Bishops of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont help each other in their dioceses – Episcopal News Service
[Episcopal News Service] The bishops of the dioceses of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont announced May 14 that they will serve as assistant bishops in each other’s dioceses as part of an effort to increase collaboration in the region.
Bishop of Maine Thomas J. Brown, Bishop of New Hampshire A. Robert Hirschfeld, and Bishop of Vermont Shannon MacVean-Brown will continue to serve as diocesan bishops—and therefore as ecclesiastical authorities—in their respective dioceses. However, from September, each will be able to “preach and teach and dispense sacramental rites…but not exercise governance authority” in other dioceses.
“Assistant bishops serve at the invitation of ecclesiastical authority – in this case bishops invite other bishops,” the three bishops wrote in an email to their dioceses. “Through preaching, teaching, and presiding, we look forward to ministering in ways that enable us to learn about each other’s dioceses, learn more about the Episcopal Church in our area, and discern how we might learn to cooperate with each other for God’s mission.
The three bishops have met regularly over the past year to review options for collaboration. The dioceses are relatively small and Vermont faces serious financial challenges. Due to declining membership and donations, the diocese has an unsustainable long-term budget deficit, with one financial consultant predicting that “diocesan expenditures will far exceed revenues” by the first quarter of 2023.
MacVean told Episcopal News Service last year that there were no plans to merge the northern New England dioceses, but they were exploring the possibility of sharing staff. Currently, Katie Clark is director of communications for New Hampshire and Maine, but no other personnel changes have been announced. The Bishops’ announcement said the move will not affect their full-time diocesan ministries or their diocesan budgets.
The diocese plan continues a trend in The Episcopal Church to share resources among smaller dioceses. Leaders of Wisconsin’s three dioceses—two of which already share a bishop—announced in October 2021 that the dioceses would take steps to combine, returning to a single Wisconsin diocese. Since 2018, the dioceses of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York have shared a bishop, combined administrative functions, and pursued joint ministries. The Eastern and Western Michigan dioceses share a bishop, and the Episcopal Church of North Texas continues its reunion with the Texas Diocese.
“As we talked about ways to collaborate in ministry, it sparked in us a holy curiosity to understand and imagine who we are in the eyes of God,” the northern New England bishops wrote. “We believe that serving as assistant bishops in each other’s dioceses will nurture this holy curiosity and creativity, and we look forward to beginning this new chapter in our ministries.”
– Egan Millard is associate editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be contacted at email@example.com.