welcome into the house, our home

napier cathedralThe day before we ordained Andrew Hedge as the new Bishop of Waiapu, the House of Bishops had a day long meeting. I mean to share an insider’s perspective on an aspect of the meeting.

It might be thought that this is a breaking of a code of silence that is meant veil all such meetings – the equivalent of the sharing with all in sundry the know how on the secret handshake. However, I don’t think I disclose any confidences that properly exist and ought to abide. What I want to share is something that I think actually discloses a feature of our whole church culture. For those who understand something about family systems, the House of Bishops belongs to the family system of the church. So, what I am sharing and wondering about is about all of the church not just the house of bishops.

Enough preliminaries, onto our actual meeting.

It went like this: It was a languid start as the bishops arrived in dribs and drabs -the way most anglican gatherings go. We prayed. Then the Archbishop chairing introduced the various items of business. Many of them unfolded in the same format and manner. The Archbishop would offer some opening comments about (say) the ‘Rural Ministry and Mission Development Commission.’ (This a fictitious body dreamt up for the sake of this blog. It sounds like the worthy title for a something that is important and perhaps there should be such a Commission but to the best of my knowledge there is no such body.) The Archbishop tells us how important the Commission is in the life of the church. Then, and this is the kicker, he tells us that they want/ need a bishop to serve on this body. We go silent and look at the tables. If you were to look up you would see the bishops with their thumbs (metaphorically) pressed to their foreheads in the ancient and early christian gesture that signals “not me.” Then someone else speaks and says that they agree that ‘Rural Mission and Ministry’ is very important but, because of a conflict of interest they have in the ‘Ancient Order of Tractor Drivers,’ they cannot be on the Commission but someone certainly should be. More of the aforementioned table watching and thumb pressing and silence follows. It is painful and slow. Torture even. We have several such items and then we break for lunch or morning tea and then we do some more of the same ritual.

The problem is that we all feel too busy already. The issue is busy-ness. All the bishops I know well enough to really say have too many things to do and too many places to be at. So, it is not that any of us do not think that (in this imaginary case) ‘Rural mission and ministry’ isn’t important or even vital. It is just there isn’t the space in our lives for anything more – at least not without letting others down terribly.

Of course, it is the case that the bishops need to order their lives differently and prioritize what it is we can and really should do. But it is also the case that the whole church do some reflecting and prioritizing too. I don’t just mean in relation to the bishops and what is expected of them; that would be just one edge of the issue and it is much bigger than the house of bishops.

At very least my prayer is that the Diocese of Waiapu ask themselves seriously as to what it wants their new bishop to do and be in their midst – Bishop Andrew was given two jobs in his absence on Friday!

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3 comments

  1. Thanks Jim for raising this matter. I was fortunate to be Andrew’s retreat partner in the days leading up to his ordination. The two of us enjoyed the quiet contemplative rhythm of life at the Kopua monastery. We prayed together. We walked together. We ate together. And in the midst of our conversations and our silences we felt deeply God’s presence with us. But what I was also aware of was the all-consuming role Andew was about to take on. When I look around those who lead our church today I see some amazing people, and sadly they often look exhausted. I find this disturbing. I don’t want a bishop so busy on committees and dealing with conflict that they don’t have time to walk with me, to pray with me, and to share the joy of this Gospel we proclaim. I agree with you, there does need to be a culture change in our church, and not just in the house of bishops. The world doesn’t need more busy people…

    1. You are, of course, correct Damon. The world doesn’t need more busy people.

      Being a bishop feels a little like drinking from a firehose sometimes. The volume is overwhelming.

      That said, when is not the case that “labourers are few”? So the question becomes, how does the work get done?

      1. I can only speak as a parish priest. In my minisry, I am aware of the many things I could be doing and which we as a church could be involved in. But sometimes I have to say ‘no’ or to let a project or an idea lay dormant or come to an end. I have seen, as I am sure you have, too many people burn-out in Christian ministry. I would rather do a few things well than to attempt to do many things poorly. Perhaps the wider church needs to do the same – to take a close look at what we are doing, to let go of some things and to focus on what we know we do well.

        I love the line in the final section of the service of Night Prayer, “Let it be”.

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