What’s a Bishop?
Below you will find some responses to common (and not so common) questions about bishops and their role in The Episcopal Church. We encourage you to also read the Rite for the Ordination of a Bishop beginning on page 512 of the Book of Common Prayer.
As we explore, we invite you to follow the pattern of the ordination service which invites us to begin by offering our prayers to God.
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquillity the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.Book of Common Prayer: Ordination of a Bishop (p. 515)
What is a bishop?
A bishop is one of the three orders of ordained ministers in the church, the other two being deacons and priests. In the Rite for the Ordination of a Bishop in the Book of Common Prayer, a bishop is called to “guard the faith, to provide for the sacramental life of the Church, to ordain, to be a pastor, and to exemplify the Christian life.”
What does a bishop “do?”
Bishops “do” a lot; and not all of it is easily categorized. One of a bishop’s primary responsibilities, as it is for all Christians, is to proclaim the Good News of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection in their life and work. Bishops provide spiritual leadership to the community; calling, developing, and encouraging both lay and ordained to engage more deeply in God’s mission of love, justice, reconciliation, and restoration in our local context, our country, and across the world. They encourage us to follow the leadings of the Holy Spirit, with scripture, tradition, and reason as our guides. They also ensure we are living into our agreed upon way of being together as gathered community by upholding the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church and The Episcopal Church in Connecticut.
Is a bishop a CEO?
No. The church is not a business, and thus our leadership does not follow the pattern of a business. A bishop is a member of the gathered community and a bishop’s role grows out of that particular community, not apart from it. Bishops anchor us to the past, continuing the line of apostolic succession dating back to the first apostles. They also call us into the future, inviting us to discern together where God is moving and how we are invited to participate in God’s mission. Bishops also serve as the bridge between communities of faith locally, nationally, and internationally as part of their role as leaders in the Church.
What do we look for in a bishop?
While there are gifts a successful bishop may possess, the most important characteristics of a bishop are the same as those of every Christ-follower; a life rooted in Christ, formed by Word and Sacrament, and sustained by prayer.
Are there different kinds of bishops?
Kind of. Bishops within a particular diocese may hold different titles and function in slightly different ways, as we experience here in Connecticut. Our own Bishop Laura J. Ahrens is a Bishop Suffragan. While bishops may have different titles, all are ordained utilizing the same service from the Book of Common Prayer and their primary responsibility is always to serve as apostles, pastors, and leaders in the Church.
- Diocesan Bishop: the primary bishop of a diocese; sometimes referred to as “The Diocesan.”
- Bishop Coadjutor: A bishop elected to succeed the Diocesan Bishop. An ordained person consecrated to become the next bishop of a diocese when the diocesan bishop retires or resigns.
- Bishop Suffragan: A bishop elected to assist the Diocesan Bishop and to serve under the Diocesan’s direction. A working co-bishop in a diocese but without inherent right of succession when the diocesan bishop retires or resigns.
- Assistant Bishop: A bishop appointed by the Diocesan Bishop with the consent of the Standing Committee to assist the Diocesan and to serve under the Diocesan’s direction, creation of the post having been approved by the Diocesan Convention. A specially ordained or otherwise specially designated person who has the spiritual and liturgical authority of a bishop and who usually assists the Bishop of a diocese; some retired diocesan bishops become assistants to other bishops; some assistant bishops are specially ordained for their work. Assistant Bishops can perform most functions performed by other bishops.
- Assisting Bishop: A bishop appointed by the Diocesan Bishop to provide short-term assistance with episcopal duties in the Diocese.
What’s up with the hat and the stick?
Two symbols have long been associated with a bishop: the “hat,” also known as a mitre and the “shepherd’s crook,” also known as a crozier. The mitre is a pointed, shield-shaped hat with two lappets (flaps) which hang down. The lappets are said to symbolize the tongues of fire which landed on the apostles at Pentecost. The crozier represents a bishop’s role as shepherd of the flock.
Learn more about Bishops
- “Task Force on the Episcopacy” from The Protestant Episcopal Church.
- “The Ordination of a Bishop” from the Book of Common Prayer