This is how leadership transitions should happen

Categories: Editorial

Simple acts and well-planned rituals combined to welcome a new bishop, to thank one who has served so well, and define a diocese

Nov. 15, 2013, edition

The crosier, a shepherd’s crook, wooden, unembellished, passed almost unnoticed from the hands of Bishop John Kinney to Archbishop John Nienstedt to Bishop Donald Kettler.

installationpicIt wasn’t a major focus of the ceremony in which Bishop Kettler was installed as the ninth bishop of St. Cloud, and the action could easily have been missed.

Bishop Kinney, seated at the start of the service in the bishop’s chair at the center of the sanctuary of St. Mary’s Cathedral, had quietly moved to a chair off a bit to the side so that his successor could sit in the cathedra. Sitting in that chair is important; it signifies the act of a bishop assuming responsibility for a diocese.

As Bishop Kettler took the chair, the applause that erupted from the cathedral, the standing ovation that acknowledged the new bishop, easily overshadowed the simple, humble act of the retiring bishop “passing the baton,” as it were, to the new man.

One had to be watching closely to notice too, that, as the applause continued, Bishop Kinney caught the gaze of Bishop Kettler, tapped his heart with his right hand then reached it out to the new bishop as if to say, “This is for you.”

This is how it should be.

This is how a transition in leadership should happen.

Powerful symbolism

The entire, two-day ritual that welcomed Bishop Kettler was filled with such moments, moments that tell a story about God’s people in the St. Cloud Diocese.

Several occurred at vespers the evening before the installation, when even the folding chairs placed in front of the cathedral’s confessionals as extra seating were filled.

Before the service began Cathedral rector Father Tony Oelrich modeled hospitality, going down the length of the big church, greeting people with his big smile and thanking folks in every pew and every row of chairs for being there.

Among several prelude songs, youthful voices added a special sound to Bach’s “Ave Maria” before combining with the adult choristers.

Bishop Kettler’s first words in his homily thanked Bishop John Kinney for the foundation of faith he had sustained in his 18 years as the bishop of St. Cloud — the love and respect that the diocese has for Bishop Kinney poured from the pews into a standing ovation for the retiring bishop.

Afterward, as priests gathered on the steps leading up to the cathedral altar to have a group photo taken with the new bishop, dozens of people clamored around Bishop Kinney, adding their own thanks and wishing him well in his retirement.

The next day was much the same.

The quality of music, the depth of singing by people who obviously wanted to add their voices to the Mass, Jennifer Wildeson’s violin and Andrew Floerke’s organ providing a beautiful backing to Anita Fischer’s lovely leading of the Psalm, the Prayers of the Faithful being read not only in English but in German, Spanish, Polish, Ojibwe and even Luo, in recognition of the diocese’s connection to the people of Homa Bay, Kenya, were all a testament to the traditions, the culture of faith and the richness of the diversity of the Diocese of St. Cloud.

Foretelling words?

That Bishop Kettler in his homily spoke almost immediately of clergy sexual abuse could be taken as a sign that the St. Cloud Diocese will continue to act in a transparent way in dealing with the crisis that has had such an impact on the church in the diocese, in the nation and across the world.

The bishop’s vision of leadership, one of walking along side the People of God on a wonderful journey together, despite ruts in the road and bitter weather, fit so well this diocese in the northland.

Yet, the most telling scene of all was the Our Father at the installation Mass.

Maybe it was the many deep male voices because so many bishops, priests and deacon were in attendance, but the assembly’s praying of the Lord’s Prayer seemed so much more powerful that day than when prayed at other Masses.

It was a spoken sign of unity, of common belief and of common hope in the new holder of the unembellished wooden shepherd’s crook.