On Picking Prelates

The slate of candidates for the next Bishop of Springfield has been announced and what a large field it is—14 nominees in all. With a field that large it’s no surprise that there are some familiar names; one is even a commenter here.

I clicked into the responses for several of them; I appreciated that the one of the questions that nominees had to answer queried them about their personal Rule of Life. Bishops are, in theory, at the spiritual center of the dioceses. Yes, I imagine you’d want a capable administrator, but I’d very much want a person of prayer as well, especially one grounded in our Anglican tradition. I saw one commonality in their responses, that I’d like to lift up.

I had no idea that so many senior clergy have such a steadfast devotion to the Daily Office.

Because, in all honesty, I fail to see signs of it in our church at large.

Indeed, I’d think that if such a large sampling of senior clergy showed so many so devoted to it, there would be more evidence of it in the parishes and in the dioceses where they serve now. But there’s not.

With such a wonderful opportunity, though, to inquire of regular users of it, if I were at the walk-abouts, I’d have one question for each of the nominees: “So, in light of your Rule of Life, I was wondering if you could tell us what canticles you like to use on Wednesday mornings, and why?”

Come to think of it, it’s a question I wouldn’t mind putting to the whole House of Bishops…

19 thoughts on “On Picking Prelates

  1. Steph Houghton

    What makes me crazy is that the bishop of New York says he is devoted to the daily office. Why then I wonder is the office so neglected in his own cathedral. He has about 12 priests on staff at the cathedrall and a chior school on the grounds but they don’t have daily sung morning and evening prayer. In theory they have said evening prayer at 5 p.m. but I was there yesterday and no one had shown up at 5:15 to officiate so I went ahead and sang the office myself. This resulted in two people joining me. Niether of them clergy of the cathedral

  2. Derek Olsen

    That’s awesome, Steph—you go!

    Our cathedral offers *no* public Offices, though it sits next door to the diocesan offices. Surely you could find one priest or lay-leader to go over there…

    I realize that not many people would show up if it were offered at our cathedrals—but neither is that the point… The point is that it shows a strong signal to the rest of the diocese about what is important and what grounds us. It is enough that the diocese cares enough to make sure the Offices are said publicly even when most of us can’t be there physically.

    In a similar way, if I were answering these bishop questions, I’d state right off that I would institute a standing two hour Monday morning meeting for all clergy and licensed lay preachers on diocesan staff to go over the Scripture texts appointed for the next Sunday. Again, it’s about a public display of priorities; if clergy are “too busy” to study the Scriptures—particularly those they’ll be preaching to their congregations on—then there’s something seriously wrong and it ought to be modeled from the very top.

  3. Paul Goings

    Some years ago I formulated a principle which is apropos of what you’re discussing here, and that has never failed me yet.

    In dealings with the reverend clergy, when a clergyman wishes to express a strongly-held opinion about any topic at all to you, and if said clergyman is a professional entrusted with the rule and governance of a parish, he should first be asked what sort of service he provides on Sunday afternoon or evening. If the response is a puzzled look, as it virtually always is, then the opinion of said clergyman should be dismissed without further consideration, as it is almost invariably of no worth whatsoever.

    I was delighted to hear on Sunday from a friend who has been applying this principle in his own dealings with the clergy for a few years now, and he reports the same rate of success.

    This would, of course, be doubly true in the case of bishops.

  4. Christopher


    I too fail to see “fruit that bears repentance” in this regard. Lots of personal saying of the Office but little space made for this to happen in the parish. At least my cathedral does offer the Office, but besides the seminary here, no parish does on a regular basis.

    Were I bishop, I would ask for honesty without shame or blame if priests and deacons actually say the Office regularly. And if so, how about saying it publicly in your parish or setting up a rota of leaders to do so. If not, why not.

    On another note, have we ever had an episcopal candidate nominated from the laity or even diaconate? Is that even allowed? I know I could go check C&C, but I have jury duty today and just a few minutes off. Some of our most brilliant bishops in history, I might point, out were selected almost coming out of the font. As I look at our processes on the whole, it seems to me there is way too much careerism in our tradition both here and abroad.

