One bishop without a home, and one bishop with two

In January, there was an odd story from the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan: Precious Omuku, an Anglican priest from Nigeria who currently works in Lambeth Palace for Archbishop Justin Welby, was made a bishop in ECSSS.abpandbps

He’s not a diocesan bishop, but has rather a roving, ambassadorial role.

According to the Revd. Dr. Joseph Bilal, a board member of the Justice, Peace and Reconciliation of the Province of ECSS& S, Bishop Omuku will continue to work in his base at the Lambeth Palace as special adviser of Archbishop of Canterbury on Anglican Communion Affairs. “He will not necessarily be move out from his base at Lambeth Palace, but he will continue with his duties as adviser of the archbishop of Canterbury on Anglican Communion affairs. He will be keenly involved on issues of sustainable development, justice, peace and reconciliation in South Sudan and Sudan,” Dr. Bilal explained.

What’s odd about this? It’s not odd that a person ordained in one country became a bishop in another country. (The bishop of Waikato in New Zealand was ordained in the Church of England. Desmond Tutu was once the bishop of Lesotho.) It’s not odd that a bishop is doing a non-diocesan role. (The bishop of Algoma is about to become the principal of a theological college. There is a “bishop at Lambeth.“)

The oddity has something to do with place.

For Anglicans, geography shapes the church. The Church of England, for instance, divides the entire country into parishes, groups parishes into deaneries, deaneries into archdeaconries, archdeaconries into dioceses, and dioceses into provinces. The bishop is the head of a diocese and an archbishop is the head of a province. Other Anglican churches do things in various different ways but all still maintain in one way or another that a bishop is linked to a particular place, called a see. You can give up that see later on and still remain a bishop, but to become a bishop you need to be linked to a place.

So it’s odd, then, that the church in the Sudans should consecrate someone to be a bishop without a place but rather with a role.

I probably would have let this oddity pass me by except I then read another odd story about bishops and place recently: the suffragan bishop of the Diocese of Virginia, Susan Goff, has now become an assistant bishop in the Diocese of Liverpool. The oddity here also has to do with place: a bishop is to be linked to a place, as Bishop Goff, already is, but it is to be one place. Now Bishop Goff is a bishop connected to two places. I have no doubt that the link between Liverpool and Virginia is strong and important to both dioceses. I want to take nothing away from that relationship. But in ecclesiological terms, this particular move doesn’t make much sense. (And, indeed, Bishop Goff had to post a video clarifying that she’ll only be in Liverpool up to two weeks a year.) To ask one particular question: who is Bishop Goff’s metropolitical authority? Is it the Archbishop of York (through the bishop of Liverpool), as it is for other bishops in the northern province of the C of E? Or is it the rather diffuse metropolitical authority of the Episcopal Church (through the bishop of Virginia), as it is for other Episcopal bishops?

The church is full of oddities, ecclesiological and otherwise, and I’m usually content to let them go unremarked upon. But these particular oddities reveal some deeper confusion in our Anglican thinking about bishops. There are many voices (with which I heartily agree) that tell us about the importance of all orders of ministry, about the need for priests and lay people to take an active role in governance and decision-making, and so forth. In the Anglican tradition, bishops are not the sole locus of authority. Readers of this blog and my books will know how frequently I have nattered on about the importance of involving more voices in determining the direction of the church, rather than just those that wear purple shirts.

Yet at the same time we have this fixation on bishops: who they are, what they do, what they say. We develop fancy ways of referring to them (+ or ++, which is an oddity for another time). We struggle to call them by their first names. We surround their visits with a kind of aura. The result of all this is that we are developing this unstated assumption that the only things that matter in the church are what bishops say. There’s no reason that ECSSS could not have appointed a priest or lay person as its roving ambassador. If the Diocese of Liverpool wanted to cement its ties with Virginia, the bishop could have made a priest or lay person from Virginia a canon in his cathedral. But in each case, it was decided the role needed to be filled by a bishop—a response to and a furthering of this over-emphasis on episcopal ministry. And that emphasis has real world impacts, not least the proliferation of bishops and dioceses in a church like ECSSS so that ever-smaller regions of the country can feel like they have an adequate voice at the table.

If you’ve read this far, then you’re probably as far into the weeds of Anglican ecclesiology as I am. These situations are not the most pressing issue facing the church or the world. But they are odd. And in their oddity, they reveal a rather worrisome trend in the life of our churches.

