The Rev. Sean Rowe smiles often and exudes a boyish charm.
The first glimpse of him in clerical garb, of this young man cloaked in authority, is likely to prompt a second look, borne of mild surprise.
That subsequent glance, however, reveals a gravitas belied by appearances and gifts that transcend chronological age.
The Episcopal Church has been swift to recognize Rowe’s abilities.
When he joined St. John Episcopal Church in Franklin seven years ago at the age of 25, fresh out of college and seminary, the newspaper carried the headline, “Episcopal Church gets youngster in pulpit.”
When he was ordained Dec. 2, 2000, he was the youngest priest in the Episcopal Church.
Recently elected the eighth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, Rowe, at 32, will be the youngest Episcopal bishop in the world following his Sept. 8 consecration at Grove City College’s Harbison Chapel by the presiding bishop of the church, the Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori.
He will likewise be the youngest member of the church’s House of Bishops – by about 13 years.
Rowe’s rocketing to positions of prominence leads one to wonder if he has always been on the fast track — or if he is an old soul in a young man’s body.
A look at his journey to the threshold of the House of Bishops would seem to indicate that both explanations apply.
1. David Wilson wrote:
Sean was a member of the clergy deputation from NWPA that was divided on the vote to consent to VGRs consecration. Another member of that deputation informed that Sean’s vote was to consent. But as Jerry Seinfield would say, “not that it matters”
June 11, 12:49 pm | [comment link]
2. Nikolaus wrote:
Are we supposed to be impressed at his rise? Oh, the things I did not know when I was 32!
June 11, 1:31 pm | [comment link]
3. Crazy Horse wrote:
The real issue is that this kid’s diocese is not much larger than reasonable sized parish—should we start making rectors of parishes over 1,000 bishops and give them full vote and voice in the councils of the curch, as well as a lay and clergy staff delegation at General Convention. I wonder how more, instead of less, democracy would shape the future of our church—and at least this would include at the table those who had actually grown the church as opposed to just those who have majored in smallness.
June 11, 1:39 pm | [comment link]
4. Jordan Hylden wrote:
Well, he’s young to be sure, but he’s not a kid. I’m willing to imagine that sometimes youngsters are ready and capable of taking on a role like this. Of course I would say that. But the crucial thing here, I think, is his character, devotion, and wisdom.
Although I can’t say I’m impressed by blanket statements about how we need to do “new things” and get “fresh perspectives.” I don’t know what that means. Oftentimes that’s just a cover for a lack of real wisdom and thoughtfulness.
Here’s a related question: I’ve been surprised to learn that many times, kids fresh out of college are discouraged from going to seminary, with the thought that they need to “get out into the real world” for a while first. A friend of mine was just told that, and so she’s decided not to go to seminary.
That just doesn’t make sense to me. Clearly I might be somewhat biased here, but why on earth are we making it church-wide policy to turn away young people and recruit middle-aged second-career types instead?
June 11, 2:12 pm | [comment link]
5. Billy wrote:
In small dioceses like this, you have to consider who is financially able to be a bishop with a small stipend. Ask how PB Schori became bishop of Nevada. It wasn’t because of her skill as a parish priest or as a pastor ... she had little or none. It was because Nevada couldn’t get anyone with experience to be a bishop at the pitiably low stipend the diocese could afford. I’ll bet dollars to donuts the same thing applies to this small diocese and this young, inexperienced priest, now bishop. TEC has too many dioceses with too few people in them. The Global South bishops can only roll their eyes at places like this diocese.
June 11, 2:53 pm | [comment link]
6. Veronique wrote:
#3 you raise an important point. I don’t know exactly how each diocese was created, but it would be nice to know what the rules are. I seem to remember a bishop (perhaps from GS ?) recently wanting to put on the agenda of an international meeting that very question, of agreeing in the Communion on rules about bishop representation. Should it be more a direct proportion of number of members, or of parishes, or of population of the state, or should it be one state one bishop, just like it is one country one primate ?
