By the end of the day Saturday, the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota will elect a new bishop.
Day No. 2 of the diocese's annual convention includes a vote on five candidates, two of whom would represent a first: the first openly partnered lesbian to be elected a bishop, or the first Native American. Both insist that making history is not their primary motivation.
"I'm not a cause, I'm a candidate," said the Rev. Bonnie Perry. The Rev. Doyle Turner struck a similar tone, noting that while he's proud of his Ojibwe heritage, "I'm not the pastor of a Native American church, and it's my church that has encouraged me [to run]."
The winner will succeed Bishop James Jelinek in overseeing 106 congregations representing 22,000 members. Jelinek is retiring in February.
All of the candidates are pulpit preachers (as opposed to academicians or administrators). Three come from Minnesota churches: Turner is from Trinity in Park Rapids, the Rev. Douglas Sparks is from St. Luke's in Rochester and the Rev. Mariann Budde is from St. John the Baptist in Minneapolis. Perry is at All Saints in Chicago, and the Rev. Brian Prior is at the Church of the Resurrection in Spokane, Wash.
Mariann Budde: Feels like home
Budde isn't a native, but she has the tenure -- 16 years -- and the heritage -- Swedish -- to consider herself a full-fledged Minnesotan. She has been approached about applying for bishop positions in other states, but has declined.
"I had promised St. John's that I would stay at least 15 years, and I wanted to honor that commitment," she said. "Plus, I love Minnesota. I didn't want to leave."
Budde, 50, would focus on strengthening the church's infrastructure. "Just like our bridges are falling down, our churches are falling down," she said. "We need to work on what sustains us."
She would stress innovation without rejecting what's working: "I'm not saying we throw things away, but we have to make room for the new and let both grow together. Just because we start a service with a praise band, that doesn't mean that we still can't have one with an organ."
Bonnie Perry: A fast friend
If Perry comes to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, it won't be long before she visits many of them.
"In my spare time, I paddle anything that floats," said Perry, 47, who has national certification as a kayaking and canoeing instructor.
Her father was a Marine Corps officer, which meant the family moved often, including one year in which she attended three different schools.
Asked if the social skills she developed then help her as a minister, she said: "I know viscerally what it is to be the newcomer, to be on the outside. And I know how to reach out to people."
She would concentrate on growth. Only 25 people came to her first service in Chicago 17 years ago. Now the church has 600 members.
"I'm focused on outreach, pastoral care and evangelism," she said. "You need to embody the gospel in such a way that people's lives are touched."
Brian Prior: Camping and coaching
When Prior isn't preaching, he's practicing. He coaches a girls' high school basketball team that is consistently ranked among the state's best.
Prior, 50, was drafted into coaching when a fellow coach saw him sharing his hoops insight with kids at a church camp. He's a big fan of church camps, convinced that long-term growth starts with the youngsters.
"I know there are some issues with the camps here," he said, referring to dwindling attendance and shrinking donations that caused several Minnesota churches to cut back or even eliminate their camps this past summer. "That would be one of the first things I'd look into."
He would embrace the same philosophy as a bishop that he does as a coach: Put people where they can excel and give them the help they need to do so. "I'd be part coach and part cheerleader," he said. "As bishop, my job would be to give the local congregations the support and resources they need to succeed."
Douglas Sparks: Staying put
If he's elected, Sparks doesn't intend to move closer to the diocesan office in Minneapolis. Not only does he want to avoid disrupting the lives of his three teenagers, but he believes that staying in Rochester can help him bridge a schism that is growing within the church.
"There's a pull between the metro-area churches and the rural churches," he said. "Their challenges are not the same, and the arguments over those issues are starting to result in a lack of trust."
By staying in Rochester, the largest city in the state outside the metro area but also one that is surrounded by farming towns, Sparks, 53, said he will be able to keep a foothold in both communities.
"We're at a crossroads, but I think we have the capacity to move forward," he said.
Doyle Turner: A love story
Turner admits that he converted to the Episcopal Church to impress a girl, but it worked out well. He and the girl, Mary, have been married for 44 years.
He was training to be a lay leader when he was approached by church members who asked him to consider ordination.
"My dad only had a third-grade education," said Turner, 66, who was born on the White Earth Reservation. He demurred initially on the ordination idea, saying, "I wasn't the college type. They said, 'Have you ever tried?'"
He went to college, then to seminary. In 2000, a group approached him about running for White Earth chairman. He won and held the post until 2004. The job taught him a lot about building consensus.
"I'm very big on listening to people and then bringing them together," he said. "I think that's the key to good pastoring: to hear what people have to say, to sense what they need and then move to make them comfortable."
Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392