In Praise of Bishops

I write this the week before our new diocesan bishop arrives for a “visitation.” It might be helpful for us to review some things about the office of bishop in the Episcopal Church.

The word for bishop in Greek is “episcopos” from which we get the English word, “episcopal.” The word was originally a secular term and simply meant “overseer” or “manager.” Bishops are ordained clergy. They can perform all the sacramental rites of a priest and they can confirm members of the church and ordain other priests and bishops. A bishop is a successor to one of the twelve apostles.

 Our Book of Common Prayer (p 855) defines the role of a bishop as:

“The ministry of a bishop is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as apostle, chief priest, and pastor of a diocese; to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the whole Church; to proclaim the Word of God; to act in Christ’s name for the reconciliation of the world and the building up of the Church; and to ordain others to continue Christ’s ministry.”

Thus, the bishop is the chief priest and pastor of a diocese. All other clergy derive their ministry from the bishop. He or she is the guardian of the faith, responsible to see that the full truth of the Gospel of God in Christ is proclaimed. He or she administers the discipline of the Church and is responsible for seeing that the official worship of the Church is regularly used in the Churches under his care.

Why is the work of the bishop important to the typical parishioner? When the bishop presides at a baptism, he or she represents the whole church, for the individual being baptized is becoming a member of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in its broadest sense. The following is what bishops from around the world in the Anglican Communion said about the role of a bishop.

    • “To gather the whole community in celebration, presiding over the sacraments and ordaining new priests and deacons
    • To proclaim the Word of God as an apostolic witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
    • To be a teacher, guardian and interpreter of the faith and the apostolic tradition
    • To be active in making and nurturing disciples
    • To be a shepherd (pastor) of the whole people of God, with a special concern for the clergy of the diocese
    • To be a prophetic voice for the voiceless.”

That same conference of bishops ended with this summary – “We are committed to the life of the Church, to the wider communities in which we minister and to civil society. We recognize that it is in our calling to be bridge-builders, reconcilers and symbols of unity… “

I am thankful for the role of bishop in our church. I pray that they can all live up to the lofty ideals they put forth.

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