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Priest puts spotlight on rural churches

Doyle Turner

In the end it took five ballots, but Rev. Doyle Turner withdrew his name after the third ballot Saturday afternoon.

Turner's name was submitted to be the ninth Episcopal bishop of Minnesota. The former tribal chair of the White Earth Indian Reservation lives on Tulaby Lake near Waubun.

Turner said he didn't acquiesce when his parishioners at Trinity Church in Park Rapids submitted his name as a groundbreaking candidate, just to break new ground. The diocese has never had a Native American bishop.

His reasons were simpler. He wanted to bring attention to the plight of rural churches, and even though he was not, in the end, the successful candidate, he maintains: Mission Accomplished.

During the process, the five candidates did a "walk-about," visiting numerous congregations and churches throughout Minnesota.

One of those visits was in Waubun. The candidates, including three from Minnesota, became well-versed in issues facing congregations with aging parishioners, dwindling funds to pay for clergy and declining populations, making it difficult to recruit younger churchgoers.

"It came up again and again," Turner said.

Turner was one of two candidates nominated by a petition process that began in Trinity, an amalgam of Episcopalians and Presbyterians. Parishioners circulated a petition to get his name on the ballot, then drove the petition to diocese headquarters in Minneapolis.

"They made a good choice," Turner said of the diocese. A Spokane priest, the Rev. Brian Prior is the bishop-elect.

"He seems tuned in to outstate" Minnesota, Turner said. "He understands it's a large and varied state."

Sunday, when Turner returned to the pulpit, some church members joked that his loss was their gain. They weren't sure how they'd replace him if he'd been chosen.