The Episcopal Dioceses of Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania moved one step closer today to approving an innovative arrangement under which they would share a bishop and staff for five years while exploring a long-term relationship.
Voting simultaneously this morning in their respective diocesan offices, the Standing Committees of both dioceses unanimously agreed to support a proposal under which Bishop Sean W. Rowe of Northwestern Pennsylvania would take on additional responsibility as bishop provisional of the Western New York upon the retirement of Bishop William Franklin of Western New York in April 2019.
The plan must now be approved by the annual conventions of both dioceses which will meet jointly in Niagara Falls in October. To complete the arrangement, the Diocese of Western New York would elect Rowe as their next bishop at that same gathering.
“We are excited by the opportunity to have Bishop Rowe succeed Bishop Franklin,” said Jim Isaac, president of the Standing Committee in Western New York. “But this partnership is about more than sharing a bishop. It’s about having the courage to experiment and adapt to new realities. Our two dioceses have complementary strengths and we face similar challenges. Together, we are well aligned to respond to what God is doing in our corner of the church.”
Jack Malovich, president of the Standing Committee in Northwestern Pennsylvania, said the partnership offers not only financial efficiencies, but opportunities for the two dioceses to work together on region-wide ministries. “The people of our dioceses share an industrial past, a respect for the beauty of the Lake Erie region and a history of resilience,” he said. “We are committed to being part of the Rust Belt resurrection that is already underway in Buffalo, Erie and elsewhere.”
Franklin, 71, who holds a doctorate in church history from Harvard University, has served Western New York as bishop for seven years. He was previously dean of Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University. The diocese, with headquarters in suburban Buffalo, comprises 57 parishes in western New York state between Pennsylvania and Canada.
Although he has been bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania for 11 years, Rowe, 43, remains the youngest bishop in the Episcopal Church. He holds a doctorate in organizational development from Gannon University. The diocese, with headquarters in Erie, comprises 33 congregations in the northwestern quarter of Pennsylvania.