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Posts Tagged "Bishop Gayle Harris":

What Are Bishops For?

Well, what are bishops for? I am not being facetious, or more than usually impertinent, but this question was left hanging in the air around the ‘Futures of Anglicanism’ course. We were privileged to be in the company of two bishops, with the opportunity to talk to them both in the intervals between the formal parts of the course, a privilege which we relished (more later). Bishop Gregory Cameron and Bishop Gayle Harris are particularly fine examples of the genus episcopus.

The question is apparently not as settled as you might think and was raised in a paper for General Synod as recently as February 2009. In ‘The Governance of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion’ (GS Misc 910), Dr Colin Podmore said:

Episcopally Led and Synodically Governed’?
3.21 It is often said that the Church of England is ‘episcopally led and synodically governed’.
Working as One Body commented, ‘This useful and convenient phrase may, however,
tend to conceal the fact that the bishops are part of the synod and that the leadership they
give is in and to the whole synodical body’. That is, in fact, only one of a number of
difficulties with the phrase ‘episcopally led and synodically governed’. (For example,
lay people also occupy leadership positions in the Church and its synods.) Both the
Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Durham have criticized this phrase (not least in the
debate on the resolution to which this paper responds), and it is indeed apt to mislead.
3.22 While it is true that the Church of England’s bishops are charged with governing their
dioceses synodically (ie, with the advice of the representatives of the clergy and laity in
the diocesan synod and the bishop’s council), the phrase can be heard as implying that the
Church of England is governed by synods. As Working as One Body pointed out, synods
are parliaments (legislative and deliberative assemblies); they are not governments. At the
diocesan level, bishops not only lead but also govern and that has implications for the role
of the House of Bishops at the national level.

‘Charlotte‘ commented on ‘Thinking Anglicans’ that Dr Podmore’s paper:

takes a very high view of the office of a bishop and the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Though the authority of a bishop is not to be exercised except synodically, and not without consulting priests and lay people, Podmore’s analysis maintains that priests and lay people do not have authority equal to that of the bishops.


I leave this question hanging in the air (perhaps any readers will have something to say on the general topic in the comments?). The point made in discussion was that the Greek episkopos means ‘overseer’, someone who provides oversight. There are two problems of association with this definition: the first is that, curiously, the noun ‘oversight’ means something that has been overlooked in the sense of forgotten. More seriously, ‘overseer’ to anyone with any knowledge of the slave trade means the man on horseback  who spurred the slaves on sugar plantations onto ever greater efforts by the use of a bullwhip.


My dictionary defines ‘scope’ as meaning:
1. opportunity for exercising the faculties or abilities; capacity for action
2. range of view, perception, or grasp; outlook
3. the area covered by an activity, topic, etc.; range, eg the scope of his thesis was vast

I have some other suggestions for the job description of a good bishop, based of course on ancient Greek (what else?) Eschewing the abomination of neologisms with a Latin prefix and a Greek suffix, I suggest the following improvements on ‘Episcope’,  using Greek prefixes:

  • Amphiscope: Looking at both sides of a question
  • Bathyscope: Being aware of the depths while aspiring to the heights
  • Colonoscope: Detecting bullshit
  • Cryptoscope: Solving life’s little (and big) mysteries
  • Diascope: Making a window into men’s souls
  • Endoscope: Looking remorselessly within every file in the cupboard
  • Extrascope: Looking at the bits the Archdeacon isn’t telling you
  • Gyroscope: Measuring people’s orientation (actually, this is one of the existing job descriptions which could be dropped?)
  • Interscope: Reading between the lines
  • Kaleidoscope: Rejoicing in the rich diversity of God’s creation
  • Megascope: Ensuring the Church does not ignore the obvious
  • Metascope: Keeping an eye on the life beyond
  • Microscope: Remembering the detail
  • Neoscope: Knowing how to introduce the new
  • Oscilloscope: Working out which way the wind is blowing
  • Paleoscope: Valuing the old
  • Periscope: Communicating with the above in order to transmit to those below
  • Polyscope: Wearing many hats (and not just mitres)
  • Prososcope: Looking onwards, pointing the way
  • Stethoscope: Listening out for rumblings in the Body of Christ
  • Telescope: Keeping a watch on the horizon
  • Ultrascope: Linking congregations throughout the diocese, and diocese with diocese

What do you think? What are the essential attributes of a bishop which are missing from this list? (Or have I included some which have no place in the list of episcopal talents?)


Postscript. It seems a propitious moment to be thinking about this question. According to The Church Times of today, 23 September, ‘Meeting heralds new era for episcopacy’

Mary Johnston, a lay member of the General Synod, who heads a grouping of liberal Catholics, was also present. She was one of about 60 participants, who included male and female bishops, priests, and lay people. She said that the day had been “worth while and very positive. “It was exciting that Rowan said he wasn’t out to achieve ‘balance’, but he wants something more profound and prophetic. He wants a reappraisal of what it means to be a bishop.

Mmmm. The blog post is dated the 15th, the conference was on the 19th. I can hear some spoil-sport saying ‘Post hoc, maybe. But not necessarily propter hoc?’

 Post postscript

Dave Walker has drawn the perfect Christmas cartoon in answer to the question ‘What are Bishops For?’.

Note: I am indebted to Savi Hensman for the amended definition of ‘Ultrascope’ and to Grandmère Mimi for the inclusion of Colonoscope and Kaleidoscope, with their respective definitions.

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