A rare event in the life of the church

The Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania on Saturday elected Canon Audrey Scanlan their next diocesan bishop. Well done them!

Her election made me start looking into statistics about episcopal elections. Here’s what I found.

  • Canon Scanlan is the first woman elected a diocesan bishop in the Episcopal Church since 2011.
  • In those four years, there have been 17 other elections for diocesan bishop, which have all elected a man. (This count may be slightly off, as the list I’m using is the super-helpful Wikipedia page “Succession of American Episcopal Bishops,” which lists by consecration date, not date of election.)
  • In that time, there have been women elected as bishops, but they are suffragen bishops.
  • By my count, Canon Scanlan will be the fourth female diocesan bishop currently serving in one of the church’s 100+ dioceses. (I count El Camino Real, Indianapolis, and Washington as dioceses with elected women diocesans.)
  • To my knowledge, there is no great difference in the number of men and women being ordained or in the number of male and female priests that would explain such a huge discrepancy in the House of Bishops.

Diocesan bishops are the one who chair important committees, exercise consent over the election of new bishops, and generally set a tone for the way the church goes. I hope it is painfully obvious how important it is that there be a full complement of women in their ranks.

Canon Scanlan is highly regarded and, by all accounts, the diocese made an excellent choice. But, guys, we’ve got a long way to go.

C of E vs. TEC

English bishop Nick Baines has posted about the differences between the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and the Church of England. After a year in the C of E, I thought I’d do the same from the perspective of an American in England, with the proviso that I am writing in broad generalities and, of course, from my own experience of the church.

  • In England, it is quite common to have baptisms outside the regular Sunday-morning service. In fact, I’d say this is when the majority happen. People request a “private” baptism. Often, huge numbers of friends and family attend these services. This takes place without a Eucharistic service. All of these things are exceptionally rare in the United States. I have very mixed feelings about the English practice.
  • Clergy stipends are standardized across dioceses in the Church of England. That means what a vicar of a hugely successful parish gets paid is not different from what the vicar of a struggling, multi-point benefice down the road gets paid. This is hugely different from the U.S. where one’s compensation is tied to the size of one’s church. I have this sense in the C of E that there is less ladder-climbing and competition among clergy, and more collegiality. I like it. For one thing, it ensures rural ministry is given adequate attention.
  • I came to England as a skeptic of Establishment and especially of the parish system, whereby every square inch of the country is under the care of some priest somewhere. But it is quickly growing on me. The default orientation of clergy here is towards their entire community, and not just towards that portion of it which darkens their doors on Sunday morning. There are American clergy who have this orientation too, of course, but I don’t get the sense it as widespread there as it is here. Here, it just has to be. Every soul in the parish is in your cure.
  • One result of the parish system is that priests mostly live where their people do—no matter if the socio-economic background of the parish is such that an educated professional might not usually chose to live there. In the United States, I know lots of commuting priests. There are fewer here.
  • In England, dioceses are larger (in terms of number of clergy and parishes, not geographic size, of course), which means bishops are more distant from their people, their ordinands, and their clergy. What’s more, to the best of my knowledge, there is no canonical requirement for a bishop to visit his parishes. In the American church, bishops have to visit every parish once every three (I think) years. Bishops (and archdeacons) only visit parishes when invited. This only makes the bishop seem more distant, if the only time you have seen him (and it is, sadly, only a him) is when he is presiding in his finest vestments in his ancient and towering cathedral.
  • The Church of England strikes me as much more heavily bureaucratic than the American church. I’m not quite sure how to illustrate that claim, but I think it has to do with Establishment and the larger size of the church relative to the population of the country.
  • On the other hand, the C of E has a pretty good system of raising up lay ministers—readers, licensed lay ministers, etc.—that some American dioceses could really learn from.

I’m sure there’s more, but those are a few that stick out. I’ve spent lots of time with the church in places like Nigeria, Sudan, China, Ecuador, and others, and know what it’s like to be in a church that challenges all my assumptions. But I don’t think I expected quite so many major differences between the American and English churches. And I’m sure there’s much more to learn in the years to come!

UPDATE: I realize I didn’t write a thing about Common Worship and the 1979 Book of Common Prayer! Will have to be a separate post altogether.

The Power of Establishment

On Monday, I did something I rarely do: I read The Daily Mail, one of England’s leading newspapers (by sales). It’s a tabloid that makes it money by plastering screaming (and arguably distorting) headlines across its pages.

