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Hallo again to all.

Last week's News Centre carried two stories about bishops 'stepping down'. The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Dr David Hope, Archbishop of York, will resign as bishop to serve as a parish priest. And the Right Reverend Donald Norman Shearman, retired bishop of Grafton and of Rockhampton in Australia, is to be 'defrocked' for crimes committed 50 years ago. But both of them will still be bishops.

Tattoo of JesusBecoming a bishop isn't like getting a tattoo, which, should you ever change your mind, you can have removed with expensive and painful surgery. If Holy Orders are indelible -- as Anglicans believe -- then an office and the exercise of that office are separate entities. So we began thinking about what it means to be a bishop, rather than merely meeting the canonical requirements and functioning as one. One of the regular worshippers in our parish is a retired bishop who will celebrate his 90th birthday in a few weeks. Today he sat in the third row of pews, centre, with perfect posture, absolutely radiating a gentle episcopal presence. He hasn't been strong enough to preach recently, but just by sitting in the congregation and chatting at coffee hour, he steeps us in 'essence of bishop'.

Bishops are part of being Anglican. Whether for you the word 'bishop' invokes thoughts of a rich man in mirrored sunglasses being driven around in an armoured limousine, a woman mingling with the homeless of her diocese and sleeping alongside them on the street, or a rigid fundamentalist warning infidels of their proximity to hell, you can't be an Anglican without having some sense of bishop-ness. A goodly number of the heroes that people wrote to us about last week are bishops. So what is it? What is the essence of being a bishop? Holiness? Judgment? Power? Humility? Biblical literacy?

The contemporaries of Michelangelo Buonarotti said of him that in preparation for making a sculpture, he could see inside the stone, to know whether the sculpture was already there. Having found the stone with David inside, it remained only for him to carve away everything that did not look like David, and the statue was thereby completed. Perhaps silly or apocryphal, but on point: If someone's vocation is to be a bishop, it's already inside. The nomination or appointment process -- involving to greater or lesser degree 'discernment' -- is perhaps one of determining whether the episcopal vocation is already in the priest.

A priest that we know, rector of a growing suburban church, is often told that because he is such a good priest, he will obviously be elected a bishop soon. His answer is always the same: 'Thank you so much, but that's just not what I am. I'm a parish priest.' He doesn't see being a bishop as a higher calling, just a different calling. Would that everyone had such self-awareness.

We think it's probably true of every vocation, not just a bishop's, that one's true vocation is somewhere inside one's self. If life, time, or adversity chips away at everything that does not contribute to a vocation, then perhaps it will be more visible. But that's a topic for another letter, another week.

See you next week.

Cynthia McFarland's signature
Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 8 August 2004

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