June 11, 2:56 pm | [comment link]
7. Hursley wrote:
#4: The same thing caught my eye. On one hand, the Pension Fund and other demographers worry about how comparatively “old” both the clergy and lay people are in the Episcopal Church, but at the same time we seem to keep doing everything we can to discourage young people from being seriously involved in the church (heaven forbid that they might even feel called to ordained ministry as college students!). TEC defunded campus ministry forty years ago and told every aspirant under forty (a bit of hyperbole, but only a bit) to go away, grow up, and come back later. Now we wonder why so many churches have minimal—or no—Sunday School or Youth programs! While there are always exceptions, as a general rule, people tend to be drawn to clergy with whom they have something in common. Like it or not, young clergy tend to attract young people and young families better than older clergy.
Will a 25-year-old make mistakes and misjudgments in ministry? Of course. But the reality is that a 40- or 50-year-old is likely to make many of the same mistakes when they start out in ordained ministry. Some “life experience” in other arenas will avert a few of those mistakes, but some are simply caused by inexperience using a particular skill-set. I know that given the choice of being treated by two 50-year-old doctors, one out of medical school for 25 years and one out of medical school for 2, I would prefer the one with more medical experience (all other factors being basically equal).
Our perceptions of youth and maturity have become so skewed in the past few decades. Not so long ago, marriage in the early twenties or even teens was the usual scenario, along with the assumption of adult roles and responsibilities. Now we seem to have several generations of teenagers running around! I noticed just last week that a local publication targeted to mature audiences has renamed itself “Senior & Boomer News” (it used to be “Senior News”). I guess those Boomers just can’t admit that they’re getting old—though they seem perfectly willing to accept Social Security payments when they’re due. If they’re still feeling young and cool at 60, why then those “kids” who are in their 40s and younger must be incompetent babies. That old saying “Never trust anyone over 30” has definitely morphed into “Never trust anyone under 50.”
June 11, 3:01 pm | [comment link]
8. Vintner wrote:
I said this once before on Stand Firm but I’d like to repeat myself here because I think it applies. Before any start throwing stones at Rowe’s age, best do some research and find out how old some of these African bishops whose virtues are being extolled were when they were elected and how much experience they had. One, whom I am aware of, was elected with less than a year and a half’s experience. And he has been a bishop for over thirty years. We do not elect bishops. We elect people to the office of bishop. And then we pray like mad that God will form them into bishops.
June 11, 3:04 pm | [comment link]
9. Crazy Horse wrote:
I think young people need to be allowed to go to seminary to formed for ministry before they develop too many bad habits and while they are still trainable—but it has also been a standard policy of the church for decades to require some worldly experience before seminary, still that ought to look like ordination by 28 or so.
My personal belief is that many of the second career clergy continue to look like their first careers—for example the previously a prosecutor Stacey Sauls or the former lawyer John Howard. The neuron paths are too deeply formed for conversion it seems to me.
But in the highest counsels of the church it would seem that a little more experience than six years ought to be thought as helpful. Even the PB looks totally inadequate and frankly unknowing, more of a smarty pants than a person of great wisdom and insight, simply due to her real lack of experience.
Unless the ego has been humbled, it remains a willful ego with ascendency over the person rather than the person have been shaped over the years into a servant of Christ emptied out and filled back up with the Spirit of Truth.
June 11, 3:05 pm | [comment link]
10. Jordan Hylden wrote:
Crazy Horse and Hursley:
Right, I can certainly see how it can sometimes be helpful to have a bit more maturity than someone straight out of college might have. Although a blanket policy of discouraging it seems like a poor idea. Sometimes it will be true, sometimes it won’t. So much depends upon the individual.
And actually, given the cost of seminary—if you wait until you’re 27 to start, by that time you’re likely to be married with a kid on the way. And at that point, who can afford to leave their job and go to seminary? If you’re still young and unmarried, without a family to support, seminary is much more of a live option. If we discourage people like that as a general policy, we’re going to lose lots of promising folks who simply won’t be in a position to go to seminary later on in life. Especially because we don’t currently have a comprehensive program in place to fund seminary education.
June 11, 3:16 pm | [comment link]
11. Philip Snyder wrote:
The problem with “real world experience” it that it brings “real world debts” and “real world families” and “real world responsibilities.” These things make it much more difficult to go to seminary and to be formed for full time ordained ministry. By the time many who are called can afford to go to seminary, they only have 20 years or so before required retirement. I’ve been a deacon for three years. I am just now really understanding what that means. (In another 20 years, I will probably also be “just now really understanding….”) If we want wise priests who know about what being a priest means then we need more men and women who can devote 30+ years to active ordained ministry.
