This week, at both our Sunday services, we welcome as our preacher and presider our diocesan bishop and metropolitan archbishop, the Most Reverend Greg Kerr-Wilson. Following several years of disagreement and conflict, we are seeking to heal our relationship with the bishop and move forward together in the appointment of a new priest.
One of the defining features of the Anglican Church worldwide is the central role played by the bishop. In the United States, where links to their English (“Anglo”) roots were politically unviable, the Anglican Church became known as the Episcopal Church, and its members as Episcopalians, from the Greek word episcope (epi=over; scope=sight), the basis for our understanding of the office of the bishop.
This distinguishing characteristic of our church retains from the Catholic tradition the unifying aspect of a central person as Christ’s representative in our midst. It is not a popular feature among Protestant churches, whose identity is rooted in the pre-democratic advances of the 16th Century, whose extreme form is known as congregationalism, where authority rests among the people.
In modern times, in the West, centralized authority in the church has come under fire, especially where such authority has led to abuses. But in the Anglican tradition, the authority of the bishop is balanced by the role of Synod, a body of elected representatives, that legislates the church’s institutional life. “Episcopally led; synodically governed” is the motto that determines the workings of an Anglican diocese. Ours is a negotiated relationship between bishop and people.