The man who has led the Episcopal Church in Western New York for the last 10 years informed the diocese Friday that he intends to retire in about 14 months.
Bishop David C. Bowman, who will be 65 on Nov. 15, announced his plans to 350 delegates at the 160th annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York. He will officially step down Dec. 31, 1998, he told the gathering in the Fallside Resort and Conference Center.
Bishop Bowman said he delayed announcing his retirement for as long as possible "to help us avoid the temptation to put everything on hold until the new bishop comes."
Measures approved by the convention Friday and today will assure that all of the high-priority programs of the diocese can move forward regardless of his status, he indicated.
Bishop Bowman said he has been working with the standing committee of the diocese to set the stage for the election of a new bishop at a convention on Dec. 6, 1998, in St. Paul's Cathedral in downtown Buffalo.
During the next three weeks, he said, 21 people will be selected to serve on a nominating and search committee. They will hold their first meeting Nov. 14 and 15 at the Stella Niagara Conference Center.
Bishop Bowman predicted that if the process goes smoothly, the diocese should install its next bishop in April 1999.
After retirement, Bishop Bowman, a native of Canton, Ohio, and his wife, Nancy, a Findlay, Ohio, native, will move to Cleveland.
Before revealing his decision to retire, Bishop Bowman made these points in his annual address:
Announced the start of the public phase of an Episcopacy Endowment Campaign with a goal of $2 million, including about $880,000 already raised. The $2
million will be added to an existing $1.5 million endowment to produce revenue to operate the bishop's office. The current cost is about $150,000 a year.
Advised delegates of a new Christian Formation Program through which five to eight lay people will be trained to work as "word and vision facilitators" in the 68 parishes of the diocese. The facilitators, who will be paid a stipend of $5,000 each, will assist parishes in such areas as evangelism, stewardship and education.
Challenged the church to be as concerned about the welfare of the world outside of its walls as it is about its own future. Specific ways to do that, he said later, may be developed through the new Christian Formation Program.
"The mission of the church is to the world, not to the church," Bishop Bowman told delegates.
He said the church must find ways to respond to people who are "hungry to be fed and clothed and housed and educated, hungry to hear the word about a God who loves them and who wants all God's children to enjoy a fulfilled and wholesome life . . . here and now."
Bishop Bowman served as rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, Toledo, Ohio, before being elected bishop of the Western New York Diocese in 1986. He was consecrated a bishop on Sept. 14, 1986, and served as bishop coadjutor, a kind of training status, under the late Bishop Harold B. Robinson. He was installed as diocesan bishop on Sept. 13, 1987.
In addition to serving as leader of Western New York's 23,000 Episcopalians, Bishop Bowman has played a prominent role in ecumenical and interfaith affairs in the Buffalo area and has taken strong stands on social justice and community issues.
As a member of the Cabinet of Bishops and Executives of the Buffalo Area Metropolitan Ministries, he has been a leading proponent of creating a new ecumenical and interfaith entity to replace both BAMM and the Buffalo Area Council of Churches.
He has argued that it is possible to create a more all-embracing organization that would be more effective while operating with the same or less money. Largely because of his prodding and guidance, the formation of that entity is under way.
The bishop has been a voice for the poor, continually opposing attempts by state and county government to reduce levels of social service benefits for the needy.
For example, he blasted welfare cuts proposed by Gov. Pataki in 1995 as "too much, too soon, too devastating."
Within his church, Bishop Bowman guided a "Forward in Faith" campaign that raised nearly $4.5 million for capital improvements to properties throughout the diocese.
He has worked to increase the visibility of Episcopal Community Services, the social services arm of the church, and has advocated more outreach effort by the denomination, including a campus ministry program.
During the convention banquet Friday evening, the Rev. Dr. Paul R. Nelson, director of worship for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said Lutheran Church officials are doing everything in their power to build a solid, close relationship with the Episcopal Church.
A proposal for the two denominations to enter a full communion relationship, which would make it possible to exchange clergy among the denominations and allow church members to receive each other's sacraments, fell six votes short of winning approval by the Lutherans last summer.