New Mexico native on shortlist to be next presiding bishop of Episcopal Church

Thursday, April 18th, 2024

Bishop 5

This article is from the Santa Fe New Mexican. You can read it here.

New Mexico native Bishop Daniel Gutiérrez is one of four bishops being considered to be the next presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, which represents the United States and 16 other countries in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

“For a New Mexican to be nominated as one of the four finalists is a tremendous honor for the state,” said Bishop Michael Hunn of the Diocese of the Rio Grande, which includes New Mexico and far West Texas.

The candidates were selected by the joint nominating committee of the The Episcopal Church and announced Tuesday morning. They will be voted on by the House of Bishops at this year’s General Convention in June, with whomever it picks installed Nov. 1.

Born in Albuquerque, Gutiérrez is the bishop of the Philadelphia-based Diocese of Pennsylvania, which he has led since 2016. Gutiérrez is the first Latino to lead the diocese, which is the denomination’s second oldest and one of its largest; if elected, he would be the first presiding bishop of Hispanic or Latino origin.

Gutiérrez, 59, has deep roots in New Mexico. He comes from a family that settled the state in the 1500s, according to his public biography, and also has Mexican and Indigenous ancestry. He got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of New Mexico.

Gutiérrez attended seminary at Trinity School for Ministry near Pittsburgh. He was ordained in 2008 and served as a priest at two Episcopal churches in Albuquerque before becoming canon to the ordinary in the diocese, where he helped to rebuild two struggling parishes. (Our Lady in the Valley Episcopal Church in Albuquerque named its fellowship hall “Gutiérrez Hall” in his honor.)

He also provided administrative oversight for the The Episcopal Church in Navajoland and served as vice president of the Navajoland Economic Development Corp. And, he is one of the convenors of Bishops Against Gun Violence.

Before becoming a priest, Gutiérrez had a career in public service, including serving as chief of staff for former Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chávez and as director of Bernalillo County’s economic development department.

Gutiérrez has been married to his wife, Suzanne Fletcher Gutiérrez, for more than 30 years. They have one son, Jude, who is also a UNM graduate.

Hunn described Gutiérrez, who he said carves santos in his spare time, as “a real New Mexico son.”

“He’s a norteño through and through,” he said.

The next presiding bishop will replace The Most Rev. Michael Curry, who has led the denomination since 2015.

Presiding bishops are elected to nine-year terms without term limits, but the church has mandatory retirement for clergy at age 72.

Curry, 71, has battled health issues over the past year that have limited his ability to travel.

Curry is the first African American bishop to lead the

1.5 million-member church, and has an international profile, including preaching at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

Throughout his tenure, he has been prominent voice for racial justice and LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church.

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Pennsylvania said all candidates have been asked not to do interviews. In a Tuesday news release from the diocese, Gutiérrez described the process as a “holy pilgrimage” and asked for prayers for all the candidates.

In a video message posted Tuesday to the General Convention website, he described himself as “not your typical Episcopal bishop.”

“I am a poor Chicano from the wrong side of the tracks who had to endure, learn resilience, and then live love and compassion,” he said. “The love of Jesus Christ and faithful people gave me hope, and I must share it with everyone that I meet.”

The other candidates are Nebraska Bishop J. Scott Barker, northwestern Pennsylvania Bishop Sean Rowe and Atlanta Bishop Robert Wright. Barker and Rowe are white; Wright is African American and a veteran of the U.S. Navy.

The Nominating Committee spoke to all the bishops whose names were brought forward by the public before making its selection.

Asked whether he himself had been approached, Hunn said he “prayerfully considered that opportunity” but feels committed to the Diocese of the Rio Grande.

“I won’t rule it out for another time,” he said.

Bishop Dan Edwards, retired bishop of the Diocese of Nevada, said he knows all four nominees and “there’s not a bad one in the bunch.”

Edwards worked with Gutiérrez in the House of Bishops and in Bishops Against Gun Violence.

He said he was an “open and amiable” person to work with and was very highly impressed by his work in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, which is “about as different from New Mexico as you can get.”

“He stepped into it and was just completely himself,” Edwards said.

At the time of Gutiérrez’s installation, the diocese was struggling and Edwards said he brought it forward “by light years.”

Edwards and Hunn both said the next presiding bishop will need to be able to cut through the partisan divisions plaguing American Christianity while still being able to be an unapologetic moral voice.

“These are critical times when the world needs to hear that God loves everybody and God is calling us to learn how to love each other,” Hunn said.

At a time where many young people view the church as “a right wing political movement with the label Christianity on top of it,” Hunn also said it’s important for the next presiding bishop to elevate The Episcopal Church as a place that is fully inclusive of LGBTQ+ people and allows both men and women to serve at the highest levels of leadership.

Edwards said that’s especially critical for the Hispanic community, whom he described as vital to the future of the church. While bishop, he oversaw a Hispanic ministry that made Nevada the only growing diocese in the continental U.S.

“There are so many Hispanic people who for one reason or another have become alienated from the churches that they grew up in, and that can be true of Hispanic Catholics and also Hispanic Pentecostals and evangelicals,” Edwards said.

“They need someone to mediate Christ to them, and The Episcopal Church is ideally suited to do that.”