The Curate's Corner
“The Bishop is Coming! The Bishop is Coming!”
The old nursery rhyme says, “April showers bring May flowers.” According to the weatherman as of this writing (in Mid-March), apparently that will ring true here in Nebraska. As weather predictions go, only time will tell. Regardless of whether it rains or not, April is also bringing another goodie our way, the annual visitation of the Bishop.
This always begs the questions of what a bishop “does” and why he always dressed so peculiarly. The answer to the first part of that question can be found in the catechism in the back of the Book of Common Prayer (page 855) under the question pertaining to the ministry of a bishop:
“The ministry of a bishop is to represent
Christ and his Church, particularly
as apostle, chief priest, and pastor
of a diocese; to guard the faith,
unity, and discipline of the whole
Church; to proclaim the Word of God;
to act in Christ’s name for the reconciliation
of the world and the building
up of the Church; and to ordain others
to continue Christ’s ministry.”
There is much debate among scholars as to when the office and role of Bishops began in Christianity. The New Testament is somewhat vague as to the roles of clergy and their titles.
Obviously, the first followers of Jesus were called disciples. Paul, who wrote a majority of the New Testament, called himself an apostle. The way he describes his role in relation to the
churches he founded has some of the attributes that we now attribute to a bishop.
The word “bishop” itself is an old English transliteration of the Vulgar Latin word which is itself a transliteration of the Greek New Testament word episkopos which roughly translates as “overseer.” Of course, from this New Testament word descends the modern
word “Episcopal” that means church government under the authority of a bishop.
The role of bishop, as we currently understand it, probably arose some time in the later 1st or 2nd Century. It was during this time period that the symbols of the bishop we still associate with a bishop were formed. The pointy hat the bishop wears is called a mitre, sometimes spelled miter. Some scholars believe it originated as some form of head covering akin to what the
Judaic priests of the temple who kept the Ark of the Covenant wore. By the 1100s, the mitre developed the distinctive point similar to the design of crowns worn by the kings of the day.
The bishop also carried a staff with a crooked end, which is called a crozier. Church historians believe it likely originated as simply a walking stick that bishops who traveled on foot to various
churches needed for both traveling and protection. This largely became stylized to resemble a shepherd’s staff, denoting that the bishop is the chief shepherd of the flock.
Perhaps one of the bishop’s primary jobs is to perform confirmations and receptions. Since he represents Christ personally in his role as chief pastor, priest, and apostle, the Episcopal Church is still the one denomination that insists that the bishop personally confirm or receive all people into the church. Just as God welcomes all who duly repent and turn unto Him, so does the Bishop, acting on God’s behalf, oversee the adult affirmation of faith of all members as they express a mature commitment to Christ, and receive strength from the Holy Spirit through prayer and the laying on of hands by the bishop. Our prayers go with all of our confirmation and reception candidates as they continue their spiritual journey with us in the Episcopal Church.