June 11, 3:19 pm | [comment link]
12. Bud Brooker wrote:
#5, I started out in NWPA, and I’ve seen the diocesan budget. Trust me, no one was passing up the job because of the pay scale. It was quite substantial.
June 11, 4:00 pm | [comment link]
13. plainsheretic wrote:
I find this conversation intresting. I wonder what people consider to be the lacking “real world experience” for these young vocationers?
Is “real world experince” working in the secular buisness world? Is it getting some street smarts? I’m just curious.
I’ve know both young vocationers and late blummers. I would say it’s a crap shoot as to who will do well and who won’t. It has little to do with experience, though it can help.
June 11, 4:05 pm | [comment link]
14. Crazy Horse wrote:
Ministry is about taking up our cross and following. What I hear here are a lot of mitigating circumstances that don’t take into account the sovereignty of God and the authenticity of a call.
The problem with lowering the expectations it is produces people who mostly get credit for work done, like the presiding bishop, who was never formed with any clue about what it means to be a priest who protects the gospel—she just slide right into the spot light, full of herself—which is very different from life being no longer she who lives, but Christ.
I think the old process,without all the excuses, produced some pretty good clergy—who are now simply out numbered by women who went to night school and men who are more whatever they originally were than priests—all thinking out of their own wisdom and producing a different kind of church.
In our parish we have a second career deacon, who is a seductress with no theology and it is wrecking havoc, I can tell you.
June 11, 4:14 pm | [comment link]
15. plainsheretic wrote:
You didn’t really answer my questions. But I have some for you.
What was the old process? Do you mean prior to the Commission on Ministry format? When Bishops just sent people to seminary?
June 11, 4:27 pm | [comment link]
16. libraryjim wrote:
Timothy was just a ‘young-un’ and St. Paul admonished him not to be discouraged because of his youth.
What mattered to Paul was Timothy’s theology, and making sure he ‘believed rightly’ and “rightly divided the word of truth”.
So how does Sean Rowe measure up in THAT department?
June 11, 4:46 pm | [comment link]
17. Anglicanum wrote:
Jesus was 33. Seems like he was a youngster too, at least by some people’s estimation.
Let’s let the guy try his hand at the job before we start throwing stones at him.
June 11, 4:56 pm | [comment link]
18. Veronique wrote:
I wonder what the proportion is of second career priests who are also in a second marriage… I suppose that is one kind of real-world experience !
Seriously, there are life experiences that would be helpful if you are going to be in ministry. I’m not talking about business knowledge, though there are management aspects to being a rector; I’m thinking of having personally experienced suffering, loss, forgiveness, the transforming power of knowing Christ, those kind of experiences. It is difficult to minister to someone whose spouse just died, for example, if one has never lost anyone, which is more likely amongst the younger people whose parents and friends are probably all still alive. It is one reason I thought it was great that anglican priests were allowed to marry, because I thought they could counsel on marriage and family life with more credibility.
June 11, 4:58 pm | [comment link]
On the other hand, it may be easier for a younger priest to minister to young single people struggling with sex before marriage issues, or other issues that tend to come up earlier in life.
And so an older congregation will probably never call a really young priest to be their rector, which makes a lot of sense anyway, but a congregation with many teenagers and young couples would love to have one on staff.
19. Anglicanum wrote:
I don’t know about that last part, Veronique (“an older congregation will probably never call a really young priest to be their rector”). I was 27 when I was ordained priest, and I was called by a congregation the median age of which was 59 (two kids brought down the average age from, like, 63). But they called me because they felt that I might be able to appeal to younger families and children, and they were afraid they might die out with the last parishioner.
Worked for us. Our average age went down to around 40 or so. Not great, but we also didn’t have a huge pool to draw from. Small town and all that. :+)
June 11, 5:01 pm | [comment link]
20. Crazy Horse wrote:
The old system was back in the day when the focus was on selecting the best team to proclaim and protect the gospel, not figuring out how to be sensitive to the needs of women and gays who wanted to use ordination to make a point.
