Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Choosing A Bishop

During the last couple of years I have found myself close to the selection of a new bishop on either side of the Atlantic, and the contrast between the two approaches could not have been more different.

On Monday morning at 11.00 a.m. London time it was announced from 10 Downing Street that Chris Cocksworth, the Principal of Ridley Hall, is to be the new Bishop of Coventry. Chris had shared this piece of news with just a handful of us in the leadership of the College before the weekend, but it would have been a great embarrassment to all if the statement of the Queen's approval of his nomination for election to the position had been upstaged. Even the people in the Diocese of Coventry did not know until a smiling and nervous Chris was brought out into the ruins of the old blitzed cathedral to meet them and the press.

There are wheels within wheels in back rooms that produce bishops here. There is a process of feeling out, approaching of candidates, checking credentials, etc., which eventually lead to the bishop-elect's name being announced and everyone applauding. It certainly means that someone of ability can be selected for the task, and while the diocese is involved in the process far more than was the case thirty years or so ago when I left England for the USA, there is still this pall of secrecy that hangs over things. However, it only takes a few months.

What a contrast to the long drawn out battle that we had in the Diocese of Tennessee when we attempted to elect a new bishop. The first stirrings of the process were in the latter part of 2004, the whole of 2005 the Episcopate Committee worked assiduously at the task, and because we took four bites at the cherry before electing John Bauerschmidt as bishop, it wasn't until October 2006 that we had a successful candidate, and then early 2007 before he came on board.

The great thing about the American process was that it is about as public as it could have been, with only those components kept confidential that needed to be. There was an effort to listen to all the voices in the diocese and to take them into account, and then it was up to the diocese itself gathered in convention to do the electing. Finally, the bishops and standing committees of the church had to endorse the election that had been made. A lot of people were involved in the selecting and making of the bishop.

I am absolutely convinced that an English style of electing would not work in the US, given the culture and history of the nation; but given the sort of House of Bishops that it has thrown up in the last couple of generations it has to be asked whether it is working particularly well. On the other hand, given how theologically detached from historic Christianity the Episcopal Church has become, I am not sure that I would want some unknown network of individuals working in private to come up with potential leaders for the dioceses.

I am delighted for our Principal at Ridley that he will soon be the youngest diocesan in the Church of England, and while we will certainly miss him here, my prayers go with him. However, the part of me that has been well-marinated in the American way of doing things wishes that the people could have a lot more say than they seem to get here.

1 comment:

Peter Carey said...

Thank you for your posting on "choosing a bishop," it gave me much to think about. The transparency of the process of electing bishops here in TEC is an interesting process. You might find it interesting that in the Diocese of Texas, one candidate for bishop has started a blog in support of his candidacy (, it will be interesting if this becomes a trend...

Thanks for your thoughts on this issue, I have been enjoying reading your blog of late.

In Christ,

Peter Carey+