4/18/2010

Ian, bishop in the church of God


Yesterday, April 17th, was a day to make us Episcopalians proud. Ian Douglas was ordained bishop in the Church of God, as bishop of Connecticut. It was a grand service with about a bazillion people present, Archbishop Desmond Tutu as Preacher, The Presiding Bishop in the Chair, a wide variety of bishops participating and good friends in the congregation. Quite the day.

Several observations:


Ian is a close friend and over the years we have been learning from each other all the time. Yesterday, when it came to him that he indeed was bishop now, it choked him up a bit, and it do me as well.

Being mostly of the old school persuasion I know it is now Bishop Ian in all but the most closed moments between us. I came forward after the service to recei
ve a blessing and had the sense that that blessing marked a change in relationship. It felt good, but still just a little sad. Bishop Ian will be a good bishop, of that I have no doubt.

I am always interested in the notion that he (or anyone elected bishop) is elected bishop in the Church of God and not in The Episcopal Church or any other particular church. BTW, it is not "The Church of God" - that being a denomination in the US - but "the Church of God" being that un-denominational, mystical gathering of the people of God bigger than any "Church," of longer history and greater value than any so called orthodox gathering of the right minded, right acting, right believing folk. Bishop Ian is ordained and set apart in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church which is not to be confused with the church of Rome, or Constantinople, or Canterbury, or Oxford, or Boston, or Pittsburgh or damn near anywhere else.


He is also ordained as 15th Bishop of Connecticut a
nd was essentially told to mind his manners. He has license only there, and within the community called The Episcopal Church and takes his part in the councils of the church in whatever regional and world wide bodies there are in which TEC has voice, vote or otherwise is present. So Bishop Ian is located in that "Church of God" in a particular place and by a particular community from which he derives license to play his part in the life of the greater mystical body and the lesser practical bodies. He will be good at both.

I have attended only a few ordinations to the episcopate - those of the last three bishops of Delaware - Clark, Tennis and Wright - and those of Bishop Carol Gallagher's and now Bishop Ian Douglas'.


One of the striking characteristics of this service generally is the "princely" tone. It is the next thing down from coronation in terms of pomp and circumstanc
e. The Hartford event was no exception. It was, in a church that prides itself on democratic process, "royal." This of course is not unlike our civic life in which the inauguration of a new president takes on a sort of "serial monarchy" kind of patina. For a supposedly democratic people we do love a good royal show.

Part of this makes me in my little socialist heart a bit nervous. Of course on other levels part of me also loves participating in such an event. But the deal is, our civil executive is not a king, not even on a short term basis, and our bishops are not monarchical, and their powers are limited and specific and their obligations equally grounded in well articulated expectations.


One of the bits of stuff that comes with the episcopate is the miter. More and more Episcopal Church bishops are given to wearing this odd hat / crown, although it is to be remembered that in the not too distant past (what is what I call my young adul
thood) there were few bishops in TEC who wore one, and some who did put it on at their consecration, never to use it again.

There were lots of pointy hats at this event. The bones of ancient TEC bishops no doubt turned in their respective protestant episcopal graves. It turns out that the miter looks good on Bishop Ian. I don't know why, but there it is.

It also strikes me that each level of ordination becomes more and more elaborate as the reach of office becomes greater. If we were visitors from another planet observing what happens at baptism, ordination as deacon, then priest and then bishop we would surely come to the con
clusion that the latter office was deemed more important than the former. The hooting and hollering and carrying on over baptism is pretty localized and small, and over ordination as a bishop rather grand and universal, which seems to me inversely proportional to the reality of faith, in which baptism is the greater office and all else is derivative.

Still, we ask bishops to take on very convoluted and difficult work on our behalf and we ask God's particular blessing upon those chosen. We claim it is the work of the Holy Spirit, or if not the work of the HS at least work in which we can invoke the HS's presence. That is a far cry from the ease with which we know with assurance that in Baptism we are sealed as Christ's own forever. Maybe the service is particularly grand because the audacity of our claim for the rightness of the person in the office is the greater and therefore our need to plea for the presence of the Holy Spirit more intense.

Whatever the reason we pray with some fervor, and I, as a friend of Bishop Ian's, so prayed.
He and every other person we elect or appoint to that office deserves our constant prayer and invocation of the Spirit's presence. I h
ave a great deal of trouble with the actual working out of some bishop's ministries and am willing to be critical of their motives, efforts and deeds. But knowing that they are called to this office I feel duty bound to pray for and respect them in that office. It is easier, however, to fulfill my duty when my heart is full and my joy for the persons elected and consecrated is complete. It sure is with Bishop Ian.

I know these are sometimes difficult times for TEC and for the Anglican Communion, but this service was something to make us proud of both.

The only touches of sadness in the whole thing were related to the limits on common life that grow from the troubles in the Communion. A letter of gracious and clearly personal delight from the Archbishop of Canterbury was read the
night before the service at a dinner for Bishop elect Ian. It was a fine thing. But I remembered too a less gracious and less delighted note from the ABC's office following Bishop elect Mary Glasspool's election. And at the service there was at least one overseas bishop who came because he honored Bishop Ian, but did not feel he could take part in the laying on of hands because it was a matter of some difficulty to do so.

These are the matters of the brokenness of the church. They are not new to this time and situation, but they are always a source of sadness.

Archbishop Tutu preached a wonderful sermon and he said what is a joy to hear: we are all family and God loves us all, quite in spite of ourselves. We can hope that in the Church of God that also is true, even if the Churches are less able. In the days ahead Bishop Ian and all of us will have plenty of occasion to practice the business of living in the Church of God but having temporary residence in the Churches of Christendom.

We will have to practice a love and peace that passes all understanding, and that's a fact!

5 comments:

  1. I wish there was a way to canonically revoke a bishop's license to function in TEC without deposing (i.e. un-ordaining or defrocking) that person. Seems like when all we want to do is say "You're no longer welcome in TEC" we instead say "We ordained you, and now we take it away (as if that's possible...).

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  2. I am sorry I did not get a blessing from Ian because I was hung up dealing with my mother who thought she had missed the bus back home... and it is hard for me suddenly to start calling him 'Bishop Ian' when I have only known him as Ian... perhaps when I called out his baptismal name at the peace and he turned around a bit surprised I misspoke but I had not made the transition... and because I come from a diocese that tends not to use titles for anyone, bishop included (his desire).

    Your words about change of relationship are wistful ones at least to me.

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  3. But... having watching him knock at Christ's Cathedral's doors and asked to be seated, you are right. He is now in a different place than we are. Watching the short video brought tears more so than at the consecration. How quickly he has assumed that authority at least liturgically.

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  4. When Robert Denig was ordained in WMass, he said that that day was not the most significant one for - the day of his baptism was. He said, however, that the ordination day was not too shabby. I think Bp Ian understands as well as anyone that baptism is the primary sacrament of identity and of ministry.

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  5. I like bishops in miters, but I like the one that +Ian is pictured in here, not this papal style sported by +Martín, not to mention the TV arial he uses for a primatial staff!

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