Rev. Brian Prior

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Spokane priest to lead Minnesota Episcopalians

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG
  • Star Tribune
  • October 31, 2009 - 6:37 PM

Minnesota's 22,000 Episcopalians will be led by a 50-year-old priest from Spokane, Wash.

Delegates at the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota's 152nd annual convention Saturday voted to name the Rev. Brian Prior as their next bishop.

In doing so, they sidestepped three potentially historic choices for the 106-congregation diocese's ninth bishop: a woman, a Native American or an openly partnered lesbian.

Meeting in a downtown Minneapolis hotel ballroom, alternately singing hymns and praying silently, nearly 500 clergy and lay delegates needed five ballots to pick Prior, currently pastor at the Church of the Resurrection in Spokane.

His closest competition came from the Rev. Mariann Budde, pastor at St. John the Baptist in Minneapolis. She would have been the diocese's first female bishop in its 152-year history.

In the final vote, Prior received 271 votes to Budde's 167.

Prior will succeed Bishop James Jelinek, who is retiring in February after heading the diocese since 1993.

In accepting the post, he told the delegates that he felt "overwhelmed and blessed at this moment for the opportunity to come and serve in a place with such a rich history and with so many saints both past and present."

Two other candidates for Bishop -- the Revs. Bonnie Perry and Doyle Turner -- would have been a more radical pick for the delegates to make.

Perry, who specializes in growth at her 600-member church in Chicago, would have been the first lesbian to serve as bishop -- a potentially provocative position in a denomination that has been wracked by controversy over the issue of gay clergy.

Turner, a member of the White Earth band of Ojibwe who once served as its chairman, would have been the first American Indian in the post.

Both said last week that making history for the diocese was not their primary motivation in running for bishop. "I'm not a cause, I'm a candidate," Perry said last week.

Each had relatively strong showings on the delegates' first ballot, but withdrew after the third as their vote totals dwindled.

The fifth candidate was the Rev. Douglas Sparks of Rochester.

Prior, who is married with two teenaged sons, has served in the Diocese of Spokane since 1990 and has been pastor of the Church of the Resurrection there since 1996. One of his avocations is coaching high school girls' basketball.

A fifth-generation Episcopalian, Prior wrote to members of the Minnesota Diocese that "while bishops are called, they also 'grow into the office.' I am not certain I am called to be a bishop. I am certain that I am called to be faithful to the gifts and experiences God has given me for ministry."

Staff writer Jeff Strickler contributed to this report. Bob Von Sternberg • 612-673-7184

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