The Bishop Speaks of A Blessing Indeed
They called it the “Dog and Pony Show” in the olden days. Those would be my days. It was the time when the final candidates, the persons in consideration for selection for the office of bishop, would gather and go around the diocese to be interviewed/examined by the clergy and lay persons who would be voting in the election convention.
The formats tended to vary a bit with each place, but the action was pretty much the same. Sometimes the candidates would be put into a waiting area and then examined one at a time. Sometimes there could be several rooms provided and all of the candidates would move from room to room. The clergy and the laity of the diocese were always separated. Of course, there were other ways to do it.
The outcome was always the same. The candidates would leave exhausted thinking the whole thing would probably be like a turkey shoot. We sometimes blame the outcome on the Holy Spirit. I was always a little light on that idea because there were some pretty nasty things which could go on in this process and some very narrow thinking.
My belief was/is that God will take whomever is elected and try to put a blessing on that person with the hope that it would do some good and further the kingdom. Some people do not seem to take that blessing and end up making some gross mistakes.
Now things have been cleaned up a bit and we have something called a “Walk About”. It has pretty much the same type of people making the decisions and they still ask the same old questions, but it seems a little more organized.
So, I have a friend who is now involved in such a process and I am seeking a way to be helpful.
Lo and behold, I found a 20 year old VHS tape of the “Dog and Pony Show” made when I was being considered by the diocese where I eventually was elected and served for 13 years before my retirement. It showed each of the candidates being interviewed (questioned) by both clergy and laity. Each person had 30 minutes with the clergy and 30 minutes with the laity. I wondered if this would be helpful to my friend. I had never watched it so I did and it took me a little over two hours. I decided to share some of this with my friend.
One of the things which surprised me was that the candidates were not all asked the same questions. I kind of wanted to check in with the Holy Spirit on that one, but I did not know what to ask.
There were always a few questions on youth ministry, church growth, deacons, your spiritual life, and such. There were other questions which were always asked by the same persons, but not every one was asked these questions.
Then there were the rest of the questions. They were always there and always asked by the same persons and asked of each candidate. This was 20 years ago, but I have a hunch you might be able guess these topics.
Always at the top was “Would you, as the bishop, ordain a practicing homosexual?” Followed by “Would you allow same sex marriage in this diocese?”
In my process two of the candidates said “No!”. The others were a little more open to change, but recognized the church was not yet of one mind in these matters. No one mentioned we have been doing that ordination thing for a long time without making a lot of publicity about it.
In any case, the person asking these questions was pretty sure the correct answer was “No”.
I came away from my video screening and I just sat down and said, “Oh, dear. We have come a long way in the last 20 years”.
Now, for the rest of the story. The next day, which is today, my wife and I joined several hundred others at our church (where we have no status except as parishioners) to attend “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant”.
This was a remarkable and wonderful service. It was very dignified with beautiful music, and a great sermon. The couple has been together 20 years. They have longed for the Church's blessing on their lifelong covenant. There was a powerful sense that what we were doing was living out our commission to “respect the dignity of every human being”.
I have long believed the church should not be in the marrying business. That is a matter of the state. It is a matter of establishing order to the action of inheritance. It is the creation of a contract. It is the business of business, but it is not our business. I know many will hate these words and probably me for saying them. Go for it. I believe this is the truth.
The church is in the blessing business. That is what we do and we do it well. We, the church, must be the place for people who particularly desire to receive the blessing of their relationship. This is not about a contract, it is life. It is beautiful and it is open to everyone.
I saw hundreds of people blessed this day. The couple did not make a contract, they made a promise and we made it with them. We will love one another.
A Blessing Indeed