Standing Committee to perform certain duties, such as visitations, ordinations, etc. Unlike a provisional, the appointment of an Assisting Bishop does not require an election of the conventions of the dioceses and would not transfer ecclesiastical authority. The Standing Committees and staffs of the dioceses have already been in contact with nearby bishops to ensure essential duties for ministry (such as the recent ordinations) are able to continue. Our neighboring bishops in Michigan and in other states have been very generous in their support and willingness to assist. The Standing Committees are in the process of interviewing and calling an Assisting Bishop to serve in a more permanent, temporary basis.
15. Could we just join and call a diocesan bishop together?
We are committed to the 3-5 year period of exploration between our two dioceses that was discerned and approved overwhelmingly by the leadership of both dioceses – by a unanimous vote of the Standing Committee and Diocesan Council of Western Michigan and a 2/3rds vote of the Convention of Eastern Michigan. We have important work to do and conversations to have before coming to any structural conclusion about our relationship.
In a situation where Whayne is not invited or chooses not to return to serve our dioceses, we would anticipate calling a provisional (or interim) bishop to serve both dioceses as the ecclesiastical authority while we continue to work through the process set out by the Episcopal Church. We honor the prayerful, careful decision making that took place over the last two years that resulted in our intentional time of partnership.
16. How long does it take to call a new bishop diocesan?
In normal circumstances, it typically takes 18-24 months between when the Standing Committee would call for the election of a bishop diocesan until the consecration of the new bishop.
17. How will we continue our diocesan mission and ministry, separately and together, without a bishop in place?
All mission and ministry of the dioceses and their congregations continue even when a bishop is not in place. It continues because we are a Church and dioceses that value the ministry, contributions, and leadership of all the baptized.
Even through the pandemic, while some anticipated programs and events are delayed due to not being able to gather in person, most initiatives have adapted to online experiences and offerings. All task forces and commissions continue to meet and carry out their ministries. No staff from either diocese, programmatic or otherwise, have been laid off.
We also recognize and value that our mission and ministry are not determined by a bishop alone, but as a conversation with the wider diocese, coming from the people, the grassroots. Over the last several years and over their lifetimes, both dioceses have mission and vision and values that have been developed through various discernment processes and lived experiences in relationship with one another. These help guide our continued decision making and enrich our experience of working with one another across diocesan lines. We look forward to the opportunity to explore and experience deeper relationships and ministry opportunities with one another, whether we are finally able to gather in person or through an online format.
18. How will we continue the work of exploring our 3-5 year relationship?
We had great plans to kick off this period of shared relationship with a gathering celebration and worship earlier this Spring. Our plans, like so many others, were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
We know there is much work to do to gather people for fellowship, shared learning, and conversation around structure, resources, and vision. Some initiatives continue and are being developed in smaller groups with folks from both dioceses, including around formation, evangelism, youth ministry, and more. We look forward to gathering with larger groups of members of our dioceses for more and continuing through our period of intentional relationship.
We are especially looking forward to our first joint convention of the dioceses to take place online, October 31st, where we will hear from the Presiding Bishop and reflect on our theme of “Building Bridges Beyond Ourselves.”
We are also aware that the wider Church is paying attention to us, along with the several other diocesan partnerships being explored at this moment. We are a real-time experiment in working through unanticipated challenges of ministry together. It is good for the Church to see its people working through conflict and challenges, while being vulnerable and transparent. Ending our experiment at the first sign of trouble would not be faithful to the careful decisionmaking of the last two years, nor to this important work we’ve launched as pioneers in The Episcopal Church.
19. The conversations around our COVID re-entry were had by the three bishops of the four dioceses of Michigan. How are those continuing?
The Standing Committee has named two liaisons to the dioceses in Michigan for continued conversations around this area: the Rev. Dan Scheid of St. Paul’s, Flint; and the Rev. BJ Heyboer of St. Mark’s, Newaygo. Additionally, we have asked Katie Forsyth, our Canon for Evangelism and Networking for both dioceses, to continue working with this group as she has been part of the conversations and drafting of the directive document since the beginning of the pandemic.
The trio from Eastern and Western Michigan meet regularly with bishops and staff of the Dioceses of Northern Michigan and Michigan to consider any shifts in phase status or changes to the plan. All decisions require the consultation and vote of the Standing Committees in order to go into effect.
We are committed to remaining in solidarity with the other dioceses in Michigan; we value the collegiality and teamwork of this quad-diocesan approach and expect it to continue as we navigate the effects of the pandemic together as a state.
20. How do we remain in contact with the Standing Committee and staff during this process?
First, please make sure you are subscribed to receive our diocesan communications. We are committed to transparency and communicating as much as we can, when we can. This is also how you can find out more about the life and ministry of our dioceses and opportunities to learn, pray, and discern together. Our primary mode of communication is by email. Sign up to receive our communications here.
The secretaries of our Standing Committees, Gary Grinn and the Rev. BJ Heyboer, are posting executive summaries of the regular joint meetings on a weekly basis to our diocesan websites for any members of the diocese to review. Click here for Eastern Michigan’s website, or click here for Western Michigan’s website.
Members of the Standing Committees are available to all people of the dioceses to offer feedback or ask questions. Please route inquiries through the diocesan offices, either to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Additionally, there is at least one clergy member of the Standing Committees present to attend each of the eight Clericus meetings across our dioceses, which are currently taking place at least monthly.
The staffs of the dioceses continue to meet together as a joint body and carry out their responsibilities with the people and leaders of our parishes. Contact forms and staff information are available at eastmich.org/staff and edwm.org/contact. During the pandemic, our office hours are very limited. The best means of contact for staff is by email, though they will receive voicemail messages as well.
21. How do we pray for one another during this time?
In the place of the bishop during the regular prayers of the people, it is appropriate to pray for the Standing Committee. We encourage the congregations to also pray for Whayne and Dana during other intercessions.
We also commend to you, the Prayer for a Diocese, available on page 817 of the Book of Common Prayer; and the Prayer for Mission, available on page 816.
Know that we are praying for you, the people of Eastern and Western Michigan, and we invite your prayers for your elected leadership, your diocesan staffs, Whayne and Dana, and one another.