The Rev. Brian Prior has firm roots in the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane. He grew up in Prosser, Wash., graduated from Whitworth University, was a fifth-grade substitute teacher at Midway Elementary in Mead and has worked in the diocese ever since he was ordained a priest in 1989.
Those roots will be transplanted to Minnesota as Prior prepares to take his new role as the ninth bishop of Minnesota in February.
Prior, 50, received word Saturday that he had been elected to the position by the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota. “I was literally physically unable to speak,” he said.
Of the other candidates for the position, two were women, one was gay and one was Native American. In each of the five votes Prior was in the lead, and candidates withdrew their names as the process went on. The final vote was between Prior and the Rev. Mariann Budde, the pastor of St. John the Baptist in Minneapolis.
While electing a woman, a gay person or a Native American as bishop would have been historic, it didn’t seem that the diocese was looking at labels or categories during the interview process, said Prior. “I think they looked at us in terms of our gifts, not our gender or ethnicity,” he said.
The road to bishop began with Prior’s first position, as associate pastor of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church on the South Hill. From there he worked as the director of education and development for the Diocese of Spokane and also was executive director of Camp Cross, a church-run camp on the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene. He took the position as pastor of the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Spokane Valley in 1996 and has been there since.
In 2003 he was chosen to serve as the chaplain of the Episcopal Church’s national General Convention. In 2006 he was elected vice president of the House of Deputies, one of the two groups that make up the governing body of the Episcopal Church. He was re-elected to that position this summer, but must give up the post to join the House of Bishops.
Even though his fellow seminarians at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, Calif., labeled him “most likely to become bishop,” Prior said that becoming a bishop was never his goal. “I’ve never set out for that,” he said. “I loved being a camp director. I love being pastor of this church.”
Even now, Prior said he’s not certain he’s called to be a bishop, but he does feel called to use his talents where he believes they are needed. “I think my gifts match what Minnesota is looking for in their bishop,” he said. “I have been a person who likes to build community, to work with others to discover what their gifts are and fully use those gifts.”
People Prior met during his national work suggested he allow them to submit his name for consideration in Minnesota. Prior said he had received calls over the years about positions in Chicago and Washington, D.C., but he turned them down because the work would have been urban. It was the mix of urban and rural ministry that interested him in Minnesota.
“It took a fair amount of convincing,” he said. “I like where I am. I like what I’m doing.”
Recently Prior and his family took a tour of Minnesota as part of the interview process. “It’s very consistent in many ways with here,” he said. “There are lots of small towns with small churches. I love that.”
In addition to the mix of excitement and anxiousness about his new position, Prior is also sad to be leaving his longtime congregation. “This is my home,” he said. “It’s bittersweet. There is that sadness of going. Yet I think they’re extremely proud that I have been called to be a bishop.”
Prior will also have to leave behind the Freeman girls basketball team, which he has coached for five years. “That’s as hard as leaving the church is leaving those girls,” he said. “I’m coming back for state, though. I told the girls that.”
He is set to be ordained and consecrated in February and plans to make the move to Minnesota sometime after the beginning of the year. “It would be wonderful if we could celebrate one last Christmas with our church family,” he said.
His wife and two teenage sons are also excited about the new position. His wife Staci has been a school psychologist and counselor with the Liberty School District for 18 years, and his sons attend Freeman High School. “They’ve been a part of the conversation from the beginning,” he said. “It will be a great adventure.”