The Not Quite Right Reverend

October 23, 2013

Gunter elected bishop of Fond du Lac

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Matt Gunter is in an odd place right now. For nearly 14 years he has been the Rev. Matthew Alan Gunter, rector of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Saturday, Oct. 19, he was elected eighth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Fond du Lac, where, upon receiving formal church hierarchy approval, he’ll become the Rt. Rev. Matthew Alan Gunter.

So what do you call him now? Officially, he is the bishop-elect, but “Last night the vestry decided to call me the Not Quite Right Reverend,” Gunter said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

“Right now, I’m feeling a little divided. There’s this weird space of the loss of leaving and the excitement of something new. This is the only parish I’ve served as rector, and I love very much the people where I am. If I weren’t confident that this is a good and right thing to do, I’d stay where I am.”

But he is confident, saying, “I trust the Lord is faithful.”

Gunter was elected on the second ballot out of a field of three candidates. To be elected, a candidate must have received a majority of the votes in both the lay order and the clergy order. On the second ballot, he received 73 of 99 votes cast in the lay order (50 required) and 43 of 69 votes cast in the clergy order (35 required).

According to the Episcopal Church canons, the election of a bishop requires the consent from a majority of bishops and standing committees of the Episcopal Church. Assuming consent is received, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will ordain Gunter as bishop on April 26, 2014 at Appleton Alliance Church in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Pretty heady stuff for a farm boy from northern Indiana. Asked how he felt about wearing funny hats, Gunter said, “I’ve joked about that. I’m a simple guy and I tend not to be very ostentatious. Yet I get the importance of the symbolism of the mitre and crosier and other trappings of the office.”

Plus, he has Anglo-Catholic tendencies, and while there’s a wide mix—theologically and politically—of people at St. Barnabas, “We do incense, we do smells and bells most Sundays; but it is ‘relaxed’ high church.”

Gunter, who has a quick, easy sense of humor, said he liked the walkabouts required of bishop candidates, which included meeting with folks throughout the Diocese of Fond du Lac.

“I was really glad they opted not to have the swimsuit contest,” he said, and then let out a big laugh. “I actually enjoyed the walkabouts because it gave me a chance to get a feel for the place. You pick up the spirit of the place, and consistently in Fond du Lac, the spirit felt good.”

He mused that it is ironic that he, a 1996 graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary, was called to be bishop of Fond du Lac. Virginia is historically the low church seminary, and Fond du Lac is an historically high church diocese, so there is an irony there, even given my catholic tendencies.”

Before going to seminary Gunter earned a BA in history at Indiana University. He taught high school English, history, and English-as-a-second language in an urban school in California and also taught English one summer in China. He volunteered with the San Joaquin County AIDS Foundation. He and his wife, Leslie, have three grown daughters.

A big fan of Chicago professional sports, Gunter wrote in his profile on St. Barnabas’s webpage that he “believes that if Jew and Gentile have been reconciled in Christ, surely one can cheer for both the Cubs and the White Sox.” That belief will be tested as he moves from Chicago Bears territory to that of the Green Bay Packers.

The Gunters have been in the Diocese of Chicago since 1996. Prior to becoming rector at St. Barnabas, he served as assistant rector at St. David’s Episcopal Church, Glenview. During his ordained ministry he also has served as spiritual advisor of Cursillo and Happening and on the Diocese of Chicago’s Commission on Global Ministry. He has been dean of the Aurora Deanery, deputy to three General Conventions, chaplain at the 75th General Convention, and diocesan delegate to the Diocese of Renk, Sudan, with which the Diocese of Chicago has a companion relationship.

Gunter said he knows that some at St. Barnabas will be saddened that he and his wife are leaving, “and there’s some anxiety for them as to whether a new rector will get the particular ethos that is St. Barnabas. But God has been faithful to St. Barnabas in the past and will continue to be so.”

Accompanying that apprehension is a pride of ownership.

“They’re excited about the affirmation this election brings for me, but I told them that it is also an affirmation of them. My being considered bishop material has a lot to do with the reputation of St. Barnabas.”

So if everything goes as planned, early next year Gunter and his wife will move some three hours away and house hunt in Appleton. He repeats that he is excited but torn.

“The Diocese of Chicago has been a good place, good friends, good bishops. I’m fond of Bishop Lee. I’ll miss St. Barnabas, the Cursillo community and the larger Diocese of Chicago community. I don’t think there’s any secret that this is a really healthy diocese. Fond du Lac appears to be healthy as well.

“It’s nice to go from health to health.”

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