The history of the Office of the Presiding Bishop (PB) shows a variety of configurations and responsibilities as well as length of term. Currently the Presiding Bishop is the chief pastor and primate of the national church and its nine ecclesiastical provinces, is charged with responsibility for leadership in initiating, developing, and articulating policy and strategy, overseeing the administration of the national church staff, and speaking for the church on issues of concern and interest. She is the President of the House of Bishops and is elected by the church’s General Convention to serve a nine-year term. (from the Constitution and Canons) As the Task Force for Re-imagining the Episcopal Church (TREC) looks at various models of doing church, one wonders how our leadership model might change. As TREC reports to General Convention 2015 and we elect a new Presiding Bishop (or re-elect the current one), is this the time to make changes?
The Rt Rev. Daniel Martins considers this question at his blog, Confessions of a Carioca:
…it seems a propitious moment to suggest that a sensible way forward invites us to take a step “back to the future.” Until the 1940s, the Presiding Bishop was simply the senior active member of the House of Bishops. Upon assuming the office, he held onto his day job as the actual bishop of an actual diocese. He wasn’t in any substantial way a figurehead and CEO. That is no longer permissible under the canons as they are presently written. But we can change that.
…we could elect a Presiding Bishop without requiring that person to resign his or her see in order to take up the new position. Of course, we would need to re-write the canonical job description to make this practically feasible. Removing the requirement that the PB visit every diocese during a nine-year term would be the major component of this revision. Removing the expectation that the Presiding Bishop serve as chief consecrator every time we ordain a new bishop would be another big piece. It would probably also be necessary to come up with a way of aiding the diocese whose bishop is elected in calling a suffragan or assisting bishop to take up some of the load.
In response to Martins’ blog, the Rt. Rev. Pierre Whalon, Bishop in Charge of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, writes:
The provinces that do not have independent Primates either have a rotating presidency, like Jerusalem and the Middle East, or else invest primacy in a particular diocese, like Canterbury. None of the other provinces have as many dioceses as we do per capita, on the other hand, which makes presidency much more complicated.
And would any diocese be willing to have a suffragan in charge (something I know about) imposed on it?
For me the question remains, what are the needs of the dioceses they cannot meet for themselves? Answering that will then suggest a path that will blend new ideas on organization and communication tools with ways we have been church before, “bringing out of our storehouse treasures both old and new”.
George Clifford reflects on the office and the future here.. Clifford offers a model based on Jesus:
Jesus provides a role model for inspirational Christian leaders that we would do well to emulate:
He had clarity of vision and purpose. He came to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind. Through prayer and time alone, he maintained his focus and strength in the face of adversity.
He embodied courage. He unflinchingly faced an entrenched power convinced that it could coopt or destroy him.
He was a dynamic, effective communicator. Crowds of thousands of spiritual seekers flocked to hear his message of God’s life-giving love.
He incarnated charisma. People – Jews and Gentiles, children and women and men, the religious and the secular – in their relationship with him, experienced God’s transformative love.
Finally, he inspired others to join him. He saw people’s gifts, recruited the willing, and shaped them with love. Then the gospels report that Jesus sent out the twelve and the seventy; Matthew ends his gospel with Jesus exhorting his followers to change the whole world. Jesus ministered to his followers that they, in turn, might embrace and join him in mission
Why did the church change the role in the 1940s?
Is there a desire in the church for contact with with leadership that is chosen by the whole church? (Each House of General Convention elects its own presiding officer. The election of the Presiding Bishop must be affirmed by the House of Deputies.)
What are the essentials of the Office of Presiding Bishop for the Church? Is the administrative portion more important than the role of presence? Which of course leads back to who has authority in between General Conventions? Executive Council? PB? Chief Operating Officer – all of which seems very unclear. (as one person said – if you did an organizational chart of the church – it would look more like a Picasso painting).
Would General Convention make the changes to the canons that would be needed?
What are your thoughts?