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AWAY WITH THE PB

No, I’m not attacking the PB. Calm down. I am advocating the transformation of the office the PB holds from that of Chief Executive to that of Chief Pastor.  I I realize that my proposal argues against even the original intent behind creating the office of Presiding Bishop. To my mind it was flawed from the outset. In the midst of political aversion to monarchy the founders of TEC were faced with what would replace archbishops, and by ‘archbishop’ they meant the form that office had taken in Georgian England. To the Founders an archbishop was a political appointee, reflecting either Whig or Tory ascendency, a figure entrusted with an Erastian view of the church as a department of the state.

So the Founders created a position with minimal power, who remained a diocesan bishop, was appointed because of seniority in years as a diocesan bishop, whose major role was to be Speaker of a house of General Convention and, as a survival of archiepiscopal status, would be the chief consecrator of bishops and have the right to make visitations to dioceses. What a visitation meant was not determined. Over the years the concept of a presider morphed into that of chief executive, a bishop without jurisdiction, involved in church government and in concert with a committee, making sure that the policies adopted by a democratic majority in a convention were put into force. Rather like the President of the USA, the Presiding Bishop became the Chief executive who apart from consecrating bishops lacked pastoral and spiritual opportunity. So for years now the PB has been primarily a ‘liberal’ or a ‘conservative’, a leader of a faction.

TEC needs pastoral leadership. It needs a Chief Pastor whose role is to unify the church. Involved in such a role would be the pastoral care of bishops and their families, a voice to elevate loyalty to the church, its doctrine, discipline and worship, a motivating, calming, impartial presence chosen on the basis of spirituality, theological acuity and a track record of being a bishop for all people in their diocese.

I would replace the PB’s role as chair of the HoB with an elected chair, preserving th right of the Primate to address General Convention, lead the joint worship of both Houses. I would also be inclined to give the Primate the chair of a constitutional court entrusted with making sure that the Canons were interpreted correctly and in a neutral fashion. Visitation rights should be described and limited, providing the Primate with the opportunity to meet with clergy and laity during extended visitations.

I would advocate the creatio of a small diocese, the seat of the Primate, in which she or he would exercise ordinary jurisdiction, baptize, confirm, ordain and in short remain connected to the pat oral role of a diocesan bishop.

The present executive authority of the PB would be shared between departmental heads and perhaps by a chief executive officer with firmly described and limited authority. The title “Presiding Bishop” should lapse or be retained for historical reasons with out a job description. The chief Bishop should be titled Primate and Chief Pastor.

Our church desperately needs a non-political, theologically astute, pastorally talented focus of unity. I realize that such a transformation is unlikely, but we may all dream.

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