Since we posted our initial FAQ, we’ve received some additional questions from the diocesan household about the role and responsibilities of a bishop. Here are our answers – keep the questions coming! Send us an e-mail and we’ll respond as quickly and clearly as we can.
Is the role of a bishop consistent from diocese to diocese?
While the general role of a bishop within The Episcopal Church is described in the Book of Common Prayer and the The Episcopal Church’s Constitution and Canons, the carrying out of that role in a specific day-to-day capacity naturally varies from diocese to diocese. (For example, the Bishop of New York has vastly different day-to-day responsibilities and context than does the Bishop of Eastern Oregon.)
Where can one find the role defined?
The Outline of the Faith provided by our Book of Common Prayer answers the general part of your question: “What is the ministry of a bishop?” in this way: “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.” (p. 855)
In the ordination service for a Bishop, the Book of Common Prayer also describes a Bishop’s general duties:
…is faithful in prayer, and in the study of Holy Scripture, in order to have the mind of Christ.
…boldly proclaims and interprets the Gospel of Christ, enlightening the minds and stirring up the conscience of the Bishop’s people.
…encourages and supports all baptized people in their gifts and ministries, nourishing them from the riches of God’s grace, prays for them without ceasing, and celebrates with them the sacraments of our redemption.
…shares with fellow bishops in the government of the whole Church; sustains fellow presbyters and takes counsel with them; guides and strengthens the deacons and all others who minister in the Church.
…is merciful to all, showing compassion to the poor and strangers, and defending those who have no helper.
Who will define the role specific to our diocese?
In October, we will begin Holy Conversations around our Diocese to listen for and to discern what specific expectations and day-to-day responsibilities we will have of our new Bishop, in addition to the more general expectations listed above. We will engage the people of our Diocese in asking who we are, what we need as a Diocese and in our individual congregations and ministries to advance our individual and collective mission, and what particular gifts, skills, and qualities we think we will need from a new Bishop to help us accomplish that mission. The insights gathered will be incorporated into the Diocesan Profile and will inform our discernment of nominees as we seek the best possible slate of three to five candidates that have the gifts, qualities, and skills to meet both the general expectations listed above and to meet the particular needs we highlight for our Diocesan context.
Once elected by the Diocesan Convention, the Standing Committee (as the elected governing board of the Diocese) will negotiate with the new Bishop-elect a Letter of Agreement, which will outline both her/his general responsibilities listed above along with any specific expectations and responsibilities for our Diocese that are articulated in the discernment process. The new Bishop is accountable to the Standing Committee for the way in which she or he fulfills both their general duties and specific responsibilities.
Where are and what are the qualifications for a bishop whether in general or specifically for our diocese?
The Episcopal Church has only a few required canonical qualifications for a person to be Bishop. He or she must be a priest in good standing in a province of the Anglican Communion, between 30 and 72 years of age, receive the consent of the majority of Standing Committees of The Episcopal Church, have the consent of a majority of Bishops with jurisdiction, and receive those consents from Standing Committees and Bishops within 120 days of his or her election.