And so, several days ago, I was consecrated a bishop. Since that time, many of you have asked, “When are you going to change your Facebook name?” “What do I call you? How do we address you? What is your correct title?” I want to take a moment to answer these questions, but in a few minutes. First of all, allow me to explain for my (many) non-liturgical friends, just what a bishop is, and why is being a bishop a big deal.
When one is consecrated a bishop, one has “come to the fullness of the priesthood.” Our bishops have Apostolic Succession, which means we can trace our lineage via episcopal laying on of hands, based on the New Testament, which implies a personal apostolic succession (from Paul to Timothy and Titus, for example). Other documents of the early Church, especially the Epistle of Clement, discuss Apostolic Succession. In this context, Clement explicitly states that the apostles appointed bishops as successors and directed that these bishops should in turn appoint their own successors; given this, such leaders of the Church were not to be removed without cause. Further, proponents of the necessity of the personal apostolic succession of bishops within the Church point to the universal practice of the undivided early Church (up to AD 431), before being divided into the Church of the East, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.
In our bishops, we see our shepherds. Since Christ gave the Apostles His authority, bishops who are consecrated via Apostolic Succession are direct representatives of Christ’s authority. This is why, in many liturgical faith traditions, one bows or genuflects to a bishop, and why bishops are to be held in great respect.
Is everyone who is made a bishop worthy of that office? NO. Unfortunately there are those who have disgraced the faith and trust put in them at their consecrations, and they will be held accountable one day. Many are they who have let “being a bishop” go to their heads, and who are convinced that they are “better than” and deserving of great homage and respect. These are they who insist on being addressed as “Bishop So and So” or “Your Grace” or “Your Excellency.”
These people tend to forget that respect must be earned. These people forget that our Christ, whom we as bishops are to represent, washed feet, did the job of a servant, a slave. As our Jesus humbled Himself to die for us, so we must humble ourselves to live in service to those given to our charge. We are to remain “foot washers.” Yes, we have authority. But let us not forget that we are to temper that authority with love, with patience, and with gentleness. Yes, we are to lead. But let us remember that we are to lead by example, never forgetting the example that Jesus, the Christ, set for us.
Now, to answer the questions, what to call me? Ya know, if you feel that you must and should call me “Bishop Michael,” that’s great. If you feel you want to continue to call me “Father Michael,” then that’s great, too. One of my very dear friends settled in her mind that I should be “Father Bishop” which I thought was a pretty creative way to settle the question. To still others, I remain as I always was, Myke or Michael. What do I prefer? It matters not a whit to me. What does matter, is that I serve my God, and that the Light of Christ is evident in my life. What matters to me is that those given to my charge love and trust me, and feel that they can call on me, knowing that I am here for them, that I love them, and that they are ever in my prayers. Does it matter to me what you call me? Nope. What matters to me is that you feel you CAN call me and call on me. Make sense?
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.