I’d like to share a few words about the Rt. Rev. Ian Douglas, Bishop of Connecticut – or Ian, as I think of him, because he was my professor and my friend before he was a bishop.
I’m not campaigning for +Ian, to be clear. I have the extraordinary blessing of knowing two of the four candidates for Presiding Bishop. I spent a dozen years living in the Diocese of North Carolina, went through the discernment process there, and was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Michael Curry. As many others have said, I can easily see him as Presiding Bishop and would rejoice in his election.
I believe, however, that while the gifts +Michael would bring to the role of Presiding Bishop are more obvious and better known, the gifts +Ian would bring are no less substantial and valuable. Had I a vote to cast, I honestly don’t know how I would cast it. I’ve been noticing many comments in various online forums to this effect: “Bishop Curry would make such a great Presiding Bishop!” I have not the slightest desire to argue with that; he would, indeed. However, I’ve seen precious few folks saying, “Bishop Douglas would make such a great Presiding Bishop!” So I’m going to say it, here, and tell you a little bit about why I think so.
I first met Ian while I was working on my dissertation, a study of global alliances within the Anglican Communion that would become my book, Anglican Communion in Crisis. I was a doctoral student in the anthropology department at the University of North Carolina. At the time, Ian was on the faculty of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, and he was generous with his time and warm in his welcome in reviewing my work and offering constructive criticism. His presence at EDS, along with several other outstanding scholars, attracted me to that seminary two years later when I chose the place to earn my M.Div., having completed both my Ph.D. in anthropology and the early stages of my diocesan discernment process.
From Ian I learned an incalculable amount about the delicate and holy dance of being a progressive Christian who also cares passionately about relationship with the Anglicans in the global South, including those of more conservative theology. His compassion and wisdom helped me translate the academic cultural relativism of my anthropology degree into an open-hearted relational humility that always seeks understanding and relationship across difference, without subsuming or sacrificing one’s own convictions and experiences.
Long before he was a bishop (and I would guess very much still as a bishop), Ian was a missiologist – a person whose deep concern and longing for the church is that we live more fully into our sent-ness: sent to witness, serve, heal, reconcile. As a scholar of the Episcopal Church’s mission history, he possesses a keen understanding of the impulses to reach out beyond our stone walls and stained glass windows, and of the institutional and cultural barriers that, again and again, limit our vision and our reach. Ian was one of the faculty at EDS who taught me to think of the Church as a club that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members – and not as a memorial society for a deceased clergyman named Christ.
For those with diversity concerns about our PB slate: Yes, Ian is a straight white middle-class educated male, and he would be the first to admit it. And I know him to be wholeheartedly an ally of those who are “target” (to use the language of EDS’ Foundations of Theological Praxis course) – of women, of GLBTQ Christians, of people of color, of people living poverty in the U.S. and abroad. In my experience of him (not least as one of my Foundations teachers), he is one of those persons of privilege whose impulse is always to seek ways to use his privilege to break down barriers and elevate others.
Personally, I think of Ian as a person of tremendous heart. He was incredibly supportive of me as a student who brought a young family with me to seminary. Whenever we met crossing the quad at EDS, he would greet my toddler son G heartily: “Hey, G-man!” If you have had the blessing and challenge of worshipping with young children, you know how precious it is to have folks who sit near you who will smile (or make funny faces) at your child – smile at *you* when the child gets noisy – and generally communicate, in gentle ways, that they are glad you’re there and that everything is fine. Ian and his family were that family for us, when we were attending St. James, Porter Square, with our toddler, and that’s not a thing you forget.
In conclusion: I think Bishop Douglas would make such a great Presiding Bishop. Thanks for reading. 🙂
A couple more links about +Ian…
About the Diocese of Connecticut’s moving its diocesan offices from a downtown mansion to a refurbished factory. “‘The mansion is no longer who we are, if it ever was,’ Douglas says.”
Tom Sramek, Jr., writing for The Living Church, does a nice job, I think, of sketching out +Ian’s background and gifts and especially his involvement with the wider Anglican Communion, a notable strength of his resume – his profile is second, following +Michael’s.