Each diocese should have three bishops - a diocesan and two suffragans.

One suffragan should be the priests' bishop and the other the laity's bishop. The diocesan bishop should keep out of politics and employment stuff and just be all holy and that sort of thing.



  1. Actually, this is a great idea. The ‘business’ functions and ‘pastoral’ functions of the bishop are often in conflict. People have different gifts, and some bishops are great administrators but suck at pastoral care, and the other way around. And we all need a good, holy bishop who wears all the fine vestments and laughs like Jesus did.

  2. In fact it’s gotten so bad then when a diocesan staff member looks the bishop in the eye and says, “Too many cooks spoil the broth” the bishop just stands there blinking, trying to figure out how you could ever have too many cooks.

  3. Oh, dear, do I have to spell it out for you lot?

    It appears I do.

    The reason the idea of more bishops frightens you is because so many of our bishops are despots. My cunning plan gets rid of this problem by dividing their power up and forcing them into a proper bishop role.

  4. It didn’t work in Southwark, it hasn’t worked in US dioceses where it’s been tried, and I am afraid that it would be pretty grim were it to be tried again.

    There are beancounter bishops, and there are prophetic bishops. Normally when a beancounter bishop retires, he’s succeeded by a prophetic bishop as the clergy and the laity have had their fill of non-prophetic leadership. And when prophetic bishops retire, they are succeeded by beancounter bishops because the diocese is in such a pickle that only a beancounter can rescue it.

    This is also true of incumbents of parishes, by the way.

    Not true of archdeacons, as they always have to be beancounters.

    If it were as simple as dividing up the work as you put forward, it would have worked elsewhere.

    Our retired bishop, +Tom Butler (Happy birthday, +Tom, by the way–he’s 71 today but has fallen off the edge of the Grauniad‘s birthday list as he is now a non-person), was a beancounter. Two out of the three suffragans were prophetic, and the third is midway. Now one of the prophets is about to be enthroned in Southwark Cathedral and the other is about to be enthroned in Bradford Cathedral. I expect that beancounters will be placed into the sees of Woolwich and Croydon, and God only knows what will happen.

    Make the dioceses smaller, have one bishop each, and make sure that only prophetic people are made bishops. They then hire a beancounter as Diocesan Secretary and we are off and running.

  5. Oh, PS, despots have a leg-up in the process of appointment of C of E bishops. Whether they’re beancounter despots or prophetic despots matters not.

    And if we changed the rules to elect the bishops rather than the opaque process we use now, sleazy politicos among the archdeacons would be in the ascendant.

  6. And if we changed the rules to elect the bishops rather than the opaque process we use now, sleazy politicos among the archdeacons would be in the ascendant.

    I would say yes in regard to the US, but no in regard to Scotland. I think the answer is for priests only to elect bishops.

  7. I think I’d better stop commenting as my first thought when I read your comment about priests only electing bishops was, “It’s time for me to join the Presbyterians.”

  8. Well, Chris. It seems to work in Scotland. I think this is because most priests just want to be loved and actually place that before political considerations.

    The laity want to be loved by their priests and so they will vote politically when it comes to bishops as they are not emotionally attached to them.

  9. I guess it was back in the 80s when Mark Dyer was elected Bishop of Bethlehem (Pennsylvania). He told the diocesan bigwigs at the time to come up with some other plan for administration and fundraising because he intended to be a pastoral and teaching bishop. As far as I’ve been able to tell, that worked.

    Of course, I never lived in his diocese so I don’t know what it would have been like to live under his authority. But I know he was very, very encouraging to me in helping me discern my vocation as a solitary. And I experienced him as a wise, holy and priestly human being.

  10. I think the answer is for priests only to elect bishops.

    No wonder people are anti-clerical. No matter how well the system works in Scotland, what are lay folks? Chopped liver? Just pay your money and keep quiet, please.