I read the paper because a) it was in a waiting-room I was in and b) the front-page headline was about Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury, and a letter he (and about 40 other bishops) signed opposing the government’s proposed changes to welfare. The article (and the accompanying op-ed column) was not positive about the archbishop’s move. Welby himself thoughtfully responded on his blog.

Leaving aside the merits of the dispute (which, as a non-voter in this country, I don’t entirely understand but on the surface it seems Welby et al. have a point), let’s talk about the media coverage. England is supposed to be an ever-increasingly secularized country, with fewer and fewer people attending church and fewer and fewer people believing in God. So why all the attention for a letter the archbishop signed?

For me, it’s a reminder of the power of Establishment: no matter what people might think about religion in England, the Church of England still has a privileged role. When its leaders speak, they get attention. Not always, and not as much as they would like, I am sure, but attention nonetheless. As I read about this debate, I am reminded of bishops in some African countries I’ve visited, whose public utterances are closely watched. When I was in Nigeria, bishops (of a number of different denominations) regularly featured in news reports. Ditto for South Sudan.

At the same time as this flare-up over the bishops’ poverty letter in England, the American House of Bishops released a letter about gun violence. Also this week, some faith leaders—including Episcopalians—have spoken out against the proposed Republican budget. I will be stunned if any of these statements makes the cover of any major newspaper in the United States, or is even mentioned. That’s not how the media market works in the United States. Katharine Jefferts Schori and American Episcopal bishops are not media figures in the way English bishops are. (A few have succeeded in getting into the news cycle with statements about same-sex marriage, but these are exceptions that prove the rule.)

All of which is to say what I’ve said many times on this blog in one way or another: context matters. Anglicans around the world minister in a huge variety of contexts that shapes their actions and statements. We do well to remember that.

A collegial episcopacy

One interesting aspect of the dispute between the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of South Carolina is that it has largely been conducted between two people: Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop, and Mark Lawrence, the once and current bishop of South Carolina. Sure, Andrew Waldo of Upper South Carolina has been involved as well, but it all seemed to revolve around two people.

That may be what the canons call for (and it may not—like everything else in this mess, canonical process is in dispute) but it seems like a mistake. One of the gifts the Anglican/Episcopal churches have given to the catholic church is a collegial understanding of the ministry of bishops. Bishops make decisions best when they make them together. (Notice that doesn’t mean all the decisions bishops make are right.) This is why things like the Lambeth Conference and the various houses of bishops of the various provinces of the Anglican Communion are important. This collegiality of bishops is part of the larger process of synodical governance, in which bishops, priests, deacons, and lay people come together to discern where God is leading the church.

Events in South Carolina have moved so quickly that the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church has not had a chance to weigh in. Bishops last met in July and won’t meet again until the late winter. But surely, given the contested theological, ecclesiological, and canonical issues, their thinking is important. Instead, the actions of essentially two people have resulted in a major Episcopal Diocese losing the majority of its members.

I don’t put much faith in petitions but there’s a new one floating around online about the South Carolina situation that laments the situation and calls for it to be resolved without litigation. The reason I signed it is that I was attracted by this line:

We furthermore implore the House of Bishops – as guardians of our faith and common life – to take counsel with one another as a body; to seek, alongside other leaders of our Church, a new application of the discipline of this Church that will build up the body of Christ in South Carolina and The Episcopal Church.

I’m not saying that the input of the House of Bishops will “fix” things. I may be completely overstating the significance of collegiality. But I like the way it echoes Jesus’ teaching on conflict resolution in Matthew 16. And given the warm feelings everyone seemed to have at last summer’s General Convention and how everyone was getting along, surely the wisdom of this body might be of use in this situation?

So read the petition. And then think about signing it.

Gasp! He talks about Jesus!

One of the things I noticed about Archbishop of Canterbury-select Justin Welby is that in his announcement tour on Friday, he talked about Jesus a lot. There were multiple references in the press conference and various interviews to “the good news of Jesus Christ.”

Now, to point out that a bishop talks about Jesus might not seem like the most noteworthy event. But it’s striking how frequently it has been mentioned in the press accounts. For instance, the Guardian:

Constitutional convention also mostly stops archbishops from talking about Jesus in public. No one seems to have told this one.

The Mail—not admittedly the best source—had a similar sentiment in a headline:

Not your average Archbish! Not only does he actually believe in God, but the new Archbishop of Canterbury is the son of a bootlegger who was Vanessa Redgrave’s lover

(This is more than modestly unfair to the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who believes deeply in God and talks a lot about Jesus. Sometimes, though, it take a little while to realize that’s who he’s talking about.)