    Personally, as much as it might be a theory of the episcopate, and not the only catholic one, I don’t look to our bishops as the spiritual center of our dioceses. Professionalization of our clergy is such that it is the rare priest in my experience to whom I would actually turn for spiritual care. My first question for a potential priest either in calling or when seeking care is Do you pray? The second is How?

  5. renpaul

    Christopher, you raised a point on direct ordination… and I think St Ambrose was not even into the font yet when he was sent in to quell a Milanese riot! At the moment, it is not permitted, but I have read a comment somewhere suggesting that the 1976 BCP already implies it in the services of ordination, and that the canons have not yet caught up with the liturgy.

    Yes, there really is too much careerism. How to solve that? Part of the problem is structural, and the rest is formational. I think a healthy reminder “not to conform to the ways of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds” ought to be broadcast every now and then.

    On the thread as a whole, I have a feeling that from where I sit, this is the case too over here, whether with Roman or Anglican clergy. I think the notion of “reading one’s breviary” may have taken root in your part of the world among the clergy. The obligation to publicly say the office as much as possible is not in the books in the US, but is still the case in England.

  6. Chris T.

    Renpaul, unless I’m very much mistaken, Christopher is not advocating direct ordination. Bishops-elect from the lay or diaconal order would first be ordained priest (after diaconal ordination in the case of lay persons).

  7. Christopher

    Yes to Chris T as to process in such a case, because a bishop must first and foremost be a member of Christ’s royal priesthood by baptism, with diakoinia as the heart of her or his ministry, delegated by Christ and Christ’s Body in a place to serve all parishes in Word and Sacrament ministry just as each presbyter serves one, and of course, this comes from my recognizing with Renpaul that the likes of St. Ambrose’s and St. Augustine’s case in history as nominated from pre- or just after the font.

    I am advocating a serious look at possible candidates outside of the presbyteral ladder. Especially at a time when we have fine lay theologians and persons trained in spiritual care (though not as many in our seminaries as in other places of higher education and non-profit work as ordination is still almost a must in our seminaries). And, given we have some incredible deacons that just might add a little umphh to an episcopate that on the whole seems lacking in “boldly proclaim and interpret the Gospel of Christ, enlightening the minds and stirring up the conscience of your people” and “show compassion to the poor and strangers, and defend those who have no helper.”

    For example, in the Lutheran Church of Hannover, one of the candidates for bishop alongside Margot Kasmann (sadly now stepped down) was Luise Schottroff, a mentor of mine and a lay woman never ordained because in her time to be ordained, a woman had to be celibate and accept a secondary role to male clergy. Luise is well-loved among Hannoverians alongside her late friend Dorothee Soelle for their Kirchentag talks for/with everyday people.

  8. Derek Olsen

    Hmmm. As much as we decry the professionalization of the clergy, I think it would be hard to make a case for lay candidates that encompasses all the duties of a bishop. The catholic in me says that the purpose of the bishop is to be the sacramental center of the diocese and the catechetical connection to the Apostles and their teaching. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around a bishop as sacramental center who has never before celebrated the Eucharist.

    Too, the Lutheran in me says that the role of bishop is to be an administrator and overseer of the temporal state of the diocese. While laypeople and deacons obviously have years of parish experience (and I don’t want to diminish that in any way) when a rector comes with a problem that he or she is encountering in leading their parish, I can’t believe that a lay-selected bishop would have the kind of experience to draw upon, never having been in the position of leading a parish.

    Don’t forget, the great bishops like Ambrose were already master administrators. And for every Ambrose how many were there who never should have been so elevated…?

    I’ll have to keep thinking on this one.

  9. Derek Olsen

    Charlie, the absolute perfect answer as far as I’m concerned would be: “Well, first tell me if Wednesday is a feast…” :-)

    Then, yes, reference to the table would be one good option.

  10. Christopher


    On the whole I think you’re correct. I think my underlying concern is that we have moved far away from the role of priest as pastor (and pastoral theologian) administering the rites and applying the word to priest as non-profit administrator. This then shows itself in our episcopate in ways I have found troubling.

