Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Saint Matthias, Apostle

Almighty God, who in the place of Judas chose your faithful
servant Matthias to be numbered among the Twelve; Grant
that your Church, being delivered from false apostles, may
always be guided and governed by faithful and true pastors;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with
you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, on God, now and
forever. Amen.

One of the things I've always liked about being an Episcopalian is that we have bishops, whose authority has been traditionally rather absolute. If a member of the clergy was a "false apostle," the bishop would deal with it. Having experienced other traditions, including some which gave the clergy the freedom to do just about anything they felt like doing, I much prefer a leadership structure that includes an overseer who can make the tough calls. I was trained that if the bishop tells me to do something, or to cease doing something, the only appropriate response is, "Yes, Bishop."

Knowing that I will be held accountable, that I am "a person under authority," has allowed me a freedom that seemed unavailable in some other traditions. I am free to wander from the beaten path, and meander here and there, as long as I stay within shouting distance of my bishop.

Things seem a bit more confusing today, however. Now we have various bishops accusing one another of being "false apostles," "apostates," "revisionists," schismatics" and "heretics." As a result, we now have various clergy considering themselves as being only under the authority of a bishop if they happen to agree with that bishop on various things. So much for the system of checks and balances.

Now, we even have the strange phenomenon of a diocese trying to "fire" their bishop; not because of theological differences, but because they don't like his or her leadership style!

I have no problem with rethinking the hierarchal structure of the Church, resulting in a model that might represent a more evenly shared ministry. I have no problem with the Church voting on things, although sometimes I wonder how well a democratic model works; history reveals that the majority can be wrong. What I do have a problem with is individuals, or particular congregations, claiming they are an authority unto themselves.

I wish I had some clear solutions. I don't. But, it seems to me, as I look at the strange goings on in places like Pittsburgh, El Camino Real, and Pennsylvania, that it may be best for each diocese to take a step back, and put their own house in order. I think this reordering would need to include clarifying that the smallest entity within the Church is the diocese, not the congregation. "Where the bishop is, there is the Church." We are not Congregationalists, for very good reasons.

The other suggestion I would make is to consider the process used in selecting Matthias as an apostle to replace Judas. Two men were nominated. After prayer, the disciples "cast lots," and Matthias was elected. I realize that "casting lots" may be a reference to a voting process, yet I like to think of it as more a matter of putting the names in a hat, and someone drawing one out. What would happen if the search process selected two candidates when a new bishop was being sought, and then someone, maybe the President of the Standing Committee, flipped a coin? It would seem to offer at least some way to be assured that the person was selected by the Spirit, rather than a simple majority of church folk.

The last suggestion I would make is that anyone who expressed any interest in being a bishop be automatically disqualified. My view of the current confusion is that some of those holding the office of chief pastor have too much ego, and not enough of a servant's heart.


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