One thing I am learning in the Church of England is that there is actual debate about how overt clergy can be about their faith—that is, how much they can talk about Jesus. At a meeting I was at the other day, one priest said that in her marriage preparation, she didn’t want to give the couple anything that was “too Christian.” This came as a bit of a shock to me and is, perhaps, a sign of the ways in which Britain is farther down the secularization path than the United States is. (I’ve been chronicling some of those points in my Death of Christian Britain series of posts.)

On the other hand, back in April, I was noting the ways in which the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church went a whole interview without mentioning Jesus.

In every market, competitors are always on the lookout for the thing that will distinguish them from their competitors and make them stand out. Our world has a pretty crowded marketplace of ideas right now. Call me silly, but I think talking about Jesus—the one idea that Christians have that no one else does—is one way to stand out. We still need to answer the question of what the good news is. But for now, I’ll be content with an archbishop who can talk about Jesus—even if it is depressing that that alone is noteworthy.

The curious case of the bishop who didn’t celebrate the Eucharist

Here’s a picture of the Rt. Rev. Stephen Conway, the bishop of Ely in the Church of England.

By chance, I’ve been to two services in the past week at which he’s presided: one, a re-dedication of a refurbished church, the other, the installation of a new rector.

What was interesting to me is that at neither service did Bishop Stephen celebrate the Eucharist. I can’t remember the last time I saw an American bishop conduct a service at which he or she did not celebrate the Eucharist.

I was reminded of a comment my (English) liturgy professor once made in class: the American church, he said, had a case of “Eucharistic inflation.” That is, we celebrated the Eucharist at every possible juncture. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer makes it the “principal” service on Sundays and that thinking has spread to lots of other services such as, for instance, re-dedications and installations.

There are very good theological reasons for doing so and I do not for a minute want to minimize the significance of the Eucharist. Nor do I want to suggest that the Eucharist is not an important part of my (daily) devotional life. However, it occurred to me that if Episcopalians celebrated the Eucharist less, we might not be in such a knot about communion and baptism. We might also be able to lift up the many other significant services that form our life of prayer together. It seemed perfectly appropriate at the installation not to celebrate the Eucharist. There were many members of the community there—including the mayor and several other secular representatives—who were not necessarily religious types.

Perhaps the conversation about communion and baptism is, inter alia, a chance to think about opportunities not to celebrate communion and who we include—and who we exclude—when we do and when we don’t. What would Eucharistic deflation look like?

After all, if a bishop can happily conduct services without celebrating the Eucharist at every turn, can’t we learn something from that?

Lessons from the Church in Wales

The meeting was notable for the number of contributions from members with a common message: “The Church cannot go on doing the same things in the same way; some things need to change and we are open to – and indeed encourage – that possibility.

Sound like a familiar sentiment? But rather than being from the just-concluded General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the sentence is how the new Review of the Church in Wales begins. The Welsh church commissioned the report two years ago and it was released earlier this week.

On the assumption that the Episcopal Church—which just created a super-committee to consider restructuring—has something to learn from our Welsh sisters and brothers, I had a look through the report.

The report spends a lot of time calling for larger Ministry Areas—something like deaneries, though it is careful not to call them that—in which the lead pastors would be both ordained and lay. “A radical change of perspective is needed,” the authors write, “from parish to a much larger area, and from a single priest, to a team with different gifts.” (p. 8) I think the report is to be commended for so highlighting the role of lay people in ministry. The call to move to the larger Ministry Areas is a sign of the straits the church is in that it feels it can’t keep the close connection to communities the parish system gives it.

Given the recent focus of this blog, the report’s commentary on ordination training was interesting, particularly the way in which it upholds residential training as a part of such training, even if combined with non-residential portions (p. 14). The report also acknowledges the increased need for non-stipendiary clergy (p. 17). We call them “bivocational” clergy in the U.S. but the idea is the same. Clergy need to start thinking about income sources independent of the church. The report suggests the church in a few years think about moving from six dioceses to three (p. 19). Since you need to have four dioceses to stay a province of the Anglican Communion, I’m not quite sure what that would mean for the Church in Wales status but that doesn’t seem to have been considered by the authors. (Perhaps Wales could get around that by having some missionary areas?)