  11. Derek Olsen

    Whenever I get caught back up in this question of what a bishop and a priest are supposed to be—given both the vagaries of history and our current context, I find that the most helpful point of departure is Gregory’s Pastoral Care. It’s Gregory’s main take on what it meant to be a bishop in those days and provides a helpful foil to either overly modern or overly nostalgic conceptions of the role. George Herbert’s work on the country parson shares the same utility. Neither can nor should be followed to the letter today, but both can serve as useful staring places for reflection—especially when used in concert.

    In all honesty, M and I have been discussing a “Basic Clergy Skills” class that we wish we’d had available in seminary and I’d put both of these texts on the reading list…

  12. Christopher

    We need two, having observed our seminary education for some time: Basic Clergy Skills and Administration 101.

    Why not put up a list here? Or better yet, open a reflection on this?

    One of the other problems is that lay persons too have expectations of clergy that veer pastors toward a model rooted in our market economics. How many times, too many to count, has C been told explicitly and implicitly by laypersons that the work he has been given and called to do by God and parish isn’t real work. As a pastor’s partner seminary trained with service in parish in a variety of ways, I know this is simply not true and is an unfortunate business model worked out in non-profit administrative approach. I want to ask, Ever sat with someone sick or dying? Prayer with them? Visited the homebound? Served Holy Communion to them? Counseled the grieved and angry and hurt? Anointed them with chrism? Sure, it isn’t “productive” and such utility isn’t the point for any Christian in her or his calling and work, contribution is, however. And these are a vital contribution.

    I’m well aware of the administrative tasks of our presbyters and bishops, but it does seem that these have swallowed up how it is we conceive of clergy in service to the Body. Administration is not understood as a component of the pastoral rooted in Word and Sacrament ministry. This affects how it is our clergy then mirror back for us our own calling and work as members of Christ’s royal priesthood in the lay order. It’s a vicious circle. That doesn’t mean there aren’t presbyters and bishops who don’t get all of this, but some of my encounters give me to wonder.

    Unfortunately, even some requirements meant to foster clergy skills, like CPE have contributed to a non-profit professionalization mentality rather than to a pastoral core, fine chaplains of course being acknowledged and honored by me.

  13. Christopher

    Of course, our ordination rites also offer some clues as to the heart of Christ’s ordained ministries in service to Christ’s Body. They too are a good place to start.

  14. Marshall Scott

    Siblings, current Canon requires one be a priest in good standing at least 35 years of age to be eligible for the episcopate. And, yes, not only has it been a long time since a dove landed on Ambrose, in my observation much more often the dove (or, more commonly, the relocated European Rock Dove, aka pigeon) has found in the vulnerable person a target and not a roost.

    I wonder how we might consider that the norm for election in the Episcopal Church is an experienced parish pastor, and much less often an academic or pastoral theologian (unlike other Anglican churches who seem more often to look to their theologians).

  15. John Robison

    I did find it telling that a while ago there was an active poo-pooing of Herbert. There also seems to be an allergy to the idea that a person is ordained to a role that exceeds that of “social worker,” “sacrament factory,” and “local CEO.”

  16. Paul Goings

    Actually, I’d be much happier if “sacrament factory” became a more favored model of the priesthood in today’s Episcopal Church. In some cases they’re too willing to function as anything but!

  17. renpaul

    (My name’s Ren by the way.)

    To respond to Chris T and Christopher’s points, it might well be that in the process, a deacon could be ordained priest on the day that his or her election as bishop takes place… for that to happen, there may need to be some slight canonical alterations.

    In either case, I have been less in favor of seeking bishops from the laity than from the diaconate directly. I am reminded of the old concept from the early Church that the way a deacon could be shut up was to ordain him a priest!

    The cursus honorum is implied in the comments made above, and on balance, notwithstanding the direct ordination calls I sometimes read about, it may well be that this received tradition needs to be re-emphasized.

  18. Kevin Montgomery

    Hmm, “sacrament factory.” I remember seeing a copy of a medieval painting of just that: a hand mill churning out consecrated hosts. And I think it was the Virgin Mary turning the crank.

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