New Episcopal bishop believes 'God's table is big enough for all of us'

'God's table is big enough for all of us'

ctruman@herald-leader.comDecember 15, 2012 

Doug Hahn becomes the seventh bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington upon his consecration Saturday.

MARK ASHLEY

  • IF YOU GO

    Ordination and consecration of Doug Hahn as Episcopal Diocese of Lexington's seventh bishop

    When: 11 a.m. Dec. 15

    Where: Christ Church Cathedral, 166 Market St.

    Learn more: (859) 252-6527, Diolex.org

  • About Doug Hahn

    Family: Wife Kaye, three children, one grandchild

    Hobbies: Walking his dogs, a golden retriever and cairn terrier; dining on good local food

    Favorite books and authors: When he was preparing to come to Kentucky, Hahn read books by Wendell Berry and Silas House "because I thought both of those gave a sense of flavor about what this commonwealth is."

    He also likes the poetry of Pulitzer Prize winner Mary Oliver, has been influenced by the works of Thomas Merton and Martin Luther King Jr., and enjoys the historical works of Ken Follett, who "gives a whole scope of how huge world political and social issues make an impact on individuals," Hahn said.

Doug Hahn, the bishop-elect for the Episcopal Church's district in Central and Eastern Kentucky, believes in reflecting the diversity that his new territory includes: everything from downtown Lexington to rural Lee County, from Harlan to Harrodsburg.

That's why his ordination service Saturday will include high formal church music, Bluegrass, Appalachian folk tunes and Shaker music.

"All of that will reflect that God acts in many diverse ways," Hahn said. "It makes for a rich community."

Hahn replaced Stacy Sauls, who became the chief operating officer of the national Episcopal Church.

Hahn, 60, who came to Lexington from Georgia, where he was rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Hamilton and dean of the Chattahoochee Valley Episcopal Convocation, has some surprising roots: He grew up a Southern Baptist and graduated from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville in 1977.

"What I appreciated about growing up Baptist was the deep commitment to mission and the deep commitment to Scripture ... and the commitment that each person has to serving in the place where God wants them to be," Hahn said.

What drew him to the Episcopal faith was its work in areas such as homelessness and economic development, Hahn said.

When he went to Episcopal churches, Hahn said, "There was the sense that the liturgy spoke to me with a really broad understanding of God's mercy. ... There was a sense that the Episcopal church was addressing the issues of the world in a very honest way ... and the fact that there was a real commitment to diversity. That was a draw to me."

While Southern Baptist ministers are often noted for their flair in the pulpit, Hahn said that Episcopalians are no slouches in the preaching department.

"There's great preaching in the Episcopal church from people who grew up in all kinds of backgrounds."

Hahn's new territory stretches from Frankfort to the eastern border of Kentucky, across 36 parishes with approximately 8,000 worshipers.

While his predecessor Sauls faced a liberal/conservative split after Bishop Gene Robinson, a Kentucky native who is openly gay, was consecrated in 2003, Hahn appears to be starting his tenure in calmer times.

"In the diocese of Lexington, the consensus that we've reached and the direction that I will hopefully continue to move is that God's table is big enough for all of us," Hahn said. "... We have learned to speak civilly and thoughtfully and prayerfully about issues that divide us. That's not just important in the church, but in the wider community."

Nonetheless, members of established religions such as Episcopalians face challenges from large new churches that don't distinguish themselves as Episcopalian or Methodist or Baptist, according to an Eastern Kentucky University academic.

Mike Austin, a philosophy professor at EKU, said formal mainline churches that emphasize liturgy can lose members to churches that emphasize a more casual church environment, even if they emphasize a more conservative set of beliefs.

"It seems to me that in the past 20 to 30 years the growth is in those type of evangelical churches," Austin said. "... The challenges for churches like the Episcopal church is showing what they have to offer to people's spiritual growth."

Nonetheless, the affection for more traditional church services may undergo a resurgence, he said.

"There's a current ... among some evangelicals at least, back toward the liturgy, that there is something meaningful and significant in those things.

"For some people, that might keep them away. But for others, it would draw them in."

Hahn is optimistic about his tenure. "We will be gathered around one table, sharing one meal, celebrating that the coming Christ has not eliminated all our differences but has brought us all to the table so that our differences produce a real richness among us."

Cheryl Truman: (859)231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman.

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