There is an Episcopal election coming up – on October 3, the members of synod (representatives from every congregation in the diocese of New Westminster) will, with God’s help, choose a new bishop.
With this in mind, I thought it might be an appropriate time to review what the heck a bishop is anyway.
The Anglican Church, along with several other churches, recognizes 3 types of ordained ministry (this does not include the laity – the ministry of the baptized – in which we all share): deacons, priests and bishops.
Bishops are a very ancient role in the church, older perhaps even than priests. And in many traditions, including the Anglican Church, they are seen as having a special Apostolic connection and ministry – the successors of the role of the Apostles in the early Church.
Bishops hold a special ministry of oversight and unity in the Church, represented sacramentally by being the ones who perform ordinations, confirmations and the blessing of oils for baptism and healing. They lead (usually) regional groups of churches called dioceses. Many other Christian traditions have individuals or groups performing a similar ministry of unity and oversight, however, the role of bishop in Anglicanism has some unique features.
The Anglican Church is episcopally organized, which means that rather than an individual congregation, the basic unit of the Anglican Church is a bishop and diocese. The bishop is sometimes called the chief pastor, and so, I, as a priest joyfully serving with you in this place, am here representing the bishop. Whoever the bishop is, is ultimately the person I am accountable to – my “boss.” As you can probably imagine, bishops in the Anglican Church have more authority than in some other denominations.
The role and ministry of bishops is one of the things that connects us to the universal church, that stretches around the world and through the ages. Having a bishop reminds us that it is not just St. John’s by ourselves – we don’t have to do it alone.
Are there downsides to having bishops; to being episcopally organized? Absolutely. Are there also upsides? Of course.
In the coming weeks, please pray for the candidates who have allowed their names to be put forward for this election. Pray also for all the members of synod, that they may be open to the Spirit’s leading. There’s a new bishop brewing, and I’m excited!
Thanks be to God!