Even as I type this, preparations are underway for the consecration of two new bishops within the International Old Catholic Churches. As one of those who is to be consecrated, I have had much to think about and ponder over during the past several months. A few of my closest friends are bishops, and I have been party so some of the headaches and heartbreaks, the joys and sorrows, and the overwhelming sense of responsibility that they have experienced. I’ve witnessed many of the duties, both pleasant and otherwise, that they have performed. I have been made aware of many of the responsibilities that the title ‘Bishop’ brings with it.
These things, as well as the notions of my own floating around inside my head, have made me wonder, “What, exactly, do people expect from a bishop? What will my people expect of me as a bishop?” “Can I do whatever it takes? Can I be whatever it takes?”
So, I asked “my people”, those closest to me in the church, and the members of our Dominican Order. The responses I got from almost everyone I surveyed were overwhelmingly similar. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you, then, these responses, and it is here we begin…
bish•op [bish-uh p] noun 1. a person who supervises a number of local churches or a diocese, being in the Greek, Roman Catholic, Anglican, and other churches a member of the highest order of the ministry.
2. a spiritual supervisor, overseer, or the like.
What Is Expected of a Bishop
A bishop is a servant, not just of God, but also of the clergy, of the church, and of the people in their Diocese and beyond. Apart from the administrative side of the role, which is important, a bishop should act as a “Shepherd to the shepherds” in the priesthood, the Diaconate, and also to any laity they may have in their Diocese and the church as a whole. They should be there to gently guide, advise, and support their clergy team members, and to help to maintain good morale in the team and the whole church, ensuring that the true works of God can be seen by all. The Bishop is the overseer, teacher, and encourager for these works.
A bishop is loyal and dedicated, but also human. He is available to his people, is humble, honest, and willing to admit to being capable of making mistakes. As such, he should be able and willing to ask forgiveness when those mistakes are made.
A bishop must be firm, but gently so. As a loving parent disciplines a child with fairness and firmness, so much more so a bishop. A bishop must be a leader, as well as a natural born teacher. While obedience is expected by a bishop, that bishop must be the type of person that is obeyed willingly. If a bishop asks for his clergy to work hard, then the bishop must be an example and work harder. They are to be an inspiration to the priests under them and a confidant to their superiors over them. They are entrusted both with an “academic” sense of guiding priests in the ways and means of, not only the Church, but of basic theological doctrine and interpretation. They must know, or at least be familiar with, canon law. They must be able to explain theological points, and explain how those points are applicable in day to day situations. They must live the theology they teach and follow the canons they uphold. They also are required to insure the more mundane aspects of Church operation, making certain that forms are filled out, filed, and that all “T’s” are crossed.
A bishop must be worthy of respect, and of the faith and trust of those he or she leads. The bishop is to be a great motivator, and an example to his clergy and people. As a priest seeks to shepherd his congregation and instill in them the message of Christ, so too must a bishop be the shepherd of the priests. This is reflected most commonly in the practice that a priest, in need of confession makes that to his bishop. This is most easily done, as it is understood the person would not be a bishop if they were not recognized with the faith and trust in them, not only of the Church but of each other.
Essentially, a Bishop is the Team Leader of a church team who all work together for the Glory of God. This does not mean, however, that God classes or loves them anymore than He classes and loves all his children. Whereupon I was instructed as to what a bishop is not:
To contrive to be an abbess or an abbot in the Benedictine Order, or to work diligently for that office, is to comment the gravest of faults, according to the List of Grave Faults. Likewise, to contrive to become a bishop or yearn for that office is equally wrong, and those who do so are undeserving of the office and incapable of performing the real duties of a bishop. These people lack the necessary empathy and love required to perform the duties of the office with any sincerity. These are the ones who see their episcopacy as nothing more than a foundation from which to build power and abuse. Good bishops spend their time in the spreading of their knowledge and experience, whilst a poor or “bad” bishop will rather spend his or her time in administering discipline and securing their own futures at the expense of subordinates.
It is totally wrong and an abuse to the Glory of God for a bishop to use their “title” to appear higher or better than others, or to strut about and act like they are God Himself, merely because they think the title of “bishop” merits such. A bishop should always treat their clergy with love and respect and to acknowledge their roles in the Holy Church as fellow servants of God, and NOT to unfairly chastise or use their positions to hurt others and ruin lives, either of clergy or anyone else.
A bishop is not to be a dictator who expects his clergy to act as his servants, and a bishop should not give orders as such, simply for the joy of doing so. While the bishop is the ultimate authority in a diocese, he or she should govern that diocese with love, and remember that much more is gained by asking rather than by commanding.
Finally, I was told that the one main goal any bishop should have is the growth of the church within his diocese and secondly, ecumenical outreach, with acting as an arbitrator among the diocesan clergy coming in as third in importance.
Whilst there is no checklist that I have found that lists the requirements and duties expected of a bishop, after talking with people, I feel at least a little more prepared. However, that person, “The Right Reverend Michael Beckett, Bishop of the IOCC Diocese of St. Dominic,” is yet to be born. Will he be what his people want and need? Will he be the servant that he feels he should be? The answers to those questions are yet to be answered, but in the meantime, I heartily desire that you all pray for me.
Prior Beckett is the Prior of the Order of Preachers, Independent in the Unified Old Catholic Church. He and his husband live in South Carolina with their two lovely canine children.