Bishop Persell: reaching across the divide

The Chicago Tribune website (free subscription required) has a long article reporting on the work and ministry of Bishop William Persell, the Episcopal Bishop of Chicago:

“‘Communion is about relationships,’ Persell said in a recent interview. ‘Building meaningful relationships is more important than other things happening in the [Anglican] Communion. If we have a relationship, we don’t have to agree.’

Since becoming Chicago’s bishop, Persell, 64, has encouraged his 44,000 parishioners from Chicago to Galena to maintain a healthy lifestyle while his own health has been in decline. But he has also tried to maintain his reputation as a champion of social justice and civil rights while trying to keep the church together despite tumult.

Last year, Persell announced to this flock that he would step down as their bishop in February 2008, when a new bishop is installed. An aortic aneurysm and deteriorating vision made the demands of the job difficult. This week, he underwent surgery for prostate cancer. He reiterated the importance of a healthy ministry when he announced his resignation.

‘While my mind and heart are very much committed to helping advance the church’s mission here, my stamina is not what it was when you welcomed me into your life,’ he wrote.”

The article talks about Bishop Persell’s commitment to trying to find a middle ground that will the Church to comprehend different understandings of how to be Christian in the world:

In 2003, [Persell] called a similar meeting among clergy in his own diocese to study the issues that were dividing the Episcopal Church. For as long as he could, he put off deposing conservative clergy supporting breakaway parishes. But Rev. Martin Johnson, who leads a breakaway parish in Wheaton, said Persell finally had no choice. Johnson expects to be the second priest in the diocese to have his ordination rites revoked by the end of the year.

But that doesn’t alter his tremendous respect for Persell.

“To some of us it’s a therapeutic issue and the possibility of healing,” Johnson said. “For him it’s a matter of simply affirming how people are created in God’s sight.”

He knows that he and Persell share a deep love for the church.

They also share a love of opera. Sitting next to each other at the Lyric Opera one night during a five-hour production of Wagner, Persell asked Johnson during intermission if he planned to stay for the final acts. They exchanged knowing looks and agreed to go the distance. Persell wasn’t just talking about the opera, Johnson said. He was talking about the church.

Read the rest here.

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