The wise Qohelet from the Old Testament warns us: ‘When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider. God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future’ (Ecc 7:14). And sure enough, none of us is going to deny that our present days of the Covid-19 pandemic reflect quite well what the biblical writer means by “bad times”. Actually, if by some reason we are not willing to go as far as Ecclesiastes in saying that ‘God has [literally] made’ this day of uncertainty, at least we’re happy to agree that he has allowed it, hasn’t he? Consequently, we’ll do well to pause and think (or consider), not just on what God is and does, but also on what we are and do.
I acknowledge that, given the dimensions of our current global crisis, we could certainly stop for a moment to consider the many important realms of our reality, and see if God, by chance, happens to have any particular message for each one of them at this time. We could think of, for example, on the political and governmental structures, and the health and education systems of our countries, and question whether they have raised up to the expectations we had of them. Or we could reflect deeper on the basic principles and values on which we build up our relationships; or perhaps, even attempt to define what is essential in life when the world seems to be collapsing around us. However, since we also are confronted by the absence of a bishop in our diocese, plus the need to elect a new one, then I feel it is more pertinent that we should focus on our religious and spiritual entity.
The various roles, duties, and responsibilities of a bishop are clearly stated in the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal, the Anglican Catechism, the Thirty-nine Articles, as well as in the appropriate statutes and articles of Canon Law. So we don’t have to clarify those aspects here. Yet, if we considered them in the light of those official documents, then we would not be wrong in asserting that the Anglican Diocese of the Southwest is now both incomplete and vulnerable. And this stands, of course, regardless of the fact that, currently, the diocese is temporarily in the skillful hands of the Standing Committee.
"What type of church and diocese do we want to be for the future bishop: one which is worth searching for and serving, or one which has become independent and crafty?"
Moreover, if it wasn’t for the fact that our diocese is part of a wider nexus of dioceses within the Province, then the church father Ignatius of Antioch (d. 110 a.d.) would have said to us that our diocesan activities are running the risk of not being done in harmony with God, for as he says: "your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons, who are most dear to me, and are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ" (Ignatius, Ad. Mag., 6). Or even more, he would be warning us that we are descending into deep conceptual difficulties, because: "Apart from these [a bishop, presbyters, and deacons], there is no elect Church, no congregation of the holy ones, no assembly of the saints" (Ignatius, Ad. Trall., 3).
Of course, this ecclesial idea from the post-apostolic period comes to contradict the acute, critical, and somewhat hilarious words written by Fr. Stan Burdock in his article, namely, that ‘no one wants a bishop’; and that we prefer to have ‘an onlooker, not an overseer’. Perhaps this preferential shift is due to negative past experiences, specifically to regrettable abuse of power, as well as lack of sensitivity displayed by some bishops. But if our perception with regard to the necessity and utility of a bishop has changed, I then wonder if our perception of what it is to be a church has changed, too. That is, I do not want us to think if we prefer or desire this or that kind of bishop, but whether we are a church (indeed a diocese) that believes it needs one.
For example, let me ask: Do we really feel acephalus (without the head), and without Jesus Christ’s representative in our diocese? Do we believe that we lack the ‘pastor of pastors’ who evangelizes, interprets the Scriptures, and defends the Christian faith? Do we acknowledge the absence of the rector, the keeper of the unity, the faith, and the discipline of the church? Or do we just simply think that the person missing is, effectively, the administrative onlooker, whose duty is to ignore certain situations, let us be, and to give his undivided attention to various ecclesial and legal technicalities?
The answer to these questions is going to make the difference regarding the ground upon which we conduct our search and election of the new bishop. That is, they will determine if we need a pastor or whether we are looking for a manager; if it is exclusively us who are conducting the searching, or whether we also allow someone out there to search for us. Please, do allow me to remind us that, normatively, and biblically, it is the pastor who looks for (and, indeed, after) the flock, and not the other way round. To put it differently, what type of church and diocese do we want to be for the future bishop, one which is worth searching for and serving, or one which has become independent and crafty?
I hope that we shall be the first one, analogically speaking like that woman Rachel, for whom Jacob, out of love, decided to become a shepherd (Os 12:12). Would anyone like to become the chief pastor of the Anglican Diocese of the Southwest out of love?
Joel René González GarcíaMissionary/Church Planter/ADSW Aspirant/Professor
Joel is an ADSW aspirant teaching and church planting in Puebla, Mexico. He is a husband, father and missionary actively involved in our deanery there. He received his theological training in Scotland and England, where he studied under John Stott.