A new style of bishop

Bishop Mott envisages Pastoral Bishops instead of CEOs for ACNA

Archbishop Robert Duncan of the newly formed Anglican Church in North America has commented that the current Episcopal Church reflects a dysfunctional model of episcopacy, among other issues. He has announced his determination to avoid repeating the same pattern in the new Anglican Province. The Episcopal model appears to see bishops as princes of the church, with ample budgets and often endowments, who administer the diocese as a CEO would operate a corporation. It is the impression of many that this is frequently done with a heavy hand and "J.C. Dithers" style of management.

The new ACNA model will be different, if not by desire than by reality. To begin with, it will not have the same budget, resources and endowments. It will not have the same legal access to all property and real estate generally claimed by Episcopal dioceses. The size of the average Anglican diocese is smaller than in the Episcopal Church. Much of this is not by choice. No diocese, to my knowledge, has said, "Please do not endow us nor give us more than a pittance, please make sure we are small in number." There has already been some comment, in fact, that there are too many bishops and that dioceses are too small, and that something needs to be done about that.

 

The Pastoral Model

However, it could be that instead, an opportunity is being thrust upon us. A return to large dioceses, with CEO-style bishops ensconced in headquarters remote from the Faithful, would be a return to the dysfunctional pattern of unfortunate former days. As all things start fresh with the new Province, this also can be a new model. Better said, it can be a return to a much older model, of the episcopate of the early Church. This was a pastoral model, not a corporate one. The bishop, presiding from his cathedra, was accessible to his flock. While there were often satellite congregations, they were not far away and were able to be in close touch, as the bishop operated as a senior pastor to the various presbyters, including those who served satellite locations. He would have been surprised to hear of bishops who were not pastors, who served no congregation but who sat in an office somewhere and administered things.

A minimum canonical size has been established for a diocese in ACNA of twelve parishes and a thousand faithful weekly participants on average. At that size, a dutiful bishop could be present frequently in the parishes, unless he was the sole pastor of one of them and could certainly know a significant number of the faithful personally. But should the diocese be more than four or five times the minimum canonical size, all but the most overwhelming bishops begin to be unable to be complete pastors to the diocese. The temptation is often to see more budget potential in a larger diocese, to think of the staff who could be employed centrally, the resources that could be gathered.

Yet the trade off is alarming. Extra staff and budget can in no way replace the bishop as pastor. Coming from a church with significant financial resources to a church with scant money around will no doubt be a shock to many. It is not simply a different take on theology happening here; it is the organizing of a different culture, a liberation from the view that clergy are a paid, professional group who run the church and speak for it, working full time to do not only their own ordained functions but often many jobs equally able to be performed by laity. It will mean for many a need to be bi-vocational, to function in life the same as the senior warden or choir director, making a living while serving the church instead of making a living from the church. Some will be upset by this. Orthodoxy, as any good thing, is the paradox of being priceless yet having a price to be paid. The bishop also may find no secure salary and need to deal with economic realities in his own life.

 

Bishops without Salaries

Having served as a bishop without salary and with responsibility for a parish, working for a diocesan who serves also without salary, I know the model works. There are clearly dioceses which can afford apaidbishop and even some staff to assist him. But that is not the essence of a diocese. A diocese is the gathering of the faithful in a particular place or for a particular mission. The bishop is chosen to be a pastor to those faithful. He can do that better if there are not too many of them. If the diocese grows a lot, it can become two dioceses, but it can never afford to be a diocese without a pastor, regardless of how effective a CEO the bishop may be. Bishops, priests and deacons are not created as the result of career choices. They are vocations ordained to serve functions within the community of God. If they can be paid and if that makes them more effective, that is a good thing. If they cannot, they still can function capably while supporting themselves elsewhere. What we cannot afford is a Church of hired help, for "the hireling fleeth because he is an hireling and careth not for the sheep" ( St. John 10).

Thus, as we develop the models which will s erve us in the new Province and cast away the old, dysfunctional models, I would plead for a church of small dioceses, served by bishops who see themselves as pastors and who want to know their flocks. Through the misfortune of the grave disorders of the Episcopal Church, which have sent so many to seek another vehicle, a Spirit-filled fresh opportunity has presented itself to renew the episcopate among us, new wine in new wineskins following ancient authority and practice.

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