MARQUETTE - The Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan is trying something unusual with its new bishop.
Kevin Thew Forrester, elected at a special convention on Feb. 21, will also retain his duties as the diocese's ministry developer. The dual roles have never been combined before, according to Charlie Piper, rector of the Holy Trinity Church in Iron Mountain.
"It's certainly unique to us at this point," he said. "We hope it will be a trend. It's something we have to offer the rest of the church. I think it's a concept that's more collegial and collaborative rather than lone ranger, which I think it has been traditionally."
If the dual roles put too much stress on Forrester, he has a good way to relieve it. He has been instructed in Zen Buddhist meditation and incorporates what he's learned into his duties.
"It's not a matter of holding two faiths. There's one faith and it's Christianity," Forrester said. "The gift is that that faith is deepened by my meditative practice and I'm eternally grateful to Zen Buddhism for teaching me that practice and receiving me as an Episcopal priest."
Not everyone sees it that way. Jeff Walton, a member of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute on Religion and Democracy, said Forrester's Zen Buddhist theology conflicts with traditional Anglican belief.
"Because we have nothing to fear about being in dialogue and we have nothing to fear about learning practices from other faith traditions."
- Bishop Kevin Thew Forrester, Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan
"Buddhist theology emphasizes the accumulation of experiential knowledge. Adherents work to gain awareness of the universe, by which they attain a synthesis with nirvana," he said. "Christianity emphasizes the importance of grace, that which God gives freely but is neither earned nor deserved. You cannot with integrity resolve a system in which salvation is earned, and one in which it is freely given."
Forrester said he is a Christian but he accepts the teachings of other religions.
"I'm aware of living in a God of compassion, love, beauty, truth and goodness and this one God is the source of all there is," he said. "Knowing that, in my heart, allows me to be open to receive the truth and the beauty and goodness, and the wisdom from the other religious traditions of the world and to be in dialogue with them."
Forrester said he's never been contacted by anyone from the IRD and the vast majority of people in the diocese know meditation is part of his faith.
"The most often quoted words, in some form or other, from scripture, are 'do not fear.' Because we have nothing to fear about being in dialogue and we have nothing to fear about learning practices from other faith traditions," he said.
The Episcopal Ministry Support Team - made up of ministry developers and regional representatives from around the Upper Peninsula - will assist Forrester in oversight of the diocese.
Forrester said his role as bishop includes canonical duties, such as ordinations and confirmations as well as responsibilities with the national church.
His role as ministry developer will allow him to work with Episcopal churches throughout the U.P.
"I'm a theologian and a teacher," he said. "And some of the gifts I bring are continuing education and, along with Charlie and others, material for lifelong education and information for members of our congregation."
Forrester takes the place of Bishop James Kelsey, who died in an automobile accident in June of 2007.
Piper said the slow process of finding a new bishop has been good for the diocese.
"We thought this is an opportunity - not one we sought or wanted - but an opportunity to look at the office of bishop in a new way and take our time," he said.
Forrester joined the diocese as ministry development coordinator in 2001 and in 2007 became rector/ministry developer at St. Paul's Church in Marquette and St. John's Church in Negaunee. His ordination, as well as the commissioning of the Episcopal Support Team, is scheduled for Oct. 17 in Marquette.