Creative Thinking in Western Kansas

Good news in an otherwise fairly bleak August in Episcopal - Anglican land. Out in Western Kansas the good people of the diocese have elected a new bishop, The Rev. Michael Pierce Milliken. You can read all about it HERE.

Bishop Micahel Milliken

Bishop elect Michael has announced that he intends to remain rector of his parish, Christ Church, Hutchinson, Kansas while taking on new responsibilities as Bishop.  You can read about this HERE.

There is some argument as to whether or not this is a return to an ancient practice - bishops being also in charge of a specific parish - but it is a refreshing development in the missionary context of the 21st Century in America where there is a real need to look again at the role of the bishop in small dioceses. There is a lot to recommend continued local ministry for the one we chose to exercise oversight for a diocese. There is a certain reality testing that comes down when the "user" of the system also includes the overseer.  

Early bishops in The Episcopal Church continued as rectors of parishes. Why not now? 

It is time for us also to remember that in our Canons we have provisions for the election of missionary bishops, paid for by the whole church, to exercise episcopal oversight. In some ways the Navajoland effort is such an episcopate, although election now is in the hands of the people of the church in Navajoland.  Perhaps we need too to rethink the use of the missionary episcopate.

Over the years The Episcopal Church has worked at understanding the fourth of the Lambeth Quadrilateral propositions, "The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the
varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church." Some forms of "local adaption" have worked well, some not so well. 

The Missionary Bishop idea was a good one and was a major part of the reason for the spread of the Church across America and into Central America, parts of South America, the Caribbean, and the Philippines.

The use of Suffragan Bishops as a way to provide a separate and unequal (it turns out) ministry to African Americans - to provide bishops for "Colored People" - was less a good idea.

The modern use of a variety of positions for assisting bishops gives opportunity for the church to use the valuable talents of bishops who have retired or moved out of their diocesan duties for one reason or another. As yet there seems to be no sense of how the whole church might see these bishops as a "stockpile" of talent for the good of the whole church. 

So here's to Western Kansas and their new bishop for the move to reconsider the old box and build new structures with a bit of new flex in them. May it go well with them.


  1. I think that Western Kansas is on to something. I have suggested that in many small-medium sized dioceses clergy on diocesan staff ought to be serving congregations as well. This might mean that there are more people with a wider variety of gifts on diocesan staffs, which could be far better than the model where one canon to the ordinary has responsibility for areas where he/she has no particular gift.

  2. I second Daniel's comment, that this is something we need to take seriously and explore.

    Presently, in the Canadian church, the Suffragan Bishops of the Arctic are also Rectors of parishes in larger communities, with supervision over the churches in the outlying villages in their region. A similar proposal has been discussed in the Dio. of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, for a suffragan who would have responsibility for Labrador, and also be the Rector of the Parish of Lake Melville (Happy Valley/Goose Bay).

    I really like Daniel's idea of having diocesan staff also serve in parish ministry. Here in Montreal, we have many half-time parishes, even in the city, and not enough clergy to fill them. We already have a couple part-timers who have a second, non-parochial ministry (teaching, chaplaincy, etc.). Splitting personnel between diocesan offices and parish ministry would certainly bring more gifts to the use of the diocese.

  3. Our Moravian friends use a similar model. A bishop gets and added deacon to assist in the parish, not an office without the realities of being in a congregation. I have thought for years that if we used lay employees for a good many administrative duties we could follow that model and benefit.



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