“The Bishop is coming!” There is the story of the Canonical Visitation of the Diocesan Bishop to one of the largest parishes in his Diocese. Fifteen minutes before the Liturgy is to begin, the Bishop takes a sneak peek into the Nave and sees only a handful of people in the congregation. Five minutes later he does the same, and now there are only a few more. With obvious frustration the Bishop turns to the Rector and says, “Father, didn’t you tell the parish that I was coming today?” At that point, with a sheepish look on his face the priest says, “Bishop, I tried not to, but I am afraid that the word got around.”
The Annual Visitation of the Bishop can cause anxiety. As an almost teenager ready to be Confirmed I recall the Rector telling us that one of the reasons we (in those days) Episcopalians require memorization of the Catechism, along with the Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed is that the Bishop would be quizzing us. It didn’t happen (did it happen at your Confirmation?) but after a year of Confirmation instruction, I knew that I had better be ready! Later I recall the priest telling the parish that much gardening and painting needed to take place because “the bishop is coming.”
“There is no room for the 'what’s in it for me' principle that has infected some elections/appointments throughout ecclesiastical history. This is not the same as “sending someone to Washington.” You have to look into the eyes of Jesus and ask who He wants. In fact................He has already selected your next bishop. Your task is to discern whom He has selected. All processes for the election of a bishop must provide ample time for discernment lest we vote for 'my candidate' for reasons other than what God intends a holy task to include.”
Twenty-six years ago when I started making Canonical Visitations I had the opportunity to see nervous people wondering what I would say or ask. Bishops have throughout history worn “gauntlets” (gloves) and more Bishops are wearing them again due to COVID-19, but I was convinced that many parishioners were afraid that I brought white gloves with me in order to check the surfaces, since they had spent so much time dusting and cleaning and that I was an ecclesiastical inspector. Of course what I discovered was that some priests saw the bishop as an ecclesiastical excuse to get some projects accomplished. There are also some who see the bishop as a theological necessity so that Confirmations and Ordinations can be done. Those people often see the parish as some traditions see a “congregation” - independent of anything larger than the local church.
The Bible is very clear about Jesus’ view of the necessity of Apostles. His post-resurrection appearances indicate that He placed an incredible emphasis not on pure function but on essence (ontologically speaking) as it relates to Apostles, and their successors from St. Matthias onward. The Early Church reinforces the necessity of bishops to such an extent that it caused St. Ignatius of Antioch to say, “Where the bishop is, there is the Church.” Considering that he lived from ca 35 AD - ca 107 AD, we know that this view is not a later development.
When I speak with people I try to understand what they mean when they say, “The church is having conflict.” Most laity and some clerics mean “my parish.” Some clerics mean “my diocese.” Most Bishops mean “our Province” or “our Communion” (worldwide- remember we are #3 in terms of international size preceded by the Roman Communion and the Orthodox Communion.). With this in mind, people in a diocese often have thought they are electing a CEO for themselves with the Diocese being the Corporation. In fact, they are electing a Successor to the Apostles who will be a part of worldwide and provincial leadership while at the same time being the Apostle to a smaller cluster called a Diocese. If this were purely a function, then we would embrace a relatively new model which means that when the bishop “retires -ha!” He is no longer a bishop and cannot perform episcopal acts, and is referred to as a “former bishop.” This is not a part of our polity. Jesus does not refer to shepherds who worked shifts or who received a “gold rod or staff” when they turned 65. You will be electing a man for a lifetime of international, provincial, and local apostleship who will be primarily your “episkopos.” In other words, you will be sitting metaphorically with the Apostles as they “cast lots.” (No Canon Law at that election!)
This is an “awesome” (or as the Authorised version says “Aweful” responsibility.) There is no room for the “what’s in it for me” principle that has infected some elections/appointments throughout ecclesiastical history. This is not the same as “sending someone to Washington.” You have to look into the eyes of Jesus and ask who He wants. In fact................He has already selected your next bishop. Your task is to discern whom He has selected. All processes for the election of a bishop must provide ample time for discernment lest we vote for “my candidate” for reasons other than what God intends a holy task to include.
So..................prayer.................retreats and quiet days.............. a special prayer at every Liturgy............. Studies on Biblical, Patristic, ante and post Nicene principles of episcopacy.......and then the day comes. God desires the hearts and minds of people committed to a holy endeavor.
Bishop Keith AckermanADSW Interim Bishop / Retired ACNA Bishop of Quincy
Bishop Keith currently resides near Dallas, Texas and serves as vicar of St. Timothy's, Fort Worth, Texas. He often has speaking engagements, and regularly appears on AnglicanTV and Remnant Radio. The Archbishop recently assigned him as ADSW's Interim Bishop and we welcome him. For more about Bishop Keith, please visit: bishopkeithackerman.com