Bishop Sean Rowe Elected 28th Presiding Bishop

photo: Libby March

The Rt. Rev. Sean W. Rowe of the Episcopal Dioceses of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York was elected the 28th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church on the first ballot today at the church’s 81st General Convention in Louisville, Kentucky.

Rowe, 49, received 89 of 158 votes from the House of Bishops which gathered for the election in Christ Church Cathedral. His election was later confirmed by the House of Deputies in a vote of 778-43. Rowe’s nine-year term, succeeding Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry, begins November 1.

The other nominees were Bishops J. Scott Barker of the Diocese of Nebraska, Daniel G. P. Gutiérrez of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, DeDe Duncan Probe of the Diocese of Central New York and Robert Wright of the Diocese of Atlanta.

“I sometimes think of this moment in the Episcopal Church’s history in terms of the history of my region of the United States,” Rowe told the convention in remarks after his election.  “I am from the Rust Belt, and in the economic unraveling that has befallen our communities in the last fifty years, I have been around to see things I love go away.

“My grandfathers were steel workers, and nearly my entire family worked in industry.

In the space of about three years in the mid-1980s, when I was in elementary school, I watched everything I had known evaporate. … People in our region are resilient, but we spent years resisting the change that was forced upon us, wishing things would go back to being the way they had been.”

The Episcopal Church, once politically and economically powerful, must also adjust to cope with declining membership, he said.

“If we are honest with each other and ourselves, we know that we cannot continue to be the Episcopal Church in the same way no matter where we live,” Rowe told bishops and deputies assembled at the Kentucky International Convention Center. “To participate fully and effectively in God’s mission we must reorient our churchwide resources—budgets and staff—to support dioceses, where ministry on the ground happens.”

Rowe holds a Ph.D. in organizational learning and leadership, and has long been active in “experiments for the sake of the gospel” such as having one bishop lead dioceses. While serving as bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania, he also served as provisional bishop of the Diocese of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania from 2014 until 2018. In 2019 he became provisional bishop of the Diocese of Western New York, which includes the Buffalo area, a position he still holds.

He is an advocate for streamlining the church’s structures and governance, a call he repeated in his remarks to the convention. But efficiency is not his primary goal.

“Make no mistake,” he told the convention, “reorienting our structures, our budgets, and our relationships will only matter if we do it for the sake of the gospel. Our goal must be to invest more fully in evangelism, racial reconciliation, and creation care at every level of the church.

“Thanks to the leadership of General Convention and Presiding Bishop Curry, we have embraced those core ministry priorities since 2015. Now our broken and hurting world badly needs us to address them even more strategically and more effectively.”

Rowe graduated from Grove City College in 1997 with a B.A. in history; from Virginia Theological Seminary in 2000 with a Master of Divinity; and received his Ph.D. from Gannon University in Erie in 2014. He chairs the board of trustees of Erie Day School, previously served on the Franklin School Board and serves on the Greater Buffalo Racial Equity Roundtable.

He is married to Carly Rowe, a Christian educator who is executive director of the Erie Episcopal collaboration. They have an eleven-year-old daughter, Lauren.