Bishop J. Michael Garrison, leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York since 1999, will retire from the post in 2011, when he turns 66.
The bishop has asked the people of the diocese if they want to search for a new prelate who would serve alongside Garrison in the final months of his episcopacy, then take the reins after he retires.
Garrison said he supports an arrangement for what is known as a bishop coadjutor.
"There's a real good argument for having on-the-job training," he said.
A "Futures Committee" of the diocese, composed of clergy and laity, also has recommended electing a bishop coadjutor.
The diocese would need to vote on whether to have a bishop coadjutor during its next annual convention, scheduled for October 2008. The search for a new bishop could take two to three years.
"In effect, we would serve together for about six months," said Garrison. "It's really about having consistency in the transition."
Garrison, a native of Philadelphia, was ordained a Catholic priest in 1971 and served as an assistant pastor in Oregon for three years before deciding to join the Episcopal Church.
He was accepted as a priest in the Episcopal Church in Nevada in 1975 and served in parishes and on the staff of the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Las Vegas before his election in 1998 to the episcopate here.
He was consecrated as the 10th bishop of the Western New York Episcopal Diocese in 1999, succeeding Bishop David C. Bowman, who did not have a bishop coadjutor. Garrison was elevated to the Buffalo episcopate several months after Bowman's departure.
Garrison oversees about 19,000 Episcopalians -- down from about 23,000 when he started -- in 63 congregations in Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming counties.
The diocese recently adopted a "revitalization plan" that will dovetail with the search for a new leader.