Bishop Whayne Hougland will resign from leading the dioceses of Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan, the dioceses announced June 28 as Hougland nears completion of his one-year suspension after admitting to an extramarital affair.
Hougland had served as diocesan bishop of Western Michigan and provisional bishop of Eastern Michigan under a partnership between the two dioceses. In the spring, clergy and lay leaders and other members of the two dioceses engaged in a process of discernment over whether to welcome him back when his suspension ends on July 1. After “a series of lengthy, honest and occasionally painful conversations” that included online meetings with Hougland, the dioceses concluded he should resign.
“We know and understand that our continued mission and ministry, including our growing relationship between our two dioceses, would be impeded by [Hougland’s] reinstatement to office,” the dioceses’ standing committees said in their June 28 joint statement.
The Rt. Rev. Skip Adams, a retired bishop of Central New York, began serving the two dioceses as assisting bishop on Feb. 1, and the standing committees said they will ask Adams to remain in that role for at least the coming months as the dioceses determine their next steps. An already consecrated bishop can serve as an assisting bishop to fill a specific role as determined by a diocese’s ecclesiastical authority. The standing committees in Eastern and Western Michigan remain the ecclesiastical authorities of the dioceses.
“This has been a difficult and painful year,” the standing committees said. “The news about our bishop may feel welcome to some and disappointing to others, with a bit of every other feeling in-between. The severing of a relationship with a pastor is not one that happens lightly or without deep and prolonged prayer and discernment.”
At the same time, their message affirmed the dioceses’ commitment to sharing resources and developing ministries together.
“Over the next few years … we will continue our intentional exploration of relationship between our two dioceses. The standing committees deeply value the relationship we have with one another,” the standing committees said. “This burgeoning relationship has been a deep source of joy and hope for us all.”
The two dioceses finalized their partnership agreement in 2019, and part of that agreement was to share a bishop. Hougland, who has served as Western Michigan bishop since 2013, was elected provisional bishop of Eastern Michigan in October 2019.
The two dioceses’ standing committees announced in June 2020 that Hougland had reached an agreement with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry to serve a one-year suspension after acknowledging making “serious mistakes” in pursuing the affair. The other person involved in the affair was not an Episcopalian, nor a member of the staff of either diocese, and no state or federal laws were broken, according to the dioceses.
Hougland issued a lengthy written apology a year ago when his suspension was announced. “I do not yet fully understand why I behaved in this manner, but I alone am responsible for my actions and the discipline that the presiding bishop and I have agreed to,” he said at the time.
Hougland’s suspension expires on July 1, and his resignation will take effect on that day, based on the separation agreement he reached with the dioceses.
Curry responded June 28 with a pastoral letter to the two dioceses. “While I have held out hope that this difficult and holy work would result in Bishop Hougland’s return to service with your two dioceses, mutual discernment has revealed a need to end your relationship as bishop and dioceses,” Curry said. “I affirm both the integrity of your discernment and your decision growing out of it.”
The presiding bishop also offered his blessing as the dioceses move forward in partnership. “This bold experiment in mission is surely born of the Spirit and offers a hope-filled model for the rest of the church,” he said.
The standing committees, in announcing the resignation, invited Episcopalians in Eastern and Western Michigan to pray for Hougland and his wife. Anyone who wishes to send them a note can do so by addressing it to the Western Michigan diocesan offices.