  11. In the original US Constitution, US Senators were elected by the legislature of the state they represented. This was thought to be antidemocratic, so an amendment changed it to direct vote of the people.

    I think that currently the difficulty is that a bishop who is not pastoral to his priests can do a lot of damage. The problem is not how we select bishops (the US elects them and has had some real stinkers within my memory). The difficulty lies in the system of governance and pastoral care of the church, plus the ministry selection process itself, which often rewards ambition and self-publicity rather than genuine pastoral and administrative ability and gifts.

    There will always be a tension between the laity (the largest order in the Church, mind you), the clergy, and the episcopate. There is no good solution to this. Pastoral care for the clergy is very important, and the pastor needs to have clout, but perhaps doesn’t need to be a bishop to do that. The bishop needs to be both pastor, administrator, and prophet. Most can only do one or two of these things well. They need assistance with one or the other of them.

    There is no defence in law from a bishop who is deficient in some way or another. That is just the way it is. And separating bishops by function or electorate would be difficult. Worse, if only the clergy elected bishops, that would be extremely difficult, as priests among themselves are quite chummy and schmoozing a smaller electorate is always easier. If anyone thinks that the clergy would be selfless in their electoral choices for the episcopate, then they are in Cloud-Cuckooland. Clergy do not get the charism of perfect electoral judgment when the bishop runs his hands through their hair. They are as susceptible to personal alliances (I know Fred; when he becomes bishop I’ll bet he’ll give me a juicy archdiaconate) as any group of lay people are.

    The early Church used to select its bishops through the mob. After the previous bishop had been buried, the congregation as a whole gathered together and acclaimed one of their number as bishop. Sometimes the bishop-designate wasn’t too happy about that and the mob pursued him and forcibly got him consecrated and enthroned. Perhaps we should consider that method. Ambrose and Augustine would have approved.

    I do believe that, on the whole, election of suffragan and diocesan bishops is a good idea. The electorate should be gathered together from each parish, as in the US model (and not the Synodical model we have now) and consist of the incumbent of each parish and two lay people elected from each parish. These should vote in orders, and a majority in each order should be required for a bishop to be elected. Some form of national consent that is not just in the House of Bishops is needed as well. The PM and the Queen should have no part in the process except to wish the candidates well. Bishops should be evicted from the House of Lords. It would also be good for dioceses to elect before there is a vacancy, and for Coadjutors to spend a year or so getting to know the diocese before being handed the keys to the diocesan executive loo.

    I don’t expect Fr. MadPriest to agree with any of this; I’ve only met one CofE clergyperson who did (Colin Buchanan, sometime Bishop of Woolwich) and he has always been thought to be something of an eccentric. Thus no one took his advocacy of election of bishops and disestablishment seriously.

    I thought of all this, and then I awoke from my beta-blocker-induced dream.

  12. And he almost single-handedly screwed up the Common Worship baptismal service.

    When he was Bishop of Woolwich he had a disagreement with my rector about transferring a curate 1 year early out of her title to become asst. chaplain to the Millennium Dome. The two didn’t speak again. However, Colin decided to do a survey among the parishes in the Woolwich Episcopal Area, and only two or three parishes didn’t cooperate and ours was one. In order to try to get the rector to cooperate, he threatened to visit. I was waling up New Kent Road one day on my way to the shops, and who should emerge from the Elephant and Castle National Rail station but Colin, arrayed in unaccustomed purple shirt and pectoral cross. I watched him as he marched, thin-lipped, toward the Rectory.

    As I was coming back from the shops a few minutes later, I saw Colin marching, thin-lipped, back to the railway station, probably having been stiffed by the rector.

    However, I reiterate that I agree with him on disestablishment and (partially) on election of bishops–I favour a wider electorate than he does.

    I also find him puzzling as each year there is a memorial lecture for an openly gay theologian who died 10 years or so ago but whose name escapes me. And for all his homophobia, Colin was a close friend and colleague of this man and has sponsored the lecture each year. Go figure.