Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Bishop Speaks from the heart

Long ago (1992) and far away (Arizona), I became bishop of a diocese with 65 congregations and a lot of issues. I worked very hard and visited all of the congregations in one year as was expected of me. This required me to have more than one visit each weekend. Sometimes I had one visit, sometimes I had two visits and sometimes I had five visits. I was in congregations on Saturday and Sunday. I did confirmation in each of the congregations.

After that year, I was exhausted. I did it another year. After that year, I was exhausted and I did not like confirmation any longer. I would go to some churches and confirm 20 people, 50 people, 8 people, and sometimes 1 person. I thought there has to be a better way.

We began to do things which had not been done elsewhere. We reduced the size of the diocesan staff to 1 bishop, 1 Canon to the Ordinary, 1 archdeacon (a deacon), 1 secretary, 1 finance person, 1 communication person and 2 general staff persons to take care of the phones and assist others as needed. We eliminated 5 staff positions. I believed we were not responsible for doing things which congregations could do for themselves. We were there to serve the congregations.

We became stewards of the finances. I declared at the diocesan convention that we were going to tithe the diocesan budget. We were going to return 10% of all of the diocesan assessments back to the congregations. Most people thought it would never happen. I was determined that it would happen. We looked at some of the things we were doing as a diocese which could be done easily by congregations and we stopped doing them. There is more to this story, but for the sake of blog I will tell you that at the diocesan convention the next year we presented an envelope to each congregation at the offertory (we did not take an offering) which was 10% of what they had given to the diocese as assessment. We returned $140,000 and these people were stunned. The smallest check was $38 and the largest was $18,000.

From that moment on we were about the business of being different from any other diocese. It was not a competition. It was about freedom and excitement. It was about believing that anything we could dream, we could do. And we did it. If there is interest, I can share more in future blogs.

Now, back to confirmation. I told our clergy and congregations I was exhausted by the schedule and I intended to try something new. I asked if they would help me. The response was positive and we began to do regional confirmations. We started on the Saturday after Easter and concluded on the Saturday before Pentecost. They were big celebrations with hundreds of people. They knew it was something important. They knew they were part of something larger than their parish. They knew the reception after the liturgy was for them and not the bishop. It was wonderful. We did it for another 10 years.

The point is this. It is quite easy for us to find reasons why we cannot do something. It is easy to keep our heads down and tread through life. It does not have to be that way.

My colleague, Gary, made a case for merging neighboring smaller dioceses under a single bishop. The first comment I heard was that it cannot be done because the bishop could not go to all of the churches in a year.

It is not a requirement that the bishop is in every church every year. It is not a requirement that the bishop do confirmation every week. If we want to be a little frisky, we could even ask the bishops to vote to turn confirmation over to the clergy.

I will speak only for myself. I would vote to put confirmation in the hands of the clergy because it is not necessary for the bishop to do this. It is not admission to anything which requires those hands. As a matter of fact, it makes more sense to me to recognize the laying on of hands of the priest at baptism of a child or adult as being “the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ's Body, they Church and inheritors of the kingdom of God”. That is it.

This is no longer the entry into communion as is was in my life. We now say confirmation is a “sacramental rite” which is a mature commitment to Christ and the reception of “strength from the Holy Spirit through prayer and the laying on of hands by a bishop”.

There is no reason for us to think the Holy Spirit is only available from the bishop. I know we have always done it like this and I know lots of bishops really feel the need to have something which only they can do, but I must say, it does not make any sense and it does not make a bishop.

I know I have a different perspective than many bishops. I saw my role as being Teacher, Preacher, Evangelist, and Sign of Unity. That is what I chose to do and I let that lead all of my actions. I was never thought of as a leader among the bishops. I was never invited to say a prayer or lead a worship in the House of Bishops.

I had a wonderful time being bishop in a wonderful place. I have many bishop friends. But for now, I am just a blog guy with a sense of hope.


  1. fosurit61MobjjeAMEN!!!!!

  2. It almost sounds like a fable, “Long ago and far away…” a Bishop reduced staff positions on the premise that the Diocese was not responsible for doing things which congregations could do for themselves. A Bishop reduced Diocesan spending and returned dollars to congregations because most programs are more efficient and effectively done at the local level. A Bishop who saw his role as something other than an annual five hour visit to be a ‘Confirmation Machine.’ A Bishop who saw his role as Teacher, Preacher, Evangelist, and Sign of Unity, instead of benevolent dictator, super rector, and empire builder. Sounds like a fable but actually was true of one Bishop – pray that there will be more.

  3. Bob, you came of age in a time when empowerment meant leadership and management were to be kept as local and simple as possible. Begging to repeat myself, the mandate of MRI with its twenty year run of successful empowerment and transformation got replaced. Now another two decades later of the episcopacy as command and control, it is time for new vision of empowerment. That would be hopeful.

  4. Well said, Bishop. I have been arguing in favor of presbyteral confirmation since the prayer book study days that lead to the BCP 1979!

  5. This is your best blog Bob. This is an example of how bishops should act. The idea of returning money to congregations is a demonstration of the truth that mission can be done best at the local level. And I have been in favor of presbyteral confirmations since the subject was first considered at the 1970 general convention. Thank you for your example of a pastoral bishop who also understands his role as teacher and evangelist.

  6. I've been reading the comments on Facebook regarding this post. Don't know how to join it there (doesn't give the option since this is a blogger site), but stay tuned for a book I am working on: Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Theologies of Confirmation for the 21st Century due out spring 2014 from Church Publishing.

    Sharon Ely Pearson
    Christian Formation Specialist
    Church Publishing

  7. Thank you, Sharon. I will look forward to your book. Let me know if you ever need any more stuff. ;-)