With pomp, pageantry and a colorful procession to rival the majestic Anglican rites of London’s Westminster Cathedral, the Rev. Kirk Stevan Smith will be ordained and consecrated today as the fifth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona.
Sixteen Episcopal bishops, headed by the Rev. Frank Griswold, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church USA, will lead two hours of ceremonies beginning at 10 a.m. at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, 4715 N. Central Ave., Phoenix.
Nearly 2,000 people will fill the church for the ticketed event, with seats given out by lottery to members across the parishes. Among those attending will be about 100 from St. James Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, where Smith had served as rector since 1991 and as the Los Angeles Diocese’s canon since 2000.
With the fanfare of flags, some 200 clergy in their most striking vestments, Korean drummers, bagpipers and handbells, Smith, 52, will be officially become the coadjutor of the 26,000-member diocese. Coadjutor is one step removed from becoming "full bishop."
Until Oct. 15, Smith will serve in a kind of dual bishop role with the Rev. Robert Reed Shahan, who has held the top post since 1993 but is retiring. At the diocesan convention in the fall, Shahan will pass the crozier, the symbol of the bishop’s office, to Smith to officially convey all duties and power of the Arizona episcopacy. Three days later, on Oct. 18, Shahan will turn 65.
From an original field of 50 candidates narrowed to four finalists, Smith was elected unanimously in October, on a second ballot after narrowly missing election on the first ballot at the 43rd Diocesan Convention.
Smith is the son of the Rev. Richard Smith, a Presbyterian minister who served from 1972 to 1985 as the executive for the denomination’s Synod of the Southwest with offices in Phoenix. His home parish during seminary was St. Barnabas on the Desert Episcopal Church in Paradise Valley.
Smith and his wife Laura moved into the official bishop’s residence in mid-February when his duties began. Ironically, the house’s living room was once part of the diocesan bishop’s office, and it was in that room about 30 years ago that a young Kirk Smith told then-Bishop Joseph Harte that "perhaps I was called to the ordained ministry." Harte and Smith’s father co-founded the Arizona Ecumenical Council.
In an interview a few days before his consecration, Smith said he hopes to be a bishop who "built churches in the widest sense," including redeveloping congregations, seeing new congregations constructed and adding parishes.
Arizona Episcopalians "are concerned that our growth as a church has not kept pace with the population growth in the state," he said. "We have barely held our own. I would like to be known as someone who addressed that."
Smith intends to be an advocate for inclusion and diversity and to press for dialogue in the knotty issues of the church, such as whether gays should be in leadership roles. In Los Angeles, he developed what he called a "new model for diversity," a parish with 44 identified ethnic groups. He has consistently supported inclusion of gays in church ministry. "I see no reason why one’s sexuality need be an obstacle to ordination," he said when he was a candidate for bishop in Oregon.
While there are "some people who are still upset" with the House of Bishops’ vote last summer to ordain an openly gay clergyman, Gene Robinson, as the bishop of New Hampshire, Smith said he thinks "the church is also kind of reaching a point where people say, ‘OK, we agree to disagree, and it is time to move on and get back to work in our common ministry in the Gospel.’ "
Several Episcopal parishes are actively involved with the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, a new group that opposes homosexuals in leadership and argues that it goes against standards and traditions of the church as well as scripture. Smith said he accepts that as part of his philosophy of inclusion. "That is not the same as leaving the Episcopal Church," he said. "The Anglican Council is a group of like-minded churches working toward a common project, but they, at this point, are not setting up a separate church."
As long as those congregations "feel comfortable to be part of the larger church," Smith said, he will not take any action against them. ‘We have a long history of accommodating a great deal of diversity. It is sort of in our genes as Anglicans to have a high level of toleration for divergent opinion."
Smith, an associate of a monastic order, the Order of the Holy Cross, adheres to a "rule of life" that includes about a half-hour of early morning prayer and about a half-hour of evening prayer. He also tries to go on ordersponsored retreats twice a year to a monastery in Santa Barbara.
"I go to the gym three times a week. That is really important," he said. "That is the biggest stress reducer I know of."
Smith said he sees himself in words that Pope Gregory the Great (590 to 604) used to sign his letters: "Servus servorum dei" or "Servant of the servants of god."
"I really see the office of the bishop as a servant ministry in the sense that it is my job to make the life of clergy and lay leaders of the diocese easier in any way I can to help them in their ministries," Smith said.
The Episcopal Church, he said, has a major place in 21stcentury Christian work. "The church has always prided itself at being the best of both the Protestant and the Catholic world in the sense that we have a strong biblical tradition," he said. "We have a strong tradition of preaching, teaching, of education and we have the Catholic emphasis on the sacraments and the sense of mystery and transcendence that people often look for today."
The next Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Arizona
Name: Kirk Stevan Smith
Title: Consecration today as coadjutor of the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona; becomes full bishop Oct. 15 with retirement of the Rev. Robert Reed Shahan.
Born: Soap Lake, Wash.
Education:Arcadia High School in Phoenix; Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore.; doctorate in church history from Cornell University; Yale Divinity School.
Ministries: Deacon at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Mesa; rector in churches in West Hartford and Old Lyme, Conn.; and St. James Episcopal Church in Los Angeles since 1991. Los Angeles Diocesan canon since 2000.
6 listed priorities: 1) church growth and evangelism; 2) reconciliation and inclusiveness; 3) clergy wellness; 4) lay ministry support; 5) youth ministry; and 6) accessibility and communication.
Family: Married to Laura Fisher Smith, graphic artist and designer; daughter Jordan, Smith College sophomore; and son Nathaniel, high school freshman.