Today’s post is another in a series of reflections and impressions from members of the Search & Nomination Committee and Transition Committee. This post is from the Rev. Casey Shobe, rector of St. Peter’s by-the-Sea in Narragansett and a member of the Transition Committee.
One of my favorite questions to ask participants in newcomer classes is “what does the word ‘Episcopal’ mean? Actually, it’s a question that I like to ask people who aren’t newcomers, too, because most don’t know the answer. Episcopal comes from the Greek word episcopos, meaning “bishop.” We are called the Episcopal Church because we are organized and guided by bishops. Bishops are how we trace our history to the apostles. Bishops are who we entrust to preserve the teaching of Christ through the Church. Bishops are the ones who confirm the faith of new Christians, and ordain new priests and deacons to serve our churches and communities. We are the Episcopal Church because bishops are fundamentally important to who we are and what we’re about.
That little lesson in etymology is important as we search for our new bishop because it reminds us of our identity. In many conversations recently, I have heard people wonder why we need bishops at all. Couldn’t we just have a part-time bishop? Or borrow a bishop from some neighboring diocese whenever “we need one”? Or yoke our bishop to a church to do double-duty and save us some money? I’ve also heard people describe the way that only the churches know what’s good for them, that they are the true deposits of the faith.
We are not a congregational church. We are the Episcopal Church. We are organized and guided by bishops. Our churches do not exist as islands unto themselves, but are held together because of their relationship with our bishop. I do not welcome the bishop to St. Peter’s as a guest; I welcome her to her church. Whoever we elect will not be some sort of institutional CEO, but will be a symbol and instrument of our entire community and the faith we share.
This is humbling to consider, both from our perspective, and from the perspective of whomever we call to this role. But the good news is that we are not electing a savior. Whatever happens in our churches, whatever struggles we face as a diocese, we follow a Lord who reigns supreme, who conquered death, and who even now is working with us to make all things new.