The General Convention of the Episcopal Church will vote in the next day or two to confirm several new bishops who have been elected in the last four months. No doubt, these bishops will take office full of plans for their tenure and ready to implement them. As they do, I— presumptuously—have a thought for them.
The definition of the ministry of a bishop in the Episcopal catechism includes, “to act in Christ’s name for the reconciliation of the world and the building up of the Church.” Bishops are symbols of unity in the worldwide church, representing the universal to the local and the local to the universal.
My thought for the new bishops is that they be sure to use their time as bishop to establish solid companion diocese relationships. This is not, in itself, that surprising an idea. Many dioceses already have such relationships.
What I want to urge the new bishops to do, however, is to build relationships in unlikely places. As I found out in my travels last summer at this time, there are several dioceses in the church in Nigeria that are eager for American companions. (See my posts here and here for more on this.) I heard time and again how interested people in those dioceses were in establishing relationships that moved the Anglican Communion beyond the divisive rhetoric of the last decade or more. Without ignoring the differences of opinion, these people still wanted to establish companion relationships. And yet, no matter how hard they tried, the Nigerians I met were turned away. “Sorry,” they were told. “Our churches can’t be in relationship.”
These bishops-elect have an incredible opportunity to change the discourse in the Anglican Communion from one of fracture to one of unity. (I’ve written before about the importance of companion diocese relationships.) Just imagine what a companion relationship between an American diocese and a Nigerian one could mean for the Anglican Communion.
I imagine that being a bishop can be pretty overwhelming. I imagine it can be pretty easy to end up focused solely on the pressing concerns of the diocese. My hope for the new bishops—and all bishops—is that they’ll remember to work for the reconciliation of the world.
The church—and the world—needs it.