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Reverend Shannon MacVean-Brown

As the newly consecrated bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont, the first African-American woman to serve in this role in all of New England, ETS graduate Shannon MacVean-Brown said she will bring the lessons of her Doctor of Ministry studies with her in her new role.  Bishop MacVean-Brown said she is anxious to serve the diocese and grow the Episcopal church in the state through innovative and exciting means. And she credits her time at ETS for helping prepare her for this role. “Being in a relationship with other people studying the same things but then being able to talk to them about how they express their branch of Christianity really helped me be more clear about why I’m an Episcopalian, how it suits my personality and makes me appreciate my church more – more insights into where we could grow as a denomination,” she said. “That was absolutely invaluable.”

Bishop MacVean-Brown was elected to lead the diocese in May and a consecration ceremony was held Sept. 28. The Episcopal Church of Vermont has more than 6,100 parishioners in 45 congregations across the state. She said being selected to lead the Vermont diocese is humbling and overwhelming. “Having the Holy Spirit stirring others and myself to this common decision is so beyond me as an individual,” Bishop MacVean-Brown said. “I think of the history the people in Vermont made with my election.” But she said no one was thinking of “firsts” during the election process. “We were just thinking about being faithful to God’s call and offering ourselves in a way we could, and for them it was deciding to call this woman who looks so different from all the rest of them there,” Bishop MacVean-Brown said. “For them to be able to do that, I’m just in awe. It shows a tremendous amount of faith on their part. They could have chosen something more comfortable to them.”

Bishop MacVean-Brown said in her new role she will be working to make the church more inclusive, energetic, authentic and innovative. She said there is a desire in her new diocese to rethink the notion of church.  “There are new models of ministry, of how they live out church,” she said. “I want to have these conversations; I’m not shying away from it. There are alternative ways of doing ministry. It will be different going forward because I’m a different bishop. But I’m glad I’m not starting from nothing with them and they are absolutely ready to try some new things and they embodied that by electing me. “They’re serious about trying something new; they’re not just saying that.”

Bishop MacVean-Brown said it was at ETS when people first started telling her that one day she would be a bishop. She is the daughter of a pastor. Her father, the Rev. Canon Ronald Spann, assisting priest and director of the Christ Church Grosse Pointe Spirituality Center, was once a facilitator and curriculum developer for some grant-funded work at ETS. But instead of thinking about being a bishop, she said she was more concerned with what was going to happen to the black Episcopal Church, about social justice, inclusion “and what that was going to look like.” Her research during her DMin studies centered on why black women were part of the Episcopal Church when there were so few of them “and so invisible. “And why do we stay? Part of my research showed that the reason why we stay is because we believe in this vision that the church set for us because we know it is from God and it is of God. And if it’s important to us, how are we going to be part of making that happen? And so my discernment then became really how I became feeling isolated from the church.”

Bishop MacVean-Brown said her studies at ETS helped bring her faith into focus. When she began at ETS, Bishop MacVean-Brown said she was a lay person in charge of a congregation.  “I would be in class, take what I was learning and apply it immediately,” she said with a laugh. “Learning about other people’s denominations and having colleagues that were engaged in ministry around the Metro Detroit area was invaluable. If it was possible to be more Episcopalian, that happened for me being at ETS.”

As she embarks on her new journey, Bishop MacVean-Brown will think of her experiences at ETS.  “Part of the value of ETS is just helping people be stronger in who they are and their expression of their faith, but also showing them the importance of interfaith and ecumenical relationships,” she said.  She said she knows she and the parishioners in the Vermont diocese will learn and grow together and eventually coalesce around the best path forward for the church in that state.  “After all, this is about our common love of Jesus and the Holy Spirit doing what she does to work in and through God’s people,” Bishop MacVean-Brown said. “I’m just blown over with God’s goodness.”