August 2014

Bishops! Who needs them?

I write this the day after the General Synod of the Church of England voted to approve the appointment of women as bishops and the day before the announcement is made of the new Bishop of Hereford. So relief and excitement are just about equally balanced. I realise that some people will be disappointed that you cannot approve women bishops one day and appoint one two days later, but I fear the Church of England moves just a tad slower than that.

But why worry about who can be or who is the Bishop? In the four years since I was inducted here, the Bishop of Hereford has been to services here twice. And that is hardly surprising. There are 423 churches in the Diocese and a Bishop would need to be here for many a long year if he is to get round all of them.

But the Bishop’s job is far broader than going round to services. There are, inevitably, management issues and the Bishop has to spend acres of his time at meetings making sure that all aspects of the church in his Diocese are run effectively and properly and that the Diocese meets all of its regulatory requirements and that all aspects of its work are properly accounted for. That is - I hope - for any Bishop the boring part of the job.

Much more, the Bishop is responsible for the care of all the people in his Diocese - lay and ordained. In the BCP order for Holy Communion, when we pray for the ‘the whole state of Christ's Church militant here in earth’, we include the words ‘Give grace, O heavenly Father, to all bishops and curates, that they may both by their life and doctrine set forth thy true and lively word, and rightly and duly administer thy holy sacraments’. The phrase ‘bishop and curates’ does not exclude vicars: rather it underlines that anyone with an ordained role in a parish is holding the cure of souls in that parish on behalf of the Bishop. It is the Bishop who ultimately has the care of all people. yes, he will spend most of the time that he is allowed looking after his clergy – and in such a geographically widely spread Diocese as this with many clergy operating on their own in sprawling rural benefices, the weight of that task should not be underestimated. But ultimately the Bishop has the care of everyone in the Diocese as his main concern.

That is a massive task, and there are, of course, as already stated, all manner of managerial and administrative siren voices calling him away to spread sheets and power points and strategy sessions and other such joys. Let us all pray for our new Bishop that God will give him the strength and the vision to care for all his people and that all his people will support and care for him.