June 11, 5:11 pm | [comment link]
21. libraryjim wrote:
Our Parish’s ‘discernment committee’ refused to send me to Seminary, not because of my faith (it never really came up), but because I didn’t have enough ‘counselling experience’ and they felt I needed to go to the local community college and get an AA degree in Psychology/Counselling. :-?
June 11, 5:27 pm | [comment link]
22. Veronique wrote:
Good for your congregation, Anglicanum ! I am surprised, but delighted that they realized they needed to appeal to younger people and not only cater to themselves, which is unfortunately part of human nature (catering to oneself)...
June 11, 5:29 pm | [comment link]
I am curious, were you called to be a rector right out of seminary ? Don’t you need to be a priest for a while before becoming a rector somewhere ? Here in Fort Worth the younger priests are curates for a while, and will serve as the 2nd or 3rd priest in a larger congregation for another while before any possibility of being called as a rector…
23. libraryjim wrote:
By the way, based on what has been happening lately, and what I’ve learned about seminaries here on T1:9, I’m kind of glad I didn’t get sent. However, I still feel the call! Frustrating, you know???
June 11, 5:29 pm | [comment link]
24. Deja Vu wrote:
Dear Library Jim<
June 11, 7:48 pm | [comment link]
I am concerned that your parish didn’t encourage you to pursue your call.
1) Do you already have a BA? If so, why an AA in counseling rather than a Masters? Was it a financial issue that the courses at the community college would be less expensive?
2) In other ways, are you in the right church? Are you in a supportive men’s group? What did they think?
25. libraryjim wrote:
1) Actually, I had a Masters in Social Studies Ed at that time. As to their reasons, I have no idea. Probably to cut down on expenses, as the parish told me right out that they would not be assisting me at Seminary in financial ways.
2) We left that church and moved to Tallahassee. There I pursued a second Masters in Library Studies and have been working in libraries ever since.
Shortly after we left first the rector resigned under ‘financial difficulties’ with the church discretionary funds and then the Bishop retired. So we think that the second might have been a factor as in “I’m not sending anyone else to seminary this close to retiring”.
3)I am not in much right now at a parish level, as we sort of dropped out of regular attendance for a time. Plus shortly after the ‘troubles’ started up with the Episcopal Church, so we deemed it a good time to focus on our relationship with the Lord through our family.
I have been involved with an internet group/order, the St. Aidan Trust the US branch of the Order of Aidan and Hilda, Scotland. They have given us quite a bit of support.
Recently, however, we have decided to get back into parish life and are in the process of joining St. Peter’s Anglican here in town. But we are taking it slow—“once burned, twice shy” as they say.
Thanks for your interest.
June 11, 10:04 pm | [comment link]
26. Anglicanum wrote:
Our diocese is pretty rural. Really, only three churches here have associates or curates at all, so the likelihood that I would be a rector or vicar straight out of seminary was always pretty high, if I was going to stick around here. But actually, I very much *wanted* to be an associate somewhere and learn the craft of priesthood from a more exprienced pastor. It would have made that first year better! :+)
June 12, 8:46 am | [comment link]
27. john scholasticus wrote:
June 12, 3:12 pm | [comment link]
Are you still in Tallahassee? As it happens, I know that city well (was there last year). Who knows, next time I visit, we might meet? Wouldn’t of course wish to destroy your credibility with your fellow Christians ..
28. libraryjim wrote:
LOL, yep, I’m still here in Tallahassee. Sure, we could meet for a soda at a local fast food joint somewhere.
June 12, 4:25 pm | [comment link]
29. robroy wrote:
I posted this comment on Episcope, the “official” Episcopalian blog:
I wish the new Bp Rowe the best of luck, he’ll need it. A 23.5% drop in ASA from 1995 to 2005 with a 9.4% drop in the past two years alone.
Of course, they didn’t print it. (All is well. All is well.)
June 12, 9:01 pm | [comment link]
30. Bolman Deal wrote:
#17 (Anglicanum): Fortunately for us, Jesus wasn’t educated in an Episcopal seminary in the 20th century.
June 13, 9:15 am | [comment link]