The Anglican Communion’s first Anglican-Buddhist Bishop was elected this week at a special convention of the Diocese of Northern Michigan. The sole candidate on the ballot, the Rev Kevin Thew Forrester received the support of 88 per cent of the delegates and 91 per cent of congregations, according to a diocesan news release.
The nomination of Fr Forrester sparked controversy last month, when the diocese announced that he was the sole candidate for election. Critics charged it was unseemly that a single candidate was chosen by the search committee --- which included Fr Forrester among its members --- to stand for election. Concerns were also raised about the suitability of a professed Buddhist who said he had received Buddhist “lay ordination” and was “walking the path of Christianity and Zen Buddhism together” being consecrated a bishop.
Known also by his Buddhist name, “Genpo” which means “Way of Universal Wisdom”, Fr Forrester holds progressive views on a number of traditional Christian doctrines. Writing in the diocese’s news letter he stated: “Sin has little, if anything, to do with being bad. It has everything to do, as far as I can tell, with being blind to our own goodness.”
Fr Forrester declined to respond to queries, but a statement issued on his behalf by the diocese claimed the mantle of Thomas Merton for Genpo as one enriched by both faiths.
The bishop-elect had been “drawn into the Christian-Zen Buddhist dialogue through centreing prayer and his desire to assist persons in their own transformation in Christ. As many of you well know, he has practiced Zen meditation for almost a decade. Indeed, with marvellous hospitality, the Buddhist community welcomed him in his commitment to a meditation practice as an Episcopal priest (in a process known by some Buddhists as ‘lay ordination’),” the diocesan statement said.
The diocese said its nominee “resonates deeply with the wisdom learned by Thomas Merton through his own interfaith dialogue and meditative practice; through the grace of meditation he has been drawn ever deeper into the contemplative Christian tradition.”
With a typical Sunday attendance of 690, the Diocese of Northern Michigan is the third smallest in the Episcopal Church. According to statistics released by the national Church, its membership has declined by 31.7 per cent over the past decade.
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