The most interesting aspect of the report is its identification of a problem in the culture of the Church in Wales: “namely the respect in which the office of Bishop is held in the Church in Wales and the authority which he wields by virtue of his office.” The authors write:

A number of people have said to us that the Church in Wales is still characterised by a culture of deference and dependence. This is a model of leadership that is carried over into the parishes, where so often the complaint has been that it is all about the clergy, that there is a culture of “Father knows best”. What this means in practice is that people look to the Bishops and clergy to take initiatives and it has been suggested to us that nothing much happens without this. (p. 6)

I’d say there’s an element of this in the American church as well, though less than there used to be, perhaps, and less so than there is in Wales. Moreover, I think many bishops in both Wales and the U.S. would be happy to give up some of this authority if only we’d take it from them. I hope that this Review, as well as whatever process the Episcopal super-committee goes through, can start a conversation on what we expect of bishops and how we remain true to our Anglican tradition while remaining able to relate to the challenges of our time.

One thing that is clear, however, is that no structural change can change this cultural situation the Review identifies. And so what I think this report reveals most fundamentally is that we can tinker—even quite dramatically—with the structure of the church but it all means nothing if the people in the church don’t change as well. It’s one thing to (unanimously) establish a committee to investigate church structure (and sing it into being). It’s quite another to look in the mirror and ask how—independent of any structural concerns—each member of the church can become a more missional follower of God in Christ.

And that, I think, is the ultimate disappointment of this Review. It doesn’t go far enough. Perhaps that’s what you get when your committee is composed of three well-connected church personages. I get the sense that the report’s authors simply decided to shrink and combine the church’s functions in response to its diminished financial position. The Review does a good job at the beginning and the end of identifying what the purpose of church is —”to proclaim the Gospel and draw people into the life of Christ” (p. 37)—but sometimes I struggle to see how that goal is connected to some of its recommendations.

The annex of this Review is fascinating: a summary of all the other structure reports in the last generation in the Church in Wales. And yet here is the church, again calling for review and reform. Will this report end up on a similar list at some point in the future? It might, if we put all our energy into changing structure and none into changing the disciples we are forming.

Memo to bishops-elect

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.

0 for 4

Four dioceses in the Episcopal Church today elected new bishops—a kind of Episcopalooza.

While I am sure the Holy Spirit was at work in each election, it’s striking to me that in not one election did a woman win. In fact, of the 18 candidates in the four elections, only five were women, one of whom had to be nominated by petition so the slate wouldn’t be all male. This is so striking to me because in my recently graduated seminary class, more than half of my classmates were women. What gives?

A friend directed me to the report from the Executive Council Committee on the Status of Women in the so-called Blue Book prepared in advance of this summer’s General Convention. The report begins on p. 623 of the Blue Book and this paragraph of the report seems to speak directly to today’s results.

The data reveals a growing possibility of a two-tiered clergy system emerging where one tier, largely male, engages in full time parish or diocesan ministry as a primary vocation, and the other, largely female, engages in part-time ministry within or outside the parish system. Compensation for those in the second tier is very often not commensurate with experience or hours committed and many times they work on a non-stipendiary (unpaid) basis. While we acknowledge the need for the church to reexamine assumptions about full time and bi-vocational ministry, we feel it equally important that such trends do not contribute to existing patterns of inequality, with a disparate impact on women. Along those lines, we also call for a reexamination of the canons regarding clergy canonical residence. For this emerging tier of largely female extra-parochial and assistant/associate priests, years and even decades can pass before one is granted residency. Without the ability to participate in the councils of the Church in the places where they minister, these priests cannot live into the vow they took at ordination that they take their place “in the councils of the Church.”

The report references Called to Serve, a newish report from the Church Pension Fund (and others) about female clergy. I haven’t made it all the way through yet but it’s well worth your consideration.

There are many reasons why the lack of female bishops is problematic but here are at least two. First, the church is a diverse body and needs all its members to function properly. That diversity needs to be true of all levels of the church. Second, the church is a counter-cultural society. Yet there are more female U.S. Senators than female Episcopal bishops, even though the Senate has long been a bastion of male (and other) privilege.

Clearly, there are all kinds of complicating factors here: vocational aspirations, family life, length of time in ministry, and so on and so forth. But the raw statistics of today’s elections—five candidates of 18; zero new female bishops in four dioceses—bears consideration and reflection, particularly by those of us who have not given serious attention to these issues in the past.

I’m not saying male bishops are a problem. It’s just that I think the House of Bishops could benefit from some gender (and other kinds of) diversity. People who look like me are already more than adequately represented in the House of Bishops.