The (Sometimes Contradictory) Wisdom of Bishops, Part I

And now comes the time that tempts to speculation.  Who are the candidates?  Who will be on the slate?  Who are the likely and who are the unlikely?  How can we show ourselves ‘in the know’?   Who can we guess?  Who can we gossip about? Names fly.

Speculation is useless, of course, but hard to resist.  In fact, speculation is worse than useless–it trains the heart and mind to expect the least or the worst that the mind can imagine.  In place of training one’s expectation to figments of imagination or imagining in the pride of one’s heart, we offer an opening for hope.  Here is the choice to think on the words of the 22 bishops who were consulted during the period of the Search Committee’s reference checks.

Not only do the bishops offer helpful and enlightening observations about the work of the episcopacy, their words are sharp comments on being a diocese, on calling, on being in relationship, on seeing ourselves honestly so we can discern our choices and our purposes as we sort out the differences of our own wants and desires from God’s leading and God’s calling for us here and now.  Take time as you read their remarks, to think about our diocese and measure your own leadership experiences in the light of the bishop’s insights.

We will be posting the wisdom of bishops in several different segments.  This is Part I of III.


What is the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania looking for?

–You know, you are asking your next bishop to be an interim.  Well, maybe you don’t think you are, but you will be essentially electing an interim, given all your problems, issues, and the much too short provisional time you’ve given yourselves. So you may not know it, but you’ll be having an interim.

What the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania should be looking for

–I’d suggest you do some research into the criteria of leaders who are capable of adaptive leadership.  You’ll want some basis for knowing whether the candidates are likely to burn out.  Most search committees–no, in my experience and research–all search committees proceed on the basis of useless and unnecessary information…..    The electorate is even less informed about what is really needed in candidates who will succeed.

–Anyone who is called into the process can be competent as bishop for a while.  The bottom line is, you can only trade on your competencies for a while.

–Ask your candidates how they care for themselves physically.  How they answer you is important.

–Look for candidates willing to reinforce their work in self-care.  No one else will do this for them.  



What Anyone Considering Candidacy for Bishop Needs to Know

–Everyone going into the episcopacy has, or should have, a growing edge.  She–or he–should know this place of growth, and should be open to the Holy Spirit presenting places and reasons to become more than one is, or had imagined ever being.  The request and demand of the Holy Spirit is a defining experience of the episcopacy.  Candidates ought to be aware of themselves enough to know the challenge is not a point of separation, but a point of growing–which isn’t a matter of the comfortable or the known.

–Being Bishop is frustratingly hard work for a leader to do.  The leader is best at it if that leader can articulate her–or his–own position and let others respond to it, without letting their reactions change his–or her–position.  This requires being able to articulate one’s own position with integrity and stay connected at the same time.  Any idiot can do one or the other.  The one you want is the one who can do both at the same time.

–Now we’re post-Christendom, it’s more important than ever to have the vision to be a new church in a new century.  It is much more important in a bishop to have vision than to have sympathy and attentive care for priests experiencing sorrows of lost past.  Your bishop should provide vision,  not get into the weeds.

You’ll want to listen for the sense that a leader can give of having a different narrative than the one the church is used to hearing, and telling.

–The goal of the episcopacy is not to keep churches in business but to help the faithful in God to participate in the mission of God.


Who is called to the episcopacy?

-Theoretically, any member of the bishop’s staff.  The office of the episcopacy belongs to the whole.  The staff is part and parcel of the bishop:  their vocation, their working at the diocesan level, is exercising the episcopate.

There are two kinds who become bishops:  either rectors and deans, or canons to the ordinary.  For the former, the growing edge is trying to transfer the skills of the parish into the breadth of the diocese.  For the latter, the growing edge is a little harder to see, I suspect:  they have a hundred ideas all ready to try.

Call?  I have a low view of call as it’s normally interpreted.  I don’t over-spiritualize it.  I view call as the lifelong vocation of any of us, and the number of tasks we do in service to that call are what we accept when we are asked to enter that work by others in the church, with discernment.  God’s call is not to be bishop, but to be a proclaimer of the Gospel.  The church decides how that service will be used.


Note:  Part II of The (sometimes contradictory) Wisdom of Bishops will be posted next week.